2/05/2018

Sugar Money by Jane Harris

Sugar Money
Author: Jane Harris
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publication Date: 3rd October 2017
Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Wordery
Martinique, 1765, and brothers Emile and Lucien are charged by their French master, Father Cleophas, with a mission. They must return to Grenada, the island they once called home, and smuggle back the 42 slaves claimed by English invaders at the hospital plantation in Fort Royal. While Lucien, barely in his teens, sees the trip as a great adventure, the older and worldlier Emile has no illusions about the dangers they will face. But with no choice other than to obey Cleophas - and sensing the possibility, however remote, of finding his first love Celeste - he sets out with his brother on this 'reckless venture'.

With great characters, a superb narrative set up, and language that is witty, bawdy and thrillingly alive, Sugar Money is a novel to treasure.


I've not enjoyed a book this much in YEARS! It's completely rekindled my love of historical fiction. Jane Harris deals with a period in history, that is truly shameful and horrifying, with grace and without too much whitewashing, although I think there was a little...

My ears strain to discern any sound beyond the massed flutes and recorders of a million frogs and insects. Now and then, fireflies sparkle past my face like fragments of charcoal carried on the breeze.


Our narrator is 12 year old Lucien and I have to say that I've never read a book with such a rounded, believable, non-irritating, child narrator. He is wise beyond his years, speaks with broken English, has childish moments that remind you he is just 12, and yet he carries this story perfectly. I always worry about first person narration, especially from a child's point of view, that we won't get a sense of place. Or if we do, it will seem forced, but his voice never feels like a gimmick, never irritates and the descriptions of the landscape were fitting and evocative. I think it was perfect actually.

There is a sense of foreboding throughout the novel. As soon as they are given the mission by the friars, armed with a power of attorney that neither of them can read properly, you just know it won't have a happy ending. The brothers blossoming relationship, through Lucien's eyes, makes this book even harder to read and at points I really didn't want to finish it, knowing it would be tough.

'Well done bug,' he said. 'Good man.' Well, that was the first time he had ever call me a man. My heart swelled up like a globefish.


Now. Onto the potential whitewashing, I'm still not sure. This is a tricky one. On the one hand I believe this could have been a conscious decision. By narrating from Lucien's point of view perhaps we are protected from some of the horrors the brothers encounter. We know Lucien has been whipped in the past as he has the scars from it, but you get the impression his brother has been through a lot worse. When Lucien does witness some of the brutality later on in the book it is all the more shocking precisely because we haven't encountered it yet. We are reminded that the slaves are simply being offered life as slaves somewhere else, but without being told the horrors that Lucien and Emile face on their own island it's hard not to get caught up in the feeling that they're on a rescue mission. Again, this could be entirely consciously done to emphasise how the other slaves may be feeling, or Jane Harris has actively avoided the brutality of the time in order for the book to be an enjoyable romp. It would make a blumming great book club read let's put it that way.

The ending was disappointing for me. The book didn't end in the right place as far as I was concerned. For those that have read it, I could have done without the neatly tied up, afterword type letters at the end. I think the reader could have come to their own conclusions as to what fate our protagonist ultimately meets.

These criticisms did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. I thought it was fantastic and has quickly shot up to one of my favourite historical fiction reads of all time. I want to read more about the slave trade, I am shamefully ignorant so if anyone can recommend any further reading I would appreciate it.



Verdict:
Story - 5/5
Writing - 5/5
Character - 4/5
Memorability - 4/5
Enjoyment - 5/5
Overall rating - 4.5/5

1/22/2018

The Bookcast Club // Episode 6


Happy new year! Our first episode of 2018 and Alice and I are talking current and recent reads, and our favourite books of 2017. The podcast is now available on YouTube as well as the usual podcasty places. If you have any questions or ideas for future episodes please contact us on Twitter @bookcastclub or by email.

LISTEN NOW

Listen in iTunes | Listen on Soundcloud





Books mentioned in this episode:

Call Me By Your Name - André Aciman

Folk - Zoe Gilbert

How To Breathe Underwater - Julie Orringer

A Possible Life - Sebastian Faulkes

Fates & Furies - Lauren Groff

The Monsters of Templeton - Lauren Groff

Three Things About Elsie - Joanna Cannon

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep - Joanna Cannon

The Light Between Oceans - M. L. Stedman

Eric - Shaun Tan

The Red Tree - Shaun Tan

The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

After Me Comes the Flood - Sarah Perry

The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales - Kirsty Logan

Notes on a Scandal - Zoe Heller

Idaho - Emily Ruskovich

Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race - Reni Eddo-Lodge

How Not to be a Boy - Robert Webb

The Cormoran Strike series - Robert Galbraith

Happy - Fearne Cotton

Links mentioned in this episode:

Costa Short Story Award

1/15/2018

Folk by Zoe Gilbert

Folk
Author: Zoe Gilbert
Publisher: Bloomsbury UK
Publication Date: 8th February 2018
Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Wordery
Every year they gather, while the girls shoot their arrows and the boys hunt them out. The air is riddled with spiteful shadows - the wounds and fears and furies of a village year.

On a remote and unforgiving island lies a village unlike any other: Neverness. A girl is snatched by a water bull and dragged to its lair, a babe is born with a wing for an arm and children ask their fortunes of an oracle ox. While the villagers live out their own tales, enchantment always lurks, blighting and blessing in equal measure.

Folk is a dark and sinuous debut circling the lives of one generation. In this world far from our time and place, the stories of the islanders interweave and overlap, their own folklore twisting fates and changing lives.

A captivating, magical and haunting debut novel of breathtaking imagination, from the winner of the 2014 Costa Short Story Award.


A brilliant read to start 2018. Folk is a collection of short stories (I've seen a few reviews describe Folk as a novel, perhaps it's being marketed as such?) centered on the inhabitants of a village called Neverness. Zoe Gilbert's stories are the perfect balance of weird and twisted but not so removed from reality that they feel unbelievable. I loved the structure of the book, it's not something I've seen done before in a short story collection. Each tale is inextricably linked to another. Each chapter is about a different character in Neverness, but they often reflect on events from previous stories and the villagers pop up in each others tales.

The thing I liked most about this book is the sense of place Zoe Gilbert creates over the course of her short stories. Neverness sounds like a magical place, shrouded in mystery, where folklore is part of their reality. I can picture the rugged landscape, the scent of fish hanging in the air, the roar of the waterfalls and the calling of the kites. It's a dark place with dark secrets and I loved it. Zoe's writing is rich and atmospheric, but not over the top. I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading whatever she writes next.

'Wherever Sil has been, though, there is a trace of waterweed in the air, of salt sea-fog and the insides of shells.'


As with any short story collection there are a few that I now can't recollect very well, but my favourites were Prick Song, Long Have I Lain Beside the Water and Verlyn's Blessings - the tale of a man with a wing for an arm.

I believe 'Fishskin, Hairskin' was the story Zoe won the Costa Short Story Award for. You can have a read of this on the Costa Short Story Award website. Great if you want to sample her writing before purchasing.


Verdict:
Story - 4/5
Writing - 4/5
Character - 3/5
Memorability - 3/5
Enjoyment - 5/5
Overall rating - 4/5

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