Saturday, 24 June 2017

Magic Realism Blog Hop 2017 Invitation to Bloggers




On the 28th July the 2017 Magic Realism Blog Hop will start here. All bloggers are invited to join in.  Just click the Add Your Link button at the bottom of this post

What is the Magic Realism Blog Hop?
The hop is a magical realism mystery tour, with stops at blogposts covering all sorts of subjects - reviews, thoughts about magic-realist fiction, magic-realist art and film, useful information about magic realism, maybe even some original magic-realist fiction.

During the three days until the 30th July a range of blogs will feature posts about magic realism and some (including this one) will feature more than one post. At the bottom of each post will be a list of the links to all the other posts on the bloghop. So all the reader has to do is click on the links to hop around the bloghop and in so doing discover new blogs and bloggers and read a wide range of posts about magic realism. The hop is fun, informative and generates visitors to the blogs taking part.

The history of the Blog Hop
This is the fifth magic realism bloghop. I organised the first in July 2013 on the first anniversary of this blog. Last year over 20 blogs took part.

How to join in with the Magic Realism Blog Hop?
All you need to join the hop is to post on one of the three days (28th-30th July) something about magic realism. Don't worry if you are new to blogging or blog hops, after four hops I can help you. Interested? Click the Add Your Link button at the bottom of this post.

Some useful posts I wrote for previous blog hops
What is Magic Realism - the first post of the first blog hop
Useful Resources for Magic Realism
Free Magic Realism Short Stories and Books
Magic Realism Writers from Around the World

You will find the links of blogs taking part in those hops at the bottom of the posts. .





Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Magic Realism Bookclub to read 100 Years Of Solitude.



Over on the Magic Realism Books Facebook group I am launching a monthly bookclub. Discussion starts May 1st.

The first book we will be reading is the book that in many ways started magic realism: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It also happens to be the first book of magic realism I ever read.

The book is available in kindle format in the UK for £4.99 (£3.99 for the audio download) and is often picked up for less in second-hand shops.

The Facebook Group's address is https://www.facebook.com/groups/magicrealism/

Monday, 20 March 2017

The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey


May 1959. From one side of St. Brigid’s Island, the mountains of Connemara can be glimpsed on the distant mainland; from the other, the Atlantic stretches as far as the eye can see. This remote settlement, without electricity or even a harbor, has scarcely altered since its namesake saint set up a convent of stone huts centuries ago. Those who live there, including sisters Rose and Emer, are hardy and resourceful, dependent on the sea and each other for survival. Despite the island’s natural beauty, it is a place that people move away from, not to—until an outspoken American, also named Brigid, arrives to claim her late uncle’s cottage.

Brigid has come for more than an inheritance. She’s seeking a secret holy well that’s rumored to grant miracles. Emer, as scarred and wary as Rose is friendly and beautiful, has good reason to believe in inexplicable powers. Despite her own strange abilities—or perhaps because of them—Emer fears that she won’t be able to save her young son, Niall, from a growing threat. Yet Brigid has a gift too, even more remarkable than Emer’s. As months pass and Brigid carves out a place on the island and in the sisters’ lives, a complicated web of betrayal, fear, and desire culminates in one shocking night that will change the island, and its inhabitants, forever.



The Stolen Child is a powerful example of how magic realism can give pyschological depth to a work. The small island, cut off for weeks from the mainland by the sea, is a world in itself. Or should I say two worlds because the two central characters, Emer and Brigid, are in different ways touched by that other world of Irish myth - the world of the fairy, the "Good People" as they are called. But the Good People are far from good, they are a sinister presence feared by the Islanders and in particular by Emer who is terrified by the belief that the fairies will steal her son when he gets to the age of seven.  Brigid on the other hand is looking for the healing waters of St Brigid's well, which will grant her the child that fate has denied her. St Brigid of course was/is herself an ambiguous figure, a pagan goddess before she was made a saint, so the modern Brigid is in some ways seeking a blessing from the fairies. The well she is seeking is as much an entrance into the underworld as was the beehive that turned on Emer, filling her with poison.

