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Book Trail: From Circus to Island

I am finding the choices on The Book Depository website a little arbitrary when it comes to creating these Book Trail posts, so I have switched allegiance to Goodreads.  The choices it affords are generally far more unusual, and it’s quite refreshing not to have to wade through the most popular general fiction to find something a little different.  Without explaining my choices too much, let me present our newest Book Trail, which begins with one of my favourite books.

1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 9780099570295
‘The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices plastered on lampposts and billboards. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.  Within these nocturnal black-and-white striped tents awaits an utterly unique, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stare in wonderment as the tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and become deliciously tipsy from the scents of caramel and cinnamon that waft through the air. Welcome to Le Cirque des Rêves. Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is under way–a contest between two young illusionists, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in a “game” to which they have been irrevocably bound by their mercurial masters. Unbeknownst to the players, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. As the circus travels around the world, the feats of magic gain fantastical new heights with every stop. The game is well under way and the lives of all those involved–the eccentric circus owner, the elusive contortionist, the mystical fortune-teller, and a pair of red-headed twins born backstage among them–are swept up in a wake of spells and charms.’

 

This leads us to another of my absolute favourites…

97800995724732. The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen
‘On a small snow-covered island—so tiny that it can’t be found on any map—lives twelve-year-old Minou, her philosopher Papa (a descendent of Descartes), Boxman the magician, and a clever dog called No-Name. A year earlier Minou’s mother left the house wearing her best shoes and carrying a large black umbrella. She never returned.  One morning Minou finds a dead boy washed up on the beach. Her father decides to lay him in the room that once belonged to her mother. Can her mother’s disappearance be explained by the boy? Will Boxman be able to help find her? Minou, unwilling to accept her mother’s death, attempts to find the truth through Descartes’ philosophy. Over the course of her investigation Minou will discover the truth about loss and love, a truth that The Vanishing Act conveys in a voice that is uniquely enchanting.’

 

We then move from one intriguing title to another…

3. Campari for Breakfast by Sara Crowe 9780552779647
In 1987, Sue Bowl’s world changes for ever. Her mother dies, leaving her feeling like she’s lost a vital part of herself. And then her father shacks up with an awful golddigger called Ivana.  But Sue’s mother always told her to make the most of what she’s got – and what she’s got is a love of writing and some interesting relatives. So Sue moves to her Aunt Coral’s crumbling ancestral home, Green Place, along with a growing bunch of oddballs and eccentrics. Not to mention the odd badger or two . . .  There she fully intends to write a book, fall in love, and learn to live decadently.  Campari for Breakfast is a heart-warming, eccentric novel that joins the ranks of great British coming-of-age novels such as Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle and Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love.’

 

Book four takes us from Campari to Cornwall…

97800074650884. A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale
‘When 20-year-old Lenny Barnes, paralysed in a rugby accident, commits suicide in the presence of Barnaby Johnson, the much-loved priest of a West Cornwall parish, the tragedy’s reverberations open up the fault-lines between Barnaby and his nearest and dearest – the gulfs of unspoken sadness that separate them all. Across this web of relations scuttles Barnaby’s repellent nemesis – a man as wicked as his prey is virtuous. Returning us to the rugged Cornish landscape of Notes from an Exhibition, Patrick Gale lays bare the lives and the thoughts of a whole community and asks us: what does it mean to be good?’

 

Book five pulls together peril in both the past and present…

5. The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale 9780552776172
‘On its way to the Galapagos Islands, a light aircraft ditches into the sea. As the water floods through the cabin, zoologist Daniel Kennedy faces an impossible choice – should he save himself, or Nancy, the woman he loves?  In a parallel narrative, it is 1917 and Daniel’s great grandfather Andrew is preparing to go over the top at Passchendaele. He, too, will have his courage tested, and must live with the moral consequences of his actions.  Back in London, the atheistic Daniel is wrestling with something his ‘cold philosophy’ cannot explain – something unearthly he thought he saw while swimming for help in the Pacific. But before he can make sense of it, the past must collapse into the present, and both he and Andrew must prove themselves capable of altruism, and deserving of forgiveness.  The Blasphemer is a story about conditional love, cowardice and the possibility of redemption – and what happens to a man of science when forced to question his certainties. It is a novel of rare depth, empathy and ambition that sweeps from the trenches of the First World War to the terrorist-besieged streets of London today: a novel that will speak to the head as well as the heart of any reader.’

