findingtimetowrite

Thinking, writing, thinking about writing…

Friday Fun: It’s Chateau Time Again!

Why, I do believe it’s been quite a while since I posted any pictures of castles and manor houses… High time I remedied that. On this occasion, it’s all chateaux from my region, Rhone Alpes. Just to show you what you can move into, should you choose to become my neighbour! Something for all tastes, from medieval to 19th century, from modest proportions to royal.

Chateau de la Teyssonniere, Ain Tourism website.

Chateau de la Teyssonniere, Ain Tourism website.

Chateau de Grilly, Agence-clerc.fr

Chateau de Grilly, Agence-clerc.fr

Chateau de Prevessin. This one has been snapped up by a watch manufacturer for use as a workshop.

Chateau de Prevessin. This one has been snapped up by a watch manufacturer for use as a workshop.

Name unknown, from Prestige Property.

Name unknown, from Prestige Property.

Chateau Herbey, From A Vendre A Louer website.

Chateau Herbey, From A Vendre A Louer website.

Name Unknown, near Geneva. Mhmimmobilier website.

Name Unknown, near Geneva. MHM Immobilier website.

Don’t forget to invite me over for a cup of tea when you do move in…

Jousting for Attention

Walk up, walk up, fair knights and ladies! Meeting in battle today for the first time ever are two poems of very different composure, manner and attire. The first, inspired by a verse from a ballad by that incomparable bard Sir Timothy of Br’ian, is serious and moody. A knight of darkness, riding to the rescue of damsels in distress. The second jumped fresh as a daisy from a line from Lady Claudia’s Book of Adventurous Deeds: sweet, rambunctious and all white fluffiness. They are competing here for your favours. Which one will get your vote?

From kidswindow.co.uk

From kidswindow.co.uk

 

1) One day you stop filling in cracks

with smiles, guts and vapour.

One day the paint becomes too heavy for the wall.

One night your eyes unblink in reddened wakefulness

and never come to rest again.

One morning your boots start walking all by themselves.

 

2)  Time is a thin line on a cat’s back.

When you most want to tickle it awake

and grab it by its fleeting softness,

it scampers away in offended silence.

Yet when you blissfully ignore,

pace forth in multitasking skullduggery,

reluctant to waste a drop…

it curls into a placid ball

and purrs contentment into your impatient lap.

 

These two poems are in response to our ‘medievally themed’ week at dVerse Poets Pub, where we are bidding fond farewell (but not adieu) to Claudia and Brian, our founding parents. Do come over and join the celebrations! [I have marked the lines from their poems in italics.]

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Parenthood, Loss and Grief: Reading with a Theme

It’s typical of my reading: I have a higgledy-piggledy collection of books on my night-table, get distracted by someone’s urgent recommendation, read with a fine disregard for the original plan… and nevertheless find a pattern. This time, it’s about a parent learning to deal with the loss of a much-loved only child and finding ways of grieving and coping.

katehamerThe first book is Kate Hamer’s ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’, published by Faber and Faber today. You know how I’ve been objecting to ‘Girl’ titles, especially when they refer to mature women? Well, in this case it is not just annoying marketing to cash in on the ‘Gone Girl’ fever (with echoes of ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ thrown in for good measure). In this case, it is justified: the girl is just eight years old. Her name is Carmel and she is the daughter of Beth, a woman who is still trying to come to terms with single motherhood and her husband’s leaving her for another woman. Carmel and her mother have a very close relationship, but there is something slightly odd about Carmel’s dreaminess, her other-worldly charm and ability to understand what other people are feeling.  She sometimes blurts out funny little statements, mature beyond her age, which cast a chill on any mother’s heart. Hamer is excellent at playing on our most primitive fears as a parent, on our fierce protective instincts:

‘You realise, Mum, that I won’t always be with you,’ she said, her voice small and breathy in the fading light.

Maybe my heart should have frozen then. Maybe I should have turned and gathered her up and taken her home. Kept her shut away in a fortress or a tower. Locked with a golden key that I would swallow, so my stomach would have to be cut open before she could be found. But of course I thought it meant nothing, nothing at all.

Carmel has a tendency to fall into a daydream and wander off. Very near the start of the book, Beth loses her in a maze, so we are not surprised when the mother becomes overly anxious about letting the girl out of her sight. Luckily, the little girl likes red things, so when they go to a local storytelling festival, her mother is reassured that she can easily pick her daughter out in the crowd by her bright red coat. Unfortunately, so can others and very soon Beth’s worst fears are realised: Carmel disappears and is tricked into believing that she is not being kidnapped. Beth has to cope with her overwhelming sense of grief and guilt, her ex-husband’s accusations of not having looked after their daughter properly, the endless not knowing.

