#BlogTour Carnivore by Jonathan Lyon

Let’s kick off the BlogTour for Carnivore by Jonathan Lyon. It’s a riveting combination of literary fiction meets noir, which brutally kicks the characters aside on occasion to allow for some brash contemporary reality. It is the kind of read that ends up on the tip of wagging tongues and achieving cult status.

About  the Author

Jonathan Lyon was born in 1991 in London. He studied at Oxford University, graduating in 2013 with the Gibbs Prize. He moved to Berlin in the same year. He has had a chronic illness for over a decade. He is a self-made demon. His debut novel, Carnivore, was published by HQ (HarperCollins) in August 2017.

Follow @jonathan_lyon @HQStories on Twitter & jonathan_lyon on Instagram

Buy Carnivore


About the book

Meet Leander: lover, fighter, liar.

He learnt a long time ago that nothing is as intoxicating as blood. But whether it’s his or someone else’s doesn’t matter any more. There’s a mysterious pain in every muscle of his body – and it’s got so bad that he’ll do anything to escape it.

Up to now, it’s been his secret. But it’s hard to remain invisible when you leave a trail of destruction everywhere you go. So, when he comes to the attention of one of London’s most infamous criminals, Leander decides to put his appetite for violence to the ultimate test.

Let the villain win.

Extract of Carnivore

‘What’s your fantasy?’

All sex and storytelling starts with this, of course. Sometimes the question’s self-directed, sometimes it’s only implied. But here, obviously, I was supposed to reply ‘being dominated,’ so that’s what I said.

I was actually fantasising about eating a satsuma, slowly, slice by slice, on the edge of a rooftop, or perhaps on a hilltop, watching a building below me burn in a fire I’d started. But this would be too long to say aloud, and probably wouldn’t arouse a man in the prime of his mid-life crisis as easily as a boy begging for a beating.

So now that my victim thought that I was his victim, he could breathe more heavily, and began struggling to unbutton his shirt.‘No, no you should be doing this,’ he said, fluttering his fingers. ‘I mean, undress me, boy!’

Unsuited to the dominant role, he recoiled at his own orders. Clearly, he was a submissive – if I’d had the energy, I could’ve had him on all fours in a few minutes. But energy is not one of my vices. ‘Of course, sir,’ I said instead, my mouth twitching into a smile I had to hide by lowering my head.

Beneath his shirt was a paunch of greying hairs. As I removed the rest of his clothes, he hovered awkwardly between sitting and standing, his hands just above my back, not yet confident enough to touch me.

‘Now, now… you!’ I took off my tracksuit – the uniform he’d requested – delivered my finest doe eyed simper, and knelt down. But he rejected this arrangement and instead dragged me upwards onto the bed. ‘No time for that… boy. Let’s get to the point.’ He forced my face into the pillow and I began to moan in a way that would make him hard. Perhaps he hoped I’d feel a kind of shame in this, but ‘this’ meant nothing.

‘This’ was merely boring.

Review

Leander is like a ticking time bomb with a propensity for violence and a tendency to bury any emotional response, which may appear to the mere human eye to be a humane reaction or at least one deemed suitable by society. He hides behind the games. Fighting pain with more pain, regardless of whether it is inflicted upon others or done unto him.

To be completely frank I think Lyon has carved out a large piece of his soul and woven it straight into this story.

Leander may describe himself as a psychopath, but perhaps his coping mechanisms are just a little more extreme than those of other people. His physical pain has become the demon wailing inside him and battling to take over. To combat the demon he must distract it by any means necessary. Which means hurting those who purport to love him, destroy and play mind games with the shallow ones merely craving his physical appearance.

It’s a riveting combination of literary fiction meets noir, which brutally kicks the characters aside on occasion to allow for some brash contemporary reality. It is marmite toast served with a chilled glass of champagne. It is the kind of read that ends up on the tips of wagging tongues and achieving cult status.

