A Stroke of the Pen: The Lost Stories by Terry Pratchett
Reviewed by Daisy Young
The holidays are officially behind us, and we hope that every one of you has had a wonderful new year. However, before we dust off the cobwebs of 2023 and embrace the dawn of 2024, let us reflect on the latest posthumous work by the great Terry Pratchett.
A Stroke of the Pen, or more simply, The Lost Stories, is a collection of works written by Pratchett between the seventies and eighties – all under varying pseudonyms as he honed his craft. Featuring Pratchett’s own illustrations and with a heartwarming foreword from his Good Omens co-author Neil Gaiman, The Lost Stories is a literary swansong to one of the greatest and most beloved writers of the early 21st century.
Despite each story being a stand-alone tale, Pratchett’s collection is distinctively whimsical and humorous. The magic-befuddled village of Blackberry is a recurring setting and features alongside contrasting storylines: a curious fast-growing jungle to the world’s largest pie. Within each story, however, is the theme of festivity and celebration, with many stories featuring a dry-witted version of Father Christmas – perhaps modelled after Pratchett himself.
Pratchett explores random aspects of relationships and human curiosity in a way that is both refreshing and nostalgic. This collection of stories is attributed as being his earliest publications and we found it exciting to see an author we have adored since childhood finding his unique way with words. They are ideas that Pratchett played with on his journey towards Discworld and other classics, and ones we would have loved to have seen taken further if he were still with us.
Our favourites from the collection were The Fossil Beach and The Quest for the Keys. Both were imaginative gems that explored time (or interdimensional) travel, dinosaurs and fantasy! They brilliantly balanced the absurd and reality and made for a delightful break amongst a mountain of pre-Christmas wrapping.
What we enjoyed most about this book was how each story was distinct, regardless of recurring setting or characters. The titles are no-nonsense and perfectly summarise what each story is wholly about, without revealing too much of the fun stuff. They are not challenging reads, in the sense that they do not explore tough themes or tropes, but they do ask puzzling and almost roguish questions that get you thinking between stories.
For anybody who received this as a present (or those who are just huge fans of Terry Pratchett), I urge you to start reading. The Lost Stories are a delightful way to start the new year and finish the last of the holiday chocolates!
Good Material by Dolly Alderton
Reviewed by Becky Connolly
Good Material by Dolly Alderton was one of the most highly anticipated reads for 2023. Anyone who knows me knows how I adore Dolly Alderton; she’s witty, has such a craft for satirical depictions of both familiar and eccentric characters and so perfectly explores the heartache of what it means to be a twenty to thirty something. She explores dating, family dynamics, job crises, identity crises and so much more.
What excited me about this novel was not how much I adored her previous works, but for the first time, she’s writing from the male perspective.
Good Material is from the perspective of 35-year-old comedian Andy Dawson, who has just been dumped by his girlfriend of four years, Jen. This book takes us through the complications of the breakup: finding new accommodations; the self-doubt (of the physical, emotional and career varieties, to name but a few); the temporary insanity one might experience; the new social dynamics, right up to the return to some sort of normality. If not executed well, breakup novels can be quite depressing. Alderton, however, explores every aspect with tenderness, humour and eccentric storylines to keep us engaged.
Andy’s relationships with other characters in the novel depict the complexity of a relationship breakdown in your thirties, rather than your twenties: that is, when everyone else in your life seems to be settled, busy and therefore, somewhat unavailable. As Jane astutely comments, the wave of divorces hasn’t happened yet! It’s a complicated issue that Alderton addresses with such honesty, but you can’t help but fall in love with Andy's (and Jen’s) friends, Avi and Jane, for creating that semblance of normality, care and family for Andy.
The main question Andy grapples with throughout the book is why the relationship ended. I adored how normal the breakup is, how Alderton presents Jen and Andy’s relationship, and the character of Jen herself is depicted in such a way that means you completely understand her and do not hate her. You do learn why, and it adds such depth and colour to not only their shared experience in the relationship, but also Andy’s experience in the aftermath.
So, from reading Ghosts, we knew Dolly had mastered the depiction of dating. Now, because of Good Material, we know she perfectly explores the rollercoaster of breakups as well. Is there anything she can’t do?