Klara and the Sun -Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am starting to think that the whole AI thing has been done to death so when I read the blurb on the back I was potentially worried. However, whilst this book isn’t groundbreaking it is an interesting and very readable story, with human behaviour viewed through the AI narrator. It is fresh and compelling, though also frustrating, with so much left unexplained, appearing just on the periphery of Klara’s vision, such as the communities the Father now lives in, and the increasingly segregated and violent world they seem to be living in (and what happened to Rosa? Will this be another novel? and what of the technology Rick invented? Will this be used by a future Resistance movement?). I guess I am always most interested in the social and political aspects of stories so I was craving more of that. But leaving things unexplained, and writing with an understated, light touch seems to be in vogue at the moment (the last novel I read before this one was China Room) and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Don’t read on if you don’t want spoilers. I found the ending really upsetting, and in some ways a bit difficult to understand. I could understand that she had outlived her usefulness to that family, but to create a sentient being, and such a clever and useful one at that, and then just dump her at the end, is inexplicably wasteful. Could she not have been sent to another family, or performed some useful work? Also, why did they hold her in such high regard, and indulge her with her plans to ‘help Josie’ without explanation? This also doesn’t quite convince, especially when at the end of the book she seems to be abandoned.

So…. plenty of unanswered questions, but still a very good read.

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Homesick -Catrina Davies

Homesick: Why I Live in a Shed by Catrina Davies

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an engaging and fascinating book detailing one woman’s attempt to escape the treadmill of dead end jobs and crappy rooms in shared houses by moving into a shed in her hometown in Cornwall where she has the peace and space to write. The magic is in her descriptions of the people she encounters, revealing the impact of second homes and investment properties on Cornwall. She also details beautifully the lives of her parents and herself, crushed by economic hardship and mental health difficulties, and there are some lovely descriptions of nature, and of the kindness (and random, undeserved hostility) of strangers.

I too was born in the Winter of Discontent so we are the same age. While I would argue we have it better than those younger than us, ours is the generation where the faultlines are first evident. Amongst my friends, also in their early 40s, they are either settled into a career and own a house and have a mortgage, or they are stuck on a treadmill of low paying, unreliable jobs, and renting a room in a shared house, or maybe a tiny flat to themselves if they are lucky. There seem to be no particular rules s to who has ended up with what but the key factors as far as I can see are, 1) inheriting something along the way and being sensible with it (I inherited a small amount from my grandparents, similar to what Davies got from her grandfather by the sound of it, which I used as a deposit on a property before prices rocketed), 2) being in a profession that offers reliable job prospects, and 3) being in a stable relationship, with two decent incomes. I have two out of three and am definitely less well off than most of my friends who have three out of three, but I know other people who have had different luck and made a couple of different choices, and now find themselves locked out of home ownership, job stability, and probably locked out of the places and landscapes they love and feel a connection with. Anyone with mental health problems and/or neurodivergence is particularly likely to end up in this scenario, as beautifully, honestly depicted in this book.

I did skim some of the descriptions of surfing as I found them tedious, but it still did manage to convey to me that this is important for her and of huge importance for her mental health.

The descriptions of the natural world, and the observations about people and society are superb. It is a moving and important book and one I will now purchase for a permanent place on my shelves as I’m sure I will want to re-visit it.

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China Room -Sunjeev Sahota

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I initially found Mehar’s story compelling and the modern story dull, so I skipped through and read Mehar’s story to the end, then went back and read the other, enjoying it a lot more as a result. However, I may have missed something in doing so as it felt that, although linked in terms of family and themes, the two stories weren’t as interwoven as I expected.

Still, that doesn’t diminish this beautifully written book of quiet heartbreak which has more to it than just the storylines.

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Record of a Spaceborn Few -Becky Chambers

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t realise this was part of a trilogy until after I’d read it and it stands alone perfectly well. I found it to be that wonderful, often elusive, combination: easy to read but also thought provoking with depth and scope.

There are ideas and themes here of cultural and personal identity, of links to the past, of how to organise a society for the greatest good, and there are engaging personal stories woven in.

I highly recommend it and will be seeking out the other two books.

