Janet Jackson’s Yorkshire B&B by Becky Papworth – an honest and funny novel of life

Janet Jackson’s Yorkshire B&B by Becky Papworth

This is a truly honest and funny novel! Janet Jackson – yes, that is the name of the main character’s name – has decided to open a B&B on a small basis. She has spent all her money on converting her garage into a tiny cottage and embarks on letting it out. After all, she lives in beautiful Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, a small town which is a magnet for tourists and unconventional lifestyles. That would seem to be a sensible move given that she is a divorcee whose only other income is her full-time job as a dental receptionist and she has a teenage daughter Chloe at home to support.  Despite being a bit demanding in the case of snacks and similar essentials of life, Chloe is often helpful with her computer knowledge and business acumen, which Janet seems to lack. Maureen, on the other hand, who also lives in the main house is frankly not keen on actually helping – she has other interests including performance poetry and well, men. In case of emergency, she is often absent in mind, body and spirit (unless from a bottle), leaving Janet to sort out the situation as much as possible.  

Janet tells the story of the garage/ cottage / self -catering annex etc in her own words, including her panic moments, her worries about most things including tax and welcome hampers, and her mistakes. Becky Papworth has given Janet a convincing voice to describe the daily ups and downs of being a landlady, host and owner of the newest B&B in the market, as well as trying to get on with her own life. There is romance, including with safe Peter, and who would expect her ex husband to reappear with issues? The humour is gentle and convincing, emerging from situations and the amazing variety of guests that the cottage attracts. There are classic mistakes in charging for stays and other traps, especially when a noisy neighbour gets involved, but there also some lovely visitors that restore everyone’s faith. The downsides of single parenting a teenager emerge, but also the rewards when Chloe is supportive of her mother’s efforts.

This is a genuinely funny book which is relatable on many levels even if you have never been tempted to let a cottage or even a room. Janet’s household is as chaotic as possible, but there is a lot of affection between the inhabitants. I really enjoyed her enthusiasm for gardening, how she copes with her job at the dentists with the memorable patients, and the hurdles she must overcome. Christmas is a brilliant set piece with a full house of people she has sort of collected. There are some awkward situations which I could see coming, but they were still funny. The characters were well drawn in their often-maddening consistency, especially the ever-flamboyant Maureen. This book was honest about the choices for older women in a way many other light reads are not, especially the realities of romance in a complex world. I especially enjoyed the tips for life that appear at the end of every chapter; they begin with “Tips for Running a B&B” and become Tips for other situations such as “Tips for Family Life” and even “Tips on Nights out with Sisters”. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book and recommend it as a light-hearted read.   

Lessons by Ian McEwan – An Unchosen Life of memories and more

Lessons by Ian McEwan

“How easy it was to drift through an unchosen life, in a succession of reactions to events”. Roland Baines’ life has many fascinating aspects as related in this superbly written book. It reveals the pinpoint detail of his life as well as the big world events that shape things around him, the reactions he feels to things that seem out of his control, his actions that set his life and that of others on a particular path. It is a sort of life story, though it rarely travels in a straight line; like memories it goes off down pathways, waymarked by letters and notes on occasions, but often it takes the form of returning to events, considering them in the light of present knowledge. It is incredible in its details, of the interiors of buildings, especially homes. It is a book peopled by Roland, but also by a teacher, a wife, a baby and others who seem to enter the stage for a section, then fall back into the background.

 I found this book an intense reading experience, in which Roland is in the foreground, but others are given room for their stories, and events roll around. The events are sometimes world changing, others just challenge Roland’s world. Some are expected, some are almost surreal. A world recovering from War, with all that implies, questions of bravery and separation, becomes the dangerous peace of a Cold War which suddenly becomes real. The pain of the Iron Curtain’s effects on people is so well expressed in relation to Germany that the Fall of the Wall seems almost personal. Climate change, even covid, are seen through eyes of fear and some understanding, while the realities of Brexit linger in the background. This book brilliantly combines the personal with the political, the massive with the mundane, as Roland learns that there are many lessons in life to be learnt. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this big book in every sense.