This is being marketed as a thriller, but, despite the ‘will they won’t they find the child’ element, the focus of the story is neither on the police investigation nor on actual crimes. The timeframe is much longer than the one to which crime fiction readers may be accustomed – a matter of years rather than days. This is very much a book about the process of grieving, coming to terms with all that has been lost and trying to find a reason to go on. We alternate between the points of view of Beth and Carmel and see how they both fight to keep hold of their identity and their memories of each other. They each find support and friendship in the most unlikely of places.

Written in a very oral, often breathless style, liberally sprinkled with lyrical passages, it’s a book you have to surrender to and just go with the flow. It starts out as a familiar British domestic thriller, and then morphs into a tale of poverty, miracle healings, deceit and a need to believe which seems to come out straight out of ‘True Detective’. Child narrators can be tricky to handle, but on the whole Carmel’s voice rings true: she is, after all, a very precocious eight-year-old. It is Beth, however, who is the most moving, whom  I can identify with, and she has pushed through her pain to become a philosopher and a poet:

I have a strange image of the two of us. That all these years we were tiny insects and the world was made of a huge beast – some kind of cattle. That we roamed and roamed across its back and even climbed up, one on the tip of each horn, and from there we tried to wave to each other. But being tiny we could not see, and the chasm was too great, and there wasn’t anything that could bridge that gap.

routeMingarelliIn the second book, Hubert Mingarelli’s ‘La route de Beit Zera’ (my translation: ‘The Road to Beit Zera’), set in present-day Israel, Stepan has lost his son Yankel because of a shooting at a border crossing into Palestine. He knows exactly where his son has fled to: New Zealand, and he writes to him every day, ruining his eyesight to make little boxes that he sells for a pittance, trying to save up enough money to visit his son. His only companion is his faithful dog, now grown old and incontinent, although he receives occasional visits from his old friend Samuelson, who used to be a border guard like him, and therefore understands the mix of shame, fear and compassion of his old life.  Israeli novels tend to avoid describing the Arab-Israeli conflict and mutual distrust, and it could be argued that Mingarelli is French and therefore not able to understand the complexity of the situation, but it seems to me he describes those ambiguous feelings very well:

…every night he’d fall asleep in the company of all those that he’d stopped and searched, on the street, at the barriers. He took with him in his sleep their empty gaze, disguising their hatred. And when he woke up, he was afraid of all these men and hated them just as much as they hated him. This fear grew, night after night, but whenever he had to search an Arab who was the same age as his father, he tried to impress upon him, with his hands, that he had no wish to humiliate him, and in patting him all along the body as cautiously as possible, he expected some kind of gesture, something impossible, a small flicker of gratitude in his eyes. But his gaze remained resolutely empty and later, in his sleep, turned murderous and full of hatred.

A young Arab boy comes into Stepan’s life. He appears wordlessly from the edge of the forest and forms a deep bond with Stepan’s dog, although the two of them barely exchange any words. He comes and slips away at night, doesn’t reappear for days, but gradually Stepan starts to look forward to his visits.  They are united in their suffering as they watch the decline of the dog, a decline they are powerless to stop. Perhaps the boy or the dog or both represent Stepan’s son, or maybe they are ways in which he can expiate his past.

Mingarelli has endless compassion for each one of his characters: we enter the cheerful world of the Palestinian man who is accidentally shot, as he returns from work, trying to find a name for his soon-to-be-born son; we see how Samuelson’s drunken stupor momentarily relieves his pain; towards the end of the book, we even become acquainted with the boy’s mother, who trembles with fear every time her son goes away she knows not where, yet learns not to ask questions; and, of course, the nameless dog, who can’t quite gambol through the forest anymore to enjoy her greatest pleasure in life: drinking water from the pools formed at the roots of trees.

From babelio.com

From babelio.com

Sadly, Mingarelli’s book is currently only available in French. His deceptively brief yet very moving novellas are ripe for translation, however, and I don’t just say that because he is practically a neighbour of mine, living in a tiny hamlet in the French Alps.  If you do want to try him in English, Portobello Books published ‘A Meal in Winter’ (transl. Sam Taylor) in 2013.