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A tale of angry people and wonderful music

Where has the year gone? One day I am writing stuff on my shiny new blog. The next thing I know it’s October and I haven’t posted for so long. It’s not due to having nothing to say. That has literally never happened to me in my life. It’s more a case of having too much to say, and not being quick enough to catch the thoughts, feelings and experiences and put them into words before they fly off to wherever they go.

I often wake in the middle of the night with many things, many observations ready to go onto the blog but I am too sleepy to move. Then when I wake up it’s gone, or floating around somewhere in the general porridgy mess that is my morning brain.

I don’t think this blog post is going to be very coherent to be honest as there are various threads that are tangled up. The first thing I want to write about is anger. Not mine, but everyone else’s.

I just have this feeling that outside my safe zone (ie my house) people are angry and miserable. A few weeks ago I was engaging in my most hated and stressful activity -trying to park my car in a tight space on a busy road. Unfortunately I misjudged and slightly biffed a big chunky car (why do so many people have big chunky cars nowadays? I genuinely don’t understand it -they are hard to park, expensive to run and really ugly, anyway, I digress….) I stopped, apologised, and asked if there was any damage. I couldn’t see any damage, thankfully, but there had been a scraping noise. I hoped any scrape had been to my car, as it has plenty of scrapes so another one won’t hurt. A very sullen woman came out, looked very pointedly at me, then at the car, then back at me, and said “can you see? Are your eyes working?” I would have thought she was making light of it but she was scowling. I repeated “I am so sorry, is there much damage?” “Can you see, love? Are you blind or are you just f***ing thick?” she said. So I repeated “I am so, so sorry, is there much damage? I will pay for any damage.” She walked away very slowly while her husband came out of the house. He walked over to me, also very miserable and scowling “can you see love? Do you need glasses?”. Again, politely, pleadingly I said “I really am so very sorry, is there much damage?”. Then he turned and walked away slowly. They both got into the car and drove away. And that was that. An odd, surreal experience, like we were existing in parallel universes, like that film where actually he’s dead (The Sixth Sense? Do I mean that one?) and some of the conversations have a slightly unreal feel to them.

I don’t think there was any damage to the car, but their hostility still hurts when I think back to it. I find these days that if something happens, like I bump into someone, or I knock something, or I inadvertently queue jump due to misinterpreting/not concentrating/being overwhelmed by information, which are things that often happen with me, the rage this sparks is off the scale. It always used to be that as long as I own up, apologise and offer to rectify things, then that is all that’s needed. We all make mistakes, but it’s how we deal with them that counts. But I find nowadays people are disappointed with this, they want to get angry, or just they want to react a certain way and my apologising and being nice thwarts them. I feel like this country is full of sullen, miserable, petty, angry people ready to burst at the slightest thing. Thank goodness our gun controls are strict (knives are another matter, mind). 

In all these incidents it starts out I am 100 per cent in the wrong, but by the end their reaction has rendered them as guilty as me. But they don’t see it that way. One mistake, however well you’ve dealt with it, gives them the free rein to be nasty and rude to a fellow human being, which in itself is an offence and a wrong, one of the worst, and usually worse than the original offence. 

People are so disapproving of my autistic 8 year old and his meltdowns, but I daily encounter worse from neurotypical adults. My dad, who is in his 70s, thinks people have “forgotten how to behave”. I first thought he was just being an old curmudgeon but what he means is that people no longer feel that they are supposed to be nice or calm or kind, that they think having a strop and giving someone a piece of their mind is something to be proud of. 

