A week of firsts…

Hurrah! I thought to myself: a whole six days off work and the weather’s looking up. Little did I know that I would have my head down the toilet for most of it. First time I’ve been ill this year, unless you count the tonsillitis that nearly scuppered my trip to Australia, which I don’t because I killed it with paracetamol and sleep en route to Sydney.

Despite my stomach bug I also managed my first cup of coffee since January. I’d given it up for lent. I don’t really hold any religious beliefs, mostly because I don’t really know what the answers are, and until I have a little proof one way or the other, I’m not going to commit. But I do like the challenge of giving up something I tcoffeeake pleasure in, for a few weeks at least. This year I chose coffee. I’d not really drunk any hot drinks while in Australia as it was too warm (and the beer was free flowing) so I thought I wouldn’t really miss coffee for another month or so. How wrong a girl can be! By the end I was climbing the walls, so desperate for my caffeine hit that I was often found fervently sniffing the air whilst loitering outside my local Starbucks. But when it came down to it, I couldn’t finish the delicious cappuccino, lovingly prepared for me by the gorgeous folks at Flirt Café Bar (if you ever find yourselves in Bournemouth you must check it out – easily the best place in town). Don’t worry though, I’ve made up for it since, practically overdosing on the black nectar the last five days!

RouxskiIn an attempt to overcome the caffeine jitters, Roux and I hit the beach – probably the last time before it’s shut off to dogs again for the summer. It was even warm enough to kick off my shoes and scrunch my toes in the sand – first time sandy toesthis year. Well, first time in this country this year. And although my toes were mostly blue by the end of the walk, I enjoyed every minute of it! Particularly the goats. That’s right: goats. Not often you see a (ok google, what’s the collective noun for goats?) a trip (apparently) of goats at the beach. Can’t help but wonder where they came from. Also can’t help but wonder if I was tripping from the caffeine and they weren’t really goats at all.

This weekend also saw my first (and last) trip to Ikea on a bank holiday. Never. Again.

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BOOK REVIEW: No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary

In the second of Sarah Hilary’s Detective Inspector Marnie Rome series, the team are investigating the discovery of the bNo Other Darknessodies of two young boys, found in a bunker beneath a London garden. Five years earlier someone had left them there to die, alone and cold in the dark. Terry and Beth Doyle, under whose garden the boys were found, have two young children of their own, and when they go missing the race is on to find them in time. In an eerie echo of DI Rome’s own personal history the Doyles foster a very sullen and angry teenage boy, Clancy. Can he be responsible for the children’s disappearance or is Rome’s own tragedy blinding her to all other possibilities?

An emotionally intelligent read, this story pulls apart the complexities of an unconventional family life; sometimes the danger to those we love is much closer to home than we can ever possibly imagine. The twists and turns that follow from the first gripping page to the final heart-wrenching conclusion had me reading this book in every free moment; it was utterly compelling from beginning to end and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I particularly enjoyed the moral ambiguity that Hilary cultivated throughout the story; no strict delineation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’. The good guys have their dark side, and sometimes the most terrible consequences are borne of well-intentioned actions. I’m being deliberately vague; I would hate to ruin it for anyone by giving away too much, but know that the writing is exemplary, the subject matter intelligently and sensitively handled and the character development and psychological depth are second to none.

I had not read the first in the series, and although I’m sure it would have given me a deeper understanding of Marnie Rome and her team, I feel No Other Darkness succeeds as a stand alone novel in its own right. That said, the next book on my reading list is most definitely going to be Rome’s first outing: Someone Else’s Skin.

BOOK REVIEW: Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Anna Benz, an American ex-patriate, lives a life of affluence and order in a beautiful suburb of Zurich. She busies herself caring for her three children and her successful husband, Bruno, a Swiss banker. But scratch beneath the surface and all is not well in Anna’s life; she is becoming increasingly disconnected from her family, her friends, and even from her own thoughts and feelings. Deeply unhappy, Anna indulges in brief, lustful affairs, but soon Anna’s actions spark a series of events that end in tragedy and change the course of her life forever.

Hausfrau

Anna is a despicable character who struggles with her own actions and yet seems incapable of halting the downward spiral of her life. She makes a lot of bad choices, and I found it extremely difficult to have any sympathy for her or her situation. I was not enthralled by the story; I just didn’t care what happened to her! In fact, I found it very hard to relate to any of the characters in this book: Anna’s imposing husband, Bruno; her snide mother-in-law; even her two friends: the self-obsessed Edith, and the utterly limp Mary. None of them drew me back to the story once I had put the book down.

Hausfrau is not a happy story, nor is it an easy read. The main narrative is punctuated with scenes from Anna’s Jungian therapy sessions, which gave the first half of the novel a very disjointed feel. The problem was exacerbated by the awkward insertion of German words, followed by their English translation; it made for a challenging and sometimes clunky read.

However, two-thirds of the way through the novel, tragedy strikes, and to me, this felt like a real turning point, an awakening for both Anna and the reader. The novel began to flow, with longer passages both in the present and revisiting Anna’s Jungian therapy with Doktor Messerli. It felt like an emergence, a return to consciousness that mirrors Jung’s theory of psychoanalysis.

An award-winning poet, Essbaum redeems herself in the wordplay and rhythm that runs subtly through Hausfrau (her debut novel). The puns are magnificent and the interplay between English and German vocabularies is glorious at times. She captures the Swiss culture of order and efficiency beautifully, not simply in two-dimensional descriptions but through the balance and cadence of her words.

So, if you can make it through the first half of the novel, you will be rewarded, but perseverance is key to this story’s success.