Jonathan Lyon devours himself, his desires, his fears and his pain whole in this ode to the black hole and Shakespearean play of millennialism. Carnivore is perfused with the wealth of an intellectual mind in constant battle with itself, refusing to be taken prisoner by the borders and boundaries of society or literature.

Are you a carnivore, am I? Are we all destined to be devoured by the hidden insanity and self-destructive tendencies of others or ourselves, whilst sailing along in the interim in our self-inflicted state of stasis, coping and yet barely living.

Yes, it is that kind of read.

Buy Carnivore at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Out in Paperback 5th April 2018

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#BlogTour We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard

Today it is my turn on the BlogTour for this wonderful combination of literary, crime and maritime fiction, We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard, translated by David Warriner. It is a true testament of talent.

About the Author

Ten years or so ago, Roxanne Bouchard decided it was time she found her sea legs. So she learned to sail, first on the St Lawrence River, before taking to the open waters off the Gaspé Peninsula. The local fishermen soon invited her aboard to reel in their lobster nets, and Roxanne saw for herself that the sunrise over Bonaventure never lies. We Were the Salt of the Sea is her fifth novel, and her first to be translated into English. She lives in Quebec.

Follow @RBouchard72   @orendabooks

Translation by David Warriner @givemeawave

Buy We Were the Salt of the Sea

About the book

As Montrealer Catherine Day sets foot in a remote fishing village and starts asking around about her birth mother, the body of a woman dredges up in a fisherman’s nets. Not just any woman, though: Marie Garant, an elusive, nomadic sailor and unbridled beauty who once tied many a man’s heart in

knots. Detective Sergeant Joaquin Morales, newly drafted to the area from the suburbs of Montreal, barely has time to unpack his suitcase before he’s thrown into the deep end of the investigation.

On Quebec’s outlying Gaspé Peninsula, the truth can be slippery, especially down on the fishermen’s wharves. Interviews drift into idle chit-chat, evidence floats off with the tide and the truth lingers in murky waters. It’s enough to make DS Morales reach straight for a large whisky…

Both a dark and consuming crime thriller and a lyrical, poetic ode to the sea, We Were the Salt of the Sea is a stunning, page-turning novel, from one of the most exciting new names in crime fiction.

Review

After many years of unanswered questions Catherine decides to try and poke a stick right into what she perceives to be a hornets nest. Instead she is confronted with a confusing contradiction of welcoming warmth and gnarly disdain.

The town has a Ryan’s Daughter attitude about it. The outsider who asks too many questions and threatens any insider becomes the enemy. Catherine is in the unenviable position of being disliked for her genetic connection to Marie, and yet at the same time liked for her lack of relationship to her mother.

Not everyone understands the need for connection or closure in an adopted child, in this case given away for safekeeping child. You can love the people who raise you unconditionally, and yet still have a burning desire to find a biological connection to the person who gave you away. Catherine is torn between wanting to finally meet her biological mother and avoiding an encounter between the two of them.

The real question she has is which man managed to impregnate her mother. Who is her father? Simultaneously this story is also her path towards acceptance and freedom. Sometimes the past doesn’t leave enough information or clues, and the so-called witnesses may never part with their important memories.

Bouchard gives the reader much more than just a story about a search for answers and the closure for a woman without familial ties. Bouchard hands us the sea on a silver platter. You can taste the salt, feel the waves, and are almost convinced to set sail on the open seas yourself. In contrast to that scenario the author presents the dangers of the sea. Looking out upon the calm surface bobbing softly along as the sun sets and sinks on the horizon, the mind is tricked into believing the Fata Morgana of pure innocence. So many set sail on the premise of sanctity and peace, only to be taken hostage by the wild uncontrollable nature of the oceans.

As if that wasn’t enough incentive to read this book then perhaps the subtle crime story the author has woven into the delicate fabric of this combination of literary, crime and maritime fiction.

