Highlights In The Charts
By Cassie Waters, Natalie Joyce, and Emma Ferguson
Because of You by Dawn French
Dawn French’s latest novel, Because of You, burst into bookshops in October and quickly left its mark on the book world. Despite being on the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021 longlist and the Sunday Times Bestseller list, the book wasn’t met with universal acclaim. Patricia Nicol, writing for The Times, described the “unlikely plot” as “‘threadbare” and the characters’ action as “staggeringly implausible.” But are they?
Set at the dawn of the new millennium, both Anna and Hope give birth to very similar daughters. Tragedy occurs and Hope’s baby passes away. But as Hope is about to leave the hospital, she looks into Anna’s room and sees a beautiful little girl who looks like the one she had to say goodbye to…
In an interview for The Guardian, French said: “Somebody steals a baby at the beginning of this book. That shouldn’t be something you could ever, ever forgive – but I’ve tried to write a character that you might forgive for doing that.” We may think that we would never do what Hope does, but would we?
Seventeen years later the lies begin to unravel and the truth threatens to split apart the life Hope has created for herself and her daughter Minnie. Darkly funny and devastatingly heart-wrenching, this book made me laugh and cry in equal measure. French tells the story of her characters with compassion, giving depth and meaning to their actions and the twisted world of family life and motherhood. This book will stay with you long after you’ve dried your eyes.
A Promised Land by Barack Obama
“To be known. To be heard. To have one’s unique identity recognised and seen as worthy. It was a universal human desire, I thought, as true for nations and peoples as it was for individuals.”
Barack Obama’s A Promised Land, is a presidential memoir like no other. Spanning 768 pages, it is an impressive work of political literature. The world knows him to be a great orator, this book encapsulates this. As we have seen in his previous works Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope, Obama is a wonderful writer, telling a story while retaining the reader’s engagement, and without ever being patronising.
It’s difficult to summarise this dense and vividly detailed book, but he takes us through from his childhood to college life at Columbia University and Harvard, and then to being elected as the US Senator of Illinois. We see the struggles of his personal life and his historic presidency. The pressures Obama dealt with concludes that there will always be people to criticise you, because “whatever you do won’t be enough,” this is just the harsh truth.
A Promised Land is a compelling memoir, a deeply personal account of Obama’s life, showing his landmark moments, including becoming the first African-American President of the United States. It is a raw, intimate account which shows not just the figure of a president, but identity and depth of the person behind it.
This is the first segment of Obama’s two volume planned series, with the second publication date unannounced, but there is no doubt readers are highly anticipating its next instalment.
The Child in the Photo by Kerry Wilkinson
When a thirty-year-old newspaper article is posted through Hope’s door, her family as she knows it is destroyed. A baby was stolen from a mother’s car and the image in the article shows a unique ear deformity that she immediately recognises, she is the child in the photo. Hope begins a journey of self-rediscovery as her whole family unit is brought into question. Identifying her biological mother becomes even more complicated than she first expected as it is revealed not only was she stolen, but also purchased. She starts multiple new and complex relationships and doubt is cast on the motivations around her newfound connections when it is revealed that Hope has money. Uncertain of who to trust and who to suspect, she struggles to clarify her new reality.
The highlight of this story is the way Wilkinson writes such a beautiful friendship between Hope and Stephen. It feels raw and authentic and their mutual reliance on each other as they both experience personal crises is heart-warming. Stephen is the logical voice of reason when Hope is overly trusting, which satiates some of the frustration the reader feels. There are however many named characters, which can make the plot hard to keep up with in parts: it’s the kind of book where a character cheat sheet would come in handy. In a way, the reader’s confusion of the characters mirrors Hope’s experience.
This is a well-written drama which captures the always complicated relationships we have with family.