 

 

 

Acceptance Speeches and Gratitude

JK Simmons receiving his Oscar, photo by John Shearer by AP Photo.

JK Simmons receiving his Oscar, photo by John Shearer by AP Photo.

Warning: this post is incredibly loud and extremely personal. Viewers of a more generalist or nervous disposition should skip ahead to the next book review.

I heard that, with small exceptions, the Oscars ceremony on Sunday night was overly long and dull. I was never planning to watch it and was only mildly interested in the winners. [I have only seen 2-3 of the films across all nominated categories, most of them on airplanes, such is my social life]. But I struggled downstairs with a terrible migraine, so got to see live reactions on Twitter to the music, the surprise awards, the speeches.

Ah, the speeches! Some of them were political, rebellious, personal, memorable…  good for them. Typical acceptance speeches, of course, are all about gratitude, acknowledgement and thanks to collaborators and supporters. ‘I thank my parents, my spouse, my children, my dog…’

What to do, however, if those nearest and dearest are not at all supportive? I’ve written about it before. I’ve written a poem about it from the point of view of the supportive (and hitherto neglected) spouse. I’m not going to repeat myself. I don’t want to whine. I’ll just share with you a collection of anecdotes. Some of them are personal, some of them have been told to me by others. I suspect there is a glint of universality in most of them.

I really, really want to become a writer. All my teachers tell me I have talent. — What a waste of your intellectual capacities! You could do so many other things. Do that as a hobby, once you have got a good job under your belt, such as medicine or economics.

I did get to study what I was passionate about: languages and then anthropology. I even briefly got to work as an academic, but … it’s not like social sciences are real sciences, right? Surely an academic job in real science takes precedence. Why don’t you find a nice portable job, that you can take with you wherever you have to go to follow your husband?

This consultancy job is taking off, and you may be paid three times as much as your spouse, but it’s not really conducive to family life, is it? If you want to raise happy children, shouldn’t you find something more part-time, more flexible, even if it’s lower paid?

Patricia Arquette's rousing speech on gender equality. Photo from the Daily Mail.

Patricia Arquette’s rousing speech on gender equality. Photo from the Daily Mail.

Oh, come off it, being a trailing spouse isn’t that bad, is it? So you had to quit your job, but just look at your lifestyle in what is considered one of the most livable cities in the world! You can meet your lady friends for coffee and lunch, you can go to the gym, or, better still, explore the lovely nature surrounding you. You’ve got time on your hands, such a luxury! Lonely – psha! You can Skype your friends and family anytime. Anyone would envy you!

What do you mean, you want to start your own business? But who is going to handle all the organisational things this family needs? After all, you’re the only one who can speak the language…

What do you mean, you want to cut back on your work to focus on your writing? Writing will never pay the bills. If you’re not the next J K Rowling, you might as well not bother. Focus on your real job – just don’t travel so much with it. I can’t handle the kids all day – there’s very little time to do anything while they are in school.

OK, sure, honey, I’m supportive. When are you going to finish that book? Why are you wasting time on poetry? What have you been doing all day, why are you so tired? When are you going to get your book contract? Why should I go to the parents’ evening instead of you, so you can write –  haven’t you had enough time during the day?

Marion Cotillard in 2008. Photo: Digital Spy.

Marion Cotillard in 2008. Photo: Digital Spy.

This past weekend I had good news. After years of unseen labour and cold showers, I had very positive and personalised feedback about my writing from editors and agents at a conference organised by the Geneva Writers’ Group. They encouraged me to keep going, to finish my second novel as quickly as possible and to send it to them. Yes, I know there’s a long, hard road still ahead of me, that there are no guarantees. But it’s that first step, and so much better than I had ever allowed myself to hope for.

I come home in a disbelieving, golden haze, basking in their warm words. I open the door very nearly breathless, eager to celebrate with my loved ones, bring out the bugles, roll out the red carpet, open the champagne. Instead, I don’t even get the question: ‘So, how did it go?’

I’m realistic about the attention span and degree of empathy of little boys. In my exuberance, I pour out my joy regardless… but soon get bogged down in dinner questions, homework completed, cooking, setting the table and preparing schoolbags for the first day back after the holidays. I get to hear about levels completed on Super Mario Galaxy during my absence, while the older ‘child’ barely raises his head from his phone to listen to my anecdotes about the day. I expect to be brought down to earth by family commitments and daily life – but not necessarily a ball and chain weighing me down just as I am soaring.