Bouchard’s writing is as smooth as caramel sauce being poured into a bowl of melted chocolate. Fortunately Warriner’s translation reproduces this warm comfortable flow beautifully. Barring the excessive use of ‘Christ in a chalice and Hee’ this is a stunning lyrical read, and I expect to be seeing Bouchard’s name on award lists.

Buy We Were the Salt of the Sea at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

#BlogTour Fruit Woman by Kate Rigby

I am delighted to take part in the Blog-Tour for The Fruit Woman by Kate Rigby. The Fruit Woman is an exploration of faith, forgiveness, memories and family. Kate Rigby has mixed the potent with the light-hearted to create a memorable read.

About the Author

“I am a hybrid writer, which means I have been published in a variety of different ways; traditionally, by small press and now independently, or self-published.

I’ve been writing novels for over thirty years.  Some of my book are available in paperback and all are available as e-books.

Social networking sites and writing sites have opened up a whole new world to me and introduced me to some great new writers and books I wouldn’t otherwise have discovered. I love cats, singing, photography, music and LFC. I’m also an avid keyboard warrior, campaigning against social injustice.”

Subscribe here for news about my books and writing.

Visit  kjrbooks.yolasite.com and bubbitybooks.blogspot.co.uk

Buy Fruit Woman (ebook)

Buy Fruit Woman(paperback)

About the book

Fruit Woman is narrated by Helen Scutt, a quirky and naive twenty-seven-year-old. The image of the Fruit Woman has appeared to Helen at important times in her life, particularly in relation to her own sexual and spiritual awakening. But only now, while on holiday with her extended family, does she get her first warning message from the Fruit Woman.

Set in the l980s, Helen returns with her extended family, after a twelve year break, to spend a fortnight at their favourite holiday destination in Devon: Myrtle Cottages. Due to join them for the second week of the holiday are: Helen’s old friend, Bella, Bella’s brother, Dominic, and Helen’s cousin, Les. But shortly after the family have arrived on holiday, Helen’s mother announces that she has also invited along someone from church for the second week of their holiday: Christine Wigg, a friend of the family, and victim of a rape several years before. In the context of the family holiday, where games of cards, scatological worries, and deep discussions abound, the story centres on Helen’s anxieties over the second week’s ‘guest list’. She’s not seen Bella for years, she’s attracted to Dominic in spite of his religious beliefs, and she thinks it a bad idea for her mother to have invited Les, who was originally accused of Christine’s rape by her in-laws. Helen’s concerns trigger off all sorts of childhood and adolescent memories, but as her anxieties mount, can she make sense at last of what happened years before?

Review

Helen reminds me of someone who can’t ever find any peace or rest because their brain is constantly buzzing with information, and that is exactly the way she narrates this story. Flitting from one anecdote or childhood memory to the other, like a bee collecting pollen on a sunny spring day.

I hasten to add that the magic of the scribe is to encourage the reader to look beyond the mindless rambling, as the tales are often merely the key to unlock the subliminal messages. Rigby has Helen skim the surface of the issues, much like taking the cream off the top of the milk with a knife or a spoon.

The true essence of this book is family. The eccentricities of our relatives, the loyalties and wars within the walls of the inner sanctum of the small country called family. Helen is safe within those walls, but perhaps also too protected. Is she the only one who can’t see what is right in front of her eyes?

I agree with Gran about Bella, and indeed my children have probably tired of me commenting on the fact that leopards don’t change their spots. Granted, children who are bullies sometimes grow into adults who reflect upon their mistakes and bad choices, however it doesn’t change the fact they made it their mission to destroy someone else’s childhood. I have a long memory.

In the midst of the reminiscing, the story of Christine’s rape is brought up again and again. She has been invited to the holiday retreat by Helen’s mother. Religion and forgiveness is portrayed in equal measures to Helen’s more emotional reaction to the rape. A lifetime of punishment is more up her alley. The subtle discussion begs the question whether the rapist deserves the hand of forgiveness and whether or not a sexual predator can change his life around completely. Can faith control base impulses and the need for power?

