Monday, 28 April 2014

Review: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

I'm a 20-something woman (it's rude to ask exactly how old I am) but I'm not afraid to admit that one of my few heroines in life (apart from my mum) is 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai.

We all know her name now - since being shot by the Taliban Yousafzai has been hailed by the western world as a crusader, which she is. But hearing her story in her own words shows that Yousafzai is also a teenager, albeit one whose voice now reaches millions.

Yousafzai is a confident, articulate, passionate young woman who is standing up for one of what should be the most basic rights for a child anywhere in the world - the right to an education. I Am Malala is Yousafzai's account of her life growing up in Pakistan, being a normal child, and then being thrust into the spotlight because of something that happened to her, rather than something she did.

The first thing to note is how well Yousafzai speaks, and how well her voice comes through in this book. If you saw her speech to the UN (and if not, why not?), you'll know that she can command an audience, and that voice comes through loud and clear in this book. Lamb is to be commended for tapping into Yousafzai's voice with perfection. The only part of the book where it feels slightly mechanical is in the chapters dealing with the immediate aftermath of the shooting. This is understandable, however, as it's the only part of the story that Yousafzai is telling second-hand - she can't remember much after being shot, and she certainly wasn't in any condition to know what her parents or the doctors were saying.

Yousafzai's story is fascinating, and one that stands out for a young woman being brought up in Pakistan. As a British-born Pakistani, I have great freedoms and extremely supportive parents. But for many young women in Pakistan, tradition still rules and while there is much more freedom now and young women are getting educated and getting good jobs, many aren't in such a fortunate position. Hearing Yousafzai's story is interesting, partly because her family dynamic is interesting - her father is very forward-thinking, perhaps more than most fathers around the world, in whichever country you visit.

But Yousafzai is not one to take things for granted. She acknowledges how lucky she has been in growing up in a family which places such an emphasis on education. She's grateful but also has that teenage confidence (mainly when it comes to exam results and competition with her classmates). I don't mean that in a bad way, but she comes across as a typical teenager in the book as well - a little cocky sometimes, a little over-confident (like many a teenager you'd meet on the streets of London, or Birmingham, or anywhere).

Aside from hearing about Yousafzai herself, one of the things that most interested me most in I Am Malala was learning about the history and politics of where Yousafzai grew up, and finding out more about how she and her friends and neighbours viewed things. Yousafzai does convey some disappointment with both the governments within her country, and with foreign leaders for failing to step in, or just not doing enough. That the Taliban were free to terrorise her hometown is the fault of many people, and Yousafzai says that.

I think what's most remarkable about Yousafzai's story is how normal she seems. Sure, she's speaking at the UN and meeting presidents and prime ministers, but at the end of the day she's a teenager who wants to learn and grow, and who has a huge amount of compassion. I Am Malala is a triumphant tale and one full of hope, despite the horrific events which occur within, and it's one that I shall be pressing on the various teenagers in my family to inspire them. However, it is also a story with a slightly bittersweet ending - my heart aches for Yousafzai, who wants to return to her home in Pakistan, but cannot yet. I hope one day she is able to return to Pakistan, because the work she is capable of doing there would make her current campaigning look like a school prefect election.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Weidenfeld and Nicolson. This did not affect my review.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Review: Popular by Maya Van Wagenen

Wouldn't life be easy if you had a step by step guide on how to get through it? While Maya Van Wagenen doesn't have a guide to life, she does have a guide to being popular, and for a teenager that's the same thing.

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek is Van Wagenen's real life account of a year spent living by the rules of Betty Cornell's Teenage Popularity Guide, first published way back in 1951. Van Wagenen's social experiment sees her wearing a girdle, changing her posture, introducing herself to new people and donning make up in an attempt to be popular at the "armpit" that is school.

This is a frank and funny book, which draws you in immediately. I loved Van Wagenen's voice, which was fresh and sounded reassuringly like that of a 13-year-old (that's how old Van Wagenen was at the time of the experiment). And like a teenager there was plenty of minor drama which at that age seems like it's the be-all and end-all - a crush on a cute boy, dealing with the popular kids.

