Sunday 29 November 2015

Video post - In Search of Haruki Murakami

I am sure you will all find this 50-minute documentary about Haruki Murakami as fascinating as I did when I first saw it on the BBC. It is suitably impressionistic, as Alan Yentob explores Japan in search of the roots of and inspiration for the great Japanese magic realist with the help of a talking cat.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Conjure Woman's Cat

Lena, a shamanistic cat, and her conjure woman Eulalie live in a small town near the Apalachicola River in Florida’s lightly populated Liberty County, where longleaf pines own the world. In Eulalie’s time, women of color look after white children in the homes of white families and are respected, even loved, but distrusted and kept separated as a group. A palpable gloss, sweeter than the state’s prized tupelo honey, holds their worlds firmly apart. When that gloss fails, the Klan restores its own brand of order.

When some white boys rape and murder a black girl named Mattie near the sawmill, the police have no suspects and don’t intend to find any. Eulalie, who sees conjure as a way of helping the good Lord work His will, intends to set things right by “laying tricks.”
Goodreads description

I very much enjoyed this novella/ short novel by a fellow member of the Magic Realism Books Facebook Group, a tale narrated by the shamanistic cat herself. 

The story is set in the Florida panhandle in the 1950's in a society dominated by racism, and tackles the serious issues of white violence, rape, day-to-day prejudice and mother/daughter relationships. This is a book that packs a lot into its 166 pages. Despite this bleak subject matter the book is beautifully written, allowing this Brit a vision of a place which the author knows well and clearly loves. The contrast of the natural beauty highlights the ugliness of human behaviour.

The central human character Eulalie is extremely well-drawn. The old woman is a "conjure woman" - a traditional healer, a practiser of hoodoo, and a former jazz/blues singer. She is proudly independent, powerful in many ways, and wily, and bears the scars of a hard and unfair life. If anything, she and her magic (tricks) are too consistently strong, so that I did not doubt that she would succeed in gaining justice for Mattie, which reduced the tension in the story for me. 

I really enjoyed the insight I gained into the traditional medicine of the area. The book comes with an excellent glossary at the end. There were many herbs that I recognised from my research for my own books, but there were others that I did not. Some of the beliefs came from Africa and others from the Native American traditions. I was struck by the way Eulalie combined a deep Christian faith and knowledge of the Bible with what might be seen by some as pagan traditions. The Archangel Michael even puts in an appearance, alongside another by the Black Rider. 

A really lovely book and a pleasure to read.

NB The book uses language which, whilst appropriate to the context, may offend some people, but I believe is necessary to the book.

I received this book free from the author in return for a fair review.

Monday 16 November 2015

Fling by Lily Iona MacKenzie

When ninety-year-old Bubbles receives a letter from Mexico City asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, lost there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing, she hatches a plan. A woman with a mission, Bubbles convinces her hippie daughter Feather to accompany her on the quest. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.

Alternating narratives weave together Feather and Bubbles’ odyssey. The two women travel south from Canada to Mexico where Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their hilarious antics.

From the Goodreads description

This fun read is by fellow member of the Magic Realism Facebook group, Lily Iona MacKenzie. The book is a road journey featuring one old woman and her hippy daughter. The dynamic of their relationship is at the heart of the book. The ninety-year old Bubbles is in many ways a child herself and Feather acts as her mother.
As the chapters flick backwards and forwards in time following Bubbles back to her childhood in Skye and Feather to her adolescence, we come to see the roots not only of the two women's behaviour but also that in some ways the women are not so dissimilar and are following a family pattern. When in the latter part of the novel Bubbles's mother and grandmother turn up, this family dynamic is expanded and further explored. 
Many readers will identify with Feather's feelings of frustration, resentment and love towards her mother. And many will enjoy the comedy and zaniness of Bubbles and her adventures. There are times when the reader might feel that she too has been smoking some of Feather's weed. But the novel is more than just a light-hearted read. Of course there is the daughter/mother relationship to consider. But it is also interesting to note the parallels drawn between the Gaelic beliefs of the family's Scottish roots and those they encounter in Mexico. And what is more there are some delightful references to the magic realist tradition for those if us who care about such things. 

One quibble I have with the book is that at times I found the constant moving between the characters and in time, including point of view within scenes, meant that I lost focus. In a way this disorientation reflects the hallucinatory nature of the story, but it did intrude somewhat into my enjoyment. 

I received this book free from the author in return for a fair review.