The other fascinating element of this book is the Fruit Woman. I think each reader will experience the idea of her in a different way, depending on their frame of reference. For me Fruit Woman represents womanhood, at the same time she is also Freud’s Id, the inaccessible part of our personality. For Helen she is the magical element of life, the beauty and confusion of living, and the gut instinct that whispers warnings to her even when she doesn’t want to listen.

Rigby writes about the mundane and makes it seem extraordinary. She wraps religion, sexual violence, bullying, alcoholism and low self-esteem in a warm blanket of the mediocrity of family life. I liked her approach. You have to look deep below the surface with this one.

Buy Fruit Woman at Amazon UK or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

#RandomThingsTours

#BlogTour Turning for Home by Barney Norris

I am absolutely delighted to be part of the #BlogTour for this incredibly talented author. Believe you me the hype is not only worth it, it is also absolutely accurate. Barney Norris has a knack for storytelling and is a scribe worth watching.

About the Author

Barney Norris was born in Sussex in 1987, and grew up in Salisbury. Upon leaving university he founded the theatre company Up In Arms. He won the Critics’ Circle and Offwestend Awards for Most Promising Playwright for his debut full-length play Visitors. He is the Martin Esslin Playwright in Residence at Keble College, Oxford. Barney’s new play Nightfall is one of the three inaugural productions at Nicholas Hytner’s new Bridge Theatre, beginning early 2018.

Follow @barnontherun @DoubleDayUK

Buy Turning for Home

About the book

Once a year, every year, Robert’s family come together at a rambling old house in the country to celebrate his birthday. Aunts, uncles, grandchildren, distant cousins – it is a milestone in their lives and has been for decades. But this year Robert doesn’t want to be reminded of what has happened since they last met – and neither, for quite different reasons, does his granddaughter Kate. Robert is determined that this will be the final party. But for both him and Kate, it may also become the most important gathering of all.

As lyrical and true to life as Norris’s critically acclaimed debut Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain, this is a compelling, emotional story of family, human frailty, and the marks that love leaves on us.

Barney’s debut novel, Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain was bestselling and critically acclaimed – the Guardian called it a ‘state of the nation novel’, and ‘deeply affecting’, and the Mail on Sunday praised it as ‘outstanding…a moving, strangely uplifting novel…Superb’. It featured as Waterstones Book of the Month, and was shortlisted for prizes including the RSL Ondaatje Prize and Debut of the Year at the British Book Awards.

In Turning for Home, Barney tackles the issue of eating disorders, a very personal subject that has affected someone close to him. Barney has much to contribute to current discussion around how mental health and eating disorders in particular are handled by our health services.

Review

It isn’t often one finds an author self-assessing their own novel at the end of said novel, and then pinpointing exactly what my thoughts are on the story in question.

Norris himself says that initially this started out as a story about the Boston Tapes. They started out as a series of frank interviews given by former loyalist and republican paramilitaries that chronicles their involvement in the Troubles, in an attempt to create an oral history of those times. In return for names, dates, places and details, the former paramilitaries made a deal that the interviews wouldn’t be made public until after their deaths.

Including the frank admission that Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams had his own squad within the IRA, who were responsible for the so-called ‘Disappeared’ of the Troubles. The people who were targeted, kidnapped, murdered and secretly buried by the IRA.

I digress.

Turning for Home is like reading two stories in one, and I am sure both would make excellent stand-alone novels. Together they become something special. A spark ignites and weaves its way through this poignant tale of pain, grief and control.

The reader follows Robert and Kate, grandfather and granddaughter. Their individual tales collide at the annual celebration for Robert’s birthday. A family reunion that has an air of finality to it, especially since the loss of Robert’s wife.

Robert is dealing with the implications of the Boston Tapes. The possibility of secrets being aired has some of his connections running scared, and after so many years the past has the power to insert itself into the future.