The book begins with an eleven-year-old boy, who has already had a complex life, going through a piano lesson with a young teacher who is unexpectedly reactive to his playing. She makes demands on him that go beyond what is to an extent already seen as a precocious talent, but he takes this as one more thing he cannot understand in a strange school existence. His mother is far away, but it seems that she cannot protect him – his dominant father sees to that. He is essentially vulnerable, and Miriam will go on to teach him and leave scars that cannot be left behind. The scene shifts to a house in London twenty-five years later, when new father Roland is abandoned by his wife, left to look after a seven month old baby, Lawrence, with no preparation and little understanding. A note solidifies the abandonment, the pain, and while the State grudgingly gives him a little money, the police are interested in a man whose wife has disappeared. This is especially the case when an officer finds a scribbled line of poetry which may suggest a woman’s death. It is only gradually that the reference becomes clear, as Roland’s memories of a curtailed formal education is explored, and his efforts to fill the perceived gaps – the courses of reading, the travels melt into the friendships, the relationships. Politics becomes personal when he encounters the realities of a divided Germany, and the endless debates about the government that pervade the dinners and drinks of friends and acquaintances. Still, there are questions, of women who he has been close to, of men who often challenge him. Memories, passions and sheer luck meld together to provide an unforgettable portrait of a life illustrated by reality.

This book is not only engaging, it is also immersive as Roland’s life story expands on the page. Like real life it does not run in straight lines; there are always considerations of others, of the what ifs, of the effects of decisions that he has taken, that others around him take, that are made on a global stage. The standout section for me concerns the fall of the Wall in Berlin in late 1989, when history is reduced to accident, to assumptions about people, when life changes forever in some ways, but also continues in others. This is a book that instantly becomes memorable, that I found an intense reading experience, and I recommend to those who are interested in life as it was actually lived by some in the second half of the twentieth century and beyond.

The Library by Bella Osborne – an enjoyable novel of contemporary life and a Book Club choice

The Library by Bella Osborne

Some book groups go for challenging literature – for our second meeting of our relaunched book group we decided that this book fitted the bill. It has characters that are perhaps unusual in a contemporary novel – a teenage boy and a seventy-two-year-old woman. It features one character who has severe problems and the topic of loneliness in two different age groups. It is also of course set in a library, one that Maggie and Tom meet in, and is under threat of closure. My edition also includes “Questions for your Book Club”, which we did not work our way through, but which made interesting points about the book’s themes. In a way it is a very positive book – but I admit to at least point that I found quite moving when Tom’s dad destroys something important to Tom. It has its comic points – Maggie it seems is a physically tough older lady, when it comes to work on her small holding dealing with Colin and other tasks, and in defence of herself and others. Tom describes himself as “invisible” as only a quiet sixteen-year-old can be, without friends and having lost his mother when he was younger. His relationship with his father is tough, his concern about a future working in the dog food factory understandable, and his half expressed hopes for romance painful. This is a novel that can set off many discussions topic, and also be an enjoyable book in its own right.

It is soon established that the importance of the library is that it is one of the few places that people from different age groups and backgrounds can come together and all find something for them that is free. Maggie is organised and resourceful, but essentially lonely with not enough to occupy her. Widowed and living alone, she enjoys reading many types of books, especially when it means she can go to the library on a Saturday for a book group. Tom’s appearance at the library is more accidental; a comforting memory of visiting with his mother, and a place of books which fill the empty hours in his difficult home life. After his dramatic meeting with Maggie, it becomes a place where he realises that he may find friends, both much longed for and surprising. The structure of the book is very interesting: Tom relates his own story and feelings in his own voice, including his terrible times with his father, his taking on of domestic responsibilities. Maggie’s story is closely related, but it soon becomes obvious that she has an unusual back story and a dramatic secret. As befits a teenager Tom has much to relate on the subject of food, especially the contrast between the sparse fare at home and the plentiful meals that Maggie happily provides, and there are also some wonderful pictures of the farming life that Maggie is used to, but which is a whole new world for Tom.

Altogether this is a novel which provided many talking points. We spoke about libraries at some length; we admitted that our own use of libraries varied at the moment but that they were valuable places that are worth fighting for. The fight for the library as described in the book is realistic, with the suggestion that the local authorities are only really interested in the financial aspects of the closure. This is a novel which we generally enjoyed, and I would certainly recommend it as a good read which combines lots of interesting issues with great characters.

