The Girl Who Smiled Beads – Clemantine Wamariya & Elizabeth Weil

Rating: 5/5

Genocide – The deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group.

“The word genocide cannot tell you, cannot make you feel, the way I felt in Rwanda.

“The word genocide cannot articulate the one-person experience – the real experience of each of the millions it purports to describe.

“The word genocide cannot explain the never-ending pain, even if you live.

“The word genocide cannot help the civilians.

“The word genocide is clinical, overly general, bloodless, and dehumanising.”

What is described as the Rwandan genocide began on April 7th 1994 and lasted for 100 days after Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi were killed when their plane was shot down over the country’s capital Kigali on April 6th. An estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed during this short period as extremist Hutus slaughtered about 70% of the minority Tutsi population, as well as thousands of Hutu moderates opposed to the killings.

The ethnic tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis can be traced back to the arrival of Belgian colonists in 1916, who issued identity cards to classify people according to their ethnicity, with the Belgians considering the Tutsis to be superior to the Hutus. Although the Belgians would eventually concede power and grant Rwanda independence in 1962, the ethnic divide would remain, with the majority Hutus taking the place of the Belgians.

“Colonisation is built on the idea that we are not the same, that we don’t possess equal humanity.”

The mass killings in Rwanda finally ended when the Tutsi-controlled Rwandan Patriotic Front led by Paul Kagame seized control of the country. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has sentenced more than 60 people for their involvement and nearly 2,000,000 people have stood before Rwandan community court. A humanitarian crisis occurred as a result of the war, with an estimated 2,000,000 displaced Rwandans becoming refugees.

“The war had no logic, no direction, no discernible objective, no face. It was everything, everywhere, all at once, and it stood for nothing at all.”

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil is Wamariya’s memoir about surviving the Rwandan genocide and describes how she and her older sister spent six years travelling through seven African countries to find safety, before being granted refugee status in the US. The book captures the horrific effects of war, as well as its traumatic aftermath. Wamariya describes the barbaric behaviour of the extremists and the appalling conditions that people were forced to endure. As starvation and desperation became a way of life, the book highlights how easy it became for children and adults to be manipulated and depraved.

“You had to try to hang on to your name, though nobody cared about your name. You had to try to stay a person. You had to try not to become invisible. If you let go and fell back into the chaos you were gone, just a number in a unit, which also was a number. If you died, no one knew. If you got lost, no one knew. If you gave up and disintegrated inside, no one knew.”

As well as being a painful account of being a refugee, Wamariya is frankly honest about her feelings towards her family, particularly her sister and mother. The book opens with Clemantine and her sister being reunited with their family on The Oprah Winfrey Show and depicts the reality when the fairy tale moment on television is over. She and her family don’t have a happy-ever-after ending and instead her family are flown back to Rwanda just days later. A slow process then begins to get their family back to the US to live as immigrants before the family try to adapt and find a way to integrate into each other’s lives again.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads is a terrifying and horrific account of one of the greatest war crimes against humanity. It is a book about identity, survival and hope. It is a powerful read with an important message about equality and it is one that I will never forget.

“Survival, true survival of the body and soul, requires creativity, freedom of thought, collaboration…We need each other. We need to say: I honour the things that you respect and I value the things you cherish. I am not better than you. You are not better than me. Nobody is better than anybody else. Nobody is who you think they are at first glance. We need to see beyond the projections we cast onto each other. Each of us is so much grander, more nuanced, and more extraordinary than anybody thinks, including ourselves.”

After being granted asylum in the US, Clemantine went on to receive a BA in Comparative Literature from Yale University and became the youngest ever person to serve on the United States Holocaust Museum’s Memorial Council, appointed by President Barack Obama. Now thirty, she is a member of the Board of Directors at Women for Women International and is an experienced speaker, storyteller and human rights advocate.

How Saints Die – Carmen Marcus

“If you take life from the sea you offer your own life in exchange. She can take you. Any time she wants. She’ll call you to her and you’ll go like it’s home and not struggle.”

