Monday, 6 August 2012

Three Fine Books

Three books that I have read and loved this year all have a backdrop of extremes of temperature. 

Hilary Mantel’s ‘Eight Months on Gazzah Street’ is based on the author’s own experience of living in Saudi Arabia. As the situation and the institutionalised misogyny entrap her more deeply, the feeling of powerlessness is heightened by the constant and inescapable heat, until like her, we are not sure what is real and what is imagined and we welcome the news that she and her husband have permission to return to England.

Heat and powerlessness haunt the women in 
Dipiki Rai’s ‘Someone Else’s Garden’. Probably one of the most beautiful books I’ve read, it takes us on a journey from the most abject poverty of the Indian countryside and a community where inhumanity towards women is just accepted, to a different impoverishment as one of the protagonists reaches the sprawling city. Yet here she finds a freedom and personal growth she’d never experienced. Throughout the book, she is supported by her spirituality, which gives the book a feeling of intimacy.

By contrast, in ‘The Seige’, by Helen Dunmore, it is the cold that creeps up on us and stalks us. I found Dunmore’s writing compelling. Life in Leningrad in the summer of 1941 seems harsh by modern standards, yet far worse than we can possibly imagine is to come. Somehow Dunmore gives us a taste of the harshness of it. She makes us glimpse shadows out of the corner of our eye, yet still it seems sudden when war is upon us. And the siege isn’t just the army of one formidable nation besieging the people of another, it is also the winter which pushes them to the limits of their endurance. They never lose their belief that the Red Army will break through, that the siege will end, and that the soul of their nation is shared in its greatest writing.

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