Class – A Graphic Guide by Laura Harvey, Sarah Leaney and Danny Noble – a fascinating introduction to social class and its issues in today’s society

Class – A Graphic Guide by Laura Harvey, Sarah Leaney and Danny Noble

This is an unusual but potentially very useful book for anyone seeking a general introduction to the concept of social class, its origins, present day state and its probable implications for the future. Its original publication in the UK and USA gives a clue to its standpoint, but having said that, it is also to be published in many other countries. Its main question is “What do we mean by social CLASS in the twenty-first century?” and it is answered by two sociologists Laura Harvey and Sarah Leaney. What makes this book so different from other Introduction books available is the thoughtful and impressive drawings by Danny Noble, which provide a commentary and expansion on the short texts on every page. Many sociologists and other academics are mentioned and indeed provide much of the content of the book, with some of their observations paraphrased or directly quoted into speech bubbles. This is not the sort of academic book which could be quoted in essays but forms a valuable first source for those seeking an overview of the topic in an up-to-date format. It is an interesting read for anyone who seeks to understand the effects of class and how it functions in daily life as well as students and those working in communities where opportunities and lives can be affected.

I found this book fascinating as it reminded me of long-ago studies in sociology as well as more recent working with groups and individuals in various communities. While I was aware of older writers (Marx et al) one of this book’s many attractions is how contemporary it is. So, while this is a good section on the emergence of class alongside industrialism and the results of colonialism among other historic developments, it is also strong on twenty first century events and issues, such as the social effects of the Covid pandemic and the housing inequalities shown in the Grenfell Tower disaster. It looks on the on “Everyday” effects of class on work opportunities, cultural life, community and cuts to provision for community buildings, identity for individuals, the concept of “multiculturalism” and social mobility among many other things. The pictures are particularly acute in pointing out the assumptions people make about others, as a few deft drawings look at people condemning others for their choices or observing that it is possible to make choices about education and the environment, for example, if you enjoy a higher income. It also looks how the effects of inherited wealth and private education guarantee contacts and security for life in contrast to those struggling without either.

This is a book which is mainly based on British examples, but also considers American issues, especially in relation to the matter of race. While it uses general terms like capitalism, it also looks at the outworking of the welfare state in Britain, and the preconceptions about those whose depend on benefits and how not all work is equally rewarded. With the decline of traditional industries, men have been forced to take jobs that have been seen as feminine in the service sector. It looks at the difference between academic inquiry and lived experience in relation to contemporary life, which echoes the book’s main achievement of looking at the big themes and their effect on actual people.

This is a valuable and fascinating book which I recommend to all those who are seeking an introduction to an undoubtedly important issue in today’s society, as well as a background to current events. I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review this book and would like to explore others in the series.

Folly Ditch by Anna Sayburn Lane – Helen Oddfellow in a hunt for a Dickens’ character and a dangerous situation

Folly Ditch by Anna Sayburn Lane

Helen Oddfellow has a talent for spotting literary links that no one else has seen for many years – but in this novel she also has a tendency to get into trouble. In this fourth Helen Oddfellow Mystery she thinks she may have found Dickens’ Nancy, but she may also have found a link to an old enemy. This book works well as a standalone thriller mystery as well as updating fans of the literary researcher on her latest adventures. Once again, I am very grateful for the opportunity to discover more of the world of a literary detective, combined with a vivid treatment of a contemporary issue. In this book there is a brutal and chillingly relevant description of people trafficking and those who benefit from the “debt slave” conditions that is part of the industry. I found it to be a genuine simmering thriller of the best sort where various characters are focused on and their motivation revealed.

In addition to Helen, whose discovery of an old book and cutting propels her into an archive search, Nick, a resourceful investigative journalist is looking into an extreme group which is fiercely opposed to immigration in all its forms. The self-appointed members of the Patriot group turn out to be a violent mob, and Nick and his contacts are kept busy trying to discover what is truly going on. Both Helen and Nick are dismayed to see that Gary Paxton has been released from prison, as both bear scars of his previous crimes and their confrontations with him. Helen is also getting fed up with her single life, and is concerned that her academic job is on the line when she is summoned to see the new head of department at the University, Emmanuel Brown. Instead, she is dispatched to Rochester to help at a Reception for potential donors at a new Dickens exhibition. As Dickens is one of the subjects of her London walks, she is keen to see the exhibition. It is when she buys an old book at a strange bookshop that she is set on the trail of one of the best-known characters from Oliver Twist, the doomed Nancy. Her research in the potential inspiration for the character gives her academic research a boost. She also appears to have attracted the attention of an admirer who shares her curiosity about Dickens, even though he is not really a reader. A return to the bookshop in Rochester seems to spark off a chain of events which will test many characters.