Kate’s story is a wee bit more complex. She suffers from anorexia nervosa, which comes under eating disorders in the DSM. Norris gives the reader a candid look into the thought process of someone with an eating disorder, and how many misconceptions there are about how to help someone with the disorder. Even so-called mental health professionals have difficulty really comprehending the grip it can have, and the impact it has on entire families.

It’s all about control and loss of control. When you experience loss of control it is a normal response to try and regain it. You start to look for the one thing no one else can control but you. Food, fat and calories become the enemy and you start to fight them with every inch of your body.

Aside from the obvious familial connection, the thread that connects both Robert and Kate, and their stories, is coping with loss and feelings of guilt. Unresolved emotional distress, trauma and conflict are the equivalent of malignant tumours in our bodies. Sometimes the inner enemy is evident and sometimes it is a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode.

Norris writes with a finesse and wisdom beyond his years. He has the gift of gab, a knack for telling a story and pulling his readers along with him on a journey even he doesn’t have the directions for. Eventually he brings himself and us home, regardless of wherever that may be.

Buy Turning for Home at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Autopsy of a Father by Pascale Kramer

AutopsyFather 2I think it is fair to say that Kramer manages to sneak into your head-space and then lets the events unfold in front of you like a slideshow of personal memories.

Family can give you the best experiences in life, but also the worst. Parental relationships can be the foundations of your identity, however the flip-side of the coin can also be a dysfunctional relationship that means there is no foundation of identity at all or a lack of one.

Although the relationship between Ania and Gabriel takes the main stage in this story, it is so much more than a daughter’s autopsy of the relationship with her father.

Kramer rips a plaster off of the pus filled boil of immigration. She has chosen the suburbs of Paris to point a spotlight at this and the underlying racial tensions in France. To be completely fair, to France that is, it is a topic of contention in quite a lot of western countries at the moment. An issue that has swayed elections and given fodder to the right-wing. We are living in an era where we have to be very careful that we don’t repeat mistakes of the past.

Gabriel is a well-known and admired journalist until he decides to publicly support a group of young French men, who ruthlessly murdered an innocent African immigrant. The victim was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gabriel is vilified for his xenophobic rant. He loses his job, and his neighbours and fellow villagers aren’t afraid to show him how displeased they are by his opinion.

The former left-wing intellectual has suddenly taken on an anti-immigrant stance, which is sort of hypocritical considering that his wife was Iranian. His family structure sort of mirrors that of his home country. His half French and half Iranian daughter embraces her dead mother’s culture and religion. He loved his wife, and yet he rejects his daughter. He used to embrace the diversity in his country and now he rejects anything but the French culture.

Ania is unaware of all of this. The two of them have a fractured relationship. She never lived up to his expectations and he never accepted her shortcomings. The two of them are strangers bound by nothing more than blood. Ania isn’t really bothered by the lack of interest, at least that is what she tells herself. What really gets her goat is when her father treats his grandson, her son, with the same disinterest. I think most readers will be able to comprehend the difference. You get used to the indifference or the negative qualities your parents have and accept them as part of their eccentricities, however we react like protective parents when our children are subjected to the same personality flaws.

There is a moment in the story when Gabriel and Ania are in the same train compartment, and yet he pretends he hasn’t seen them. Almost as if he doesn’t want to associate himself with the two of them in public. Are these the actions of a xenophobe or of a man ashamed of his past actions? Is this realisation the reason he commits suicide?

In a way the story ends without any definitive answers. There is no clarification between Ania and Gabriel, and no resolution in general. Of course that is the reality of life and relationships, sometimes conflicts aren’t resolved.

Aside from the parallels Kramer draws to the political situation in France, which is quite cleverly done in the context of a family setting, I really think she portrayed the relationship between daughter and father well. The dysfunctional side of family, the distances that grow between people, and the hard and hurtful truth that usually remains unspoken.