Popular is at its best when Van Wagenen is talking about the experiences which nearly every teenager goes through in their life, from school to friends to family (although obviously the book is very American). Added into that, Van Wagenen's experiment adds a layer of tension and hilarity, as she goes through her school days wearing pearls and trying to act like nothing has changed so as not to tip people off to what she doing.

As well as school, Van Wagenen's family life is also full of love and humour, from her younger sister Natalia, who has autism, to her annoying but loveable brother, to her occasionally eccentric dad and her beautiful mother. It's her family unit which ensure that Van Wagenen can go through with her experiment for a full year.

Where the memoir slightly falls down is on the more serious topics. Van Wagenen's relationship with her teacher Mr Lawrence, who has terminal cancer, is touching and definitely worth hearing more about. And Van Wagenen mentions gang and drug problems in her school and hometown plenty of times throughout the book, but the issue is never explored properly. I can understand that both situations were a part of Van Wagenen's life, and so needed to be included, but at times it felt like a mention of them was just thrown in and then forgotten about. They don't quite fit into a diary about becoming popular, but at the same time they can't be discarded. It's a conundrum that's handled ok, but not brilliantly (and that's more to do with the editing than the writing).

Aside from that, though, Popular is a great read. Of course, there are lessons to be learned from what Van Wagenen goes through, and there's a certain amount of light preaching about popularity, but it all works pretty well. Not only is Popular an enjoyable book, it's also the tale of a brave young woman who decided to do her own thing, and succeeded. And that's more inspiring for all the legions of teenage girls out there than becoming popular.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Penguin. This did not affect my review.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Review: This is the Water by Yannick Murphy

When was the last time you read an entire novel written in the second person? For me, it was never. Well, until I picked up This is the Water by Yannick Murphy it was never.

In a swimming pool somewhere in America, a group of children and teenagers swim competitively, while their parents watch and cheer them on. Among the youngsters is one who will soon be dead, murdered. And among the parents is Annie, supporting her two daughters, trying to save her marriage, and haunted by the suicide of her older brother.

This is the Water is billed as a story about a murder, but actually the murder takes up very little space in the book. It's there to drive people together and apart, to manoeuvre the characters in and out of certain situations, to reveal hidden secrets. But This is the Water is not fully a mystery, or a crime novel, or a thriller (although it probably falls most into that last category if you really want to pigeonhole it). There is no secret about who the murderer is, or why they do what they do. The murder, in my reading, was a way to propel the characters forward (and it works).

This is the Water takes us into the thoughts and minds of a number of people, but it is Annie with whom Murphy decrees we must spend the most time. A "normal" mother, Annie takes us into the world of competitive swimming, much of which seems to revolve around people squeezing themselves into uncomfortable, oddly shaped swimming costumes - a metaphor if there ever was one. We also see Annie as friend, as wife, as lover and as unwitting confidant, as well as in the role of lost sister and damaged daughter. It's a combination that forms a well-rounded, sympathetic and powerful character.

But just as This is the Water is not really a story about a murder, it's also not really a story about Annie. Instead, I felt like it was a story exploring the psychology of people thrust into a scary situation, about right and wrong, and the fact that very few things fall into either category. Murphy presents a series of situations, many of which throw up moral questions, and many of the characters respond with moral ambiguity for different reasons - to save themselves, to save their families, out of spite. Murphy's ending for This is the Water surprised me, but also felt right for the characters in the novel.

So to the first thing I talked about, the second person narrative. Does it work? I didn't think it would, and I thought it would prevent me from getting into the book, but in fact it didn't. I didn't stop noticing it, but not in a bad way. Instead, I felt the second person narrative gave the book a real rhythm in my head - perhaps a bit like the rhythm of swimmers moving through water...

This is the Water is an intriguing study of character, and of form, and it's those two things that should have you diving to read it.

This is the Water is released on July 31, 2014.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Headline. This did not affect my review.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Review: Wake by Anna Hope

I've not read a lot of literature related to the First World War (apart from Birdsong, which is just perfect), but of course, this is the year to propel me to do so.

