From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan ****
Donal Ryan’s From a Low and Quiet Sea was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award in 2018. The novel follows three men, and is focused on a small town in Ireland, in which all three characters find themselves.
Our first protagonist is a Syrian refugee named Farouk, who has to leave his home and his career in medicine, and ends up losing far more before he reaches the safety of Ireland. We then meet twenty three-year-old Laurence, known as Lampy, who has reached something of a crisis in his life. He dreamed of a career, but now works in a care home, a job which he feels he is barely qualified for, and is nursing a broken heart. The third main character is an Irishman named John, who is reflecting upon his life, and the awful things which he has done. His narrative is the only one told from the first person perspective, and it is written as a confession to a priest.
Throughout, I was so interested in each of the characters, and their motivations. The prose in the first section, which follows Farouk, is exquisite, rich and textured. The section which follows Lampy has more matter-of-fact prose, and John’s falls somewhere inbetween. Taken together, these three men show rather a diverse picture of what it means to be a man in the twenty-first century, and the trials and tribulations which we could all face, if the circumstances were different.
Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively *****
Penelope Lively is an author whose work I always gravitate back to. I was enraptured when I picked up her novel, Consequences in a seconds bookshop some years ago, and absolutely loved the reading experience. I have read quite a few of her novels since, as well as her excellent memoir, Oleander, Jacaranda, which focuses upon her childhood spent living in Egypt.
Although I do not have my own garden at present, gardening is an enduring love of mine. I was therefore most excited to find Lively’s Life in the Garden on my library’s online borrowing service, and it proved to be just what I was in the mood for. It is partly memoir of her own gardening escapades, and draws together a lot of other writers and their real and fictional gardens.
Lively’s exploration of gardens is very thorough, and she writes about so many different books which feature them. She discusses at length the gardens of authors like Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, as well as the gardens which she herself has tended during her life.
Lively writes wonderfully, and I wished that this book had been twice as long so that I had a lot more time to savour her words. Life in the Garden is a tender, lovely, and gentle read; just the thing to relax with in this busy world of ours. I was pulled in immediately, and can only hope that Lively writes another tome like this one in the near future.
Collected Stories by Angela Huth ****
When I visit my local library, I’m like a magpie, borrowing anything which I fancy, even if I’ve not heard of it before. I have decided to try and be more comprehensive about going through the many to-read notebooks which I have kept since I was a teenager, deliberately selecting tomes from them to read. I therefore came across a collection of Angela Huth’s short stories, which I had written down about ten years ago, and decided to try them out. I requested her Collected Stories through my local library, and the book was sent to me from the Country Store, where I believe it had been languishing for some years (the last date stamp reads 2007).
I had not read any of Huth’s work before picking up her Collected Stories, and must admit that I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I do not recall ever seeing her work reviewed, and I do not remember where I found the recommendation. Regardless, I settled down with the book during a storm, and read a huge chunk of it all in one go.
From the first couple of stories, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I would like Huth’s work; they seemed a little bitty and incomplete. However, once I reached the fourth and fifth tales, I was hooked. Some of the better stories are found towards the back of the collection.
Huth’s tales are well written – sometimes beautifully so – and very easy to read. Huth’s work feels quite old-fashioned on the whole, and these were lovely to settle down with; I was reminded at points of work by Carol Shields and Penelope Lively. I feel as though her style really suits this short form, and I’m currently unsure as to whether I will read any of her longer work at any time soon.
Collected Stories only had 8 ratings on Goodreads before I added my review, and I feel that it – and, too, Huth as an author – has been quite unfairly overlooked. There is so much here to admire; the characters have depth and realness to them, and the situations in which they find themselves, whilst generally quite commonplace, are rendered memorable due to the reactions which Huth relates.
The focus upon female characters, particularly those in their middle- or old-age, made the whole feel cohesive. There are commonalities threaded throughout Collected Stories, but each story is different enough to read one after the other. I would highly recommend this collection, and believe that ‘Laughter in the Willows’, one of the later stories, is something akin to a masterpiece.