Buy Autopsy of a Father at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

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Blog-Tour: Let Us Be True by Alex Christofi

Today I have the pleasure to host the Blog-Tour for Let Us Be True by Alex Christofi. Featuring a fantastic Q&A with Alex Christofi and my review. The answers to the Q&A are just as captivating as the novel itself. The last four questions contain some spoilers, so for anyone who hasn’t read it yet and wants to read it without any extra info I will be adding a fair warning before and after those particular questions.

About the Author

Alex Christofi was born and grew up in Dorset. After reading English at the University of Oxford, he moved to London to work in publishing. He has written a number of short pieces for theatre, and blogs about arts and culture for Prospect magazine. Glass is his first novel. His second novel, Let Us Be True, is published by Serpent’s Tail.

Follow @alex_christofi @serpentstail Visit alexchristofi.com

Buy Let Us Be True

About the book

Paris, 1958. After a chance encounter, Ralf and Elsa begin a love affair that will mark their lives. Both already bear scars from their continent’s violent upheavals. The end of the war brought Ralf to Paris, where he feels he can hide from the past. Elsa meanwhile tries to hide not just her past from Ralf, but her present too. As they fall more deeply in love they face a dilemma: can you really love someone without giving yourself away?In a Paris recovering from the Second World War but riven by protests and discontent as the old world order falls away, Ralf tries desperately to hold on to the only person he has ever felt he belongs with, while facing the prospect of a reality where love might not be enough. Deeply moving and sweeping in scope, Alex Christofi’s second novel is an unforgettable love story as well as a profoundly affecting study of the personal cost of Europe’s bloody twentieth century.

Q&A

Before we get down to business (i.e. talking about your book) I would like to ask a set of questions I call ‘Breaking the Ice.’ (readers love to get to know all about their favourite and new authors)

The last book you read? (Inquisitive bookworms would like to know) I tend to consume books like tapas, so this is actually quite hard to answer. Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, or a selected volume of Voltaire, or Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, or Stories of Your Life by Ted Chiang.

Books or authors who have inspired you to put pen to paper? Mikhail Bulgakov, Emmanuel Carrere, George Orwell, George Saunders, Michel Faber, David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, Gustave Flaubert, Joseph Roth, Albert Camus. I love writers who can fuse beauty and cleverness with social purpose.

The last book you read, which you felt left a mark (in your heart, soul, wallet…you name it) The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante. Everyone has been talking about her for years so it’s not exactly a hot tip, but that’s the honest answer.

Are you more of a movie night or series-binger kind of guy? (Combinations are possible) Movie night. There are enough hanging plot threads in my actual life – I want to be able to sit back and look at the whole story. I don’t need Scheherezade feeding me cliffhangers every night forever. It’s like asking if you’d rather have limbo or a quick death.

Which famous person (dead, alive, barely kicking) would you most like to meet? Not probably any of the people I most admire. Marcus Aurelius was objectively a top guy, but would be a terrible date – after two drinks he would leave citing moderation in all things. You’d want someone with a wicked sense of humour who knew how to live. Hunter S Thompson would probably kill me, but maybe Angela Carter or Ernest Hemingway. Or Obama. Everyone wants to meet Obama.

All of the above questions are actually a pretty elaborate pysch evaluation disguised as random questions. Have no fear here come the real ones. Let’s talk about Let Us Be True.

Where did you get the inspiration for Let Us Be True? Probably a question you have been asked before, but I am genuinely interested in the inspiration for the story of Ralf and Elsa. It’s strange, because what I have ended up with is really a character novel – one that devotes a lot of space to investigating the particular psychology of two particular people – but I first conceived it as a novel about the moment after the Second World War that is rarely written about, after the initial reconstruction efforts but before the individualistic, consumer-driven sixties was in full swing. I wanted to write about what it was like to find yourself on the very cusp of the modern era.