 

Book six is one which I’ve had my eye on for quite a while…

97805712518726. The Wilding by Maria McCann
‘Jonathan Dymond, a 26-year old cider-maker in post-Civil War England, has enjoyed a quiet, harmonious existence until a letter arrives from his uncle with a request to speak with his father. When his father returns from the visit the next day, all he can say is that Jonathan’s uncle has died. Then Jonathan finds a fragment of the letter, with talk of inheritance and vengeance…’

 

The penultimate choice on this Book Trail is one of the most perfect novels I’ve ever read…

7. The Still Point by Amy Sackville 9781846272301
‘At the turn of the twentieth century, Arctic explorer Edward Mackley sets out to reach the North Pole and vanishes into the icy landscape without a trace. He leaves behind a young wife, Emily, who awaits his return for decades, her dreams and devotion gradually freezing into rigid widowhood. A hundred years later, on a sweltering mid-summer’s day, Edward’s great-grand-niece Julia moves through the old family house, attempting to impose some order on the clutter of inherited belongings and memories from that ill-fated expedition, and taking care to ignore the deepening cracks within her own marriage. But as afternoon turns into evening, Julia makes a discovery that splinters her long-held image of Edward and Emily’s romance, and her husband Simon faces a precipitous choice that will decide the future of their relationship. Sharply observed and deeply engaging, The Still Point is a powerful literary debut, and a moving meditation on the distances – geographical and emotional – that can exist between two people.’

 

Our finishing point is another set in an isolated community…

97808573823378. Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg
‘A portrait of a marriage, a meditation on faith, and a journey of conquest and self-discovery, Island of Wings is a passionate and atmospheric novel reminiscent of Wuthering Heights.  July, 1830. On the ten-hour sail west from the Hebrides to the islands of St. Kilda, everything lies ahead for Lizzie and Neil McKenzie. Neil is to become the minister to the small community of islanders, and Lizzie, his new wife, is pregnant with their first child. Neil’s journey is evangelical: a testing and strengthening of his own faith against the old pagan ways of the St. Kildans, but it is also a passage to atonement. For Lizzie — bright, beautiful, and devoted — this is an adventure, a voyage into the unknown. She is sure only of her loyalty and love for her husband, but everything that happens from now on will challenge all her certainties.  As the two adjust to life on an exposed archipelago on the edge of civilization, where the natives live in squalor and subsist on a diet of seabirds, and babies perish mysteriously in their first week, their marriage — and their sanity — is threatened. Is Lizzie a willful temptress drawing him away from his faith? Is Neil’s zealous Christianity unhinging into madness? And who, or what, is haunting the moors and cliff-tops?  Exquisitely written and profoundly moving, Island of Wings is more than just an account of a marriage in peril — it is also a richly imagined novel about two people struggling to keep their love, and their family, alive in a place of terrible hardship and tumultuous beauty.

 

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One from the Archive: ‘The Vanishing Act’ by Mette Jakobsen *****

First published in September 2012.

Danish-born author Mette Jakobsen’s first book, The Vanishing Act, was shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize. The novel is intriguing and powerful from the first sentence: ‘It was snowing the morning I found the dead boy’. With this, we are catapulted into the life of thirteen-year-old Minou, who lives with her father upon a secluded island.

At the outset of the novel, Minou tells us that it has been ‘a year since Mama walked out into the cold morning rain with a large black umbrella. A year since she disappeared…’ On the unnamed island on which the family live, there is little human life about, and it contains just ‘two houses and one church’. ‘The island,’ Minou tells us, ‘is still out there in the ocean; an island so tiny that it can’t be found on any maps’. Whilst everyone else seems to have given up hope of finding Minou’s mother, she herself is convinced that her Mama, ‘beautiful in a way I can’t quite explain’, is still alive and well, off finding adventure in the wider world.

Minou and her father take the dead boy back to their house, insisting that he should ‘stay’ with them until the boat comes from the mainland to pick him up. Minou is convinced that the boy is ‘the special thing’ she had been searching for, and both she and her father begin to use him as a kind of confidante, telling him their deepest secrets. ‘There was so much we could tell Mama about the dead boy’, she reasons. Only a handful of other characters people the novel – a former magician named Boxman and his dog No Name, and a priest.

Although we do not meet Minou’s mother in the present day narration, we learn much about her through a series of flashbacks. She is an exuberant character by all accounts, bringing with her just one suitcase to the island which contained ‘five dresses, eight jars of paint, two brushes and a white enamel clock that didn’t work’, as well as a live peacock with whom she had lived through the war.

