Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. The feature covers poetry and fiction with reviews by Emma (Nobody) and Alicja (When The Night Comes).
Nobody by Alice Oswald
Published by Jonathan Cape, September 2019 (paperback edition)
“How does it start the sea has endless beginnings”
Alice Oswald is an award-winning British poet who was named BBC Radio 4’s second Poet-in-Residence in 2017. She was also elected the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford in 2019, a prestigious role previously held by famous poets such as W.H. Auden, Seamus Heaney and Robert Graves. Her work is often shaped by water (see her 2002 work Dart, which won the T.S. Eliot Prize) as well as classical mythology, such as Memorial (2011). Nobody is her most recent work, inspired by Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey.
Alice Oswald describes the voice of her poem “as if someone set out to sing The Odyssey but was rowed to a stony island and never discovered the poem’s ending.” Oswald is not interested in retelling The Odyssey in straight lines. Sometimes frustrating and illusory, Oswald’s sea of language engulfs, erodes and erases Homer’s original plotline. In this ocean, it is hard to identify and pin down notable figures of classical mythology. Those that do appear float into view before sinking away again. Oswald weaves different myths from Icarus to Odysseus into her tapestry of light and water. Her imagery shifts effortlessly between abstraction and precision. Ideas flow organically and recur tide-like as Oswald spins words across the page, unbound by punctuation. The collection feels expansive and limitless as a result.
Her poetry often aims to make strange our relationship with the natural world around us. She encourages her reader to see culture and nature as interwoven and presents an ecologically holistic vision in which no viewpoint is privileged over another. In comparison with other, stronger works such as Dart (2002) and Falling Awake (2016), Nobody can feel difficult to grasp and perhaps overly abstract. Nonetheless, Nobody is a dazzling and playful work that offers an original and poised perspective on well-worn themes and characters in literature. Lovers of nature writing, Greek epics and linguistic innovation will not be disappointed by Nobody.
When The Night Comes by Favel Parrett
Published by Sceptre, May 2015 (paperback edition)
There is a lot you can say about Favel Parrett’s When the Night Comes, but one adjective stands out: mesmerising. I’ve had this book on my shelf almost ever since I moved to the UK, finding it on a random stroll to Daunt Books on a Sunday afternoon. I found it again when I was moving this year, and since the initial pages, I felt the instant kinship with Isla trying to find her path in a new place.
Set in the late 1980s and full of beautiful description and imagery, When the Night Comes follows young Isla as she grows up and learns the power of small gestures that often seem to be insignificant. Other parts of the book follow the sailor from the red ship as the sailor, Bo, befriends her mother and becomes (almost) part of Isla’s family, at least for a moment. He is the one that shares many stories with Isla, teaching her about the sea and power of observation and listening.
In When the Night Comes, Favel Parrett creates a beautifully haunting narration told in little pieces, never giving a full story, and allowing the reader to fill the gaps. Bo visits whenever his ship is in the port and, over the course of two summers, Isla learns that simple gestures can change everything and that the future is full of possibilities. The world stops being so grey and colourless. It has once held colour, but after her parents’ separation, Isla has been lost. In When the Night Comes, she’s finding herself again.
This is the story of the little red ship, Nella Dan and the travels to the Antarctic. This is the story of a little girl lost in the greyness of Hobart. This is a story of friendship, love and travel.
When the Night Comes is many things. It’s many stories. And all of those pieces fit together, as Nella Dan sails to the Antarctic for the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions, and Isla waits for the return of the little red ship.