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Highlights In The Charts

Our Wives Under The Sea by Julia Armfield

Review by Arabella Petts

Following on from her debut collection of short stories, Armfield brings us another incredible queer gothic tale in the form of her first novel.

When Leah returns home after a mission in the deep-sea, it is clear to her wife Miri, that she is not the same. Whatever happened in their vessel, Leah has brought a part of it back with her into their home and soon Miri realises that their old life might be gone forever.

After reading Salt Slow, Armfield’s collection of short stories, I was excited to see how her writing would translate to a novel and it couldn’t have worked any better. The chapters are split between Miri and Leah’s perspectives, covering Leah’s trip and afterwards, so we get to read first-hand what is happening to her in the ocean and see the effects of love, loss and grief on both women. I was intrigued by both sides of the story and throughout the book was eagerly anticipating the next chapter.

Armfield has a miraculous way of writing about issues like grief in a twisted yet beautiful way, and reading it is a wonderful experience.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

Review by Jenna Tomlinson

Imagine spending forty years compiling the first two volumes of the updated version of Samuel Johnson’s English Dictionary to be told you had forgotten a word? That is exactly what happened in 1901 to the men compiling the new Oxford English Dictionary and it forms the basis of Williams' charming novel The Dictionary of Lost Words.

Told through the fictional character Esme, the daughter of one of the men working in the Scriptorium (a shed where the men sift through words and their uses supplied on slips of paper by all walks of society) who spends her days on the floor of the “Scrippy." In the novel, this word is missed because she keeps the slip when it falls to the floor from the desk the men are working at. As more paper and words are dropped to the floor, Esme begins to add to her collection. Her words have a link – many are female focused – and Esme uses these and others she has learned, to create her own manuscript: Women's Words and Their Meanings.

Williams has said that her novel began as two simple questions: do words have different meanings to men and women? If so, have we lost something in the process of defining them? This is evident in the book. It is no surprise that many of the words or some of their definitions were overlooked or dismissed by the group of men working on the dictionary. The novel is set during a time where women, although beginning to find their voices and become more prominent in society, were still second class for the most part. For many of the words, we were creating our own meanings and symbolism. A key example of this is the word “sister” it is defined as “a female sibling” by the men, but Esme learns from the Suffragettes that it can mean “comrades.”

I found myself enthralled in Esme's journey and education of language. Williams has brought an interesting historical anomaly to light in an engaging and creative way, without losing the social and political message at its core.

Klara And The Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Review by Madeleine Lily

Klara And The Sun is a brilliantly written, unique point of view of the world offered from the perspective of a robot who slowly learns about humans, emotions and the dark reality of the home she has been brought into.

The story follows Klara, an artificial friend (AF) whose first experience of life is living in a store advertised to potential children and their parents to become friends with. Here, she starts to learn all she can from life outside the window and begins to pick up the intricate details of human emotion. Eventually, a sickly child, Josie, chooses her and Klara is taken to the new environment of Josie’s home. From their first moments of interaction, Josie openly admits there is something dark about her home life, creating mystery and a compelling read.

Klara learns more about the world and her new home with the housekeeper, Josie and her mother. We read the book exclusively from Klara’s perspective, which is a unique approach but confusing at times. Klara sees things in boxes and squares which was a hard concept to understand at first. However, this point of view allows the reader to learn about the world with Klara. We only learn as much as Klara sees but readers have the advantage of being able to predict the plot twist before it happens due to a trail of hints left from her and Josie’s first interaction.

There are few characters in this book which helps readers get to know certain characters intricately. The character of Rick was a particular favourite as he allows readers to understand the advanced world the narrative takes place in. His interactions with Josie and Klara’s interpretation of them were well written.


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