There are many themes in this book, too many perhaps, but for me the overriding one was that of motherhood. The island has lost many of its men to the mainland or foreign shores and on occasion to the cruel sea. St Brigid's Island is an island of women without a future and so the bearing of children is particularly symbolic. In the two sisters we see very different mothers. Rose is easy-going in her fecundity, bearing her handsome husband a succession of twins. Emer has the one son, Niall, whom she watches over obsessively. Then there is Brigid, who has had a succession of pregnancies all of which have resulted in the loss of the baby. Brigid's desperation for a child drives her to the island from which her mother had been driven, to seduce the emotionally wounded Emer and then cruelly push her away, thus lighting a touchpaper for the explosive final chapters.

Lisa Carey has said that she was inspired in part by a documentary Inishark: Death of an Island (Inis Airc: Bas Oileain), which you can view on Youtube. Here is the trailer on IMDb.




Carey does a wonderful job of evoking the bleak beauty of the island, the loneliness and closeness of its community. Her writing about the place is quite intoxicating and haunting and I was not surprised that she has found herself visiting and revisiting Inisboffin, just over the channel from Inishark. I was less taken by the sections in the book where we learn Brigid's backstory in America, just as I was less taken with her as character. I was fascinated by Emer, who is a wonderful character. She should be unappealing, given the way she can suck joy out of everyone she touches (everyone except for Brigid and Rose). But her love for her son and her desperate desire to protect him ring so true to this mother of a boy.

A powerful piece of magic realism, not suited to those who like their books to shy away from dark subjects.

I received this book free from the publisher in return for a fair review.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter

Photo; Alice Hendy

Last weekend I visited the Strange Worlds exhibition at RWA in Bristol, England. Angela Carter lived in Bristol from 1960 for nearly a decade and studied English at Bristol University. She authored the Bristol Trilogy (1966-1971) - three novels set in the city, in which, according to her friend and editor Lorna Sage, “art and life mingle so that life itself is often a form of art”.

I loved the exhibition and plan to write about it and some of the themes it inspired in more detail. But as the exhibition ends on the 19th March, here is a general post about the exhibition to encourage you to visit if you can.

Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter is a dialogue between art, literature and the imagination by exploring the artists who influenced Carter and those who were inspired by her. Delving into the latent meanings of childhood fairytales and the twisted imagery of gothic mysticism, this exhibition pays homage to the dark and compelling drama of Carter’s visual imagination – brutal, surrealist and savage.

Photo; Alice Hendy

This unique exhibition, which reveals the profound impact of Angela Carter’s work on 21st century culture, includes painting, sculpture, drawing, installation, printmaking and film from the nineteenth century to the present day. Echoing Carter’s recurring themes of feminism, mysticism, sexuality and fantasy, the exhibition includes historically significant works by Marc Chagall, William Holman Hunt, Dame Paula Rego, Dame Laura Knight, Leonora Carrington and John Bellany, on loan from major national collections.

The exhibition also features works by major contemporary artists who were either directly influenced by Carter, or who explore themes found throughout her work. These include Ana Maria Pacheco - who will present her macabre and unsettling installation, The Banquet - Alice Maher, Eileen Cooper RA, Tessa Farmer, Nicola Bealing RWA, Marcelle Hanselaar and Lisa Wright RWA.

These works are shown alongside illustrations from Carter's books, manuscripts, photographs and personal artefacts that give a fascinating and intimate insight into her life and work.

The RWA is to be found at Queens Road, Bristol, BS8 1PX.


CATALOGUE


If you can't make it to the exhibition there is a fully illustrated catalogue, which includes reminiscences of those who knew and worked with Carter including close friends Christopher Frayling, Marina Warner, Christine Molan and her publisher, Carmen Callil - the founder of Virago Press. Other contributors include Jack Zipes, Victor Sage, David Punter and Kim Evans, director of the BAFTA award winning BBC documentary, Angela Carter’s Curious Room, filmed shortly before her untimely death.

The catalogue is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Strange-Worlds-Vision-Angela-Carter/dp/1908326980/

Sunday, 26 February 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden



'Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.'

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.

But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods...

Goodreads description


I read Katherine Arden's novel in my Czech home, while outside some ice crystals like diamonds glistened on the deep pristine snow and others lined the boughs like white daggers. This is a country in which the Slavic spirits of the lakes, trees, thresholds and household stoves, still feature in popular culture. At the mill a few miles from my home they will burn an effegy of the Winter Goddess, Morana, to chase away winter. 

