Books: Women's plight the focus of Leni Zumas's dystopian novel Red Clocks
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas is published in hardback by The Borough Press, priced £16.99 (ebook £1.99). Available now
WOMEN leading lives of quiet, and not-so-quiet, desperation are at the heart of Leni Zumas's dystopian novel Red Clocks. Reminiscent of the nightmarish world of Gilead in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, the book is set in a United States in which abortion is banned and IVF has been made illegal. Four women from a small Oregon town try to make sense of these new rules and the effects they have on their lives: One sets out on a dangerous journey in the hope of making it across the Canadian border, where abortions are still available, while another longs to have a baby but can't. And in between, we follow a fifth woman – a 19th-century Arctic explorer from the Faroe Islands – who has her own battles to fight. Together, the five stories form a deeply touching exploration of women's lives past and future. It's a timely and disturbing tale about motherhood and identity that, despite the grim subject matter, leaves you with hope.
Sal by Mick Kitson is published in hardback by Canongate, priced £12.99 (ebook £7.49). Available now
THE eponymous teenage heroine of Mick Kitson's debut novel, who is on the run from the drab, chaotic lives of her alcoholic mother and her 'Maw's' drug-dealing partner, steps into another world in Scotland's last wilderness. Kitson's ability to combine the mundane and harrowing with an uplifting, giddy traipse through the great outdoors, with characters who take you with them, belies the fact this is his first venture into fiction. Despite the odd jarring note and some patchy moments, he succeeds in giving voice to the troubled narrator and in handling her sometimes upsetting story. He captures the stillness, peace and beauty of her new surroundings and some joyous experiences as Sal and her sister battle hunger and cold, and shake off some old horrors. Armed with her Bear Grylls knife, YouTube education on the wild, and the SAS Survival Guide, Sal desperately tries to come up with a blueprint for her family's survival. Along the way she has to find out if she is as adept at using her own streetwise, survival handbook to confront and escape life's traps as she is at setting snares in the woods. An inventive, memorable and soul-stirring read.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is published in hardback by Tinder Press, priced £16.99 (ebook £6.99). Available now
IN HER second novel, Chloe Benjamin weaves an ambitious family saga that spans several decades. The premise is intriguing: How would you live your life if you knew the day you were going to die? This is the problem troubling the four Gold children, after a mysterious gypsy reads their fortunes in a sweltering New York apartment in 1969. Each child interprets the information differently, and the novel is broken into four short stories focusing on each in turn. We meet Simon, a young gay man who escapes to San Francisco; Klara, a wannabe magician in Vegas; military doctor Daniel; and Varya, who is working on an anti-ageing study. In its scope and themes, The Immortalists brings to mind Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life. The problem is, while that book had flawed yet lovable characters, The Immortalists tends to focus on the flaws, and it's hard to always root for the siblings. While Simon and Varya's stories ring true, the actions of Klara and Daniel are frustrating. Benjamin also seems to be ticking off a list of issues – mental health, homosexuality, animal cruelty, religion etc – that can distract from the story.
Divided: Why We're Living In An Age Of Walls by Tim Marshall is published in hardback by Elliott & Thompson Press, priced £16.99 (ebook £6.64). Available now
TIM Marshall takes us on a historic and contemporary tour of the world's separated spaces, showing that Donald Trump is far from the first leader to attempt to shut out things they're scared of. The veteran foreign correspondent dryly explores most of the globe, highlighting attempts made, with varying success, to stall flows of people, money and ideas. Trump's eye-catching but as-yet unfulfilled plan to shut the US off from Mexico is a better-known example, along with the interminable situation in Israel and Palestine. More interesting are those less well known; Communist China's current battle with the Internet and India's bloodily hardline approach to Bangladeshi economic migrants. It's a very knowledgeable, timely book and a good primer on current problems in a longer-term context. But it also felt a bit dessicated and methodical, needing a bit more of a flourish to offset the bleakness of the subject matter.
The Wonder Down Under: A User's Guide To The Vagina, by Nina Brochmann and Ellen Stokken Dahl, is published in paperback by Yellow Kite, priced £14.99 (ebook £9.99). Available now.
WOMEN'S bodies: much objectified, little understood. At least, that's the conclusion drawn by Norwegian medical students Nina Brochmann and Ellen Stokken Dahl. Wryly they point to centuries of research conducted, yes, mainly by men, and suggest if half the population suffered agonising pain in the testicles every month, we would know the precise cause. Gender politics aside, The Wonder Down Under is Brochmann and Stokken Dahl's accessible explanation of the female reproductive system, ranging from why sex is pleasurable, to detailing conception and contraception (eggs aren't as passive as you might think), to advice on STIs. Its authors were inspired by Giulia Enders's 2014 work, Gut and while some sections are unavoidably technical, the book is no-nonsense, funny – the pair run a blog, so can write engagingly – and eager to inform without judgment. It's perhaps more of a reference text than a read-through, but in a world where Google is as trusted as a GP, it's a vital publication and deserves to be a hit.
CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK
Children Of Blood And Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is published in paperback by Pan Macmillan, priced £7.99 (ebook £3.80). Available now
CHILDREN Of Blood And Bone immerses you in a fantasy world of magic and myth, where good and evil battle it out in an adventure of epic proportions. Inspired by the legends of west Africa, this trilogy opener from Tomi Adeyemi amazes and terrifies in equal measure. Set in the fictional kingdom of Orisha, it sees teenager Zelie embark on a quest to bring magic back to her land after the harrowing genocide of her people by oppressive ruler, King Saran. With a narrow window to bring back the power of the majis, Zelie and her brother Tzain must overcome all odds to succeed, battling against not only Saran's soldiers, but also their own personal moral dilemmas. It is aimed at the young adult market and younger readers would find some of the scenes shocking – in particular, a graphic torture. While it is brutal in parts, it is also a beautiful and touching story and a punchy debut from Adeyemi. Bring on part two.