Highlights in the Charts: Issue 3
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Hamnet is a beautiful, yet heart-breaking novel. I can see why some people might be put off; it can seem daunting, it’s quite a specific story and the language is particularly descriptive. But these reasons are what makes this book so special. It’s unlike any historical novel I have ever read before and it’s the little details that capture the reader’s heart.
The book centres around the death of the young son, Hamnet, and we watch the tragedy unfold while his mother cares for his sister and the family are distracted. O’Farrell’s writing means that we all grieve for Hamnet while the story continues past his death to the impact it has on the lives of his family.
The clever thing about Hamnet are the names. Each character has a name except the playwright himself, and this demonstrates the power of his legacy – he does not need a name for us to know who he is. It works because this story is not about the playwright – it’s about his son, who inspired one of the most famous tragedies ever written. It’s about love and loss, family and grief.
One of the most powerful aspects of this book is the writing itself. O’Farrell’s writing is tender, loving and painful. She spends time building each character, so the reader truly knows each one in depth. Agnes, the mother, is the key – her emotions are always at the centre of this story of grief. As a wife, a mother and a woman, she is who readers will connect with.
This is a story that left me feeling like I’d stepped back in time and experienced Hamnet’s death myself. The writing is genius, the story will leave you devastated, and you’ll experience a true connection with the characters. This is a book you must read.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Snapped up by Reese Witherspoon’s production company after a stellar initial run in the book charts, Celeste Ng’s second novel Little Fires Everywhere is about what happens when you cannot separate right from wrong. Teetering on the line between chaos and order, Ng expertly crafts a story alight with vivid characters navigating the murkiness of what it means to be stuck in the grey.
More than anything, Ng’s novel is about privilege in its many forms: the privilege of class, of race, of age and, perhaps most interestingly, of motherhood. Confronted with a myriad of ferocious opinions, the reader is taken backwards from arson, to picket fences. Now portrayed on our screens by Reese Witherspoon herself, Elena Richardson has never made a mistake. Her life is marked out in perfectly delineated lines, with children that get into Yale, a steady job and a rental property to help the less fortune to discover the glossy Shaker lifestyle. After all, whilst “most communities just happen; the best are planned”. Mia Warren’s life, by contrast, is a maelstrom. But with mess comes beauty, secrets and passion, as does teenage love and decisions made on emotion rather than pure rationality. Elena’s perfection frames the wildness of Mia in a novel of impeccable pace.
Mia reject’s the American ideal that has formed Elena’s very core. She is not definable, a single mother with a nomadic lifestyle who actively rejects monetary success, Mia is fallible, and able to admit this fallibility whilst also projecting it onto the world around her. With unpredictability, which the ashes of her former home provide physical evidence of, comes a deep threat to Elena’s self of sense. Igniting a heated conflict played out on the court of an emotionally charged custody battle, the question Ng asks is not simply “what makes a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?” But rather what happens when there is no right choice?
Centring around the female voice, Ng has crafted a novel which highlights the injustices of a world with rules. Whether you believe it is May Ling or Mirabelle, Little Fires Everywhere holds a mirror to its readers and exposes our own fraught foundations.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Becoming the first Black British author to top the UK book charts, Reni Eddo-Lodge’s success is bittersweet and long overdue. After an immense response upon the release of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race in 2017, Eddo-Lodge’s debut has seen a resurgence in the charts following the death of George Floyd. Three years ago, the Sunday Times Bestseller was hailed as the book that was changing how we talk about race and it is once again sparking important conversations around racial injustice.
The writing is unequivocal and necessary, with each chapter breaking down racial inequalities in our flawed society, from intersectional feminism to the complicity of white privilege. But this is merely a lazy way of describing the contents of the book, which has been crafted with such precision and honesty that you find yourself nodding along in agreement whilst reading it.
Whilst the Instagram displays and retweets have quietened down, white people now have to do the work. For too long, complacency has been accepted. By now, we should know that not being racist is not enough, we have to be anti-racist. If you are still asking yourself how to do this, this book can be a launchpad. The first chapter, Histories, teaches the reader more about Black British history than they most likely have ever been exposed to, and presents the uncomfortable reality that racism has always been and continues to be systemic.
Concluding the book with a hopeful tone, Eddo-Lodge advocates for a future where anti-racism enters the mainstream rather than sitting on the sidelines. She demonstrates that society is still not moving at the pace it should be. However, it can only be a good thing that more people are engaging with the contents and ideas prevalent in this essential read.