Why Paris? Did you pick this particular setting because you know it well or because it made sense logistically, culturally and from an historical point of view? I wanted to write about a place very like our own, but different enough that people could judge it for what it was – a bit like the way Shakespeare tore into society by setting everything in Italy. But Paris in 1958 was also a fascinating place in its own right: the Fourth Republic was collapsing; the communists were still one of the biggest parties, but there was a fascist fifth column in the police; French Resistance hero Charles de Gaulle was returned to power in a military coup and suspended the constitution; France was effectively at war with its own Muslim population; there were peaceful protests, but people were still being guillotined. Parts of Paris were already petrifying into an eerily timeless postcard city, and at the same time some of its residential neighbourhoods were ‘îlots insalubres’, dirty islands of slum housing, where no one owned a fridge and tenants shared a squat toilet. I can’t think of a better (or more intense) analogue for the conflicts we are worrying about here and now.

Although you don’t play on the underlying theme too much, do you think Ralf and Elsa connect in such a monumental way because they share a common denominator in their home country and war-trauma? Absolutely – it is a part of why they connect and also one of the reasons why they clash. But the war itself can’t be spoken about directly, because it simply wasn’t done. It could be referred to, or implied obliquely, but very few people who were involved had any desire (or perhaps even ability) to talk about what they had been through. It is an elephant in the room – the clearest metaphor in the book is of Ralf and his mother sitting at the dining table, painfully aware of the father that isn’t present. Ralf eventually opens up about some of his childhood experiences, but Elsa doesn’t reciprocate, and we implicitly understand why.

Does Elsa accept the negative aspects of her marriage, because she feels guilty and believes she deserves to be punished? Is her separation from Ralf a form of penance? I don’t know if I could be that specific, but sadly it wasn’t uncommon for women to accept physical abuse as a fact of life at that time (which is not to say we have resolved the problem now). Whenever we make choices, we weigh them up relative to our life experience. Elsa’s life with Theo isn’t the worst thing that has happened to her, and its great virtue is that it’s secure and predictable. She has never had that before – for me at least it becomes hard to judge her choice, even if we wish she could make the leap.

Unbeknownst to Ralf Elsa represents the root cause of why his life changed in such a drastic way. Does Elsa make a choice against Ralf because she believes the truth about her past would be an insurmountable hurdle between them? Yes, I think so. But more than that, in order to reveal her past to him, she would have to give him access to parts of herself that she hasn’t shared with anyone, including her husband and family, and it would make her vulnerable in a way she hasn’t been since she was a young girl hiding in a forest, muddy, shivering, terrified and alone. The war didn’t end when the last shots were fired. There was a whole generation of survivors whose lives were irrevocably scarred by what they saw and did, and they were out there, walking in the world, for the best part of the twentieth century. We’ll never know whether so many of them remained silent to protect themselves or to protect the rest of us.

One could argue that Elsa presents a certain coldness, a lack of emotion even, and one could suggest that her experiences in childhood, and as a very young woman, have defined her personality and the choices she makes. However that specific sense of survival and ability to detach herself from emotions was already evident at an early age. This information in combination with the actions of many Germans during the Nazi era begs the question whether Elsa really is the lovable enigma who has managed to enchant Ralf like a personal Mata Hari or is she a woman who is a ruthless survivor? In some sense Elsa is, if not the Nazi ideal, at least a Nietzschean ideal, a forceful, self-directed character. She can’t or won’t be absorbed into a group mentality, which exposes a fundamental contradiction in Nazi ideology: they simultaneously exult exceptional individuals and demand people subsume themselves to the herd. Are some people more valuable than others, or are we all interchangeable members of a group?

I did also really want this to be a story about love, and I don’t think it’s a huge spoiler to say that love is one of the best answers to some of the questions posed in the book. But I wanted to resist this idea that’s very common in romance, that the underlying purpose of women’s behaviour can always be explained with reference to sex. Perhaps she is not stringing him along; perhaps it has nothing to do with him.

