Book reviews: Civil rights activist Kathleen Collins's stories have new heartbreaking resonance
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Whatever Happened To Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins, published in hardback by Granta
KATHLEEN Collins, activist, playwright and film-maker, was a pioneering black woman deeply involved in the American Civil Rights Movement, yet whose work seemed destined to fade into obscurity following her death, aged just 46, in 1988. Fortunately, in 2015 her film Losing Ground was rediscovered and immediately hailed as a masterpiece. In its wake comes this haunting collection of short stories, revealing Collins to have been an equally gifted and insightful writer. Stand-outs Interiors, The Happy Family and the title piece are devastating tales of family strife, disappointing lovers and thwarted idealism, all delivered from a candid female perspective that's refreshing, even to a contemporary reader. Central throughout are the difficult interracial politics of the era. These stories have resurfaced at a time when the attitudes of the West seem once again at risk of taking a crueller turn, and this lends them further heartbreaking resonance.
The End Of Eddy by Edouard Louis, published in hardback by Harvill Secker
THE End Of Eddy is Edouard Louis' semi-autobiographical account of his childhood and adolescence in a village in rural France, where the residents are incarcerated by a life lived below the poverty line. Men are expected to act tough, to fight and drink, and to find work in the local factory, but Eddy finds himself unable to live up to the macho values that the community and, in particular, his father expect of him. Increasingly humiliated by the possibility that he might gay, he tries desperately to act the "tough guy", dating girls and hiding his shame, but he is forever hounded by the abuse of both his family and his peers. Writing from distance, having since left the village behind, Louis has produced an, at times nuanced, but always critical study of the conservatism of small communities, and an exploration of how we reconcile our individual nature with what is expected of us.
Paris For One & Other Stories by Jojo Moyes, published in hardback by Michael Joseph
THIS is a collection of narratives by Jojo Moyes, whose romantic novel Me Before You was given the Hollywood treatment last year. The main star of the piece is the novella Paris For One. Dependable and careful Nell doesn't go anywhere or do anything without a cast-iron plan. But her boyfriend is reckless. One night, something comes alive in her and she books her first-ever romantic weekend away for the pair of them. Forfeiting a weekend with friends, she begins planning what she will do in Paris. But as she's about to step on the train, she learns that her boyfriend is running late and by the time she's at the hotel, he isn't coming. Alone, Nell needs to find her feet. Moyes has crafted a complex character who is full of heart. Joy rises as Nell flourishes in her new surroundings. There are 10 other stories, all of them involving strong women. A great read for fans of Moyes.
Take Courage: Anne Bronte And The Art Of Life by Samantha Ellis,s published in hardback by Chatto & Windus
EMILY Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights, Charlotte Bronte penned Jane Eyre, even their brother Branwell has become infamous for his attempts at poetry and equally his perpetual drunkenness. But Anne Bronte? Can you name what she wrote? The target of playwright Samantha Ellis's Take Courage is just that, history's unfair dismissal of youngest Bronte Anne's work, her relegation to the role of the ignored "other sister". It's a robust, emotionally charged defence of the writer, whose death aged 29 left us with just a handful of poems and two novels to read, Agnes Grey and The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall. Ellis's main problem is that there is very little information on which to build a whole picture of Anne but the one she does manage to draw is of a woman misunderstood by historians and obscured by her sisters, despite a mind blindingly sharp and progressive. Take Courage certainly begins to right the balance; however, Ellis distractingly puts a bit too much of herself in at times.
Eat Me: A Natural And Unnatural History Of Cannibalism by Bill Schutt, published in hardback by Profile Books
WITHIN the first 10 pages, we've gone from Hannibal Lecter to tadpoles, and the pace doesn't let up as Schutt starts in his own discipline of zoology, showing how ubiquitous cannibalism is among animals. Though it turns out that apparently endearing animals such as mouthbrooding fish are far guiltier here than the notorious black widow (even if that spider's antipodean cousin, the redback, does get its copulation/consumption habits described in lovingly ghoulish detail). Then it's on to the various manifestations in human culture, whether desperate responses to siege and starvation, or deliberate cannibalism in ritual and medicine. Bar a slight stumble towards the end (the story of linked plagues BSE, kuru and vCJD is certainly relevant, but could have been handled in one chapter rather than three), it's a fascinating and surprisingly fun read. Though laughing at a history of cannibalism can garner you some funny looks on public transport.
CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK
Carve The Mark by Veronica Roth, published in hardback by HarperCollins Children's Books
THE Divergent series, which Veronica Roth started at university and which went on to become a major Hollywood blockbuster, was sprawling and silly at times. However, its heroine was strong and bold and capable, making it a young adult trilogy you could easily get on board with – even if the dialogue was poor and the plotting haphazard. Carve The Mark is undoubtedly better. More tightly written, less convoluted and, thankfully, the first book in a duology, rather than a seemingly never-ending series, its heroine is also wildly more nuanced and intriguing. Cyra, of the Shotet tribe which rules a planet where fighting to the death is enshrined in law, is debilitated by crippling pain, an agony her brother wields as a weapon against his enemies. Her world is all hurt until she meets Akos, a prisoner with a gift for disrupting her pain, but who is desperate to rescue his brother from Shotet clutches. The question, of course, is: can they overcome their differences and work together?