The Green Road, The Book of Memory and more
It's the season of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and two of my favourite books that have been shortlisted this week happen to be by Irish writers. Former Booker winner Anne Enright is well known, but in the heartfelt family drama The Green Road she explores surprising new subjects and far-off places. Exciting debut author Lisa McInerney tells an energetic and dynamic story in The Glorious Heresies which depicts several struggling individuals in the city of Cork. This tale of the city’s violent underworld in the times following the recent financial crash gives a voice to people not often seen.
Here’s an interesting bit of trivia: did you know that Charlotte Brontë’s father was Irish and throughout the author’s childhood she spoke with an Irish accent? In the spirit of celebrating Irish women’s fiction and to mark Brontë’s 200th birthday this month, I would also like to highlight a new collection of short stories.
Inspired by Jane Eyre’s famous declaration to the reader, editor Tracy Chevalier commissioned original tales from some of the most talented female writers today such as Tessa Hadley, Sarah Hall, Helen Dunmore, Jane Gardam, Emma Donoghue, Francine Prose, Elif Shafak, Evie Wyld, Linda Grant, Audrey Niffenegger and Elizabeth McCracken. This varied, intelligent, funny and moving fiction includes an account told from the perspective of Grace Poole (the madwoman in the attic’s gin-loving minder), a story of a housewife with a domineering husband who connects with a tough bear-scalped hermit woman and a tenderly funny tale about a same sex couple who take their young son to a Texan water park. Reader, I Married Him is an exuberant, fresh collection of stories that pays tribute to the great Jane Eyre while pushing forward the boundaries of fiction.
I’ve spent the last month reading the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist. Some real gems have made the shortlist: I highly recommend Ruby by Cynthia Bond; The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney, and The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie. Today I want to focus on two other novels from the longlist though which I think also deserve more attention.
In The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah, category D prisoner, Memory, writes her story in the notebooks given to her by an American journalist. An albino, ‘the condition that makes me black but not black, white but not white’, Memory’s been found guilty of murdering a white man but maintains her innocence. Her story is a surprising one of a girl born into poverty in a Zimbabwe township and sold to a white academic. Lloyd Hendricks pays for her education and introduces her to a privileged society to which few others have access. This allows Gappah to explore both sides of the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, and consider themes of race, colonialism, class, gender and memory. The novel wears its intellect lightly though making it a cracking good read as well as a thoughtful one.
And if your idea of a cracking good read is a fast-paced, smart, political thriller then Pleasantville by Attica Locke is the one for you. Locke returns to Jay Porter, the lawyer first introduced in Black Water Rising, placing him in the run-up to Houston’s mayoral election, 1996. The abduction of a teenage girl working for one of the candidate’s campaigns and a break-in at Jay’s office lead to an unexpected insight into the workings of a political campaign. Deliciously twisty and completely gripping.