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Highlights in the Charts

Cuddy by Benjamin Myers

Reviewed by Daisy Young

Whoever said epic historical fiction needed to be Greek has clearly never met Benjamin Myers. This labour of love took years to write and is an homage to his home in Northumberland. As a relative local myself (and a fan of epic poetry and prose), I knew I had to read this book – and I was not disappointed!

Cuddy is a work inspired by the stories and life of Cuthbert – a Northumbrian and Anglo-Saxon saint known for his miracles and loyal followers who carried his body across England following the first Viking raids in 793 A.D. Myers takes Cuthbert and weaves him into a legend; a guiding voice to his followers and all those needing someone to guide them in hard times. While this book never actively advocates for religion, it is deeply spiritual and has a ghostly Cuthbert (or Cuddy as he was affectionately nicknamed) communicating to us through a poetic voice. His poetry is balanced alongside academic and historical quotes to show the reader that Myers’s stance on him being beloved and mystical comes from concrete sources. 

“Memories can be as great

a burden as a pocketful of rocks. Why carry them?”

Throughout the story, we meet several characters who either follow or are helped by Cuddy. The monks who carry his body to the site of Durham Cathedral – where his body still rests today – are reincarnated as stonemasons sent to restore the Northern church. A haunted professor who tried to stop the exhuming of Cuthbert’s body finds peace when his story is told by a young, bright-eyed student. Myers’s characters repeat themselves under many guises and that was one of the things I enjoyed most about this book. Like Cuthbert’s faith, everything came full circle.

"The stories we tell one another are all that shall remain when time dies and even the strongest sculpted stones crumble to sand."

Myers’s love for Northumberland is a driving force in this book, and it is clear that he has taken great joy in portraying his home in many styles of writing. While the novel focuses on a singular person, it also covers a wide scope of topics, from faith to femininity. Cuddy is not a simple read by any means, but that is what makes it enjoyable. The poetry and prose are there to challenge your imagination and hook you into the story. It is a modern British epic, and I would highly recommend people read it, even if the only thing you know about this Northumberland saint is his name.

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson 

Reviewed by Marisha Puk

Jeanette Winterson’s coming-of-age novel is set in an English town within a strong Christian household. Jeanette is an only child with a strong-minded, church-going mother and a much more relaxed father. The story follows Jeanette in a semi-autobiographical fashion as she begins to navigate her feelings towards women, something heavily forbidden in their community.

This novel heavily focuses on the hard times of Jeanette’s life, yet it has an authentically comedic aspect, which makes it an enjoyable read despite the dark topics covered. Throughout the novel, Jeanette’s mother exerts a powerful control over her, one which is exacerbated during her teenage years, when her relationship with another girl is discovered by her mother. The irony of the novel lies in the fact that the very scriptures and Bible verses that her mother uses to control her daughter are the very passages that give Jeanette’s story shape and meaning. 

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit is considered a classic of both the LGBTQ+ and feminist genres of writing. As her first published work, it set the tone for Winterson’s writing career, earning her the first of many accolades. This book is highly respected, even part of GCSE and A-Level reading lists in England and adapted for the screen for a BAFTA award-winning TV show.

If you find this novel engaging, you may be interested to know that Winterson later published a memoir in 2011 on the other events in her life, named Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? And whilst there are numerous similarities between Winterson’s life and ‘Jeanette’ as a character in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Winterson states that her 2011 memoir is much more authentically autobiographical.

If you’re an avid reader, this book may be the perfect read for you, as it is filled with literary allusions and humorous observations. From the fact that the chapters are the books of the Bible to her references to the classics like Charlotte Brontë and William Blake, there are a number of clever Easter eggs hidden in the novel.

Although this is Winterson’s first novel, she won the Whitbread Award for it in 1985, and it is clearly a massive hit. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a deep but comedic semi-autobiographical read.



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