Through the wringer. Good me Bad me, Bone and A Horse Walks into a Bar

Wow this has been a week for emotional reads. As the title suggests, I definitely feel that I have been put through the wringer. Not a week for feel good books but definitely a week for 3 reads that I love, would definitely recommend and that I know will stay with me forever.

Good Me Bad Me is the debut by Ali Land. It tells the story of Annie whose mother is a serial killer. Annie is the reason her mother is in jail when she bravely decides that the only way she can stop her mother’s killing spree is by going to the police. Annie is given a new identity (Milly) and a new foster family while she waits for the court case.

This book was a brilliant read. I whipped through it in 2 days and found it hard to put down. I need to add that I found it ridiculously harrowing. This is one of those novels which I know affects me a lot more as a result of me being a parent. Don’t get me wrong, before children I would have found the material upsetting, but as a result of me being a mother, there were literally parts of this novel that I struggled to read. In fact this was a book that I had to read on the tube just to offer me some kind of distraction. It was not only the death and abuse of children that I found upsetting but also the bullying that Milly was subjected to that I found so painful. My reading this book has also come at the time when my daughter has just started school, and like Milly, having been to an all-girls school myself, I am hyper aware of just how cruel girls can be to one another.

Ali Land graduated university with a degree in Mental Health and before becoming an author she worked with children and teenagers as a Mental Health nurse. She is obviously more than qualified to write this subject matter and to pose the question of nurture over nature. Milly is a heartbreaking character who having been mentally, physically and sexually abused by her mother, struggles to block out the voice of the monster who created her.

I do it a lot. Think about what sort of parents other children have. The staff at the unit were so quick to tell me what you did wrong. Abnormal. So I’m trying to learn what’s right, I’m trying to be different from you.

How do you do that though? How do you escape what has made you? That is one of the things that is so upsetting in the novel. The perpetual cycle of dysfunctional relationships leading to dysfunctional relationships. Obviously Annie’s relationship with her mother is hugely dysfunctional but, on a lesser level Saskia’s relationship with Phoebe is also riddled with problems. Phoebe is a bully because her relationship with her own mother is non-existent. Sadly this is something that Milly recognises and even though she suffers greatly at the hands of Phoebe, she knows the two of them are similar:

I can’t help but feel sorry for her, I’ve felt it too. The hunger of loneliness around the people, or persons, you’re supposed to be protected by. Nurtured.

This would be a great choice for a book club as it poses numerous questions. I found the story fascinating as having read a lot of novels about male serial killers, this is the first I have come across where the killer is not only a woman but also a mother.

Bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward. 

I received a copy of this from the publishers via Netgalley.

Daley-Ward is a poet, actor and model born to a Jamaican mother and a Nigerian father. She was raised by her grandparents in Chorley in the North of England. Bone is an amazing book of poetry that I devoured in an hour. This is poetry that I just ‘got.’ Daley-Ward does not use flowery language or long flowing sentences. This is poetry that goes back to the bare ‘bones’ of language and emotion.

The poetry tells of Daley-Ward’s life. Her history, identity, mental health. Her relationships with men, women, family and also religion. All of her poetry spoke to me on some level but I found her poems on metal health and also the loss of relationships particularly moving. Nose is a poem which I am so grateful to have discovered:

all the Mornings in Lancashire still smell like you.

Last week I was caught in a storm overseas.

When the rain smell drove me silly

all I could feel were your hands.

Her poems are about the senses. I love the language she uses – its simplicity is so evocative and honest.  I feel I can taste, smell, touch what she means. This is not pretentious poetry. It is not full of metaphor. You don’t spend hours trying to understand what she means. The understanding is immediate and I think that is what makes it so accessible:

If I’m entirely honest,

and you say I much be

I want to stay with you all afternoon evening, night and tomorrow

pressed into you so tightly that we don’t know whose belly made what sound whose heart it is

that is thumping like that

until I don’t know if the sweat on my chest is yours or mine.

I was initially quite surprised that on Netgalley Bone is marketed as Young Adult. Having said that, I think the immediacy of text and subject matter would really really speak to adolescents.

Brilliant read and one I would thoroughly recommend.

I received a copy of this from the publishers via NetGalley.

A Horse Walks Into A Bar by David Grossman won the 2017 Man Booker Prize. According to Wikipedia, the panel were ‘bowled over by Grossman’s willingness to take emotional as well as stylistic risks.’ For me, this is completely true and at the beginning I was unsure that the risk would pay off….it took me a while to really get into this novel but I am so pleased I persevered.

The idea is a simple if really unusual one. The action takes place in a bar during a stand up comedy show. The comedian Dovaleh Greenstein asks Aviashai Lazar, an acquaintance he hasn’t seen since he was 9 years old to come and watch his routine:

“I want you to look at me,” he spurted. “I want you to see me, really see me, and then afterward tell me.”

“Tell you what?”

“What you saw.”

Aviashai is the protagonist and he describes the stand up routine as he sits in the audience. The evening starts as a normal stand up routine….Dovaleh trying to get the audience on side….sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully. Telling a few offensive jokes, picking on members of the audience:

He nods with affected understanding. I can see him dive inside himself to bring up pearls of mockery and ridicule engendered by the encounter.

The atmosphere is claustrophobic and tense as individuals in the audience hope they are not going to be the object of ridicule. There is a feeling of relief when others are picked. As the evening goes on, the jokes become more intermingled with traumatic accounts from Dovaleh’s past. Dovaleh is a character who has always been ridiculed in front of an audience and we learn as a result of  bullying, he plays the joker. He is a jester and like Aviashai, we choose to be silent participants in his abuse:

I knew for certain that if he hadn’t been in the tent it would have been me they’d be picking on.

We watch Dovaleh fall apart and as we start to question who is the object of the joke, we pity Dovaleh.

‘How ’bout a joke or two, man?’ someone calls out, and another man grunts: ‘We came to hear jokes!’ A woman shouts back at them: ‘Can’t you see he’s the joke today?’ She rakes in a whole avalanche of laughs.

For me, the bullying is what this book is about and how it is so easy to be pulled along by a crowd of people being cruel, rather than stand up for someone:

He senses, of course, that the whole show is starting to tilt again. He is out on a limb that is getting heavier than the whole tree. The crowd feel it too. People look at each other and shift restlessly. They understand less and less what it is they have unwillingly become partners to. I have no doubt they would have got up and left long ago, or even booed him off stage, if not for the temptation that is so hard to resist-the temptation to look into another man’s hell.

Grossman’s writing is incredible. The feeling of claustrophobia he managed to create was suffocating and like the audience in the club, I was often tempted to abandon the show. However, I had to keep reading, almost peeking through my hands. It was such an uncomfortable read that I have to say I was relieved when it was over. If I had been in the audience, would I have walked out?

Thanks so much for reading.

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