Have you ever wanted to unclutter your life? Jane wants to start life over; a clean slate. Emma, the girl before, wants to be rid of not just “the clutter from our past…but the stuff we carry around inside our heads.”
Like a lesson on the Japanese art of tidying, the house at 1 Folgate Street offers just that. But does it come at a price?
The architect of this minimalist house, Edward Monkford, has strict rules for his tenants. 1 Folgate Street is a perfection of minimalist architecture; not one personal item may be on view to detract from the intention of this “sentient” house, programmed to respond to its occupants’ daily needs.
This is a great psychological thriller of repetition compulsion (a term coined by Freud). But who is acting out the sexual psychodrama?
Like pentimenti (parchments written over), Jane relates her tale over the Emma’s, discovering first Emma’s tragic death, then the similarities between them. Not the least being their physical resemblance.
But who is the reliable narrator? Jane? or Emma? And who killed Emma? Was it Edward, whose wife, too, looked like Emma and Jane, and also died tragically. Was it suicide? Or was it someone else…
The Girl Before is the first book under the pseudonym JP Delaney, used by Anthony Capella. This story had me riveted, addicted, then spectacularly surprised by its conclusion.
I first came to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s work via The Thing Around Your Neck. I like short story collections for discovering new authors because there’s so much less commitment — I read a couple of stories and if I like them I continue; if not, I’ve only lost a few minutes of my time. The former, in this case.
I finished The Thing Around Your Neck (full of eloquent, insightful and sometimes snarky observations on being Nigerian in Nigeria vs. the US) and later had my heart broken by Purple Hibiscus. Since finishing Americanah in 2013 Adichie has stepped away from fiction to write concise manifestos of feminism: first We Should All Be Feminists (fairly self-explanatory), and now Dear Ijeawele, on how to raise a feminist. Both are very short and easy to read so you can easily finish one in your lunch break.
It’s all very common sense stuff but depressingly it apparently needs to be said. Things like: Don’t let motherhood consume you. Share parenthood equally. Bin the concept of gender roles. (That last one especially difficult to do in today’s blue and pink segregated toy aisles.)
I cannot overstate the power of alternatives. She can counter ideas about static ‘gender roles’ if she has been empowered by her familiarity with alternatives. If she knows an uncle who cooks well – and does so with indifference – then she can smile and brush off the foolishness of somebody who claims that ‘women must do the cooking’.
Some advice is more specific to raising an Igbo daughter, but you can easily substitute your own cultural heritage in her suggestion to cultivate a strong sense of identity, or in recognising the pros and cons of the society you live in.
Teach her never to universalize her own standards or experiences. Teach her that her standards are for her alone, and not for other people. This is the only necessary form of humility: the realization that difference is normal.
I wish someone had sat me down as a child and explained some of these things to me. Especially that I don’t have to be nice to everyone: kind, yes, but I don’t owe it to other people to be nice to them when they are hurting me. It can be difficult to have opinions on the internet without being stomped on, but that doesn’t mean we should silence ourselves.
I don’t have any children but I have an interest in making this world easier for everyone to live in, and the suggestions in Dear Ijeawele seem like a good place to start.
He was a carpenter, a sportsman – a boxer – went to Christchurch Normal School (local boy), his photos show a nice face, and he wasn’t married. Just an ordinary kiwi bloke, maybe. But he did extraordinary things.
Henry Nicholas enlisted in February 1916 with the 1st Canterbury Battalion, and landed in France in September 1916. With his Regiment was involved in fighting at The Somme, Messines and Polderhoek, (Belgium).
It was from the action at Polderhoek on 3 December 1917 that he was awarded the Victoria Cross for “conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty… exceptional valour and coolness”. He destroyed an enemy strongpoint that was inflicting heavy casualties and overpowered a sixteen-man enemy garrison, capturing four wounded prisoners and an enemy machine-gun.
While on leave in England in mid-1918 he was invested by the King, the first solder in his regiment to be awarded the V.C., and he returned to France in September 1918, promoted to sergeant.
The Regiment had the duty of holding the town of Beaudignies, near Le Quesnoy. A skirmish on 23rd October with a German patrol cost Nicholas his life, and earned him the Military Medal.