Minou’s story occurs some time after an unnamed war, which made both her parents move to the island in the hope of enjoying a more quiet and peaceful existence: ‘Papa always said the war was inside him. Sometimes I thought I could feel it when I held his hand’. Jakobsen has included several details which seem to suggest that the Second World War is the one which is spoken of, but the historical period, along with the location of the tiny island, remains unspecified.

Minou’s first person perspective is used throughout. From the start, along with the other characters which people the novel, she seems incredibly realistic, stepping almost entirely from the page and vividly springing to life. She is a lovely character whom we as readers sympathise with immediately. We recognise her occasional bouts of loneliness and the way in which her unfailing hope remains despite the circumstances. Minou is not a run-of-the-mill protagonist, and some of her actions are wonderful and surprising. She begins to write everyday occurrences down in a notebook to show her mother when she returns, creeps out of her bedroom at night to sleep in a lighthouse, and collects raven bones, arranging them and ‘hoping to see something special that Mama might like’.

Jakobsen’s prose is truly breathtaking at times. Her descriptions, particularly those pertaining to the scenery around Minou, are at once beautiful and bleak: ‘the fading night rushed towards us, as if it had just one last chance to make itself felt’, and ‘snowflakes whirled through the window like uninvited guests’. Minou sees herself and her father as ‘two blind explorers’ as they walk ‘through seaweed and dark rocks, through ice and sea moss’. A sense of magic has been woven into the book throughout, and it seems to follow the same vein of novels as Eowyn Ivey’s delightful The Snow Child and Erin Morgenstern’s inventive The Night Circus. The writing style and the general premise of the novel have a wonderful sparkle about them, and are reminiscent of Tove Jansson’s books.

The Vanishing Act is well plotted and exquisitely well written, and is delightful and sad in equal measure. For a debut novel, it is remarkable. The story has been so well imagined and is balanced incredibly well. Minou comes to life before the eyes of the reader, lingering in the memory for a long while after the final pages have been read.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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One From the Archive: ‘The Vanishing Act’ by Mette Jakobsen *****

First published in September 2014.

Danish-born author Mette Jakobsen’s first book, The Vanishing Act, was shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize. The novel is intriguing and powerful from the first sentence: ‘It was snowing the morning I found the dead boy’. With this, we are catapulted into the life of thirteen-year-old Minou, who lives with her father upon a secluded island.

At the outset of the novel, Minou tells us that it has been ‘a year since Mama walked out into the cold morning rain with a large black umbrella. A year since she disappeared…’ On the unnamed island on which the family live, there is little human life about, containing just ‘two houses and one church’. ‘The island,’ Minou tells us, ‘is still out there in the ocean; an island so tiny that it can’t be found on any maps’. Whilst everyone else seems to have given up hope of finding Minou’s mother, she herself is convinced that her Mama, ‘beautiful in a way I can’t quite explain’, is still alive and well, off finding adventure in the wider world.

Minou and her father take the dead boy back to their house, insisting that he should ‘stay’ with them until the boat came from the mainland to pick him up. Minou is convinced that the boy was ‘the special thing’ she had been searching for, and both she and her father begin to use him as a kind of confidante, telling him their deepest secrets. ‘There was so much we could tell Mama about the dead boy’, she reasons. Only a handful of other characters people the novel – a former magician named Boxman and his dog No Name, and a priest.

Although we do not meet Minou’s mother in the present day narration, we learn much about her through a series of flashbacks. She is an exuberant character by all accounts, bringing with her just one suitcase to the island which contained ‘five dresses, eight jars of paint, two brushes and a white enamel clock that didn’t work’, as well as a live peacock with whom she had lived through the war.

Minou’s story occurs some time after an unnamed war, which made both her parents move to the island in the hope of enjoying a more quiet and peaceful existence: ‘Papa always said the war was inside him. Sometimes I thought I could feel it when I held his hand’. Jakobsen has included several details which seem to suggest that the Second World War is the one which is spoken of, but the historical period, along with the location of the tiny island, remains unspecified.

Minou’s first person perspective is used throughout. From the start, along with the other characters which people the novel, she seems incredibly realistic, stepping almost entirely from the page and vividly springing to life. She is a lovely character whom we as readers sympathise with immediately. We recognise her occasional bouts of loneliness and the way in which her unfailing hope remains despite the circumstances. Minou is not a run-of-the-mill protagonist, and some of her actions are wonderful and surprising. She begins to write everyday occurrences down in a notebook to show her mother when she returns, creeps out of her bedroom at night to sleep in a lighthouse, and collects raven bones, arranging them and ‘hoping to see something special that Mama might like’.

