Book Review of Lily and the Octopus

LilyI had this saved on my Audible wishlist and when it came on sale I thought I might give it a try.  I’d obviously marked it some time last year as an interesting reading possibility.  The result was both beautiful and devastating. This is a book both for, and not for dog lovers.

Lily is a much-loved dachshund, and one day her owner notices an octopus on her head.  It seems to be attached there and not coming off.  After several minutes of confusion it becomes clear to the reader that the octopus is some form of tumour or cancer that the narrator, Lily’s owner, does not want to confront.

What follows is a blend of the realistic and the fanciful – the magical realism of battling an ‘octopus’ for mastery of Lily’s body (including a bizarre scene set at sea) and the hauntingly real scenes of love and loss as the narrator realises nothing he does can save Lily from her fate.  The novel talks about their whole life together, including their weekly routines of watching TV and gossiping about boys (the narrator is gay and Lily can speak to him).  Lily was his first real love in so many ways.

As a dog person, I both loved and wanted to switch this off in so many ways.  I cried at the difficult moments and loved the relationship Steven Rowley portrayed so painstakingly between the man and his dog.  Definitely worth a look.


Book Review of Home Fire

home fire.jpgIt’s easy to write simplistic literature around terrorism today, and just as easy to focus on the many, many victims – whether of real threats or of the fear of threat. But what Kamila Shamsie does in Home Fire is so much more complex than this.  She looks intimately at the impact on two families when one son decides to follow his father into the darkness.  One sister abandons him immediately, while another does what she can to be there for him as he finds himself in a frightening and dehumanised world, which no longer makes any kind of sense to him.

Connected to this is a political family who become connected to his disappearance through the sisters, and to his desire to come home.  As Muslims and Middle Easterners under public scrutiny in modern London, the father uses his political power to make an example of those boys that renounce their citizenship in order to show himself to be a figure of unassailable morals.  But his staunch political correctness is trumped by a sister’s love, and her quest for her family to be reunited in any way possible.

Home Fire is a story of love, family, fear, regret, politics and sacrifice.  It’s hard to look away from, and clearly the work of a real talent.

Book Review of Whiskey, Words and a Shovel

WWand a SRupi Kaur, Instagram and a whole bunch of other modern cultural factors have led to a resurgence in a certain kind of poetry. I picked up this collection by R H Sinn in a bookstore on a whim, having opened up a few of the pages and found some of the words spoke to my heart. And some of them do – stories of love, loss and the turbulence of an examined life. You can find some of the better ones attached to this review. You might also enjoy the deep feminism in them – showing that men too can write poems begging for other men to treat women appropriately.Sinn 2.JPG

But there is just such a lot of pain here. Too much for me, making this a dense tome to get through. I’ll appreciate the poems I found that spoke to me, but I don’t think I will delve into any more of his collections.

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Book Review of Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart

too soon oldThis book was a gift from a friend and a wonderful choice for me.  In it, Gordon Livingstone M.D. writes a series of essays pondering everything from love to thinking and expectations.

Livingstone has an interesting perspective and much of this book was originally published in different formats on an online forum for bereaved parents.  Although Livingstone was there to find solace after the death of his two children – one through illness and another through suicide – his fellow participants found much hope and reason in his writings.  I did too.

The only thing I found myself battering against was his pragmatic statements about the nature of love.  He believes that the idea of true and everlasting love leads us astray.  While I agree that dangerously romanticising the idea of the perfect relationship may in fact be getting in the way of many people’s happiness, I’d like to think there are people out there who can grow and change together in warmth and happiness.  But perhaps I’m just over-romanticising that too.

Well worth a read – and lovely short essays that can be picked up and re-read whenever you need.

Book Review of the Sun and Her Flowers

sun flowersIt was International Poetry Day recently, so I thought it was a good time to pick up a copy of Rupi Kaur’s second published collection of poems, The Sun and Her Flowers.

I loved Milk and Honey, a study of the beauty and pain of our relationships, especially our heartrelationships with our bodies as women. I enjoyed the accompanying illustrations as well.  I had high expectations for this second collection, which was broader and more political in scope…  Two new foci emerge in this collection – the role of her mother in her life, and anmother emerging sense of herself as part of a history of immigration.

But perhaps this was too much of a good thing.  There weren’t as many stand-out for me in this one (which is not to say there weren’t some wonderful moments!) and at times, I struggled with the voice and tone.

Nonetheless, Kaur remains one of the most powerful modern poets and well-deserving of her success.  Get a little taster of this collection here.