How Saints Die tells the story of ten year old Ellie, who lives with her fisherman father on the wild North Yorkshire coast. It is the 1980s, a time that means her mother’s breakdown is only discussed in whispers. As Ellie is guided by her father’s sea-myths, her mother’s memories of home across the water and her own fierce spirit, Ellie begins to learn who she is and what she can become. Soon her innocence has been shed, but at a great cost…

“Books had rescued me long before this moment but this was the first time I’d ever been prescribed one. So it was inevitable really that the way to finally understand that moment – that break where my childhood ended so abruptly – would involve a book.” – Carmen Marcus

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize, How Saints Die is a book about mental illness, childhood friendship and the bonds between family. It is a book that resonated deeply with me for personal reasons. While the circumstances were completely different, the parallel of being that age during that time with a single father household was uncanny. I found myself empathising and identifying with Ellie, who was viewed as odd and an outsider, and becomes thrust into a world of adult responsibilities. Feeling so connected with the story and the central character completely elevated the book for me, particularly after reading the personal note from author Carmen Marcus at the end of the book.

“In reality, a child is powerless to change anything; decisions are made without consent, questions are met with silence and yet none of this insulates the child from the trauma. As with my own childhood, and now as a writer, it’s imagination that saves and compensates for Ellie’s inability to understand or control the adult world. In the real world, Ellie is suffocated by diagnostic labels like ‘damaged’ or ‘at risk’ and trapped by the official story recommending ‘intervention’. Imagination is Ellie’s only form of resistance and so I’ve made a world out-of-bounds where she can run with her own story.” – Carmen Marcus

I was recently part of a book tour for How Saints Die and I’m so grateful to Vintage Books for including me in the tour, as it’s a book that I may never have gotten to read otherwise. It’s a book that has lingered on my mind and will continue to stay with me. Carmen Marcus has a beautiful style of writing and really captures the character of Ellie in such a way that is both heart wrenching and immersive. The book has an ethereal magical element within the story and is evocative of classic fairy tales. It is a fantastic debut from Carmen Marcus and a unique book that tackles difficult topics, as well as being a compelling and haunting story.

Have you ever connected with a book, character or film in such a personal way?

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 – Episode 1: June

 

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Trailer

Rating: 5/5

“Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”

In a world where fertility is rapidly declining, Offred is offered only one option by the new Republic of Gilead: to breed. If she refuses, the consequences are death or a sentencing to the radioactive Colonies. Serving as a handmaid for her Commander and his wife, her main function is to provide the childless couple with a baby. Soon, Offred is complicit in illicit meetings engineered by the Commander, while harbouring a mutual desire for one of his Guardians, who may be an Eye or a source of salvation. With such a precarious position, the value of her life is always a distant threat…

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel was published in 1985 and is a terrifying concept that is not all that unbelievable. Having studied the novel as part of a Margaret Atwood module at university, I have to admit that originally I couldn’t quite grasp the concepts of her books and so my enjoyment and understanding of her stories were limited. However, after rereading The Handmaid’s Tale, I am happy to say that I completely loved it! Perhaps as we grow older, we also grow as readers. Do you agree?

My reread of The Handmaid’s Tale was in anticipation of seeing Margaret Atwood at the Hay Festival at the end of the month and also the return of the second series of the book’s tv adaptation on Channel 4 on Sunday night. What a return it was! Season 2 opened with a harrowing sequence, played out with added poignancy to Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work and moved me to tears before the opening credits had even aired. The sheer brutality continued throughout the episode and, for me, makes quite a statement on the horrifying attacks that continue to occur against women all over the world. Sometimes extreme scenes are necessary as a wake up call to make people sit up and take notice or shock people into taking positive action. The violence and degradation depicted towards the handmaids  made me think about so many events going on in the world, such as the barbaric act of female genital mutilation, which has previously been depicted in Season 1.

In this dystopian world where women are merely seen as vessels and need their husband’s signature to acquire contraception, the timing of the show’s return feels eerie with the referendum in Ireland taking place this week. Other scenes in the show highlighted the difficulties and judgements that working mothers face, a challenge that men are never expected to experience.