I enjoy the Oddfellow books because of their clever combination of literary mystery with a thriller type plot. There is a certain amount of violence which is in keeping with the tough themes that Anna likes to tackle in her novels. Not that I have to be a literary expert to appreciate the importance of the discoveries that Helen makes in the novels, just to know that in the case of classic authors the discovery of a new insight into their lives or work would be hot news. Helen has also developed as a character through the novels, though her willingness to become involved in potentially dangerous situations and her curiosity seems undimmed. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel on so many levels, as a contemporary thriller and a literary search as well as a well plotted novel. I recommend it to anyone in search of a good read with a contemporary theme and literary aspects with fascinating characters.

Death on a Monday Night by Jo Allen – a DCI Satterthwaite crime novel which stands alone in its enjoyable mystery

Death on a Monday Night by Jo Allen

A Monday night has great significance in this complex and hugely enjoyable murder mystery – it is the Women’s Institute Meeting night in the village of Wasby in Cumbria. This contemporary and exciting novel is the eighth in the DCI Satterthwaite series, and although this is my first encounter with the detective and those he works with, it is so well written that I was able to pick up the gist of the situation quickly. WI meetings can be lively, and Wasby like many English villages are full of local gossip and scandal, but it comes as a total shock to everyone when Becca, district nurse and Jude Satterthwaite’s ex partner, discovers a dead body at the end of the evening. 

This book turns out to be a fairly closed community mystery in the best traditions of British Crime writing, where the inhabitants of a single village and the surrounding area come under suspicion, and in living at the heart of the community, Jude is acquainted with some of the major players. There are backstories to be enjoyed when I can track down previous books in the series, but in the meantime this is a standalone and very enjoyable mystery in its own right. It is very scenic, and I would love to see a television adaptation! I found this a very readable book which was very entertaining, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

The setting for the murder is an old village hall with a complex (and typical in my experience) arrangement of doors, exits and entrances. The meeting features Adam Fleetwood, an apparently reformed drug dealer, speaking about his past misdeeds and redemption, and Geri Foster, head of a drug rehabilitation project. Becca is present at the meeting, but goes outside shortly after the proceedings end. She is joined by a surprising companion before the lights in the hall all go out, and Becca moves swiftly to find the fuse box. Her discovery of the body of Grace Thoresby deeply shocks her, despite her experience of police work which she gained while close to Jude. While officially a sudden death, the local police are quickly involved, in the form of Ashleigh who is on duty while Jude turns up because he is local. Interestingly a more senior officer, Faye, takes a detailed interest in the case, and the complex situation which draws in family, acquaintances and old enemies. A woman’s secret life seems somehow connected to the events of the evening, but also the hard facts of the shattered relationship between Jude and his childhood friend. As the net of investigation grows larger and there is a real risk of future danger in the close knit community, can Jude and his colleagues sort out the threads of confusion around a brutal death before more people are put at risk, despite the problems of finding an attacker in such tricky circumstances? 

This is a very enjoyable and intriguing mystery which is well plotted and paced. It features characters who have real depth and reality, with their own issues and back stories which add a great deal to the overall narrative. This is a book that I greatly enjoyed and would genuinely recommend to those who enjoy crime mysteries set in a relatable community. I would be really pleased to discover more books in this series and by this accomplished author.      

The Yellow Kitchen by Margaux Vialleron -Three women, food and life in 2019

The Yellow Kitchen by Margaux Vialleron

The yellow kitchen in this novel is the most real setting throughout, despite the realities of London outside which also feature, and a never to be forgotten trip to Lisbon changes everything. This is a novel of three women, Claude, Sophie and Giulia, their interconnected relationship, and memories of mothers. In Claude’s hands it becomes a book of food, her chosen medium of expression, for when there is nothing that can be said in words. Blending, tasting and even recipe substitutions becomes her language, more so than the French she rarely uses, her literal mother tongue loaded with feelings about a life she has glimpsed and perhaps dominates the dreams she can express. Sophie, daughter of a celebrity mother, action driven when not actually asleep, creates magic with her makeup ideas, sculpting and changing a face. Giulia, for all purposes Italian, lives in the politics of the moment despite her non-specific jobs, running to clear her mind, recipient of the parcels from home which anchor her in her relationship with two women back there. This is the love story of three women. Love in all its companionship and challenges, its growth, development and change. 