Anna Hope's Wake takes place in 1920, as Britain is recovering from the war. It follows three very different women - Hettie, Evelyn and Ada - over the course of five days leading up to the burial of the Unknown Soldier.

Hope deliberately chooses three very different women to give us three very different takes on the First World War. Hettie is young and knows a freedom unlike those of the women who came before her, and she is unable to see, at least at the beginning of the novel, why the war has had such a devastating impact on her brother, who served, and her mother. She is idealistic and naive, and I found she came across as selfish, but realistic. It takes an encounter with the broken Ed to jolt her into realising what's happening around her is important.

Ed also causes a change in the life of his sister, Evelyn, who is broken in her own way. Working at the pensions office, Evelyn encounters veterans every day, veterans who feel they have been let down the country they lost friends and limbs and their sanity for. Surrounded by such bitterness, Evelyn finds herself unable to let go of the past enough to move on. Despite her dour nature, Evelyn was my favourite character - a hard worker, an independent thinker, a woman who has sacrificed.

Like Ada, who paid one of the biggest sacrifices of the war - the loss of her son. Haunted by memories of the past, Ada is unable to live fully in the present, always thinking her son may turn up one day. Her story is the story of thousands of mothers from the First World War, although we discover over the course of the book that her son was not lost in quite the same way as those other boys she knew.

The narratives of Hettie, Evelyn and Ada are intertwined with Hope's fictionalised account (based on facts) of how the Unknown Soldier was selected and then transported from France to Britain to be interred at Westminster Abbey. This plot strand (which made me want to go and read more about the Unknown Soldier's journey) deftly brings together the stories of the three women we follow, as we take a glimpse into their lives at a moment in time when they're all heading towards the same occasion.

Alongside this, there are also another couple of strands which weave their way through the book, until eventually revealing a connection between the three women we follow. It's cleverly done, and never overplayed.

Wake was an easy read - I got through it in three short sittings. It didn't pack the emotional punch of Birdsong for me, but it's still a very well done and powerful novel that gives an insight into how the First World War affected those left behind while the men went to the trenches. In this anniversary year, Wake is a good fictional introduction to an aspect of the First World War.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Doubleday. This did not affect my review.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Review: Half Bad by Sally Green

Now here's a book that I felt I absolutely had to love from the moment that I first picked it up.

THE book of the 2013 Bologna Book Fair, Half Bad by Sally Green is talked about in breathless voices tinged with excitement. It's a book where the hype is huge among all quarters, and because it's YA it's even more impressive that adults seem to be harping on about it too.

Nathan is a witch, but the only problem is, he's half Black, half White witch. Growing up in a family of White witches (his grandmother as caretaker, his kind older brother and one sister, his evil oldest sister) doesn't stop the witch council from wondering whether Nathan will turn out fully Black or White. After all, Nathan's father is the most evil Black witch out there.

To keep him under control until his 17th birthday, when Nathan becomes a fully fledged witch, the council of witches issue a series of edicts to ensure his life is lived within narrow boundaries, before abandoning all sense of propriety and basically kidnapping and torturing him to keep him on their side.

Half Bad is told through Nathan's eyes, and follows him from a young child until his 17th birthday. We learn he can't read and write, and that people barely try helping him before they give up. For me, this was one of the things that really made me feel for Nathan, but that may just be because I'm a huge advocate of getting kids reading. We also learn that Nathan longs to meet his father, even if he is a Black witch who has killed many, many people.

Nathan's voice is interesting, but I wasn't ever enthralled by it. Green's telling of Nathan's story is episodic in some ways, full of short scenes and short sentences, but I think for an epic tale of good vs evil, nature vs nurture, a sentence and scene structure with a bit more depth would have been more appropriate. As it is, everything seems a bit sudden and broken. I guess that's a reflection of Nathan himself, and the fact that his vocabulary isn't extensive, but I personally didn't love it.