Season 2 is now working from new source material, with Atwood acting as a consultant on the show. This new and unknown direction will allow for even more scope and development of secondary characters and has the ability to highlight even more topical issues. With women’s rights remaining at the forefront of so many causes and campaigns, Season 2 is proving to be as compelling and relevant as ever.

Did you watch the return of The Handmaid’s Tale on Sunday night? If so, what did you think?

Native Son & Black Boy – Richard Wright

Native Son: 4/5

Black Boy: 5/5

Richard Wright’s Native Son was published on March 1st, 1940 and was the first novel by a black author to be chosen for the Book-of-the-Month Club. It sold an incredible quarter of a million copies in its first three weeks and within five months it had sold half a million copies. The novel tells the story of Bigger Thomas, who lives in one rat-infested room with his family on the south side of Chicago. What unfolds is a series of horrifying events after a desperate act.

“He shut their voices out of his mind. He hated his family because he knew they were suffering and that he was powerless to help them. He knew that the moment he allowed himself to feel to its fullness how they lived, the shame and misery of their lives, he would be swept out of himself with fear and despair. So he held towards them an attitude of iron reserve; he lived with them, but behind a wall, a curtain. And toward himself he was even more exacting. He knew that the moment he allowed what his life meant to enter fully into his consciousness, he would either kill himself or someone else. So he denied himself and acted tough.”

Black Boy was published in 1945 and is Richard Wright’s own account of growing up in the Deep South of America. Born near Natchez, Mississippi, in 1908, Wright lived in Memphis, Tennessee as a child before living in an orphanage and then lived with various relatives. In Black Boy, Wright details a life of moving from home to home and, by the age of twelve, he had received only one year of formal education. Hunger and poverty dominated his life, as well as white subjugation and fear. His dream of justice and opportunity in the north became his focus as he learned to survive in his hostile environment.

“But what strange world was this? I concluded the book with the terrible conviction that I had somehow overlooked something terribly important in life. I had once tried to write, had once revelled in feeling, had let my crude imagination roam, but the impulse to dream had been slowly beaten out of me by experience. Now it surged up again and I hungered for books, new ways of looking and seeing. It was not a matter of believing or disbelieving what I read, but of feeling something new, of being affected by something that made the look of the world different.”

I was lent these books by a work friend and it really is essential that they are read together. In hindsight, I wish I had read Black Boy first as it provides more of an insight into the character of Bigger Thomas. For me, Bigger was a character lacking empathy and demonstrated sociopathic traits. However, reading Black Boy offers an in-depth glimpse into Bigger’s psyche and Wright’s painfully honest account of his own life is quite an indictment of society in America during that period. I loved the energy and flow of Wright’s writing, which made for compelling and immersive reading.

Wright’s turbulent home life influences and shapes much of his writing and after leaving home at fifteen, he worked in Memphis for two years before moving on to Chicago. In 1935, he began to work on the Federal Writers’ Project and in 1938, he published Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in the following year. Other titles include The Outsider, The Long Dream and American Hunger. After the publication of Black Boy, Wright left the United States with his wife and visited France as official guests of the French government. They returned to France in 1947 and lived there with their three daughters, with Wright remaining there until his death in 1960.

I was alarmed recently to hear a comment from someone who dismissed autobiographies, implying that they are egotistical and self-indulgent. While I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion, I couldn’t disagree more. Real life accounts can teach us so much about the world, human nature and important moments in history. These books were shocking, provocative and uncomfortable to read, but they were completely gripping and absorbing. I am so glad that I received the opportunity to read these books and they are certainly two that I will never forget.

Have you read these books and did you enjoy them? What is your opinion on autobiographies? Do you think they are important or do you believe they are self-serving? I would love to know your thoughts!

