Book Reviews: Ness by Robert Macfarlane and Stanley Donwood, The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, Find Me by Andre Aciman and more

Ness by Robert Macfarlane and Stanley Donwood

:: Ness by Robert Macfarlane and Stanley Donwood is published in hardback by Hamish Hamilton, priced £14.99 (ebook £9.99). Available now

"IT WAS all sea once, in a long unbroken line." The last words took this reader back to the start for a second reading. Robert Macfarlane describes Ness as "by some distance the strangest book I've ever written".

He's not wrong, and lovers of The Old Ways or Underland may wonder what they have stumbled across. Ness is hard to pin down. It's an ecological prose poem in which a sinister figure known as The Armourer is conducting a terrible ritual, only for five more-than-human forms to cross land, sea and time to stop him.

Ness isn't exactly poetry or prose, but something in-between, part climate-change mystery play, too. As you would expect from Macfarlane, it's beautifully written – "the slow silicate grammar-gather of flecks of entity, creeping together over millennia". Stanley Donwood's line drawings sketch in even more meaning.

A beautiful text.

Julian Cole

:: Find Me by Andre Aciman is published in hardback by Faber & Faber, priced £14.99 (ebook £8.99). Available now

FOLLOWING the success of Call Me By Your Name - the summer-drenched film adaptation of Andre Aciman's 2007 novel, starring Timothee Chalamet as American-Italian Elio, and Armie Hammer as American scholar Oliver – a sequel was practically guaranteed.

Find Me is that novel, sets years later and separated into three strands. It sees Elio's father Sami catch a train; Elio, now a classical pianist meet someone intriguing at a concert; and Oliver, who has a family, consider making the past his new present.

The trio collide rarely, so while thoughtful, nuanced and beautifully written, plot-wise, Find Me is rather sluggish. The lightness of touch and the nimbleness Aciman has with language, do not quite delight as they should, instead the pace stalls, making each third of this slim book quite stifling.

Ella Walker

:: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern is published in hardback by Harvill Secker, priced £16.99 (ebook £9.99). Available now

IF YOU read Erin Morgenstern's debut, The Night Circus, you'll have been counting down the days to her follow-up, but this fantastical and (very, very) lengthy tale doesn't hit the enchanting notes hoped for.

Protagonist, Zachary, now a postgraduate student in Vermont, a memory of a door in a wall he didn't open as a child – a memory he finds written down in a library book – sets him off on an adventure to the Starless Sea.

He is pitched into a topsy-turvy world of storytellers and assassins; a world that should be wondrous and captivating, but is flimsy and flat. Real feeling (which abounded in The Night Circus) is sadly absent, meaning you haul yourself through the many pages, frustrated. Morgenstern went too big with this new world, and seemingly forgot to ground it in characters you can love.

Ella Walker


:: We Are The Beaker Girls by Jacqueline Wilson is published in hardback by Doubleday Children's, priced £12.99 (ebook £8.99). Available now

JACQUELINE Wilson,returns to her fierce heroine and best-known character in this sequel to My Mum Tracy Beaker. The story follows 10-year-old Jess Beaker, Tracy's daughter, who has to move home, town and school after her mum breaks up with her cheating boyfriend.

They move into a flat above an old antique shop called The Dumping Ground, giving Tracy instant deja vu as that's what she used to call the children's home she grew up in. Jess also befriends Jordan, who has run away from her care home and needs help of her own. Together the pair form an unlikely friendship.

The story follows the paths of mum and daughter as they start new lives together. I loved this book because it shows the importance of friendship and hope. And there's unexpected romance in the air when an old friend of Tracy's make a reappearance.

Isla Brotzel (12)

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