After Me Comes The Flood

Earlier this year, I read and enjoyed Sarah Perry’s fantastic historical novel The Essex Serpent. Perry’s debut novel After Me Comes The Flood was recommended to me, as very different, but also an interesting book, so I decided to give it a try.

The story follows John, who ends up through a simple mistake, staying in a house full of unusual strangers. John quickly passes the point where the mistake could be corrected, and finds himself in a tangled situation full of drama and misunderstandings. Tension runs high as a heatwave drags on, and secrets are uncovered within the house, as John is drawn towards several of the occupants through curiosity, friendship and desire. One occupant, Alex, is increasingly convinced that the dam of the neighbouring reservoir will break, and there will be a disastrous flood, and this is heightened by the anonymous letters he receives with their focus on drownings from the news. An inevitable storm is coming.

This story is hard to describe, the narrative is dream-like, shifting between first and third person perspectives, revealing lots and yet nothing all at the same time. Characters are difficult to get a handle on; what is each person’s motivation? Why does John stay in such a highly fraught situation when he could so easily leave? And yet, the characters are also all so very real and believable. Selfishness, desire, deceit, belief and fear motivate each of them in different ways.

I really enjoyed this book, but I imagine it might not be to everyone’s taste. It creates more questions than it answers and is one of those stories that leaves you thinking about it well after it has finished. It is atmospheric, dream-like and thought-provoking.

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The Birds and the Bees

I lovw Milly Johnson’s books for a bit of light-hearted romance and this was perfect for a quick summer read.

Stevie is shocked when she discovers that her fiance Matthew has disappeared on a holiday with his beautiful friend Jo. Even more so as it’s Jo’s angry husband Adam who delivers the news. Both Adam and Stevie blame each other for the affair at first, believing the various stories Jo has fed them about how the other behaves. Adam and Stevie soon decide that the best plan for getting their respective partners back involves teaming up to work together. 

Sweet, romantic and funny; I read this book in two evenings and thoroughly enjoyed it. There were no particular surprises, the book followed a pattern that has long been established by the author, and yet that is part of its charm – you know things will work out in the end. Definitely one for chilling out and forgetting the world for a few hours.

Eligible

I’m a huge fan of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Eligible is a modern retelling of the story and it has been widely praised as witty and entertaining.

The story has been brought to the modern day, set in Cincinnati, LA and New York. Liz is a journalist, Jane a yoga-instructor, Darcy a brain surgeon, and Mrs Bennet a member of the Country Club.

So was it witty and entertaining? Personally, I didn’t think so. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I found the book a real chore to read. The attempts at humour fell flat, the modern setting detracted from the nuances of the original story, and Liz and Darcy’s love story just didn’t ring true.

Overall, disappointing. I’d suggest that if you’re looking for an entertaining and funny modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice you instead choose Bridget Jones’s Diary.

I am Malala

For a while now I’ve been inspired by Malala Yousafzai, who stood up to the Taliban at a young age, to fight for her right to an education.

This non-fiction book tells her story, focusing on her life and the challenges that she faced as a schoolgirl in Pakistan, when the Taliban tried to restrict her right to an education. With the support of her family, Malala refused to accept the limitations that the Taliban tried to place on young women in her town. She shared her experiences through blogs and interviews, until one day the Taliban stopped her school bus and shot her. Malala barely survived and was flown to the UK to receive life-saving surgery. Despite this she remained positive and went on to speak to world leaders and the UN about the importance of education for girls around the world.

Her story is powerful and moving and Malala really is an inspiration to everyone facing oppression and a powerful advocate for education. A thought-provoking and inspirational non-fiction book.

The Silent Fountain

The Silent Fountain follows two central characters: Vivien Lockhart, a 1970s film star and Lucy Whittaker in the present day, whose life has dissolved into scandal following an affair. Both women have secrets to hide, and both find themselves at the mysterious Castillo Barbarossa in Italy, a home with a dark past and secrets of its own. 

The dual storylines of this novel make for a suspense-filled book; each switch in time/character adds its own cliffhanger and there are plenty of twists in the plot. As I read it I found myself changing my mind about characters and ideas frequently, and often completely drawn in by the latest twist. It made for fast-paced reading and I was drawn on to the end, desperate to see where the twists and turns would lead me.

The mysteries in the novel are enhanced by the gothic setting and themes (creepy mansion, locked doors, a madwoman in the attic) and the end result is an intriguing (although ultimately tragic) book, which I thoroughly enjoyed, from beginning to end. A good choice for a summer-read.

In Cold Blood

I don’t usually read very much non-fiction, but I’ve always felt like In Cold Blood is one of those modern classics that I ‘should’ read one day.

Truman Capote tells the true story of the Clutter family (father, mother, son and daughter) who were all murdered in one awful night. They were universally liked in their community, and as they rarely used cash, only about 40 dollars worth of goods and money had been taken from their home. The town was shocked: what could possibly have driven someone to so brutally take the lives of 4 people? The story also follows the path of the two killers: Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. From fairly different backgrounds, they had each set out on a life of criminality, which led them eventually to the horrific murders described in this book.

I did wonder at first whether the book would hold my interest throughout. As I’ve mentioned, I don’t often read non-fiction, and there was no real mystery involved. The killers are known to the reader almost from the beginning. However, Capote has a brilliant writing style that captivates the reader’s attention; at times the book reads almost like fiction, and I had to occasionally remind myself that all of this actually happened.

A well-written account of truly chilling murderers, it is certainly worth reading.