Amber Green Takes Manhattan


Rating: 3/5

Amber Green Takes Manhattan by Rosie Nixon is a fun tale featuring stylist Amber Green, who moves to New York with her tv producer boyfriend Rob after he is offered a job filming with the infamous Angel Wear lingerie models. The sudden relocation gives Amber the opportunity to reinvigorate her styling career, although her best intentions don’t go quite to plan. With unruly toddler photo shoots, fake designer handbag scams and an attention seeking Hollywood star adding to her list of woes, Amber’s dreams of becoming a successful celebrity stylist are failing to come to fruition any time soon. However, a former fashion designer might the answer to her problems. If only he wasn’t a complete disgrace in the fashion world…

Amber Green Takes Manhattan is a light romp and an ideal beach read this summer. While the story may literally be a case of style over substance, sometimes an easy read is a welcome escape from the hard hitting events that can dominate the news on a frequent basis. Much like tuning into a comedy show rather than a documentary or drama, light relief in the form of a novel like Amber Green Takes Manhattan can be a welcome break from reality at the end of the working day.

While I enjoyed the premise of the story, I did find it difficult to connect with the central character. At times, Amber seemed weak, particularly in the way that she defined herself by her relationship status and allowed herself to be plagued by ridiculous insecurities. However, she redeemed herself with an event that celebrated women and the transgender community and I would have been interested to see how the author could have developed this further. Although the book doesn’t explore any deep issues, it embraces empowerment and the female form. The timing of the book’s release on June 29th couldn’t be more perfect, as a key plot point in the story referring to Wonder Woman makes the book extremely current.

“They all stood there, a row of six women, joined together in a show of unity, sending the message that women, however they look, whatever their size or shape, their colour or their history, make an unstoppable force when standing shoulder to shoulder together.”

I must extend a huge thanks to Story HQ and Harper Collins UK for sending me an advanced copy of Amber Green Takes Manhattan. I was delighted when Phoebe from Midas PR contacted me through my blog asking if I would like to receive a copy. I love stories set in New York, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to read this book. Although this book is a sequel to The Stylist, it does serve as a stand alone book. There are many references to events that appear to have unfolded in the previous novel, but they do not add to any confusion within the current story. Instead, it makes me curious to read the first novel!

Have you read Amber Green Takes Manhattan yet? Have you read its predecessor? Are you a fan of contemporary women’s fiction? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey


Rating: 4/5

The Snow Child is a story that takes place in Alaska in the 1920s and focuses on Jack and Mabel, who have undertaken a fresh start in a remote area, after the death of their baby many years previously. When a mysterious young girl starts to appear on their land, they are wonderstruck and begin to let her in to their lives. But will the little girl let them into hers or will she disappear again?

The Snow Child is a book I have wanted to read for many years, yet somehow I have never gotten around to it. When the opportunity came to join a readalong on Bookstagram, I jumped at the chance. I am so glad I have finally read this wonderful story. The harsh Alaskan landscape is depicted through beautiful imagery that doesn’t detract from the brutal cold climate. Ivey has a remarkable way with words and portrays winter in such a wondrous manner that really entices me to visit and explore Alaska. I read this book in January, which was the perfect time of year for this novel. To my delight, snow even arrived while I was reading the book, which enhanced the atmosphere as well as providing some fantastic photo opportunities.

The Snow Child deals with many themes, including love, loss and family. The loss of Jack and Mabel’s baby threatens to fracture their relationship and their struggles to cope in the harsh Alaskan climate continues to have a negative effect, taking a financial toll on the couple. The arrival of the mysterious girl not long after they build a snow child has a positive influence on their lives as they begin to form a family unit. The girl’s appearance certainly has a magical quality and parallels the Russian fairy tale Snegurochka that Mable refers to in the story. Using this story implies the possibility of magic, yet hints at tragic undertones.

In the light of day, her dreams were drained of their nightmarish quality, and they seemed whimsical and strange, but the taste of loss remained in her mouth. It was difficult to focus on her tasks and she often drifted aimlessly through her own mind. A faint memory emerged again and again – her father, a leather-bound fairy tale book, a snow child alive in its pages. She couldn’t clearly recall the story or more than a few of the illustrations, and she began to worry over it, letting her thoughts touch it again and again. If there was such a book, could there be such a child? If an old man and woman conjured a little girl out of the snow and wilderness, what would she be to them? A daughter? A ghost?”