She is currently working on an EP of lullabies and a new album of adult material. She says she writes music “to explore certain parts of my brain that don’t tend to appear in conversation.”
Aside from music, Flip has a passion for animal welfare, wholesome foods and cooking, and is a Francophile. And of course there’s the new love in her live, her young daughter. We flicked some quick questions to Flip about her passions:
You’re an avid cook and vegan, what foodie books are you enjoying that you can recommend?
What music do you like to listen to when you’re cooking?
If my husband is cooking it’s always gypsy jazz. For daytime summer cooking I prefer (Belgian musician) Stromae or Rokia Traore, for evening or rainy day cooking Leonard Cohen or Gillian Welch.
You have a toddler now. How has parenthood changed your music apparoach?
Well for a start it’s pretty hard to get quality practice time in as my daughter loves to play the guitar with me if I pick it up. It’s all about fitting it in nowadays… trying to find quiet moments to play and be inspired.
You were vegan at 15 and even got your nickname Flipper from your animal rights activism. What form does activism take for you these days?
These days my activism mostly looks like setting a good example – living a vegan lifestyle, reducing plastics in our home, eating and wearing organics etc. but I have written a few pieces on my blog www.ewyum.com about certain food topics I feel passionately about.
You’re from Christchurch (having grown up in Parklands) and spend time here when not living in France. What are some of your current favourite spots in the city?
I’ve always appreciated libraries but never so much as right now! When we first got back from France we used New Brighton Library for all of our printing and boring officey stuff around my husband’s New Zealand Residency and applying for rental properties etc. Then I was there weekly during pregnancy reading an unhealthy amount of baby-related books. Now I take my daughter to keep her bookshelf rotating (and keep me sane by changing up the bedtime books). It’s truly invaluable.
When you emigrate, it takes time to get your histories all in a row.
First up all you are aware of is loss, the huge gaping and unfillable loss of who you were. It takes all your energy just to keep your head above water. At least that was how it was for me.
But then I rallied and joined the library where one of the first books ever issued to me was Michael King’s The Penguin History of New Zealand. Feeling very virtuous I carried it back on the bus to Brooklands. There I took it on little jaunts from room to room and finally bussed it back (unread) a month later. It was too much too soon. I pulled in my horns.
Time passed and I started to look out for books that related to my interests: art, architecture and the stories of women. Beautiful books drew me in and fed my soul. Books like: Māori Architecture by Dierdre Brown; books about New Zealand Art, and A History of New Zealand Women by Barbara Brookes. I am unapologetic about the fact that sometimes I just looked at the pictures. I had a lot of catching up to do.
At much the same time as I was reading this book, I arrived at Central Library Manchester one day to work. On the sandwich board outside the library (see the photo at right with Fiona – its creator) was a te reo quotation with its English translation. I could almost understand the reo and I was enchanted by its translation – so appropriate for the library in question.
A small group of us stood outside the library looking at the quotes on the board. We had an engaging conversation about language and place and thought. Like planets, I felt all my histories line up and I was finally (albeit briefly) at peace. A quote from the Mauri Ora book says it all:
Ko te pae tawhiti, whāia kia tata;
ko te pae tata, whakamaua kia tīna
(Seek out distant horizons and cherish those you attain.)
I was pretty much chomping at the bit to get my hands on this new novel by Nina George, the author of the international bestselling novel The Little Paris Bookshop. I completely fell in love with her break through novel of love, joy and grief, partly due to its true to life characters which felt as real as people I have known, and partly due to its fabulous theme of ‘the literary apothecary’, a theme that would of course warm the heart of any librarian.
I was not disappointed by George’s second adventure through France The Little Breton Bistro – this time through the story of Marianne Messmann, an endearing sixty year old woman who has endured forty one years in a loveless marriage to Lothar, an inconsiderate and unfaithful sergeant major. When we first meet Marianne, she is on a visit to Paris with her husband. She is determined to finally do something she wants to do, namely, end her life.
