Welcome to Fargate From The Madding Crowd, your book club from the Sheffield Telegraph. I have chosen a beautiful read of the fortnight for you today. Please do get in touch to let me know what you make of it.
I continue my exploration of the thriving Sheffield literary scene with another local author profile. And I attempt to find some emotion-free books for a new mum who finds the smallest thing sets her off weeping.
Get in touch via email firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @AnnaCaig
Read of the fortnight
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Eowyn Ivey was inspired by the Russian fairy story Little Daughter Of The Snow to write this tale of winter magic and mystery.
The book starts as a tale of acute loneliness.
It is 1920 and Mabel has moved to Alaska in an attempt to escape the heartbreak of a stillborn baby.
Her husband Jack is absent both physically and emotionally, trying to make a success of their new farm in the wilderness.
It’s a brave move to open a book with the attempted suicide of your main character, but Ivey pulls it off with an impressive delicacy and lightness.
This becomes the foundation upon which the events of the story are built.
Faina, the snow child of the title, may or may not be the magical product of Mabel and Jack’s love.
And a real strength of the book is its ambiguity on this point.
Ivey wrote for The Frontiersman newspaper before becoming a writer of fiction, but she unapologetically revels in the fairy tale elements of her story.
You can almost see the former journalist breaking free of her non-fiction chains, and flying as high as she can away from the restrictions of reality.
Mabel and Jack also form a close bond with a neighbouring family.
An unexpected friendship develops between Mabel and Esther, the mother of three boys and matriarch of their chaotic household.
This relationship is every bit as beautiful as that which Mabel discovers through becoming a mother to Faina.
Esther, with her overalls and her strident pragmatism, may be a stereotype, but she is no less irresistible for that.
The vital and powerful role that female friendship plays in making a good life is depicted with real potency.
It would be remiss of me not to mention how good Ivey is on the descriptions of Alaskan landscapes.
And for such a whimsical story, Ivey’s writing is surprisingly simple and down-to-earth.
It’s a winning combination to tell a moving story with a lack of sentimentality.
I have a deep aversion to trite ‘meaning of life’ narratives. Ugh.
But somehow Ivey slips through the net with this book that yes, is actually all about how to get through life, and find some kind of happiness and fulfilment along the way.
With crystal-clear language, and by avoiding mawkishness, Ivey pulls off a bright, wild and beautiful book.
The Sheffield Connection
Jared A Carnie is a writer who has lived everywhere from Essex to the Outer Hebrides, but like so many other creative people, he has made Sheffield his home.
Carnie writes poetry and fiction. His first novel Waves was published in September 2016 by Urbane Publications. Waves is a tale of castles, ceilidhs, bothies, lochs, vast beaches and tiny boats, chance meetings and old friends. The book’s ultimate message is that growing up and taking responsibility doesn’t have to mean the end of feeling free.
The novel’s launch event was held right here in Sheffield. Carnie wanted to celebrate not only the publication of his own book, but the support of the community of writers and creative people around him.
“When it came to having a launch event for my novel, Waves, I knew I didn’t want the focus to entirely be on me. I approached Dean Lilleyman, author of the brilliant Billy and the Devil, award-winning poet James Giddings and the fantastic Laura Hegarty, aka John T. Angle, and asked if they wouldn’t mind doing a little something on the night.
“The reaction blew me away. If there’s one thing I’ve learned to be true about Sheffield, it’s that we have an enthusiasm for books unlike any other place.
“If you know where to look, every week there’s an event, a book launch, a something for literature fans to throw themselves into.
“And the people at these events are not only supportive and welcoming, but creating a constant flow of brilliant things for readers to get involved with.”
Reyt as Rain Reads.... books to make it better
Natalie: I have always been a crier, but as a new mum my hormones make me a weepy mess at anything emotional. I like mysteries and thrillers, but I could do with a couple of books that are not sad in any way. What would you recommend?
I can sympathise with your predicament here. I too am a big blubber when it comes to the films I watch and the books I read. Whatever you do, don’t read this Read Of The Fortnight The Snow Child, as this had me in pieces.
If you’re looking for something gripping and exciting, but without the emotional rollercoaster of a lot of thrillers, you could do a lot worse than some Jules Verne. A prolific writer, Verne wrote over fifty novels in the Voyages Extraordinaires series which includes Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea and Around The World In Eighty Days. But my favourite is Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. I have a real soft spot for this book, the story of eccentric explorer Professor Otto Lidenbrock and his determination to reach the centre of our planet via a volcano in Iceland.
This is an adventure story of the first order. With the added bonus that if you enjoy it, there will be plenty more for you to have a go at.
My second recommendation might come as a surprise. If you’re looking for stress-free reading then a book called Have His Carcase may not seem like a natural choice. But bear with me.
Yes, this is a murder story. But its creator, Dorothy L Sayers, is very much in the Agatha Christie vein of civilised crime fiction. Have His Carcase features Sayers’ aristocratic amateur detective Lord Peter Wimsey, and reads like a collaboration between Christie and PG Wodehouse (another writer I was tempted to recommend for you).
The Sayers books that feature novelist Harriet Vane as Wimsey’s co-sleuth, as this one does, are superb. Vane provides the perfect foil to Wimsey’s privilege and presumption, and the fact that he is in love with her adds an unusual dimension to your standard golden age of detective fiction fare.
This book sees Vane discover a corpse whilst hiking the Devon coastline. The body lies on a rock in the middle of a beach, with only the dead man and Vane’s footprints in sight.
We follow our heroes as they predictably outsmart the local police force to solve the mystery together.
The plot is ridiculous and hugely entertaining. One minute we’re dancing with a ‘gigolo’ in a local hotel, the next we’re investigating Russian royal lineage.
And while there is death and plenty of intrigue, this is not a book that delves deeply into emotional content.
I hope these choices provide you with some great entertainment, without getting the tear ducts leaking at all.