The third part of the novel veers in a surprisingly unexpected direction and I agree with other reviewers that it felt rather rushed. Yet I still adored this book, which gave me a sense of appreciation of life’s conveniences in today’s modern world. At the heart of the story is the love between family and how it can take shape in all forms.

While the book has a fairytale quality, it harks back to the more darker fairytales such as the Grimms fairytales, where its origins lie as apposed to today’s Disney retellings. This creates a sense of realism in the novel and the reader constantly has a sense of dread at what may lay ahead.

I would definitely recommend this beautiful story, especially to read during the winter months. While inspired by fairytales, it feels unique and memorable. I’m just surprised that it hasn’t been adapted into a movie version as the imagery created in the novel is stunning. Perhaps though it is best that it remains just as a novel, without any interference from Hollywood. Some fairytales don’t need to be retold…

 

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven – Chris Cleave

Rating: 3/5

This month I had the pleasure of being featured in Sainsbury’s magazine as part of a book reviewing panel, which was quite exciting! The book I was given to review was Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. The novel revolves around World War II and focuses on three central characters and how their lives are affected as a result. The female protagonist Mary North decides to help the children that Britain would rather forget. Friends Tom Shaw and Alistair Heath take different paths to each other, with Alistair answering the call of duty, while Tom refuses to sign up for a cause that he doesn’t believe in.

“How good it would be to fall in love – how perfectly, anciently new.”

On the surface, the novel appears to be a romanticised version of the war, yet in fact it never fails to shy away from the harsh brutality of war and its aftermath. Some scenes are so sudden and unexpected that they are quite shocking, with some graphic descriptions of the ensuing violence and physical harm caused by the war. Many issues are also explored in this book, including PTSD, race and class. Themes of love, family and friendship are a recurring feature throughout the story. Mary’s friendship with her best friend Hilda is one example of how friendship is used as a device to serve as a point of character growth for Mary, as well as highlighting her foibles.

Despite the book’s serious subject matter, the author does create moments of much needed light humour throughout the story, which enhanced my enjoyment of the novel. While this wouldn’t be my favourite book regarding the war, I found it an enjoyable, easy and poignant read.

“I was brought up to believe that everyone brave is forgiven, but in wartime, courage is cheap and clemency out of season.”

Cleave wrote this novel as a tribute to his grandparents. The character of Mary was inspired by his paternal grandmother, Margaret Slater, who drove ambulances in Birmingham during the Blitz, and his maternal grandmother, Mary West, a teacher who ran her own school and kindergarten. Mary and her fiancé David were separated for three years during the war when David served overseas in Malta.

Cleave’s family still have all the correspondence that David sent to Mary and provides excerpts of these at the end of the novel. Unfortunately, they have none of Mary’s, which travelled on a different ship from David’s and were sunk by a U-boat. This was the era of letter writing when people poured their heart and soul onto paper. A letter could take weeks or months to arrive and would mean everything to its sender and recipient. For every letter that David sent, Mary recorded in an exercise book the date it had been posted and arrived, which is featured in the additional excerpts in the novel. Mary also summarised the contents of the letters and her feelings in a separate diary. To see how much Mary cherished her letters demonstrates how important letter writing was during this time period and it is lamentable that letter writing appears to be a dying art form in this age of emails, instant messaging and video chat. The sense of instant gratification has no comparison to a long awaited love letter. Cleave describes his intentions regarding the love letters and those within the novel by saying that ‘I wanted to make that love glow in the letters between my two separated lovers, Mary and Alistair. I wanted those letters to be the bright centrepiece of the novel because it is so terribly brave to fall in love when the world is falling apart’.

Have you read Everyone Brave Is Forgiven? Do you enjoy historical fiction and do you still like to write letters? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Longest Ride – Nicholas Sparks

Rating: 2/5

The Longest Ride was chosen at my book club recently by a brave new member. To say this isn’t our usual read is an understatement! While I am happy to read anything, some people in the group have quite high standards regarding our reading material, so it was always going to be an interesting book club session. Needless to say, the book didn’t go down very well, although almost everyone was relatively restrained when demonstrating their opinions on the book, for fear of scaring our new member off. However, it didn’t stop one member, who gave one of the most scathing reviews we have ever heard at book club. The poor young chap hasn’t been back since, but hopefully it’s just a coincidence!

