Tag Archives: Witches Sail in Eggshells

Books of the Year 2019: Part Three

Cover image This third instalment covers two months of what was a passably good summer here in the UK beginning with an unexpected treat in July. If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll have gathered that Kate Atkinson is one of my favourite writers. In September 2018 we were treated to Transcription then less than a year later Big Sky saw the return of Jackson Brodie after a hiatus of nine years. Jackson’s living in a cottage in his native Yorkshire looking after his teenage son while Julia, Nathan’s mother, finishes off the latest in the TV police procedural series in which she stars. It’s not long before Jackson becomes embroiled in a case that encompasses historical sex abuse, modern day slavery and people trafficking. As with the previous four Brodie novels, Big Sky tackles social issues with a sharp wit and dry humour. Fingers crossed that the BBC have Jason Isaacs lined up for an adaptation.

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s debut, Harmless Like You, was one of my books of 2016. I loved it for its poignancy leavened with wry humour, and for the striking images shining brightly from its pages. That same deft writing is evident in Starling Days which follows Mina and Oscar from New York to London where Oscar is hoping Mina will find some distraction from what ails her. Buchanan’s compassionate, empathetic novel explores the effects of mental illness from both sides of a relationship, switching perspectives between Mina and Oscar. It lays bare both the sheer exhaustion of living with the constant worry of what a beloved partner might do to themselves and the relentless debilitation of a disordered mind. Achingly sad at times, it’s an affecting, clearly heartfelt piece of fiction. Fingers crossed it will win the Costa Novel Award for which its been shortlisted.

Four August favourites, the first of which is set against the backdrop of the Bauhaus, the German art school whose designs I’ve long admired and whose centenary year this was. Naomi Wood’s The Hiding Game begins in 1922 with the admission of six students whose lives will become inextricably bound, telling theirCover image story through Paul whose memories are brought vividly into focus by the death of Walter, both friend and enemy. Written in the form of a confessional, it’s a story fraught with betrayal, jealousy and a tortured form of love, a tragedy in which the appalling events of Nazi Germany are personalised. It’s a smart, accomplished piece of fiction, through which Wood lightly weaves her meticulous research.

The next three novels are all published by small publishers although Paul Lynch’s Beyond the Sea is from Oneworld who’ve  bagged not one but two Booker Prizes in the last few years. Written in that spare, pared-back style which I so admire, this intense novella explores themes of faith, madness, survival and existential crisis through the story of two fishermen cast adrift after a dreadful storm. Hector and Bolivar are thrown upon themselves and each other in order to survive. As a bond forms between them, each begins to tell the other about their lives, their secrets and their fears but while Hector sees faith as their saviour, Bolivar puts his trust in resourcefulness.

My second small publisher, Charco Press, is a comparatively new kid on the block, set up to champion Latin American literature in the English-speaking world. Argentinian writer Selva Almada’s The Wind That Lays Waste is the tale of an encounter between a charismatic evangelist and the mechanic who spends much of a long hot day mending his car. Pearson and Gringo are each other’s antithesis: one a passionate believer in God and himself as God’s instrument; the other an atheist, dismissive of religion. As the day wears on, Pearson spots an opportunity resulting in a confrontation which reaches its climax as the skies crack open and the storm breaks. Almada unfolds her story in short chapters written in plain yet evocative often poetic prose, anchoring it in the parched Argentinean outback. The result is a striking, thought-provoking piece of fiction

High summer finished with a collection of short stories whose lovely jacket caught my eye on Cover imageTwitter. Comprising seventeen pieces, Chloe Turner’s Witches Sail in Eggshells is about relationships – with partners, exs and partners of exs, rivals and even old schoolmates – some with disturbing undercurrents, all delivered in nicely polished, insightful prose. There’s not one dud amongst them but you don’t have to take my word for it: the tiny Reflex Press have cleverly put one of Turner’s stories, ‘The Hagstone’, on their website for all to read.

Sadly, the end of my literary summer’s on the horizon and with it the advent of winter although autumn offered some gorgeous colours to distract me from the inevitable. The last quarter of 2019 turned up some of the best titles of the year for me including the story of a family told through the history of their house, the welcome return of Olive Kitteridge and an art heist which is very much more than that. All the above titles link to a full review on this blog should you want to know more, and if you’d like to catch up with the first two quarters they’re here and here.

Witches Sail in Eggshells by Chloe Turner: A smartly turned out collection

Cover imageI was initially attracted to Chloe Turner’s debut collection by its cover. Such a lovely pared back image and once you’ve read what’s inside, you’ll find it’s entirely relevant, too. Witches Sail in Eggshells comprises seventeen short pieces – some just a couple of pages, others stretching over ten – all as smartly turned out as that jacket.

There’s a ‘be careful what you wish for’ flavour to the opening story, ‘The Hagstone’, in which a pebble brought home by Leda’s sister enlivens her collection with sinister results. It’s hard to say whose behaviour is the worst in the lengthy ‘Piñata’, or perhaps the children are simply taking after their parents at eight-year-old Marlie’s birthday party. Shorter and more taut, ‘Inches Apart’ sees a woman whose marriage has dwindled, wondering if she’ll choose to see the evidence of her partner’s infidelity while in ‘Labour of Love’ – one of my favourites – a gardener finds first joy then surprising comfort in working her vegetable patch.

Many of Turner’s stories are about relationships – with partners, exs and partners of exs, rivals and even old schoolmates – some with disturbing undercurrents. ‘Show Me What You’re Made Of ‘ is a chilling, almost gothic, exploration of domestic violence and coercion while a thread of tension runs through ‘Collecting Her Thoughts on the Prison Steps’ as we wonder how things will end for a woman caught up in a controlling relationship. More cheeringly, a woman is brought face to face with one of her ex’s lovers when their sons become friends and is surprised at how she feels in ‘Waiting for the Runners’.

Grief, ageing, love and quiet heartbreak are also constants. There’s a lovely wistful tone to ‘The Day You Asked Me’ in which an old woman remembers the first time her childhood sweetheart asked her out on his boat, charting their lives until he asks again decades later. In ‘On Old Stones, Old Bones and Love ‘a glimpse of a young couple in love and her husband’s kindness in a crisis reminds an ageing woman of the passion and adventure they once shared.

All this is delivered in nicely polished, insightful prose:

As she knelt, loose stones made themselves comfortable in the soft tissue of her knees. (Labour of Love)

The stalk was furring like a baby rabbit’s pelt, and the smirking mouth was starting to pucker down at the edges, but I still felt it was laughing at me. (Waiting for the Runners)

It was late springtime when you asked me for the first time. The sun was young in the sky, untroubled by cloud, and there were jellyfish everywhere, shrugging and sagging their way through the pea green. (The Day You Asked Me)

Though there is something sad about her, a drooping wilt to her tall frame as if her roots might be too shallow. (The House with Three Stories That Might Be Five)

Dogs barked at them, and the octopuses would wave a tentacle back in disdain. (A Raft of Silver Corpses)

A book that lives up to its fetching cover, then, but you don’t have to take my word for that: Reflex Press have cleverly put ‘The Hagstone’ on their website for you to read.