Fatefully, Marianne is rescued from her attempt by a homeless man, and, even more fatefully, she is inspired to make a second attempt at suicide in Brittany – due to a painting of its striking seaside which she sees during her convalescence. Marianne’s adventure in Brittany takes her instead on a moving journey to self discovery as her captivating surroundings, and warm, colourful new friends, enable her to rediscover and treasure life again.
This is ultimately a warm and inspiring story despite George’s often stark realization of life’s’ complexities and cruelties. George is a sensitive author with a keen understanding of human frailty and a gift for expressing human emotions. She is also a master of evocative prose and made me feel as though I was present drinking in the sea and observing the Breton people along with Marianne.
Few writers would be able to capture the images and feel of France so well as Nina George. She has made me decide that actually, I have no need to go to these places now that I have read her gorgeous descriptions. Nina George is one of those magical writers who manages to evoke a world for readers to eagerly absorb and ultimately lose themselves in. I loved every moment of my time with Marianne, and, like millions of others, I am eagerly waiting for the next English translation of her novels now that we have finally discovered this beloved German writer for ourselves.
This doesn’t happen nearly as often as I would like, but I can honestly say that I loved this book! I’ve only ever really thought of Jackie French in terms of children’s and young adult fiction so was pleasantly surprised to see her grown up offering – If Blood Should Stain the Wattle.
Now it is probably the Australian in me, but I especially loved how Jackie uses famous Australian poetry and folklore that brought a ‘familiar’ spark to the story for me.
If Blood Should Stain the Wattle is full of wonderful, well established characters that have appeared in Jackie French’s earlier ‘Matilda’ series. I haven’t read any of these books yet but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this one; instead it made me want to experience them all.
There are fabulous strong female characters who are making their mark in Gibber’s Creek, finding love and setting their sights on conquering the world. Okay, maybe just Australia. Then we have the odd spiritual moment where they converse with ghosts and even manage to peek through time itself. But this is the seventies so the story wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t a hippy commune on the edge of Gibber’s Creek and a ‘cult leader’ who is receiving messages from aliens. Did I mention that this is also the story of the Whitlam government coming to power?
Stop, come back! Don’t be put off by the inclusion of politicians and their shenanigans within the pages. Jackie French has cleverly woven the information into short excerpts from newspaper reports, and by having characters Jed Kelly and Matilda campaigning to support a Labor government. No boring political twaddle in sight; instead we get to experience first hand what it was like when the Whitlam Government came to power in early 1970s Australia and the subsequent historic dismissal of Gough Whitlam by then Governor-General Sir John Kerr.
This book really does have something for everyone and it won’t disappoint.
The Matilda series began as a trilogy, became a quartet. It was meant to be a history of our nation told from one country town, and the viewpoints of those who had no political voice in 1892, when the series begins: women, indigenous people, Chinese, Afghans.
But, by book four, I realised that history didn’t stop just because I was born, and that the series will continue as long as I live.” (Jackie French)
The quartet Jackie French is referring to is now a sextet – and who knows how many more there may be. So if you want to start at the very beginning the titles in order are:
As reported in The New York Times recently, “Yevgeny Yevtushenko, an internationally acclaimed poet with the charisma of an actor and the instincts of a politician whose defiant verse inspired a generation of young Russians in their fight against Stalinism during the Cold War, died on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he had been teaching for many years. He was 83.”
Yevtushenko is survived by his wife, Maria Novikova, and their two sons, Dmitry and Yevgeny. His family were reportedly at the poet’s bedside when he died.
Yevtushenko’s poems of protest did much to encapsulate the mixed feelings of the young people of the Soviet Union after the death of the totalitarian Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, on 5 March 1953.
Such was his popularity in Russia that Yevtushenko gave 250 poetry readings in 1961.
After 2007, Yevtushenko spent an increasing amount of his time in America, teaching and giving readings of his work. One American writer described him as “a graying lion of Russian letters”. He taught and lectured for years at several American universities, including the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.
Yevtushenko was very much admired by generations of his fellow Soviet citizens, both before and after the collapse of the USSR.
One of his most famous poems was Babi Yar which bore witness to the Nazi atrocities against the Jews in Kiev in the Soviet Union during World War Two.