This reminds me of another incident that happened to me since I last wrote. I was staying with friends in Birmingham and we had to catch buses across the city every day (an experience that confirmed me in my fears of public transport and reminded me why I don’t use it). We waited for a bus, and as usual there was no obvious queuing system, people just piled on from all directions. This seemed to be the norm from all the bus trips we had done. It didn’t really matter as everyone got on eventually. As I boarded the driver said to my friend and I that the same number bus was behind us and that it would be leaving before this one. In my head that translated as “be quick as it’s going to depart”. So, my friend and I got off the bus and raced to the one behind, I legged it onto the bus only to find it was completely empty. I turned round and my friend was standing well back, as was everyone else. I realise there was actually an orderly queue and that people had not yet started boarding the bus. Then it happened. A man who had been waiting starting shouting the most horrific abuse at me. “You c**t, don’t you have any manners? You f***ing ignorant cow!” etc. etc. This went on for a very long time. I tried to get off the bus but the driver just waved me on. So I went and sat down at the back. And people came on. I opened my mouth to apologise but everyone was giving me such stares of cold hatred, like they had just witnessed me beating an animal to death. Thankfully the abusive man went upstairs and my friend came and sat next to me. She said that it did look like I’d pushed in but that that was no excuse for that man saying those things. “But there’s never an actual queue, I protested!” But that was that, end of conversation. My life is riddled with such incidents. You think you know the rules, you think you ‘get it’, but then suddenly the rules change, and everyone else seems to know this. I never do. But I was so upset, so stung by the injustice of it, that it festered for many days afterwards. This is RSD, of course. Anyone else would have let the incident go from their mind, but I couldn’t. I silently but determinedly resolved never to come back to Birmingham ever again. I dissed a city of a million people based on one incident. It was a good few weeks before my RSD had abated enough for me to properly accept how silly I was being. 

But speaking of Birmingham…. I was there to attend the Moseley Folk Festival, my friend having invited me many times over the years (and I could never make it due to life stuff and lack of funds). It was my first experience of live music since covid, so I was glad it was at an outdoor venue. I had three masks picked out for the occasion but nobody else was wearing them so I soon forgot. It’s many years since I’ve been to a festival and it was utterly exhausting, taking out a whole weekend in the process. I don’t think I can muster the time/energy/money to do it again anytime soon, but I’m glad I went, partly to see my lovely friend again, but also as I discovered some new artists. There were many good ones, but for me the standout acts that I had never come across before were Frank Turner and Stick in the Wheel. This week’s music will be dedicated to these fantastic musicians. Frank Turner in particular keeps me going on bleak days, his music is so raw and truthful. 

Honestly, I feel like if I have music in my life I can survive anything. Music, books, nature, family and friends. They are the essential survival kit. But if everything else is gone, then music would be the one thing that holds me back from the abyss. Maybe that sounds like I’m over-egging it! Maybe I am, I just feel very grateful right now as I have since been to two gigs. Yes, that’s right, two actual live indoor gigs and both were superb. 

Wolf Alice at the Cheese and Grain was a particular treat. They were playing small venues as part of a campaign to get live music going again and it was amazing seeing them up close in such an intimate venue. I was only about three rows from the front and the atmosphere was properly electric.

Then a few weeks later I saw the Manic Street Preachers at Bath Forum. It was a great gig but I admit I was not in the best headspace. I felt so self conscious on my own. I got there early as I like to do, so I could be up near the front, but, not having anyone to talk to, the waiting was unbearable. I had to play games on my phone to stop myself from going mad. I had bought a face mask for the occasion which says “Libraries gave us power” on it but of course, when the day came for the gig I couldn’t find the damn thing anywhere. In my stubbornness, it had to be that one. I have about seven face masks in total but because I couldn’t find that one I didn’t take any at all! So I was face mask less. It bothered me for quite a while, but then I guess like everyone else, I forgot, and for the rest of the gig and the whole of the way home, I forgot covid even exists. And this is worrying. I have become part of the problem. 136 People died in the UK that day because of covid. It hasn’t gone away, we are just in a phase of denial, of compassion fatigue, of helplessness in the face of something awful and scary we seem powerless to do anything about. I think it’s the same psychology involved with climate change. We’re not powerless in either case, but it’s easier and more convenient to believe that we are, because that means we take no responsibility. 