I also have some issues with the way other characters treat Nathan. The council of witches, for example, constantly punish him for who his father is, even though they want to keep Nathan on side. It seems to me that it's an extremely stupid bunch of people who don't realise punishment is no way to get a child onside. I could understand it if one person was treating Nathan in that way, but it's the whole of White witch society (apart from three members of Nathan's family and one other person). Seriously? How stupid are these people?

And then there's the romance element, which I didn't quite find myself invested in. From the moment he sees her, Nathan falls in love with White witch Annalise, whose family are horrible. His love for her continues throughout the book, even though his encounters with her are few and far between. I just couldn't believe enough to root for this relationship, not when there were far more compelling ones in the book that were nothing to do with romance. Nathan's connection with his brother was lovely, as was his burgeoning friendship with Gabriel. Both were sensitive, nuanced relationships, of the kind rarely seen between two boys in fiction.

Half Bad is the first in a trilogy by Green, and it's not a bad start. It's also not a thrilling one, and definitely not the one I was hoping for. While I read the whole of Half Bad, it was done with more of a sense of resignation as the stories progressed. I'm hoping, that now that all the exposition is out of the way in Half Bad and now that some of the pressure of such a hyped first book is out of the way, Green can really get going in books two and three. Cross your fingers.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Penguin. This did not affect my review.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Review: Campari for Breakfast by Sara Crowe

The eighties were all about excess, shoulder pads, big hair, Madonna and rich bankers, right? At least, that's usually the view of the world we get when a film, television programme or book is set in the 1980s.

Not so for Sara Crowe's Campari for Breakfast, which offers a completely contrasting view of the 1980s. Granted, it's still not an experience shared by everyone, but it's refreshing, new (to me at least) and different.

Sue Bowl, 17-year-old romantic and wannabe writer, decamps to her Aunt Coral's crumbling mansion Green Place for a year. Having lost her mum, Sue wants nothing more than to get away from her dad and his girlfriend Ivana. She's also keen to launch her budding writing career, and find romance, especially if it's with the gorgeous Icarus Fry. But it's Icarus's brother Joe who carries a torch for Sue, who also has to spend her time dealing with her mortal enemy Loudolle and trying to work out/look after the various lodgers at Green Place, as well as the house itself.

First things first, Campari for Breakfast is an absolute joy to read. Literally. It's full of humour, with bits that had me laughing out loud. Sue uses a lot of malapropisms, with the result often being hilarious sentences that still somehow seem to fit. As a budding writer, Sue's diary (one of the ways the story is told, the other being extracts from Aunt Coral's diary) is pretty good (more on that in a second) but her actual fiction is pretty terrible, but also hugely enjoyable because of that.

Sue's diary, aside from being funny, is also highly observant. Even though her vocabulary can be a bit dodgy at times, the character of Sue has a knack for seeing people and getting to the bottom of things. Her assessment of characters like Delia, Loudolle and even her Aunt Coral is pretty spot on 99% of the time. In fact, the only characters she misjudges are Icarus and Joe, but she is a teenage girl after all.

Alongside Sue's story runs the narrative of her Aunt Coral, and of Green Place itself. As the book progresses we learn more about Aunt Coral and about Sue's mum Buddleia, and there are revelations that will change the whole family's life, as well as an ever-growing sense of why the family home is so important.

Before I started reading it, I thought Campari for Breakfast was going to be a light-hearted, shallow read. But I was so wrong. Yes, it is a fun read, but it's also got depth and is heart-warming and quirky and really explores themes of family and friends and love. It's a novel about who you are, and what makes you. I thoroughly recommend Campari for Breakfast, it'll leave you with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Transworld. This did not affect my review.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

London Book Fair 2014 diary

This year marked my first London Book Fair, and the event's last time at Earls Court before it moves to Olympia next year.

London Book Fair 2014 was three days of being incredibly, incredibly busy, but also three days of fun.

My first day started super early, and finished super late. The above picture was taken before 9am on Tuesday, the first day of the book fair, and thousands of people were already making their way to Earls Court.


