Book review: Slack-Tide by Elanor Dymott

slack tide book cover image.jpg

If you’ve ever wondered why you write, why you feel the need to create, why you feel everything constantly depends on what you are capable of creating, then you should read Elanor Dymott’s Slack-Tide.

Elizabeth is a novelist in her forties, who had a miscarriage that led her marriage to an end. When she’s set up on a blind date with Robert – who vaguely looks like Keanu Reeves and whose job is “designing cities” –  she feels it is the right time to start again, to be happy again.

From the very beginning of the book, we know this is a novel about an intense, even though only temporary, love story: at the end of the prologue, it is Elizabeth herself who says “by midsummer the thing between us was finished, and it was as if a storm had torn the roof from over me”.

Indeed, Sarah Moss’ quote on the back of the book anticipates this is “a compelling and beautiful account on the stories that hold us together and keep us apart”. Dymott’s hypnotic, sharp prose takes us on a journey where love and loss are indissolubly intertwined – and, despite already knowing it would finish, I couldn’t help it but keep on wishing that Elizabeth and Robert’s love story never ended.

It is Elizabeth’s clear voice that guides us: she is fierce, beautiful and tells her story as if she’s whispering it to a friend. The loss of her child haunts her. Flashbacks of a life that could have been and painful memories – her tears when the anaesthetist asks her to confirm she’s at the hospital for an abortion and the way Elizabeth screams “I’m not choosing this. I wanted my child. I wanted my baby. Do you understand?” – come back at her, neat and clear. These are constant reminders of how vulnerable she feels.

Robert is vulnerable, too. In his fifties, he has lived a life between the comforts of a wealthy family and a successful career as an architect, that brought him to travel around the globe. We get to know him when his marriage with Lea is already over, and he is torn between the social pressure of being a good father to Philippe and the need to share his daily life with a lover. “I want to be with someone,” he says, “When I come back from a trip, I want to have someone to talk about it […] About the stuff I see. I see so many things. I have so many things to say. […] Right before I met you, I was beginning to think I might burst with the things I’d seen.” As we read on, we begin to discover his acute selfishness. As a reader, you’ll find it impossible to feel indifferent to him: you’ll either love him or you’ll hate him.

Slack-tide is a book about love, about loss, about the details that make our lives unique. But what strikes most about this novel is Elizabeth’s attachment to the characters of her own books. She is loyal to them, and she’s firm in her decision of putting her writing first, come what may. When Robert tries to make her change her plans, claiming that there are other people involved, she explains “I have characters, waiting for me to tell them what to do. […] the only difference between my ‘other people’ and your ‘other people’ is that I have to make mine up. Every thought they think, every word they speak, and every single thing they do. You are lucky, Robert. You pack your case, get on a plane, and when you get off at the other end, your ‘people’ are waiting in arrivals, holding up a little sign with your name on.”

Elizabeth was not capable of giving birth. She was not able to create a new life. However, she is capable of bringing those characters to life, and she defends her work at every cost.

In this way, Slack-tide is, most of all, a book about the power of creating.

About the reviewer

foto anthology

Anna Maria Colivicchi was born and raised in Rome. After a BA in Italian Literature, she is now pursuing a Master’s in Writing at the University of Warwick. In her writing, she seeks the extraordinary in the ordinary, focusing on the details of everyday life.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

I Am Because You Are – Book review

I_Am_Because_cover_visual_web.270

You might assume that an anthology celebrating the centenary of Albert Einstein’s famous General Theory of Relativity might be a little too deeply rooted in its heavily theoretical source material. Yet in reading this marvellous little book, it soon becomes clear that I Am Because You Are (Freight Books)is the kind of anthology that helps even the least scientifically-minded reader understand the mind-blowing, reality-altering beauty of physics.

This feat alone should grant this book deserved accolades – for too often it seems we are content to sit within increasingly closed worlds, and it so often falls to literature to open these portals through space and time, to capture our imaginations and take us on journeys we perhaps didn’t think were possible – opening up whole new realities, worlds and ideas.

Indeed, it is thanks to I Am Because You Are that, as readers, we are able to encounter fantastical circuses and impossible acrobatic stunts; brought into intimate scenarios of family lives struck down by familial break down and depression; encouraged to question our response as we watch “rising temperatures and new weather patterns [the] oceans evaporate and the atmosphere wither”; asked to contemplate whether we are simply “talking about the end of time”; we are able to discover delightful new turns of phrase that leave us asking whether we are “wise beyond our years or too immature to appreciate terror”; and we are even forced to consider whether we might, in actuality, all be rabbits – or was that a pygmy marmoset?

Such is the display of writerly talent on display here that we are reminded that, as with space and time, the possibilities of literature will likely never cease to astound, amaze and inspire us.