Getting home afterwards was like a special ADHD version of Squid Game. Although I quite like multi-story car parks (because the bays are clearly marked and there are always spaces) I can never remember where I parked my car, so I usually take a photo of the location and the floor number, but this time in my pre-Manics enthusiasm I forgot, so I was left wandering about aimlessly looking for my car whilst simultaneously trying to look like I was walking with purpose and not lost and confused. Then when I finally got out I was confronted by two road diversions, one preventing me from getting to the M4 and the other preventing me from getting to the A4. So I kept driving round the city in circuits, thinking I was following the diversion, but then ending back at the same spot again, and realised I must be getting the symbols confused. Was I following a circle or a square? The experience managed to combine my three most hated things about driving: 1) lots of signage (my processing speed and prioritisation skills are not good enough, so my brain just goes “argh, lots of things!” and then I have passed the signs and have no idea what’s going on), 2) Driving in the dark (don’t know why this is such a problem but it is, maybe there are subtle things I notice and rely on that can’t be seen in the dark), 3) city centres (because they have things like one way systems, cyclists and pedestrians; I can’t concentrate fully on so many things at once, but they all require full concentration). I was very close to just parking up somewhere and sleeping in my car, so I could head home at 6.30am when it got light. But it occurred to me that’s probably not the done thing in Bath and I couldn’t afford a parking ticket. So on I went, eventually just picking a road that looked like it headed out of the city, even if it was going to entirely the wrong place. Finally, an hour and twenty minutes after walking out of Bath Forum, a country road led me into a small village I recognised, and the A4. An hour and forty minutes after exiting Bath Forum, I was home and managed to sleep for 5 hours before getting up to go to work. 

It was worth it though. Absolutely worth it. I love this band. To understand why is a tale stretching back to the 90s, a period of my life where I credit a small selection of musicians with saving my life. Most of the artists from that select group are dead or disbanded (or disappeared), but that the Manics (three quarters of them anyway) are still going, and still making relevant music, is a source of joy and inspriation. 

I have noticed that Seth Lakeman is playing the Forum in November, and Frank Turner is playing there in February. But I have nobody to go with. My friend from Birmingham can’t make it and there is nobody else in my life who would like or even have heard of them. Most of my friends don’t do live music. There are one or two I can go to the theatre or a classical concert with and that’s great, because those are enjoyable things, and there’s my friend from Birmingham who likes folk music. I also go to a gig every year with my sister but they are always bands that are more her thing than mine (Keane, The Killers, Travis, Stereophonics, Turin Brakes). I like these bands, I am happy to see them live, but they are not things that I love. I have loved the Manics for 25 years and have seen them live 3 times (I think, will have to double check that, my memory being shit and all) but always on my own. I have spent a fair few years wanting to see Green Day or The Libertines but all my friends hate them so I never went. I would love to see the Arctic Monkeys but none of my friends like them either, or at least not enough to be bothered with going to a gig. I saw Skunk Anansie were touring and tried to get some of my friends interested but they conceded that it wasn’t really their sort of thing so I gave up. At the moment I love Fontaines DC and Idles, but nobody else in my life sees the appeal. Sigh. I mean, if I can’t even muster someone to come to the Manics with me, I think I’m doomed to a lifetime of going to these things alone. And hey, maybe I should just make my peace with it. The only thing worse than that experience of driving home would have been doing it all with a passenger in the car.

Double bill thanks to the Moseley Folk Festival

Frank Turner – Plain Sailing Weather

It was very hard to pick just one song from this wonderful singer but I went with this one. I think “just give me one fine day of plain sailing weather, And I can fuck up anything” should be inscribed on my tombstone.

Just give me one fine day of plain sailing weather

And I can fuck up anything, anything

It was a wonderful life when we were together

And now I’ve fucked up every little goddamn thing

Amélie lied to me, this was supposed to be easy

I found the one damn person to help me fall asleep in the night

But sleeping gets tiring, and dark reminds me of dying

And as long as this feeble heart is still beating

You will find me rushing through every room, switching on all the lights

The problem with falling in love in late night bars

Is that there’s always more nights, there’s always more bars

The problem with showing your lover your scars

Is that everybody’s lover is covered in scars

So give me one fine day of plain sailing weather

And I can fuck up anything, anything

It was a wonderful life when we were together

And now I’ve fucked up every—

Things got fractious, and I felt faithless

At that moment just before the dawn when everything falls apart

But baby, I didn’t mean it, for things to get desperate

I let slip my guard, I let go of the rudder

Now we’re drifting in the current away from one another

Give me one fine day of plain sailing weather

And I can fuck up anything, anything

It was a wonderful life when we were together

And now I’ve fucked up everything

Give me one fine day of plain sailing weather

And I can fuck up anything, anything

It was a wonderful life when we were together

And now I’ve fucked up every little goddamn thing

Every little goddamn thing

Every little goddamn thing

Every little goddamn thing

And I’ve been skirting round the rim

Of doing something brave

And not just standing, but jumping in

Of making circles into squares

Of laying down the bare facts

Like a burden I can’t bear

And I can almost find the words

But I can see the way you’d

Fold your hands, speak my name like a curse upon your pretty lips

The pressured white behind your fingertips

And when you see me for all that I am

I couldn’t make mistakes to make a difference any more

I’d throw myself down on my knees, at your hands

And beg you for forgiveness for my fuckups and my faults

And maybe you’d relent and return my hope for our forever

Lift up your precious hands, and then bring yours and mine together

So give me one fine day of plain sailing weather

Just give me one fine day of plain sailing weather


Licensed to YouTube by

UMG (on behalf of Polydor Records); BMI – Broadcast Music Inc., Abramus Digital, BMG Rights Management (US), LLC, ARESA, LatinAutorPerf, ASCAP, MINT_BMG, CMRRA, LatinAutor – PeerMusic, and 6 music rights societies

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Stick in the Wheel – Fake Away

Taken from the album HOLD FAST. Listen/purchase: https://stickinthewheel.lnk.to/holdfast Video made by Stick In The Wheel.

Music in this video

Fake Away

Licensed to YouTube by

[Merlin] FUGA Aggregation (on behalf of FROM HERE RECORDS)

In a box of the stone jug I was born
Of a hempen widow the kid forlorn
And my father, as I’ve heard say
Was a merchant of capers gay
Who cut his last fling with great applause
For a hearty choke with caper sauce
The knucks in quod did my schoolmen play
And put me up to the time of day

Fake away, fake away
Nix my doll pals fake away

Until at last there was none so knowing
No such sneaksman or buzgloak going
Fogles and fawnies soon went their way
To the spout with the sneezers in grand array
No dummy hunter had forks so fly
No knuckler so deftly could fake a cly
No slourd hoxter my snipes could stay
None knap a reader like me in the lay

Fake away, fake away
Nix my doll pals fake away

Soon then I mounted in swell street-high
And sported my flashest toggery
Fainly resolved I would make my hay
While mercury’s star shed a single ray
And ne’er was there seen such a dashing prig
With my strummed faked in the newest twig
With my fawnied famms and my onions gay
My thimble of ridge and my driz chemisay

Fake away, fake away
Nix my doll pals fake away

All my togs were so niblike and plash
Readily the queers screens I then could smash
But my nuttiest blowen one fine day
To the beaks did her fancy-man betray
And thus was I bowled at last
And into the jug for a lag was cast
But I slipped my darbies one morn in May
And gave the dubsman a holiday

Fake away, fake away
Nix my doll pals fake away

And here I am pals merry and free
A regular rollicking romany

Lyrics from here: https://matchlyric.com/stick-in-the-wheel-fake-away/

Woman on the Edge of Time

By Marge Piercy

Wow, I can’t believe I have made it to 42 years old and never read this before!

A gripping, readable, thought-provoking book that I know will live on in my mind long after I’ve finished reading it. It’s that rare gem, easy to read and digest but also textured, ambiguous and complicated.

The hardest parts were all the ones in Connie’s own time, where I was angry and frustrated by the injustice of it all. This really is a masterful depiction and critique of it. Through her experience we get to see just how an individual can be crushed by inequalities of gender, race, and social class. Though she herself is not blameless there is no question that she would have turned out differently and behaved differently in Luciente’s time.

The brutality of the psychiatric treatment on her and the other inmates (there is one character who is essentially in there to be ‘cured’ of being gay), is particularly nasty, but unfortunately accurate in that these things did happen (and in some places still do). That makes its contrast with the future world of Luciente particularly stark. In this future world they haven’t sought to ‘cure’ anything, they have worked out better ways of managing it.

As she visits this future world the book has Connie constantly reacting and questioning just as we, the readers, would which is a clever storytelling device and the reader accompanies her through a process of understanding and learning.

I know others really disliked the ending, but I loved it. I could feel her growth as a character and her new awareness and strength. And yes, it is deliberately ambiguous, and all the better for it.