Now admittedly, I wouldn’t exactly be rushing to read one of Sparks’ books. There may have been a time when my younger self would have, but after reading The Notebook, I felt deflated. I couldn’t help thinking how much I preferred the film to the book. It’s not often that I prefer the movie to the book, but in this case, the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams really brought the characters to life.

The Longest Ride focuses on two couples – Ira and Ruth and Sophia and Luke. The novel opens with the elderly Ira finding himself trapped in his car after careening off the road. It is there that he starts to see his deceased wife Ruth and their story is then told mainly in flashbacks as they reminisce about how they got together and how their relationship evolves through the years.

In the present day, we are also introduced to Sophia and Luke, who meet some previous few months before Ira’s car crash. Sophia is studying art history at Black Mountain College in North Carolina and Luke is a bullfighter struggling to help keep his family’s farm afloat. The two quickly form a relationship, but Luke is keeping a secret that could threaten everything.

The Longest Ride is typical Sparks fodder. I expected the novel to be cheesy and it was a huge helping of Stilton with a portion of Brie on top! I enjoy the Chick Lit genre, but at least those novels are more realistic and humorous. Perhaps it’s because they are predominantly written by women. Sparks feels like a writer trying to write for women. His characters are just too perfect and the love stories too unrealistic and idealistic. Sparks’ style of writing is romance that is verging into Mills & Boon territory.

However, Sparks does provide obstacles for his characters, which provides some dramatic tension and the book wasn’t entirely predictable. I enjoyed trying to figure out how the two stories related to each other and I liked the setting of the story.  However, I found the Ira/ Ruth story too contrived in the way that they relayed their stories of when they were together. These chapters would have worked much better as proper flashbacks. Instead, Sparks has the two characters telling rather than showing, a style that is usually avoided in writing.

The whole story felt formulaic, but Sparks clearly has a formula that appears to be working, judging by the successful amount of books and movie deals that he has sold. I haven’t seen this current movie adaptation and I won’t be rushing to watch this one, especially after a friend said it was the cheesiest film she’d ever seen. I would imagine that Sparks has probably reached a stage in his career where he knows what works for him and that he could probably produce anything now and it’ll still be a hit with an accompanying movie to follow.

Perhaps I am merely being cynical? What do you think? Are you a Nicholas Sparks fan? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Revenant – Michael Punke

“Hugh Glass isn’t afraid to die. He’s done it once already.”

Rating: 5/5

Expert tracker Hugh Glass is viciously attacked by a bear and appears to be on death’s door. The two men ordered to stay with him steal his belongings and abandon him in the wilderness. Soon a revived Glass is on a quest for revenge and he will not stop until he succeeds…

The Revenant is the book that inspired the Oscar-winning movie and finally earned Leonardo DiCaprio his well deserved Oscar for his powerful portrayal of Hugh Glass. It is not difficult to see why Leo was drawn to such a role. The character of Glass is one of strength, courage and determination. His character carries most of the film, much of it in silence.

Visually, the film is stunning and has become my favourite movie this year. With this in mind, I did wonder if I would enjoy the book as much, particularly as my sister didn’t really enjoy the novel and gave up early on. Notably, she hadn’t seen the film, so perhaps she might have been more inclined to continue reading if she had.

Normally I prefer to read a book before its film adaptation, but this time it actually enhanced my reading. I was able to recall the beautiful backdrop setting and visualise the different places along Glass’ difficult journey. I’m usually drawn to books with more dialogue, but I remained completely enthralled in Punke’s vivid descriptions of the scenery as well as Glass’ encounters and experiences. Punke’s writing immersed me into the story and I became awed at Glass’ tenacity through such extreme weather conditions, considering the seriousness of his injuries. Punke succeeds in highlighting the horror of Glass’ attack through brutal imagery, which is just as gory as depicted in its film adaptation. It is difficult not to flinch when reading some of the passages in this novel and it is astonishing to read just how strong the human spirit can be when necessary.