Finally, at supper, I open a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé that I’ve been keeping for special occasions and say, ‘Here’s to me!’ as we clinked our glasses.

‘Oh,’ replies my supportive spouse, ‘Why you?’

 

This is whom I’m going to mention in my acceptance speech:

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What Got You Hooked on Crime, Rebecca Kreisher?

RebeccaKreisher

Today I have the great pleasure of introducing yet another crime fiction lover and blogger to you. Rebecca Kreisher blogs as Ms. Wordopolis , primarily about crime fiction. She is passionate about translated crime and likes to challenge herself by reading books set in countries all over the world. You can also find Rebecca on Twitter.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

While I read and loved Nancy Drew mysteries when I was little, I wasn’t really hooked on the genre until I was much older. Patricial Cornwell, Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton are what hooked me as a twenty-something law student.

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

I tend to gravitate to police procedurals such as those by Arnaldur Indriðason, because I’ve moved on from the PI novels I used to read.

What is the most memorable book you have read recently?

Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland was a recent favorite. It was more of a thriller than I expected, and the social/political commentary was quite good as well.

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

I’d bring the Wallander series by Henning Mankell, both because I haven’t finished the series yet and because the books themselves tend to run long.

TBRRebeccaWhat are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

I’ve been catching up with Laura Lippman lately, and I’m looking forward to her newest Hush Hush.

Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

Honestly, I usually recommend crime novels, so this is a difficult question to answer. I like Allegra Goodman and Ann Patchett for smart fiction, and Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration for nonfiction.

 

Thank you, Rebecca, for some great suggestions here. Several authors I’ve been meaning to explore further – like Laura Lippman. But I will stay strong for a month or so longer, for the sake of my TBR Double Dare Challenge!

For previous participants in the series, just follow this link. If you would like to take part, please let me know via the comments or on Twitter – we always love to hear about other people’s criminal passions!

 

Can There Ever Be Too Much Compassion?

speakforcompassion

I am blogging today as part of the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion initiative (thank you to Rebecca Bradley for drawing my attention to it). 

My life has been coloured by others. My body, my heart, my mind have sickened with compassion.

I make no claims to be exceptional in this: my skin is simply more permeable than most. My moods are dampened by other people’s suffering, my joy tempered by the thought that so many around the world do not have even half of the things I take for granted. I am restless and anxious when friends are ill or going through a rough patch. I hope they know that I am always there to help and support them, even if it causes myself discomfort or trouble. But who isn’t willing to put themselves out for friends? Nothing exciting to report there.

I worry about the poor and oppressed, the voiceless, powerless, helpless, nameless, faceless. I fear for all who are different of face, limb or thought, the outsiders, the rebels – with or without a cause, willful or yielding. I am guilty of not being there for everyone who ever needed me, not helping whenever I could, turning away with disgust when I could have tried to understand or forgive more.

So I always try to see the other side of the story, the other point of view. I can be accused of sitting on fences, of lack of courage, of refusing to commit, of having no certainties. I will always listen to one more argument, even if I do not agree with them. As Byron says:

If I am fool, it is, at least, a doubting one; and I envy no one the certainty of his self-approved wisdom.

I don’t believe in this contemporary quest for personal happiness. I wish I did. I wish I could pursue happiness without considering it selfish. I wish I could have intransigent views and be deaf to the multitude of voices. I wish I could have less empathy and more self-absorption. It sometimes feels to me that people who are compassionate are taken advantage of.

But it’s too late for me: my skin remains paper-thin, rippling with every current. I can understand and feel for even the most repulsive or conflicted characters in a book. I cry at films, weddings, funerals, graduations or friends’ confessions. ‘Put yourself in the other person’s shoes’ is not just a motto, it’s a way of life.

Is it too late for my children, I wonder? Am I doing the right thing teaching them to have more patience, more understanding, more empathy for other people? Would they be more serene if they were more blind to the needs of others, would they sleep more soundly when their universe extends only a shallow distance beyond their own contours?

Those are the darkest days, when I question the wisdom of compassion. Most days, however, I believe that the world is suffering from a lack of, rather than a surfeit of compassion.

compassion

For me personally, compassion is not a choice but a compulsion, but I have often been told to ‘care less’, to learn to ‘put myself first’. ‘Compassion is the radicalism of our time’ says the Dalai Lama – and how frightening it can be!

 

 

Friday Fun: Bookshops in Romania

There is a beautiful new bookshop that just opened up last week in the centre of Bucharest, in a recently renovated, gracious old mansion. I’m very excited about this and can hardly wait to go there to ‘visit’ (code word for ‘buy lots of books’).

Bookshop Carturesti Carusel, just opened in the Chrisoveloni House in Bucharest.

Bookshop Carturesti Carusel, just opened in the Chrissoveloni House in Bucharest.

It will be the largest bookshop in the country, extending over 6 floors.

It will be the largest bookshop in the country, extending over 6 floors.

The building was nationalised during Communist times and served as HQ for a bank at one point.

The building was nationalised during Communist times and served as HQ for a bank at one point.

 

 

But there are plenty of other wonderful bookshops round about Bucharest and Romania.

The library in the Institut Francais in Bucharest.

The bookshop in the Institut Francais in Bucharest.

bookaholicHabitus

Habitus bookshop in Sibiu, from bookaholic.ro.

Carturesti bookshop in Brasov.

Carturesti bookshop in Brasov.

Advance warning: there will be a second blog post later on today, for the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion initiative! It’s not too late: if you want to take part, find out more about it here.

 

Also Read: Dept. of Speculation

OffillJenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation was one of those books that I really expected to like. If I just quote the blurb, you will realise that it sounds exactly like my existentially angsty cup of tea or coffee:

Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all.

And it is, indeed, beautifully written in parts, certainly thought-provoking, with glimpses of universal recognition. It’s the story of a nameless woman (initially narrating in the first person, then gradually distancing herself to become ‘she’ or ‘the wife’), who dreams of becoming a great writer, but becomes domesticated, married, a mother instead. Maternal love surprises her with its intensity, the pain of being a betrayed wife is ferocious (yet much more civilised and philosophical than the raw cry of abandonment of Elena Ferrante’s heroine). There is something of the tragicomic musings of Jewish introspection of the early Woody Allen movies – or is that just the New York style? A layer of wit to make the pain more bearable. It is a very personal and often funny story of how, little by little, we get snowed under by life’s demands. We compromise and dead-end. In the end, life is made up of these small everyday emergencies such as bedbugs, soul-destroying jobs that pay the rent, a colicky baby, trying to keep up with the organised mothers at school. At some point, however, we stop to ask ourselves: is this what I really want? How did I end up like this? So, in many ways, this book is an extended description of mid-life crisis

There are whole passages that I want to underline or keep in my quotations folders:

My plan was to never get married. I was going to be an art monster instead. Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things. Nabokov didn’t even fold his own umbrella. Vera licked his stamps for him.

I would give it up for her, everything, the hours alone, the radiant book, the postage stamp in my likeness, but only if she would consent to lie quietly with me until she is eighteen.

Enough already with the terrible hunted eyes of the married people. Did everyone always look this way but she is just now seeing it?

The wife reads about something called ‘the wayward fog’ on the Internet. The one who has the affair becomes enveloped in it. His old life and wife become unbearably irritating. His possible new life seems a shimmering dream… It is during this period that people burn their houses down. At first the flames are beautiful to see. But later when the fog wears off, they come back to find only ashes. ‘What are you reading about?’ the husband asks her from across the room. ‘Weather,’ she tells him.

And yet… and yet…

Much as I admire the courage to experiment in literary fiction (and wish publishers would allow more of these books to reach us readers), I do wonder if a daisy chain or even a string of pearls makes for a satisfying book. I’m probably being too severe here, but, even though there is a narrative arc here, the apparent random clustering of one idea after another just feels slightly lazy to me.

Have you read this book? And what did you make of its style?

 

 

Letter from the Future

I wish I could tell you it’s all sunshine.

But you’d never believe or take joy in that.

You need cloud cover to hide the pockmarks on your path.

 

You should be here.

 

You should see

how all you feared came to pass

 

and you lived anyway.

 

How lessons took too long to be learnt

smarted with salt-rub on blistered skin

then washed in emulsion of sepia tints.

 

You should if you could…

but you wouldn’t and you won’t…

keep your eyes unfocused, looking beyond the prize,

capture all the slapdash details

which add up to a beautiful life.

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Over at dVerse Poets Pub tonight, we are imagining receiving a letter or poem from our future self. What will we know/have learnt/be willing to share? What does the future look like?

Holiday Reading (and Snowy Pictures)

A rather unusual Monday post for me – as I’ve just come back from completely offline holidays, so have had no time to plan or prepare a thorough post. My ‘What got you hooked’ feature will have to wait until next week, and my more in-depth, ‘impeccably researched’ reviews (at least to my mind, although I inevitably think of the best things AFTER I publish the review) will appear later during the course of this week. Children’s additional week of holidays permitting.

