Having enjoyed a couple of holidays in Morocco, I was drawn to Lawrence Osborne’s new novel, The Forgiven, although its synopsis – bickering couple get lost and knock down a young Moroccan on their way to a hedonistic party thrown by two gay men in their lavishly restored desert retreat – seemed unlikely to bring back many memories for me. At first everything seemed disappointingly black and white, complete with cultural stereotypes, but a few chapters in it became clear that Osborne’s approach is more subtle than simply rich white Europeans versus poor exploited Moroccans. Apparently unsympathetic characters reveal themselves as not quite as abhorrent as they first appear and vice versa. This is Osborne’s second novel – he’s written several non-fiction books – and I noticed in his biographical notes that he lives in Bangkok. It seems that he has a bit of a reputation as a nomad which made me wonder if his experiences as an ex-pat had influenced the writing of The Forgiven.
I’m also enjoying Polly Morland’s The Society of Timid Souls. Like many of us, Morland is a bit of coward but found herself intrigued by the eponymous society set up to combat stage fright by concert pianist Bernard Gabriel in 1942. It was a huge success although it didn’t last long. A documentary maker, Morland, had begun to feel that the Western world was in the grips of a post-9/11 anxiety pandemic and decided to attack some of her own fears by investigating the bravery of others. Each of the chapters concentrates on a particular a theme. I’m only two chapters in but so far she has interviewed and reflected upon many brave souls, from soldiers just before they are deployed in Afghanistan to one of Spain’s renowned bullfighters and a woman who unthinkingly threw herself between a particularly savage Rottweiler and a baby. The latter is convinced that fearlessness is inherent: you either have it or you don’t. I can confidently say I don’t but I do share Morland’s belief that it’s worth trying to face up to your fears and be a bit braver.
Following on from Friday’s post about women dominating literary prize lists I see that it’s not confined to the UK: Australia’s prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award has just announced its 2013 shortlist and it’s made up entirely of women writers. But the best piece of news has to be the completion of the new Birmingham library. It’s an astonishing looking building and not one that appeals to me but its contents sound fabulous – miles of bookshelves housing 2.3 million books plus the Shakespeare Memorial Room not to mention roof gardens in which to read and drink coffee. It opens in September and I can’t wait to visit it.