The things I loved most about Luciente’s world:

  • The natural way everyone is per or person. It is very easy to get used to and shows us a glimpse of just how rational and easy a genderless language can be.
  • People’s differences are respected and celebrated and space is given for them to explore themselves and choose their own name
  • The link with nature is restored
  • Healthy balances in production and consumption seem to have been largely achieved, although with plenty of ongoing tensions and debates
  • Parenting seems a lot more sensible, giving children the chance to think and speak and develop, to choose their own path, and it recognises something that I think our current culture likes to ignore -that children ‘mature’ a lot quicker than we think, and that they understand a lot more than we like to acknowledge.
  • There is an implicit acknowledgment that to allow individuals true freedom there needs to be a managed, functioning collective society behind it. This is a truth universally ignored, so it was liberating to see it realised fully here.
  • Their approach to death is wonderful. Just to let everyone talk and reminisce and then to move on, seeing it as part of the cycle of everything.
  • Decisions are reached collaboratively and through debate, and power is shared. Luciente fully acknowledges that it’s exhausting, but it is too important to be devolved to just a handful of people.

What I like about this utopia is that they haven’t eradicated wars or desires or jealousy or disagreement or mental health problems, they have just worked out better ways to deal with them. They take time out to deal with their mental health if they need it and then come back to the community. Again, progress is not really technological (although in some ways it is , but only to serve to make things more sustainable), but it manifests in other ways.

The theme that seems to get people talking most is that of motherhood and gender identity. The book suggests that to have true equality women have to give up their sole rights to being mothers. The biological link is severed. It seems shocking at first, but I went on the journey with Connie and, like her, came to realise it was a necessary and worthwhile sacrifice.

This particular debate has such relevance for the present day. I co-parent with my ex, and we have a 50-50 split in childcare. I have never been happy with that. I’m their mother, I should have them waaaay more than 50%. Even now, 3 years in, I still feel a pang of emptiness and loss the days they are not with me. But then is this just ego? Is this just me selfishly wanting them totally to myself (I used to fantasise that my ex would just run off and leave us so I could have the children exclusively to myself, however hard it would be… but what a selfish thing to wish for, to wish for my kids to have no father and for him to have no relationship with them? I’m pleased I got over that one).

But to have true gender equality the ‘mother’ role needs to be equally open to both genders. The link to biology is broken too, so in that culture I would not be raising offspring that had anything to do with me biologically, which shouldn’t be a radical idea really, as adopted children are loved by their parents just as birth children are. In fact, it takes ego out of it. Nobody would be raising their child to be a mini me, or to keep the ‘family line’ going, concepts which I thought were old fashioned but which sadly seem to be still going on. In Luciente’s world mothers choose to be so for the joy of raising a child, and they raise the children to be admirably self sufficient, and to follow their own path, even choosing their own name when they reach maturity.

The possible drawback is, a biological child of mine may have ADHD like me or a personality like mine, so am I more likely to understand and guide them but….. Often times we bring our own baggage to these encounters, and if it’s a culture that allows for neurodivergence surely it matters less, as whoever are the mothers will be able to handle it. Interestingly I was drawn from the start towards the character of Jackrabbit, and realised throughout that per is very ADHD. We learn during the wake that one of the mothers couldn’t cope with mothering Jackrabbit and so stepped down from the role which I thought was interesting. So the impact of ADHD is still there for the individual and those around them, but is given so much more freedom. Look at the beauty and love Jackrabbit brought into the world, given the freedom to do so.

What interests me with the motherhood issue is that Connie’s objection (and it chimes with a lot of present day feminists) is that childbirth, breast feeding, being the nurturer are the only things women have for themselves, so why give up that last realm. I hear this echoed in some of my friends who object to trans people being able to call themselves female. But if by opening up that realm and sharing it, it allowed all genders to be equal then surely it’s worth it? Surely it’s a price worth paying to be able to participate as an equal in everything else? I think so and by the end of the novel so does Connie, but it is a challenging change of perspective to embrace.