The Bear and the Nightingale is set in medieval Russia when the old Slavic gods and spirits were still very much part of everyday life and beliefs and the Orthodox church struggled to wean its followers off their pagan beliefs. This battle is at the heart of the book. When the priest attempts to turn the people from honouring the spirits who protect them, he brings disaster on their houses. The heroine, Vasya, who not only honours the old ways but actually sees the spirits around her, must seek the help of the Winter King. This sort of cultural clash is the stuff of magic realism, but I am not sure I would describe this book as magic realist.

Over on the Magic Realism Books Facebook Group we were recently having one of our regular discussions about definitions and genre and this book is a good example of how difficult it is to pigeonhole a book. This is in a way a novel in three parts and genres. The first part is straight historical fiction, the second magic realism and the third - fantasy. It is perhaps best defined as fairytale.

Vasya's problems take a turn for the worse when her father remarries and introduces a stepmother, who like Vasya can see the household spirits but unlike Vasya believes them to be devils. The stepmother character, although a fairytale archetype, is treated with understanding and indeed sympathy, and shown to be a victim of a society in which women are treated as no more than brood mares by their relatives, to be traded and married off without any say in the matter. Vasya is potentially also a victim of the same prejudice, but she is the wild girl of the description, both more modern and more pagan.

One of the strengths of the novel is Arden's writing, which is powerful and poetic. The story builds slowly, but that is no bad thing, although it did make the climax feel rather rushed. It is good therefore that this is the first book in a trilogy, as I am sure many readers will be left wanting more of the feisty Vasya.

I received this novel free from the publisher in return for a fair review. 



Monday, 20 February 2017

Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia


Here is the dreamy and bittersweet story of a family divided by politics and geography by the Cuban revolution. It is the family story of Celia del Pino, and her husband, daughters and grandchildren, from the mid-1930s to 1980. Celia's story mirrors the magical realism of Cuba itself, a country of beauty and poverty, idealism and corruption. 
Goodreads description

This is the story of a three generations of Cuban women set before, during and after the revolution. Yes, it is about the women's very different political attitudes and the tension it causes, but for me it is more about family relationships. It is about how past actions can sour and spoil the present, how secrets left unspoken are dangerous, and about the need to rebel against your parents and vice versa. Indeed in many ways the political differences are a way of expressing these other more personal feelings, something that I suspect is often too. As a friend once told me – the real reason you go into exile is to get away from your mother.

In Cuba, Celia, the grandmother of the family, is an active Castro supporter who we first meet scanning the sea for signs of a potential American invasion. Also in Cuba is Felicia, a mentally unstable mother of three, who is drawn into an Afro-Cuban santeria cult. Meanwhile in America there are Celia's oldest daughter Lourdes, who is fiercely anti-Castro and pro the American dream, and her rebellious daughter, Pinar, who is a punk artist and feels a telepathic affinity with her grandmother. The divide between the women is greater than the sea that divides Cuba and America and which plays such a symbolic part in the life of Celia, the grandmother of the family.

The narrative moves from character to character and backwards and forwards between the two countries; at times the narrative is humourous and at others sad. As it does so, we learn what really drives the characters apart. Tragically the reason for the tensions between the women is often the actions of men. One yearns for a resolution to the family conflict, but I will not spoil the ending for you.

The writing is beautiful, magical, and, as one might expect, sensual. The characterization works very well, although I would have appreciated just one well-adjusted family member. Sometimes I thought the writing a little too literary. The narrative strand of Celia's unsent letters to her lover seemed too obvious a device to be credible. But these faults did not inhibit my enjoyment of the novel.



Monday, 6 February 2017

The Famished Road by Ben Okri


Azaro is a spirit child, an abiku, existing, according to the African tradition, between life and death. Born into the human world, he must experience its joys and tragedies. His spirit companions come to him often, hounding him to leave his mortal world and join them in their idyllic one. Azaro foresees a trying life ahead, but he is born smiling. This is his story.
 Goodreads description

This is a novel that has been on my reading list from this blog's earliest days. It is generally regarded as a classic of modern magic realism. So when Open Road Media offered The Famished Road on Netgalley I jumped at the opportunity to read and review Okri's Booker Prize-winning work. Open Road Media is dedicated to releasing paper-based books as ebooks and I have been lucky enough to review several in the past.

Is The Famished Road magic realism? Many, including the author, have said no. And I don't blame them - it is hard book to categorize.