The yellow kitchen is in a flat that Claude at first rents, with all the inconveniences of someone else’s use of space, but as it becomes more Claude’s own in spirit and fact, it changes despite being the hub of the three women’s relationship. In it Claude cooks, creates as the other two help by chopping, learning what the kitchen appliances are called, how they fulfil a role in preparing what becomes a joint enterprise, though always led by Claude. Claude is the one who spends all day serving other people’s food, but quietly develops her own distinctive pastries. She has her routines, her obsessions, of cycling, of wearing yellow, of almost standing outside her own experiences. Sophie is a driven woman, for a wedding, for her ambitions, for her desire to grasp each moment. Giulia filters things, is strong, responsive to the moods of others, but always a little on one side, not having the shared experience of a boarding school like the other two. As they and the world outside proceeds through the year 2019 “the last year of London as we knew it”, discoveries are made, decisions are made, and Claude is challenged with events in her life that haunt her memories. When something happens during a trip to Lisbon all three women are thrown, and everything is challenged. 

This is a book in which women are the main actors, and men are incidental to their lives. I found it entertaining and a compulsive read. Claude is the character who speaks in her own voice at certain points, full of the joys of preparing food for her friends, drawing them into her kitchen, her life. She is the anchor of the relationship, and I found her character to be the most complex. Sophie feels younger, more easily distracted in my reading of the novel. Giulia is the one that feels on the edge, yet also seems to be the one who encourages the relationship, and is there in times of crisis. This is a book to enjoy, which succeeded in increasing my appetite with its descriptions of food and its creation. This is a fascinating read, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.   

Ember by Catherine Yardley – An intense and powerful novel of contemporary relationships

Ember by Catherine Yardley

A family, a relationship and a past that intrudes into everyday life, this is a book of a woman who is struggling with a broken family. Natalie is a successful doctor, in love with Rob, but is coming under enormous pressure to accept her father, Tim, who she holds responsible for the breakup of her family many years before. This is an intense contemporary novel of a difficult part of a woman’s life, when memories and past trauma transform her view. Told mainly from Natalie’s point of view and in her distinctive voice, this is a voice that gives a rare insight into her actions in the light of a difficult past. There are also sections from Rob’s viewpoint, as he tries to understand and come to terms with what Natalie is going through. This is a book that provides an excellent insight into family dynamics. It looks at the individuals that make up the relationships, with sections that recount the feelings of a mother Jacqueline and a father, Tim, on at least one occasion. This powerful and heartfelt novel is a powerful book of a family in distress. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

The book opens with an Introduction in what turns out to be Natalie’s voice recording how she pulled up and ejected Rob from his car. It was a totally unexpected act that Rob cannot understand, that he is completely fazed by as we learn later. Not that Natalie can explain it; it appears to be a reaction to the impossible circumstances that she finds herself in. She moves out of the house that she shares with Rob, going to stay with her brother Paul. It emerges that Natalie has been doing the bulk of the preparation for her younger sister Amanda’s wedding. Beautiful, headstrong and spoiled, Amanda is demanding and is only just staying within Natalie’s ability to cope with her. When the latter makes the discovery that their father has paid for the dress and has visited the shop with Amanda, she is shocked. This was the man who she covered for, put up with and nearly hates. When Amanda also reveals that she is pregnant, it is a body blow to Natalie. She has no children herself, but her job as a consultant involves her delivering babies all day. Amanda, in her usual way, demands so much of Natalie, especially in terms of  welcoming their father back into a real relationship. Natalie remembers all too clearly what growing up in her family was like, defined by her father’s behaviour and his closeness to Amanda. She has had enough, and she reacts in a very unpredictable way. 

This is a novel written with real feeling for the ways that a family can become dysfunctional , and the long lasting effect of parental behaviour. Natalie is a complex but completely believable and relatable character, almost pushed beyond endurance by the demands of those closest to her. I read this book in two sittings, thoroughly engaged by the story, in particular the characters who are so well drawn. This is a powerful and strong book of relationships, strongly felt and deeply moving.     

Finding Mr Perfectly Fine by Tasneem Abdur-Rashid -When finding the perfect partner is a challenging and bewildering process in this funny and honest contemporary novel

Finding Mr Perfectly Fine by Tasneem Abdur – Rashid

Finding the right romantic partner is never easy, but in this funny and fascinating novel Zara is coming under a lot of pressure. She is twenty nine, and her mother is threatening to send her from London to Bengal to find a husband if she is not married by her thirtieth birthday. Family and cultural expectations clash with Zara’s mainly happy life in this brilliantly written novel which is narrated in her honest, bewildered voice as she struggles to decide what is sufficient for a happy married life. 