(As an aside: I personally have never liked or been comfortable with the idea of a female culture, of things only women know or do or understand. I have more male friends than female ones and both my children are male, so that doesn’t leave me with much! And my identity as a woman is only important to me insomuch as society treats me differently because I am a woman and I live that experience everyday, something which only other women understand because they live it too. But I don’t see that as the foundation of an identity or a culture, I just see it as necessary solidarity whilst we bring down the patriarchy, then after that let’s do away with the whole gender thing. )

I was also interested in the fact that it remains multicultural but that the link with race is broken. I was thinking back to ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ and the debate about the Asian baby being raised by white parents. I was firmly on the side of the biological mother in that one. But there surely the problem in that situation was that the child would grow up in a world of and for white people, and would be aware that she looked different. That’s why growing up without Asian role models and culture would be such a loss to her. But if the world she inhabited and grew up in was completely racially mixed, so that there were some people who looked racially similar to her and some that didn’t, then it wouldn’t matter anymore. I think that is the utopia to be aimed for and it is so beautifully, compellingly depicted in this book.

Of course, it is not obvious whether Luciente’s world is real, or whether it’s just Connie’s hallucination. The novel makes perfect sense with either, and they are both equally plausible*. It has been deliberately written that way and I am fine with that. I don’t feel a desire to answer it one way or the other and am comfortable with the enigma. I am more interested in the utopia and the ideas it brings up.

*There are bits towards the end where it seems more like it’s in her head (though I would argue it’s no less ‘real’ for that).

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a compelling read with themes of motherhood, cultural identity and what shapes us. It was heart rending at times.

Although my book group found there to be sympathetic elements to her I thought Mrs Richardson was odious. It’s a while since I’ve read a book where I disliked someone so much!

I also like the 90s-ness of it, with some familiar cultural references. Let’s face it, I was stomping around in my Doc Martens and listening to Tori Amos at the time, just like Izzy, and also feeling like the prevalent rights and wrongs and conventions and expectations of the time were so at odds with what my own heart and head told me. Izzy was definitely my favourite character and if I’d had a mother like hers I would have done what she did too.

I won’t put in any spoilers but suffice to say the ending was hugely satisfying and had me cheering.

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The Island Home by Libby Page

The Island Home by Libby Page

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the story of a woman in her 40s returning to the Hebridean Island she run away from when she was 18.

I found all the characters likeable and sympathetic to some degree, and the landscape and community were nicely depicted. On the surface of it this book is very much my sort of thing. So why did I only think it was ‘OK’?

It’s a perfectly nice, inoffensive book but I just found that I was underwhelmed and bored. The storyline was very predictable with far too many words spent on internal dilemmas that weren’t really dilemmas.

Don’t listen to me though, as most people who have read it rave about it. I probably have my curmudgeon mode on again!

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Kate Rusby – Life in a Paper Boat

This wonderful song from the exquisitely voiced Kate Rusby is especially chosen with the RNLI in mind. It still blows my mind that they are getting so much hate for rescuing people from the Channel. Families, children, cold, scared, in serious danger, rescued by the brave RNLI volunteers.

Of course there are issues with illegal migration across the Channel, of course it isn’t safe or to be encouraged, but leaving people to drown is never a solution. Just like doctors save lives without question, so do the RNLI, that’s what they do. And whilst there is war and hunger and desperation people will make the journey, even if it likely means death. So don’t tell me that leaving them to drown with deter others, because it won’t. Human beings don’t work like that.

I particularly love the heartfelt intro to this where Kate talks about her motivation for the song.


A boat made of paper it set sail with me,

And oh how I’ve grown weary,

That boat of shame it took me now I’m far from free,

And oh won’t you stay near me.

Chorus Hope it bloomed eternal there,

Upon the promised land,

Will it wither now, Or will I feel my feet upon the sand?

This bundle that I carry is worth more to me than life,

And oh how I’ve grown weary

There’s only me to hold her now that I’m no more a wife,

And oh won’t you stay me.

An ancient land I’ve left behind in ruins now lies she,

And oh how I’ve grown weary,

I must build a new land now with walls to keep her free,

And oh won’t you stay near me.

My heart is in my hand now we are on the open sea,

And oh how I’ve grown weary,

Thank God she won’t remember this whatever it may be,

And oh won’t you stay near me.

The orange sun was burning,

On the boat where we all stand,

Hope it bloomed eternal there,

Upon the promised land,

Will it wither now, Or will I feel my feet upon the sand?

Electric Tenor Guitar- Damien O’Kane Double Bass- Duncan Lyall Electric Guitar- Steven Iveson Diatonic Accordion- Nick Cooke Percussion and Drum Programming- Josh Clark Keyboard, Pads and Synth- Anthony Davis Film- James Lockey