Okri comes from two traditions - that of the classical English-language fiction writers (he studied English literature in England) and the oral African tradition. Although Okri writes in English, his sensibility is very much an African one. For Azaro, his parents and indeed the other characters in the book, magic or the spirit world is part of their world view. Azaro , as a spirit child, is constantly moving between the two worlds. He sees the beckoning and sometimes threatening presence of spirits everywhere, especially during his forays into the forest, but also in the bars and of course on the road. In an interview he said:

I grew up in a tradition where there are simply more dimensions to reality: legends and myths and ancestors and spirits and death. You can't use Jane Austen to speak about African reality... Which brings the question: what is reality? Everyone's reality is different. For different perceptions of reality we need a different language... We like to think that the world is rational and precise and exactly how we see it, but something erupts in our reality which makes us sense that there's more to the fabric of life. I'm fascinated by the mysterious element that runs through our lives. Everyone is looking out of the world through their emotion and history. Nobody has an absolute reality.

If I am honest, there was rather too much spirit world in the book for me. Azaro is regularly kidnapped by spirits, and then runs away from them. He doesn't learn to stop wandering off in the forest, where many of these abductions take place. But then maybe my frustration stems from my need for a conventional (European?) story arc. The book took off for me when the reality of African politics starts to intrude into Azaro's life and his father finds a calling as a boxer. The magic is still there - for example his father's boxing bout with a man who is already dead - but it seems to have more of a purpose and the reality it operates in is more pointed. 

The characterisation throughout the book is firmly grounded in reality. The relationship of Azaro's parents is drawn with all its faults and all its love and you understand why this spirit child might choose to stay in the flawed world of humanity. The other character who stands out in the book is the bar and brothel owner Madame Koto. She is a complex, ambiguous and multilayered woman. At times kind, and others cruel, she dominates every scene she appears in. 
There is so much to write about this book and this brief review can only touch on a few issues. I can only say that this is an important book in the canon of magic realism and that Open Road Media are to be thanked for bringing it out as an ebook. I suggest if you interested in finding out more that you listen to the BBC interview with the author here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02r7grw 

 I received this novel free from the publisher in return for a fair review.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

At Twilight They Return by Zyranna Zateli


Zyranna Zateli’s ambitious, multigenerational saga is the story of Christoforos, who first weds Petroula, and then Evtha, followed, after her death, by Persa; of his sexually promiscuous son Hesychios and the many bastard children left on the doorstep following the untimely demise of so many would-be daughters-in-law; and of the sisters, brothers, children, and grandchildren who inhabit a household and a history expanding to near-bursting. 
 Goodreads description

This is a complex family story in which personal tales are imbued with magic, classical legend, Greek folklore and wider history. The comparison with One Hundred Years of Solitude is obvious and deserved. 

Narratively it is more demanding than Marquez's masterpiece, being told through ten tales, which move backwards and forwards chronologically and which focus on different characters in the story. The tales are interrelated, although it is not always clear how at first.  Moreover, like One Hundred Years of Solitude, this is a long book - it took me two weeks to read. 

The style is fascinating. The narrator's voice is sometimes brought to the fore, addressing us, the readers, directly and with familiarity. It is as if these tales are being told by elderly family members years after the event to Christoforos' descendents, which would justify how the non-sequitur nature of the ten tales. Sometimes I was reminded of the function of the classical Greek chorus, commenting on the central characters' actions directly to the audience. 

This novel is set at an interesting time in the history of Greece, when the centuries-old culture is beginning to be overtaken by a more modern world. That old culture was supported by an oral tradition, which in turn is reflected by the book's narration.

I was often reminded of vernacular folktales with their roots in classical Greek legends. For example: there is the story of Hesychios, a man so handsome that young women are bewitched by him and, having conceived his child, all die in childbirth. And yet his and the other tales are very much based in reality. Indeed the magic is barely visible. It is less overt that Marquez's. It is as if it is somewhere off to the side of your vision and when you try to look for it, you are not sure it was ever there. There is a psychological robustness about the actions and thoughts of the characters that is very modern. 

As you may have gathered, I really enjoyed this book and found it a fascinating read. Just as not of all of you are enamoured with Marquez's seminal work, not of all of you will like this book. But there will be many that do. 

I received this novel free from the publisher in return for a fair review.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

The Tremble of Love by Ani Tuzman


A novel inspired by the legendary spiritual master, Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezar, known as the Baal Shem Tov, the Good Master of the Name, who beckoned forth love from the hearts of rag pickers, ruby merchants, midwives, and murderers.