Thank you for answering all of my questions, even the odd ones! It was a pleasure – thank you for reading it with such care and attention. I think all writers dream of having careful readers!

Review

This read brings a sense of nostalgia with it and an aura of hidden emotions and unfulfilled desires. It is so much more than just a love story. It is about fractured identities and the trauma of war.

It is often hard for non-nomads or people who stay in one place their entire lives to understand what it is like to not feel as if you have a home or a country that feels like home. Being uprooted and becoming a displaced person can rock the very foundation of your existence.

I believe Elsa and Ralf share this feeling of not belonging and loss. Their home country and country of birth is their common denominator, despite their completely different paths in life.

Ralf doesn’t even feel at home in his surrogate country, and he also refuses to maintain a relationship with his mother. His landlord has become his family, a port of call in dire situations and France has become his safe haven.

Elsa is a survivor, albeit one from the other side of the battlefield. Her experiences have made her emotionally unresponsive, which is why she finds it hard to connect with her child and why she struggles to find a sense of peace in her life. It is also the reason she accepts certain negative aspects of her marriage including the occasional  bouts of violence.

I wonder if Elsa believes her guilt is something that would eventually come between them. A secret she can never reveal and perhaps never completely move on from.

Overall Elsa gives off a sense of detachment, a cold and hard face she presents to the world. It’s easy to forget her age at the time of her crimes and her complicity. Her trauma is no more than a footnote in history, although it is ultimately what steers and directs her sense of unhappiness.

In that sense the two of them share another bond in the form of very specific trauma. One could argue that his will always be greater because of the historical implications, however I would argue that trauma cannot be measured by what outsiders think.

France, like many other countries are often guilty of revisionism, especially when it comes to history. They like to forget and hide their guilt and crimes, and the part they played in some of the bloodiest and politically disruptive times in the twentieth century. They like to sweep a lot of uncomfortable truths under the carpet of national charm.

This is a love story taking place during some of those periods in time, so it isn’t just about two broken people finding a safe haven in each other, it is also about shining a light on the past. A past that is in danger of being repeated as we speak.

The author brings a maturity, insight and wisdom to the pages. He writes as if he has experienced decades of longing, pain and heartbreak. He is an author I will be revisiting. Oh and kudos to him for the Vélodrome d’Hiver part of the story. It’s a very significant and poignant part of history. A small moment in the book, but those are the ones that count.

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Let Us Be True blog tour (1)

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

a horse

Stick with it, would be my first observation. It may take a while for you to be drawn into this, and to be fair Grossman plays his cards close to his chest. The majority of the book takes place on stage with Dov and his stand-up comedy routine.

Dov bares his emotions and soul to the audience. He pays particular attention to his old acquaintance Avi, after extending a personal invitation to him. Why comedy? Well, that becomes self explanatory when Dov tells everyone what happens to his parents.

Avishai is both observer and narrator, through past and present. I think one of the most important questions is what role he plays in the story. Why does Dovaleh want him there? What will his presence change? Does Dov expect something from Avishai?

I do believe Dov wants Avi to comprehend what he did and how he treated Dov all those years ago. There is a moment during the comedy routine or rather the life monologue where Avi is once again given the choice between looking away or intervening. This decision may be the beginning of a healing process, then again perhaps it is just late justice.

Grossman reminds me of Roald Dahl in a sense that his writing reflects his grief. You can feel the pain of losing his son in his words. Even after a decade he still seems to be searching for the why of it all. This is also a theme within this particular story. Why Dov? What is the point of our existence? Why one person and not the other? Perhaps most importantly why so many of us look the other way when someone is in need or just needs some support.

This is an unusual read, one I can imagine well as a short film. It is a confession of sorts, the type that needs absolution or maybe Dov is seeking it for others. A Horse Walks into a Bar is a complex conversation full of self flagellation in the form of jokes.

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