It’s all about the local writers this fortnight, as I review a brand new book by Peak District writer Joanne Burn. In a rare combination, this read of the fortnight, Petals and Stones, is as gripping as it is thoughtful.
And I meet David James Buckley, a Sheffield-based crime writer who has recently published his first novel, inspired by the Bradford of his childhood. I also pay a visit to Forgotten Fiction, the small independent bookseller based at All Good Stuff social enterprise on Arundel Street. Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
Petals and Stones, by Joanne Burn
This is a book that gets off the blocks at 100 miles per hour: in the first chapter Uma, our central character, discovers that her husband is having an affair.
And in the second she discovers that he is dead. It’s a brilliant opening set-up that well and truly draws us into the story.
What follows becomes much more contemplative, as Uma tries to come to terms with the double emotional whammy of betrayal and death.
And the book is no less engaging for the slowing down of the pace. We get into some profound exploration of what makes a good life, and how to find the path that will bring the greatest happiness – indeed if there is a clear cut path for each of us.
If anything, I was more engrossed in the story the more reflective it became.
This is a real snatch every five minutes you can, ignore your family, stay up far too late reading, book.
Petals and Stones is an open-hearted story full of fully drawn, flawed but lovable characters who have interesting relationships with each other. One stand-out is Uma’s mother-in-law Mary, a woman who initially seems smothering and controlling, and indeed she can be. But the more we get to know her, the more we fall in love with this matriarch with a heart of gold who is herself coming to terms with heartbreaking loss.
There isn’t a cliché in sight, and the book’s real strengths are its tolerance of shortcomings and differences, and its understanding of just how difficult it can be to lead a fulfilling life.
Food is a major theme, and a highlight of Burn’s writing is the vivid descriptions of both cooking and eating. Uma’s mum was from Kerala in South India, and she comforts herself through the pain and confusion by lovingly recreating the dishes of her childhood.
The alchemy of cooking beautiful food, and the way eating together affects both large and intimate social gatherings, are gorgeously evoked. It is mouthwatering stuff.
I think Burn should definitely consider including an appendix full of recipes in the next edition.
It is rare that such a thoughtful book manages to be this gripping. I was drawn in by the opening premise, but I stayed for the insightful reflection.