Highlights in the Charts
My Evil Mother by Margaret Atwood
Review by Lauren Fardoe
Atwood’s well-known and vivid writing style shines through in this electric short story. Beginning in the midst of an argument between a teenage daughter and her mother, My Evil Mother immediately immerses you within the characters’ eccentric lives. The story portrays typical tropes of teenage angst and rebellion, yet with an engaging twist – the unnamed protagonist grapples with the baffling realisation that her mother might be a witch. Her mother may seem outward as the perfect representation of a 1950s mother with starched aprons and impeccable home cooking; however, the mysterious meetings with troubled women and unnamed, mystical “goop” hint at a deeper meaning.
Structured in a series of flash forwards to different pivotal moments within the protagonist’s life, the central plot line remains the same: a complex mother and daughter relationship. The dual narration from childhood and adulthood gives this story undeniable readability, whilst providing a refreshing retrospective evaluation of the evolution of personal relationships. A single mother in the time period in which the novel is set was abnormal, heightened by her proclaimed “crazy tendencies.” Littered throughout this short story are surprisingly profound life anecdotes, influenced by the intense maternal love which permeates the story.
The addition of a potentially supernatural element elevates this story from a dissection of traditional family disputes to a heart-warming comedic short text. The protagonist alternates between believing her mother’s stories and warnings of doom and dismissing them as a troubled elder mind, yet Atwood’s somewhat cyclical structure leaves a satisfying ending. The ambiguity encompassed through the obscurity of the reality presented raises questions of the truth of the supernatural: is the narrator’s mother truly a witch? Or is it just a manifestation of a mother’s love in an attempt to protect a young girl from the dangers of the world?
In this coming-of-age novel, Atwood portrays a young girl’s re-evaluation of her fundamental values, whilst providing a sweet testimony about the true extent of familial, maternal love. An unexpectedly tender story on generations and the transition from adolescence to adulthood and back again.
The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak
Review by Halimah Haque
Told through a dual narrative, The Island of Missing Trees shifts between 1970s Cyprus, where Greek-Cypriot Kostas meets his wife and first-love Turkish-Cypriot Defne, and 2016 London, where their young daughter Ada is struggling to come to terms with her mother’s demise. As Ada seeks to discover her family’s history and the secrets that her parents have kept hidden, she begins to uncover the anguish and trauma caused by years of conflict.
Amidst the protagonists’ narrations, the story is also told from the perspective of the fig tree – one of the book’s main narrators. From the couple’s initial secret meetings at the tavern in war-stricken Cyprus, to Kostas and Ada’s back garden in London, the tree has witnessed it all. While I found the concept of a tree narrator a bit child-like and forced at the start, this magical element was almost comforting and reassuring as the story went on. Although the plot centres around Kostas and Defne’s love story, Shafak’s latest novel truly explores the immigrant experience – the violent events that forced a people to leave everything they had ever known behind and the struggles they encounter as they try to maintain their connection to their roots.
Coming highly recommended, The Island of Missing Trees is not a light read and tackles deeply political themes, as it explores the rich yet violent history of Cyprus, while highlighting the depth of intergenerational traumas and Britain’s colonial past.