I found this book worked for me on several levels including the story of Zara as a young woman engaged in her job, family and friends who has to negotiate another hurdle, and the internal debate about what is truly necessary for the happily ever after which her mother and other relatives want for her. It overturns expectations in many ways and challenges things like the culture of social drinking, while being solidly down to earth in the perils of late nights, the question of what to wear and the distractions of social media. This book’s greatest strength lies in its cast of characters, ranging from the determined mother to the work colleagues who have so much influence on Zara’s thoughts. There is the quiet Nani who quietly takes Zara’s side, as well as a whole group of female relatives who alternatively support Zara and make her life more complicated. Zara describes her mother “I’m lumbered with a mum that is the worst of both my worlds; tech savvy and cynical like a Western mum, but still clinging on to old traditions like the village mum she claims she isn’t.” Needless to say Zara and her mother clash, most significantly over the hunt for a husband that her mother claims is all she needs for happiness, while Zara has reservations.

This book is very informative on the ways a traditional family seeks to arrange a match, with “biodata” being eagerly circulated by older family members and contacts, networking events and a Muslim marriage app. There are possibilities from each one for Zara, but they all have their advantages and disadvantages for her. Hamza, for example, is kind, responsible and seemingly perfect, but Zara cannot feel much chemistry, or the elusive spark that really attracts her. The problem seems to be that it is not always the one who seems perfect on paper that she feels something for, but can she really carry on ignoring all the pressure to actually decide?

There are so many elements of this book that drew me in and kept me interested, the small details of Zara’s life which can assume enormous proportions, the setting of London with all its contrasts, the presence of such memorable as her sisters whose support against the world is unquestioning, even if they are very different. The dialogue throughout is so realistic, with family debates held at high volume and the reported messages via text and online having the ring of truth. I recommend this debut novel strongly, as it has a genuinely fascinating voice at the centre, has natural humour, and is such an honest story of life, love and family pressure.    

The Poet by Louisa Reid – an unusual novel of rage, power and a vivid voice

The Poet by Louisa Reid

A novel in verse is an unusual concept, but in this story of a painful, toxic relationship it works brilliantly in giving the narrator and main protagonist an individual and powerful voice. This is Emma’s story, an award winning poet whose voice has been silenced in a relationship which depends on her being moulded to the needs and purposes of a manipulative egotist. The style is brilliant because it suggests the sparing nature of her words as she has been forced into the background of her own life. There is space for what matters: her complex feelings about a man who has dominated her life and her dilemmas about how to find herself. After all, they both deal with words, she as a postgraduate student who has not worked on her doctorate for too long, him as a charming Oxford don who attracts attention if not adoration, who soaks her thoughts up like a sponge. It is a situation of power imbalance, where she was his undergraduate student unsure of her place in the University, and he was a married man who sought her out for his own reasons. Not that he revealed that he was married until she was in too deep, not that he really cares for the children he left behind. It has become a toxic relationship as he has reduced her self confidence until she is totally in his shadow, not earning her own money so she cannot claim a measure of independence. This is such a clever novel, ambitious, skilful and creating a total empathy with a clever and increasingly determined young woman.

I found that this book’s strength lies in its powerful use of words in blank verse, as they convey so much in an image, an admission like “Confidence is something I’ve learnt to fake”  rather than a long description of how and why. It says how she felt that she surprised herself by getting into Oxford in the first place, how the interview process left her feeling bewildered and second rate in a few deft lines, comparing her naivety with the assurance of the other candidates. This imposter syndrome made her an easy target for a man who had strong views on the women on his course,charming them along with everything else, convincing them that he knew best, that in his attention they could find their true role. With Emma he recognised someone with a real flair for ideas, a flair that he used especially when she won a prize for her poetry collection. Since then, while she keeps his house going and responds to his every need, he has played down her writing and suggested that she take a break from her studies into Charlotte Mew, a not so well known Victorian poet. When he dismisses Emma’s work as derivative, she rips up her work even though “I miss those poems I destroyed”. He leaves her to look after his daughters on their regular visits, and seems to believe the occasional kind word or gesture will keep her in thrall.

It is when she discovers his greatest betrayal that she becomes determined to do more than carry on with low level anger and explodes into rage beyond words. It is then that this book became truly absorbing for me, as her intentions became complex. It is almost a thriller in how it demands to be read, with the pain becoming visible in every line.

This is a book that defied my expectations with its power and skilful style. This is angry verse, strong and powerful that I found compelling in the way that an ordinary prose narrative would; Emma’s voice is incredible in its realisation, its low level disappointment which turns to anger. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this tremendous book,and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a slightly unusual but incredibly strong read.