The press room we were in was tiny and had no windows, and was pretty airless and hot, but it was all ours. Above is a selection of the food we worked our way through on day one. I spent two days eating unhealthily (despite the fruit you see at the front) and gained the weight to prove it!

The company I work for put out a magazine a day about the fair, so the first seminar I went to featured the above panel (L-R Prospect's Adam Bowie, Rightster's Sophia Scleparis, Penguin Random House's Dan Franklin, Foyles' Jonathan Ruppin and author Harriet Evans) and was all about marketing books. The room was packed, with people having to sit on the floor, and it was a pretty good discussion.

I spent a lot of time at the book fair running around the International Rights Centre (IRC), which is where all the deals are done. The centre (on the floor above the main book fair) consists of rows and rows of tables where agents and rights directors have meetings to try and sell their books. It looks kind of boring (above), and while it may seem like it's more fun downstairs where thousands of people hanging around, the IRC is where the main action happens.

On the first day of the book fair, I spent my evening at a dinner for Deon Meyer, a South African crime writer. Hosted by his publisher Hodder, the dinner was held at The Zetter Townhouse near Farringdon. Above is a picture of the wall of the ladies' toilet.

Meyer was absolutely lovely, and I had a brilliant time. Aside from the people invited to the dinner, we were also accompanied by the above stuffed boxing kangaroo, which hung out in the room we were eating in.

On Wednesday someone showed me a shortcut up to the IRC, which was great because it meant I could skip the crowded escalators and just run up the stairs from the press room. I paused for a couple of minutes to take a photo of the main exhibition floor. You can see a few of the massive stands, and if you look in the top right hand corner, you can see Hachette's stand, which was the only one on two levels.

On Wednesday evening I went to Bloomsbury's illustrator evening, held at the company's offices. They had a bunch of their illustrators there showing off their skills, which are considerable and awe-inspiring. Above is Tom McLaughlin, whose book is The Story Machine. He was incredibly talented, and even his "bad" stuff was stunning.

Bloomsbury gave us fantastic goody bags which included signed prints from one of their illustrators. My print was by Jim Field, from the book There's a Lion in my Cornflakes (which is hilarious). It's now sitting proudly on my desk at work.

On Thursday afternoon I headed back to the book fair for a quick wander round, and I've mostly spent the days since then recovering and catching up on sleep.

Here's to the 2015 London Book Fair!

Monday, 7 April 2014

Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

One of my favourite books is Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, a tale of a family living in a crumbling manor house seen through the eyes of the youngest daughter.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is similar and has the whimsy displayed throughout I Capture the Castle, but only until the end of the first paragraph, which concludes with the line: "Everyone else in my family is dead."

Mary Blackwood, known as Merricat, lives in the Blackwood family home with her older sister Constance and their Uncle Julian. The rest of her family are dead, killed by poisoning. Constance was accused and cleared of the crime, but that doesn't stop the villagers hating the Blackwoods. While Constance shuts herself in the Blackwood family manor, Uncle Julian constantly revisits the day the rest of the Blackwoods died, trying to piece together what happened. And then, one day, Cousin Charles arrives, and everything changes.

I'd never heard of Shirley Jackson before I picked up We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and I'm a little ashamed of that fact. This book is eerie and full of mystery and suspense, all overlaid with a hint of danger and something a bit otherworldly.

Told in first person, the reader gets to know Merricat fairly well. I say fairly, because she's still an enigma. Independent enough to stand up to the villagers who hate her and her family, at the same time Merricat acts like a child with Constance, letting her older sister baby her. And as we learn more about Merricat, we learn that she can be both extremely protective, and extremely hateful.

Constance, seen as a murderess in the eyes of many, is seen as a heroine in Merricat's eyes, and as a nurse in the eyes of Uncle Julian, who has never fully recovered from almost being poisoned along with the rest of his family. While Constance spends her days playing the perfect domestic goddess (cooking up swathes of beautiful food even though it was supposedly her cooking that killed her family), Uncle Julian alternates between lucid and not, trying to pin down every detail of the day he was almost killed.

