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Highlights in the Charts

Fiction:


The Beekeeper of Aleppo, Christy Lefteri

The latest novel from Christy Lefteri is to top the bestseller charts, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a thought-provoking story, which has proven immensely popular in 2020. Having volunteered at refugee camps in Greece, Lefteri was moved by the people she met and knew she had to tell their story.


The Beekeeper of Aleppo follows Nuri and Afra, a married couple from Syria, as they make the treacherous journey across Europe in search of a life free from war and the tragic memories of their son Sami, who was killed in the conflict. We begin in Brighton, awaiting news on the couple’s asylum appeal.


The structure of the novel reinforces the sense of dislocation which Nuri and Afra feel by alternating British and Syrian chapters, no longer living in their homeland but not yet accepted into British society.


Lefteri’s writing is lyrical, creating memorable moments of beauty amidst tragedy, such as Nuri nursing a wingless bee back to health, or Afra drawing nostalgic pictures of Syria despite being blind. An element I found particularly interesting in the novel was the blurring of reality and fantasy. As the story progresses, Nuri struggles to cope with the trauma of what he has experienced and his grip on reality begins to fade: “Sometimes we create such powerful illusions, so that we do not get lost in the darkness.”


Lefteri expertly demonstrates the impact of the trauma on all those who have had to flee their homelands.


Eye-opening and extremely relevant in 2020, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is an unforgettable novel that demonstrates the importance of hope, family and compassion for others.


The Midnight Library, Matt Haig

Anyone that knows anything about Matt Haig will be well aware of his struggle with mental illness — his raw, open dialogue on his social media accounts makes him one of the most active male voices speaking about the subject in the public arena. And, although normally such a fact would be inappropriate to bring up in a review of his work, The Midnight Library is undeniably shaped by the depression that has dogged him for most of his life.


Haig’s experiences unquestionably form and instruct the overwhelming ennui of protagonist Nora: a thirty-something-year-old woman who is at the end of her tether, broken down by darkness and despair and more than eager for a way out. However, what she was not expecting when she decides to end her life, is the magical, infinite Midnight Library — a portal to all of the lives she could have lived and all of the regrets she could have followed. It is a conflicted place: one that should evoke the fantasy of Disneyland or Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but which is still confined by the darkness of Nora’s depression.


Haig’s forays into science-fiction are always a sight to behold, especially in the way that they are so often removed from mainstream tropes. Similar to his previous novels The Humans and How to Stop Time, The Midnight Library manages to be both expertly crafted and evocative, but still wrapped up in a kind of sadness that underpins the narrative arc.


Thoughtful, raw but ultimately hopeful, its readers will likely not forget the message of the Midnight Library for a long time.


Non-Fiction:


Untamed, Glennon Doyle

With the sub-title “stop pleasing, start living”, combined with a blurb which talks of Doyle reclaiming “her true untamed self”, this book could provoke an eye roll from first-time readers of her work. However, this new memoir which begins with an encounter at a zoo with her family and wife, is a book-shaped sign of our ability to grow and change, not settling for anything that feels wrong in our core.


Constructed with short chapters, Doyle’s writing winds back on itself, travelling down a certain stream of consciousness and pursuing new avenues which all connect on a fundamental level. It is mostly written in anecdotes that range from her childhood past to her content present, but you learn as much about Doyle as you do yourself when you let yourself sit with her words. Although at times Doyle’s philosophical thoughts can run on longer than expected, where her writing reads most authentic is when she speaks of her connections to people, whether that’s the relationship she has with herself or people in her life. Another highlight of the book is Doyle’s thoughts on feminism and sexuality, which look to empower and encourage critique of a society built upon old structures that do not fit the current climate. She is also not afraid to criticise herself, reflecting on something she said in her first memoir as “some horseshit” and admits that in the future, she may respond in the same way to this one, but that’s all part of accepting that we do change and that’s ok. If this review does not entice you to pick up this book, then at least take Adele’s word for it.