I published reviews of three of the Fairlight Moderns novellas recently, and having now read the last two in the series of five, thought that I would post reviews of these too.
Travelling in the Dark by Emma Timpany ****
In Travelling in the Dark, Emma Timpany’s protagonist, Sarah, is travelling back to her native New Zealand from her home in England, accompanied by her young son. Her husband has recently left her, and she is making the journey in order to show her son where she spent her own childhood, and to meet an old friend with whom she has a lot of history.
Travelling in the Dark begins in such a vivid manner, in prose which feels at once simplistic and engaging: ‘Sarah is on an aeroplane, crossing the night sky. Her hands are folded in her lap. Outside the window there is darkness. She could slide the small, white window blind down, close out the night, but somehow she cannot bring herself to make this one small act. The sense that she sometimes gets, that she must keep watching or she’ll miss something of importance, is intense, though she cannot see anything beyond the veil of ice crystals. No stars, no satellites. No planets. No moon. No radiant light from some far city.’ As one can tell from this snippet, Timpany’s descriptions are often quite lovely, particularly when she gives her attention to the natural world.
Every other chapter, which is interspersed between details of Sarah’s present day journey, are vignettes set during her childhood. Such a sense of place and character can be found throughout Travelling in the Dark, and I so enjoyed Timpany’s writing that I am now waiting eagerly for her next publication.
Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn ****
Bottled Goods is Sophie van Llewyn’s first piece of ‘long fiction’. This novella begins in the Communist Romania of the 1960s, where, in the first scene, protagonist Alina is taken on a roadtrip with her cousins and Aunt Theresa. Short chapters ensue, some of which are told using the voice of Alina, and others which use an omniscient narrator. A few chapters consist largely of lists.
From the outset, Bottled Goods is vivid in its descriptions, and culturally and historically fascinating. Van Llewyn does incredibly well to put across the terror and strength of the regime in such a succinct yet harrowing manner. She demonstrates how quickly things escalated in the regime, and how far-reaching its effect was upon every Romanian citizen. The use of magical realism works very well too, particularly given the point at which it is introduced; it is used in quite a serious way, so does not tend to lighten the tone of the novella at all, but it does make one think. Van Llewyn’s blending of realism with the element of magical realism is rather inventive, and certainly makes for a strange, quirky, and memorable novella.