Once Cousin Charles arrives, the household gets even more bizarre. Merricat's little rituals of burying things and of routines become more and more like witchcraft, while the politeness Constance shows Cousin Charles makes the situation even more tense. And when it all comes to a head, with the villagers and Cousin Charles and Merricat and Constance and Uncle Julian, the consequences are both tragic and very, very strange.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a compact novel crammed full of sinister delights. If, like me, you've never read anything by Shirley Jackson before, this is a great place to start.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Penguin. This did not affect my review.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Sunday Post (#39) and Showcase Sunday (#25)

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, and Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits and Tea and inspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren. They're a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week on your blog, highlight our newest books and see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, or bought.
- See more at:

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, and Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits and Tea and inspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren. They're a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week on your blog, highlight our newest books and see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, or bought.
- See more at:

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, and Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits and Tea and inspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren. They're a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week on your blog, highlight our newest books and see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, or bought.
- See more at:

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, and Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits and Tea and inspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren. They're a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week on your blog, highlight our newest books and see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, or bought.

On the blog
Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Review: Ghost Moth by Michele Forbes
Review: Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe
Review: Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss

Added to my shelves

I went to the Penguin Crime Party very, very briefly last week, and came away with a few books (one for about every five minutes I was there).

The Hangman's Son by James Oswald
If I Should Die by Matthew Frank (proof copy)
After the Silence by Jake Woodhouse
Eeny Meeny by M. J. Arlidge
The Boy That Never Was by Karen Perry
I also got a lovely Penguin notepad in the goody bag, and a deck of cards done up with Penguin's 2014 crime releases and authors.

I also brought home my copy of Sara Crowe's Campari for Breakfast, which is hilarious, and Deon Meyer's Cobra, which I need to read since I'm going to a dinner for him next week.

Next week is London Book Fair, which will be absolute madness, so see you on the other side, and let me know what you added to your shelves in the comments below.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Have you ever started reading a book and wondered what all the fuss was about, and then suddenly found that you've finished the book and you're struggling to hold back tears?

Welcome to my reading of Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

One morning, after getting a letter from a former colleague who has cancer, Harold Fry leaves his home to post his reply. But he passes one post box, and then another, and before he knows it, dressed in his shirt and tie and yachting shoes and sans mobile phone, he's walking the 627 miles from Kingsbridge to Berwick to see Queenie Hennessy.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a hugely successful book, and it's one that many, many people talk about with affection. When I first started reading it, I thought it was a perfectly pleasant book with likeable characters. And then, just a couple of chapters later, I was completely sucked in to a charming, original, funny, moving book with tragic, happy, sad, wonderful, loveable characters.

Harold himself is a character I was cheering for once he started on his journey, and then all the way to Berwick. He's unassuming, the type of person who in real life you might dismiss (wrongly) as not that interesting if you met him within a group of people. But Joyce's portrayal of him really shows a man who is gentle, and kind, and who needs to come to terms with events in his life that he hasn't emotionally been able to deal with because his own role models were lacking. 

The journey Harold takes, both literal and metaphorical, enables him to become the man he really is and wants to be. Physically, this means he becomes tougher, fitter, more weatherbeaten - the ideal of a manly man in the way he needed his father to be when he was growing up. Mentally, he also becomes tougher, in addition to being more emotionally connected and open about those emotions (eventually).

But it's not just Harold that makes The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry so charming, it's the cast of characters that we spend time with in the book, however small that amount of time is. Of course, firstly there is Queenie, the woman he is walking to see. We see her through flashbacks, through Harold's eyes, and are left to piece together their relationship ourselves. Then there are Harold's wife Maureen and his neighbour Rex, who we get to know fairly well, and a host of characters Harold meets on his journey. My favourites are still the silver-haired gentleman, who in just a few sentences tells a beautiful but tragic story of unrequited love, and the doctor, who similarly has a tragic tale of love (hmm, I notice a pattern).

Joyce's book is a bit like Harold himself - a hidden well of emotion and meaning just waiting to be opened up and let into your heart. Go read it, and try not to weep.

How I got this book: Bought.


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