The Revenant may be a work of fiction, but the character of Hugh Glass is certainly true. However, some legend has filtered through the history of what happened to Glass. The film has some notable differences that add more dramatic depth to the story, but the novel is still rich in its storytelling. Some of the events in Glass’ life are truly remarkable and the phrase “truth is stranger than fiction” comes to mind.

“Revenant – n. one who has returned, as if from the dead.”

Glass is a resourceful and patient character who demonstrates just how much one can survive and endure when their life is at stake. I found myself thinking what I would do if I was in that situation and I’m sure I would give up! Not so Hugh Glass, who soldiers on in order to get his revenge. He proves that anything can be done when you put your mind to it and, when you are truly desperate, you will even resort to eating anything that you can get your hands on. Such sheer circumstances are a true test of what a human being can endure and Glass never gives up.

Although the book may be a harrowing tale, there are some light comedic moments, particularly the camaraderie between some of the characters. The book may be lacking in female characters, but it doesn’t detract from the novel and is simply a reflection of its period setting. The other memorable character is Fitzgerald, who abandons Glass after his attack. Fitzgerald is depicted by Tom Hardy in the film and the character in the novel is just as evil and appears to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He provides an excellent foil to Glass’ character and becomes the main motivation for Glass to keep on living, just to quench his thirst for revenge.

The history in the novel is enthralling and shows just how difficult life could be during such a simple period devoid of today’s comforts. The conflict with the Native Indians is not shied away from in the novel and some of the violence that occurs is horrifying. Despite the heavy source material, I found the novel to be an easy read and even though I may have known most of the story and its outcome, I was still gripped by Glass and his arduous journey of survival and revenge. Quite simply, The Revenant is a must read!

Have you read The Revenant? Have you seen the film? How do you feel they compare? Do you prefer to read the book first before a movie adaptation? Let me know what you think!

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

Rating: 4/5

I’ve been extremely excited to read this debut novel by Lisa McInerney, having known her briefly through one of my best friends during our student days in Cork City many moons ago. It is fantastic to see someone from home doing so well and Lisa has received rave reviews for her novel, which has recently won the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction 2016.

The Glorious Heresies is set in Cork City and revolves around a multitude of shady characters who interconnect through various dark circumstances. The opening of the novel sets the bleak tone of the story with the killing of a man by fifty nine year old Maureen, who arranges for her son Jimmy to sort out her unfortunate predicament. Being the most feared gangster in Cork City, Jimmy has no shortage of henchmen to do his dirty work for him. He quickly finds someone willing to clean up Maureen’s mess and this leads to a sequence of events that changes many of the characters’ lives forever.

Jimmy’s childhood friend Tony, father of six children and an alcoholic, comes to Jimmy’s assistance, being in desperate need of the money. Tony’s teenage son is already dipping his toes into the gangland world. Of course, things don’t always go to plan, especially when Georgie, the girlfriend of the dead man, starts to question why her boyfriend has vanished.

Admittedly, I wasn’t sure about this book on my initial reading. The novel is so dark and depressing and portrays a side of Cork City that I’m relieved to say I have never witnessed. However, I soon became immersed in the gritty underworld of gangland Cork and was intrigued to see where the story would take these characters. There is an inevitable feeling that nothing bodes well for any of these characters and many of their actions lead them down a dark path.

This is not a book for the fainthearted. Drugs, murder, prostitution, violence, sex and coarse language feature predominantly throughout the novel. However, this serves to accurately portray the harsh realism of the criminal underworld. While it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I became drawn to the people in the story and willed characters such as Ryan and Georgie to turn their lives around and move on from the sort of lifestyles that were dragging them down. The novel is realistic in the way it shows how difficult it is to break the cycle and escape from that sort of environment.

Despite the bleak tone of the novel, it has moments of witty humour and glimmers of hope for certain characters. It is certainly different from anything I’ve read before and I’m excited to see what Lisa McInerney does next. Long may her well deserved success continue.

Have you read The Glorious Heresies? What did you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts!