A Rescue Dog and a Delicious Debut from Sara Baume

The title, spill simmer falter wither  (all lower case, no punctuation) makes this debut novel by Sara Baume sound more like a collection of poetry than the rather addictive yarn of Ray, a 57-year old loner, a “boulder of a man”, and his former badger-baiting rescue dog, Oneye. But don’t let the title put you off because while this is certainly an inventive and literary novel, it is also an engaging and rather addictive read.

Neither Ray nor his bad-tempered one-eyed dog is particularly likeable and yet each evokes sympathy so that you find yourself rooting for them as they traverse the seasons, walking, driving and camping out on the beaches and rural roads of Ireland.

Quality of writing marks Sara Baume as one to watch

Then again it’s not the characters or the plot so much as the quality of writing that makes spill simmer falter wither a read to savour. The language used by Sara Baume is inventive and imaginative and her words surprise and delight like a perfectly presented tasting menu.

An original and satisfying read, spill simmer falter wither is published by Tramp Press at €12 (pbk).

[Disclosure: an advance copy was made available by the publisher for the purpose of this review].

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt | A Long, Engrossing Read

What I like about The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is that it is an old-fashioned story — strong on plot with a good cast of believable characters and occasionally brilliant writing.

Put that together with some interesting themes about life and art not to mention a ‘moral of the story’ and it all adds up to a pretty satisfying read of Dickensian dimensions.

Tartt is best known for her 1992 novel, The Secret History. She published a second novel, The Little Friend, ten years later in 2002. Since then, there has been a long hiatus until The Goldfinch.

The Goldfinch is a lengthy read — perhaps too much so for some readers. Initially slow to get into, it becomes engrossing as the story continues.

I particularly liked the lyrical closing pages which, a little like the last notes of a grand symphony, seemed a perfect ending to a rather delicious and indulgent work of art.

Great job, Ms Tartt. The long gestation was worth the wait.

A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel

In A Change of Climate Hilary Mantel tells the story of siblings. Ralph and Emma Eldred grew up in a dour, oppressive family where their creationist father, Matthew, ruled the roost while their mother acquiesced, receiving each day “a used opinion from him.”

Ralph and his father differ on the question of evolution. This is a conflict that has serious consequences for Ralph’s future.

If the Eldreds are “righteous”, much of what transpires in A Change of Climate involves the destruction of the righteous. This picks up the theme hinted at in the epigraph from Job 4:7 “Consider, what innocent ever perished, or where have the righteous been destroyed?”

While Emma grew up to become a doctor, her freedom of choice was, unknown to her, at Ralph’s expense.

Ralph, meanwhile, opted to escape his over-bearing father by becoming a missionary. Together with his wife Anna, Ralph accepted a posting to South Africa. Subsequently, his posting took him to the fictional Bechuanaland.

At the funeral of Felix Palmer, we learn that Emma has been having an affair.  Felix, a real estate agent and family friend, was her lover. This surprises Ralph who is angry to learn that others knew but had not told him. Meanwhile, Ralph’s daughter Kit is involved in a relationship with Felix’s son, Daniel.

Something dark and terrible

A Change of Climate switches back and forth between the years before, during and after Africa. It becomes apparent from early on that something dark and terrible took place in Africa. The suspense builds as we wait to find out what it was.

When Ralph eventually reveals the secret to Amy, it  ultimately leads to the  marriage breakdown.

When Anna reflects on betrayal, she neatly summarizes as follows.

“It is in the nature of betrayal, she thought, that it not only changes the present, but that it reaches back with its dirty hands and changes the past.”

Mantel writes beautifully. A Change of Climate is an accomplished and interesting novel that would be an excellent choice for book club discussions. Originally published by Viking in 1994, a Kindle edition of A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel was published by Fourth Estate in 2010. ISBN: 978007354948.