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It was great to disconnect completely and to worry only about physical things. Will I be warm enough? Have I forgotten any goggles, gloves, boots, socks, hood, ski-helmets? Will my knees hold out for a full day’s skiing? Can I bear to carry those heavy skis a step further? And I promise you: there is nothing better than the sound of silence when you are the first down a piste, when you can feel the cold air on your face and hear the swoosh-swoosh of your skis turning in the fresh snow.

 

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There may not have been an open fireplace in the evening to savour a hot chocolate with a dash of Chartreuse (the local speciality)… but turning in early in the evening and reading in bed was equally delightful.

My reading matter could hardly have contrasted more with the view outside. I was reading Eva Dolan’s two novels about present-day Peterborough, rife with poverty, immigration problems, prostitution and crime. Eva deftly describes a small town overcome by its social problems, and the resulting picture is grim, dark, with few glimmers of hope. Perhaps best read when you can look up from the page and see a sunny landscape, where the shadows are only picturesque.

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You may think this sounds similar to J.K. Rowling’s ‘The Casual Vacancy’, which has just been adapted for TV. But it’s far better than that. First of all, both of Dolan’s books are proper crime novels, with suspense, pacing, mystery and enough twisty turns to keep any fan busy guessing. Secondly, they are pitch-perfect in describing the difficult social mix in present-day England: the tensions between the older and newer waves of immigrants; the anxiety about the overburdening of the social services, schools and hospitals; blatant and hidden xenophobia, as well as an increasingly nasty discourse about the undeserving poor and scroungers. It expresses all the fears that are beginning to haunt those of us who have not been born in the UK but have come there because of its reputation for tolerance and fair-mindedness.

tellNoTalesYet the immigrants described by Dolan are by no means all angels or innocent victims. Horrendous things happen to some of them (especially in the first novel ‘The Long Way Home’, which looks at unscrupulous companies employing foreign workers in inhumane conditions). But fear, distrust of the police force, misplaced national loyalties and the sheer desperation of survival makes them all act in dangerous ways, often not helping themselves at all in the process. So the characters are complex and flawed, and their views of the English are often quite funny (and not very complimentary).

The two investigating detectives are fascinating characters as well. Zigic was born and bred in England, but is of Croatian descent. He is usually the rational voice of the enquiry, patient, compassionate, a man sensitive to psychological and cultural nuances. And happily married, even though he wishes his wife weren’t quite so keen on an upwardly mobile lifestyle. His partner is the volatile, sparky Mel Ferreira, who came to the UK aged seven and whose Portuguese family run a pub in the local area. She relies heavily on gut instinct, is quick to flare up and take offence, yet it’s impossible not to fall in love a little with her ardent desire for social justice.

 

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But what I love best about Dolan’s books is the depth of her writing. A multitude of voices – often voices that are never heard in English fiction – are present here. Every sentence is rich with nuance, with multiple layers of meaning. It’s like hearing a complex piece of music with many instruments, after the rather monotonous strumming of simple bands.

One small descriptive passage is enough to set up all the background and contrasts of Peterborough: the cathedral town visited by tourists and the rather more scummy underbelly.

There were pop-up stores selling cheap clothes and pound shops all with the same plastic tat outside them, four different gold-cashing places which would have been based in council flats in Bretton a couple of years ago. Now they were respectable, or near enough, fences with business cards and backstreet accountants, legitimised by austerity.

She turned into the Wheelyard, a few morning drinkers sheltering under the budding cherry blossoms ont he corner, then turned along a cobbled alleyway into the cathedral precincts, high stone walls rising above her, spackled with moss and noxious yellow lichen. A loud woman with a Home Counties accent was leading a group of tourists across the cathedral green…

DolanLongThese two books should be required reading for those who laugh at UKIP and other nationalist parties, believing that they could never come to power today. They should also be read by those who fear the unknown and who find themselves sympathising with hard-core immigration policies. They are not comfort reads, but extremely thought-provoking and realistic, in their unsettling depth and refusal to find easy, neat solutions.

In the last two years, there are only a handful of writers I encountered on the page for the first time got me so excited with their perfect blend of subject matter and style: Stav Sherez, Denise Mina, Louise Penny. Now I can add Eva Dolan to this group. And one more gratuitous picture to remind me of the perfect downhill descent.

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