Yet the success of this collection of fiction, poetry and non-fiction goes beyond this. Largely, this is down to the excellent variety of writing on show from a wide-range of authors, and thanks to the incredible depth each individual story works on.

This depth stretches from the microscopic to the macroscopic, variously seen through intimate, tightly focused stories to wider reaching, expansive pieces that look at grand ideas. Yet each are original and provide gripping insight into the universe as a wide, grand space, and also into our own worlds and universes we create for ourselves. The existentialist themes that are found throughout the anthology of course look to continue Einstein’s greatest quest – to help us better understand our place within the universe, and our place within time. Fittingly, the book often leaves us asking more questions than it gives us answers for.

There are 23 pieces of writing here, from 23 writers. Naturally, we have 23 different points of views and 23 ways of approaching narrative, of using language, 23 different voices; 23 different styles.

Each deserves its own review and description – but that is perhaps for another day, since this review is about the collection as a whole. Fortunately, this is neither a case of the collection being more than the sum of its parts; nor of one or two stories or poems overshadowing everything else. The two work in perfect equilibrium and balance together. This feat, one might be tempted to suggest, perhaps is an example of Einstein’s theory in practice, and even to use that rather hammy and corny phrase, “it’s all relative”.

This is not to say that every piece is excellent or without fault, and nor is it to guarantee that they will all be to your liking; but isn’t that the point of an anthology? For their part, the editors – Tania Hershman and Pippa Goldschmidt – have skilfully created a place to showcase original and unique thinking, all through the prism of Einstein’s greatest theory. Their precise placing of each piece is extremely deft, and it’s charming to appreciate the way the structure of the anthology allows ideas and emotions to build up inside of you, only for these to change suddenly as a new piece of writing takes you down some entirely unexpected route or direction.

To badly paraphrase the great man himself (for the purposes of this review): Imagination will take you from A-B, but this book will take you anywhere you want it to. To put it another way; you won’t be quite the same after reading it.

  • To order ‘I Am Because You Are’ for £8.99, go to http://freightbooks.co.uk/i-am-becasue-you-are-edited-by-pippa-goldschmidt-and-tania-hershman.html 

River of Ink – A portrait of a reluctant revolutionary

River of Ink

River of Ink, the debut novel from Paul M. M. Cooper, is set to be published by Bloomsbury on 28th January 2016 – and we here at Nothing in the Rulebook are already excited about it.

Combining the intrigue of Wolf Hall, the drama of Game of Thrones and the elegance of My Name is Red, the novel promises to be one of the most thrilling new novels published in recent times.

Madeline Miller, Orange Prize-winning author of The Song of Achilles, says: “Potent, beautiful and wholly absorbing, Cooper’s  portrait of a reluctant revolutionary had me in thrall from its first chapter. A wonderful, memorable debut.”

True power lies in the tip of a pen

All Asanka knows is poetry. From his humble village beginnings in the great island kingdom of Lanka, he has risen to the prestigious position of court poet. When Kalinga Magha, a ruthless prince with a formidable army, arrives upon Lanka’s shores, Asanka’s world is changed beyond imagining. Violent, hubristic and unpredictable, Magha usurps the throne, laying waste to all who stand in his way.

To Asanka’s horror, Magha tasks him with the translation of an epic Sanskrit poem, The Shishupala Vadha, a tale of Gods and nobles, love and revenge, which the king believes will have a civilising effect on his subjects.  Asanka has always believed that poetry makes nothing happen, but, inspired by his love for the beguiling servant girl, Sarasi, as each new chapter he writes is disseminated through the land, Asanka inadvertently finds himself at the heart of an insurgency.

True power, Asanka discovers, lies not at the point of a sword, but in the tip of a pen.

About the author

Paul M. M. Cooper was born in south London and grew up in Cardiff, Wales. He was educated at the University of Warwick and UEA, and after graduating he left for Sri Lanka to work as an English teacher.  There he returned again and again to the ruins of Polonnaruwa, learnt to speak Sinhala and to read Tamil. About River of Ink, Paul has said:

‘I was inspired by the life of Thomas Wyatt and how he used his translations of Petrarch to vent anger at Henry VIII, due to his rumoured romantic relationship with Anne Boleyn. I loved the idea of the poet using translation’s slipperiness to hide his sedition but wanted to set the story elsewhere.’

Analysis

Professor Wu says: “All of us here at Nothing in the Rulebook are eagerly anticipating the release of what appears to be a stunning debut novel from a really exciting young writer. It’s so important that, in this day and age, we continue to invest in and support aspiring writers – because it is through them that our literary canon can be expanded and taken in new and exciting directions.”

“Once again, it looks as though the University of Warwick writing programme has given us yet another fantastic novelist. Paul clearly has a fantastic literary career ahead of him. We’ll be sure to bring you a detailed interview with the author, along with a detailed book review. So watch this space, comrades!”