Johannesburg by Fiona Melrose

Johannesburg by Fiona MelroseFiona Melrose is back less than a year after her much lauded debut novel was released – and this story couldn’t be more different than the last. In Midwinter we followed the tale of a Suffolk farmer and his son as they tried to live through their grief and find peace. This time we’re in Johannesburg where Gin has just returned home from New York to throw a party for her mother’s eightieth birthday.

But this isn’t just a mother and daughter rather than father and sone tale, woven through this are other people’s stories – that of a homeless hunchback fighting for justice and his sister, a man still haunted by his first love, and the domestic workers who populate the neighbourhood.

The whole story takes place on one day – the day the Mandela family prepares to announce Tata Mandela’s death.

I was privileged to see Fiona Melrose at the very first launch affair for this book which was held in my friends bookshop in Woodbridge (read more about the story of that bookshop here). She talked about how this book was inspired by Mrs Dalloway and started as an exercise but it’s clear that certain characters needed their voices to be heard and refused to let her leave the story there.

Strangely the only thing I felt could have been better about this book was the voices – it’s told from several different perspectives and some of the voices were too similar to one another which sometimes left me a little confused as to who I was hearing from. That eased out by halfway through the book though.

The rest is excellent, a mix of the personal and the political written so realistically you can smell the dust and the scent of Agapanthus around you as you read. Personally I prefer it to Mrs Dalloway, partially because it deals with today’s issues but partly because the writing is more fluid and passionate.

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews -even when we know the authors personally and think they’re utterly lovely!

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

the-watchmaker-of-filigree-street
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Thaniel Steepleton is getting by rather than living. His job as a telegraphist at the Home Office earns him just enough to support his widowed sister but not enough for him to afford to pursue his love of music. Then one day he returns to his tiny flat to find a gold pocketwatch on his pillow. It isnt a birthday present from his sister but unfortunately he has no time to investigate further as a credible bomb threat has just come through.

When the watch saves Thaniel’s life in the threatened blast, he starts to investigate where it came from. His search leads him to its maker, Keita Mori – a gentle Japanese man whose seductive world of clockwork and music entrances him. Meanwhile, Grace Carrow will soon be making her entrance into his life but meanwhile she is sneaking into an Oxford library dressed as a man. A theoretical physicist, she is desperate to prove the existence of the luminiferous ether before her mother can force her to marry.

This blend of historical fiction and fantasy creates an enchanting steampunk-esque thriller. A character that can remember the future, one that can see sounds, the aforemantioned theoretical physicist, plus detectives from Scotland Yard, Japanese ambassadors, Irish nationalists and cameo appearances from Gilbert and Sullivan show what a talented writer Natasha Pulley is. Each character is utterly believable even if they barely grace the page.

The plot is intriguing but the author also adds in magical details like a clockwork Octopus with a penchant for stealing socks so there is never a dull moment. But these details are never just gratuitous. I can’t say any more than that or I’ll be guilty of spoilers!

One of the things that really sets this book aside though is the attention to sentence structure. That might sound like a very dry thing to say but when a book contains so many teeny tiny nibbles of pure bliss then the dish as a whole is definitely going to be tasty!

If you want some well-crafted escapism pick this up!

4 Bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.