Poor orphan. Simpleton. Harder to tame than the wind.

He hears what they call him.

But he listens to the presence his father promised would never leave him.

Yisroel finds his way to those who nurture his healing gifts and rare compassion—until he embraces a destiny he cannot yet fathom nor deny any longer.

Honoring women, children, and the poor as his teachers. Celebrating life’s simplest deeds as worship. Praying with joyous abandon. Loving without condition. Yisroel’s “irreverent” practices threaten the established authorities—among them an embittered rabbinic leader with a mission of his own: to destroy the irrepressible master known as the Baal Shem Tov and his growing community of followers.

Goodreads description 


I find myself at a disadvantage in reviewing this novel. The subject matter of the novel is the life of great Jewish religious thinker and founder of the Hasidic Judaism. I am not Jewish, nor do I have much knowledge of Jewish thought. The Tremble of Love A Novel of the Baal Shem Tov is a long book (over 500 pages on my kindle) and one that should be read slowly, allowing for meditation. In some ways it is itself a mystical experience. Unfortunately reviewing one book a week is not conducive to such an approach. I therefore am sure I missed much and this review is not as complete as it could be. That said I still got a great deal out of novel, as Ani Tuzman's fictional account of the great man's life is a fascinating and comprehensive introduction.

One of the issues facing the author must have been the absence of historical data about the rabbi's life. Some of the evidence is closer to legend than historical fact. But we do have the legacy of his teaching and that combined with folk memories allows this book's account to feel authentic to his spirit. In any case this is a novel not a historical biography and this liberates the author to develop certain themes that may or may not be substantiated historically. The most obvious of these is the active role of women in the rabbi's life and teaching. The central character is often seen through the eyes of women, who find liberation in the rabbi's teachings and attitudes. Important in contributing to the book's authenticity is the portrayal of the society, buildings and everyday life in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of the 1700s. There are lots of small details which all come together to give the reader a sense of being there.

One of the highlights of last year's reading for me was the book Laurus. This was another long fictional historical biography of a holy man. It is perhaps unfair of me to compare the two books, but it is instructional. In Laurus we see inside the central character's head, understanding so far as it is possible the emotional turmoil and trauma that lead his pursuit of God. We do not get the same insight in this book, instead we see the central character from the viewpoint of others, and we see the transformative impact he has on them. Of the two approaches I preferred the former as I think it allowed for more drama, but then the character in Laurus is entirely fictional and perhaps Ani Tuzman did not feel she could take such a liberty with a real holy man. In other ways the two books have much in common – the theme of course, but also the sense of time and place.

Having read this novel, I want to find out more about the historical Yisroel ben Eliezar and his teachings.

I received this book free from the author in return for a fair review.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Froelich's Ladder by Jamie Duclos-Yourdon

Uncle Froelich nurses a decades-old family grudge from his perch atop a giant ladder. When he’s discovered missing, his nephew embarks on a rain-soaked trek across a nineteenth-century Pacific Northwest landscape to find him, accompanied by an ornery girl with a most unfortunate name. In their encounters with Confederate assassins, European expatriates, and a general store magnate, this fairytale twist on the American dream explores the conflicts between loyalty and ambition and our need for human connection, even at the highest rungs. 
 Goodreads description

This is a tall tale, literally in the case of the fourth highest ladder the world has ever seen. And it is in the tradition of American tall tales - Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, etc - a story form suited to the bravura of the frontier world in which Froelich's Ladder is placed.

After his brother takes the girl he fancies, Froelich climbs up the ladder in a huff and stays there, growing food between the rungs and communicating with his brother and then his two nephews by a sort of morse code. Then one day the knocking from on high stops: Froelich is missing and one of his nephews sets out to find him while the other props up the ladder.

The hunt for Froelich takes the central character and the reader into a wild west where the fanciful and the real exist alongside each other. Parents be warned: the story turns from picaresque folklore to the threat of sexual and/or physical violence at times.

One of the best things about this book is that it features two strong-willed independent female characters more than succeeding in a man's world. Something I always like to see. 

Whilst the final resolution(s) seemed a bit rushed to me, this is an entertaining undemanding read.

I received this book free from the publisher via Netgalley in return for a fair review.