Jakobsen’s prose is truly breathtaking at times. Her descriptions, particularly those pertaining to the scenery around Minou, are at once beautiful and bleak: ‘the fading night rushed towards us, as if it had just one last chance to make itself felt’, and ‘snowflakes whirled through the window like uninvited guests’. Minou sees herself and her father as ‘two blind explorers’ as they walk ‘through seaweed and dark rocks, through ice and sea moss’. A sense of magic has been woven into the book throughout, and it seems to follow the same vein of novels as Eowyn Ivey’s delightful The Snow Child and Erin Morgenstern’s inventive The Night Circus.

The Vanishing Act is well plotted and exquisitely well written, and is delightful and sad in equal measure. For a debut novel, it is remarkable. The story has been so well imagined and is balanced incredibly well. Minou comes to life before the eyes of the reader, lingering in the memory for a long while after the final pages have been read.

Purchase from The Book Depository

0

One from the Archive: ‘The Vanishing Act’ by Mette Jakobsen *****

First published at Nudge in September 2012

Danish-born author Mette Jakobsen’s first book, The Vanishing Act, was shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize. The novel is intriguing and powerful from the first sentence: ‘It was snowing the morning I found the dead boy’. With this, we are catapulted into the life of thirteen-year-old Minou, who lives with her father upon a secluded island.

At the outset of the novel, Minou tells us that it has been ‘a year since Mama walked out into the cold morning rain with a large black umbrella. A year since she disappeared…’ On the unnamed island on which the family live, there is little human life about, and it contains just ‘two houses and one church’. ‘The island,’ Minou tells us, ‘is still out there in the ocean; an island so tiny that it can’t be found on any maps’. Whilst everyone else seems to have given up hope of finding Minou’s mother, she herself is convinced that her Mama, ‘beautiful in a way I can’t quite explain’, is still alive and well, off finding adventure in the wider world.

Minou and her father take the dead boy back to their house, insisting that he should ‘stay’ with them until the boat comes from the mainland to pick him up. Minou is convinced that the boy is ‘the special thing’ she had been searching for, and both she and her father begin to use him as a kind of confidante, telling him their deepest secrets. ‘There was so much we could tell Mama about the dead boy’, she reasons. Only a handful of other characters people the novel – a former magician named Boxman and his dog No Name, and a priest.

Although we do not meet Minou’s mother in the present day narration, we learn much about her through a series of flashbacks. She is an exuberant character by all accounts, bringing with her just one suitcase to the island which contained ‘five dresses, eight jars of paint, two brushes and a white enamel clock that didn’t work’, as well as a live peacock with whom she had lived through the war.

Minou’s story occurs some time after an unnamed war, which made both her parents move to the island in the hope of enjoying a more quiet and peaceful existence: ‘Papa always said the war was inside him. Sometimes I thought I could feel it when I held his hand’. Jakobsen has included several details which seem to suggest that the Second World War is the one which is spoken of, but the historical period, along with the location of the tiny island, remains unspecified.

Minou’s first person perspective is used throughout. From the start, along with the other characters which people the novel, she seems incredibly realistic, stepping almost entirely from the page and vividly springing to life. She is a lovely character whom we as readers sympathise with immediately. We recognise her occasional bouts of loneliness and the way in which her unfailing hope remains despite the circumstances. Minou is not a run-of-the-mill protagonist, and some of her actions are wonderful and surprising. She begins to write everyday occurrences down in a notebook to show her mother when she returns, creeps out of her bedroom at night to sleep in a lighthouse, and collects raven bones, arranging them and ‘hoping to see something special that Mama might like’.

Jakobsen’s prose is truly breathtaking at times. Her descriptions, particularly those pertaining to the scenery around Minou, are at once beautiful and bleak: ‘the fading night rushed towards us, as if it had just one last chance to make itself felt’, and ‘snowflakes whirled through the window like uninvited guests’. Minou sees herself and her father as ‘two blind explorers’ as they walk ‘through seaweed and dark rocks, through ice and sea moss’. A sense of magic has been woven into the book throughout, and it seems to follow the same vein of novels as Eowyn Ivey’s delightful The Snow Child and Erin Morgenstern’s inventive The Night Circus. The writing style and the general premise of the novel have a wonderful sparkle about them, and are reminiscent of Tove Jansson’s books.

The Vanishing Act is well plotted and exquisitely well written, and is delightful and sad in equal measure. For a debut novel, it is remarkable. The story has been so well imagined and is balanced incredibly well. Minou comes to life before the eyes of the reader, lingering in the memory for a long while after the final pages have been read.

Purchase from The Book Depository