BOOK REVIEW—The End of the Word is a Cul de Sac by Louise Kennedy

The End of the World is a Cul de Sac by Louise Kennedy
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ)
Publication date: 8 April 2021

The small blurb on NetGalley intrigued me. It read:

Announcing a major new voice, The End of World is a Cul de Sac is the debut short story collection from the twice shortlisted Sunday Times Audible Short Story Prize writer Louise Kennedy.

The political is intertwined with the personal, as Louise Kennedy reveals how ordinary lives can get caught up in a wider, national drama.


Sarah, abandoned by her partner, sits alone in their brand new house.
Orla, facing the strange revenge of her husband, is forced to judge a contest in the local fête.
Peter raises his daughter in rural seclusion, at what might as well be the end of the world.


Kennedy started writing at the age of forty-seven, and her prose is instilled with a clarity and wisdom born of her own experience. 

Beyond the above, I knew nothing. I requested the book and then waited quite some time before receiving it, so didn’t even remember much of that when I started reading. Half a page into the book, I realised the voice in my head was Irish; when I finished the next page, I Googled Louise Kennedy and that confirmed she is an Irish writer. I found it pretty impressive that her voice came through so strongly, as if magically resonating in my head. I went back and reread the the beginning paragraphs, wondering where my brain had decided this was an Irish narrator, and though the names used were Irish, I think it was mainly down to the cadence having a distinct Irish patter. In and of itself, it’s quite beautiful to read. 

There’s no question Kennedy can write—she’s eloquent and her words are evocative, bringing to mind clear vignettes of her characters’ lives. In this way, with admiration of her craft, I enjoyed reading the stories, but I found that, as a collection, it was beyond bleak—a wallow in the seamier side of life. In a time where my confidence in humanity is already running low (too many selfish responses to the pandemic, politicians willing to blatantly lie and undermine the very integrity of democracy, etc.), I just really didn’t need a relentless dose of more depravity and depression. Is this the world as Kennedy truly sees and experiences it? Is this more a norm than than I’m aware of, or is it just a tight focus on a subsection, something akin to poverty tourism? I’m obviously not in a place to judge, but I do know that with the exception of “Wolf Point” there was so little hope or positivity within the pages that I don’t want to believe this is the whole of the world for anyone, even if there are people who can see aspects of their lives within. A bit of balance would have gone a long way. 

With many thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for the advance copy for review. Though this book wasn’t for me, as initially stated, Louise Kennedy can certainly write. 

BOOK REVIEW — The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung

The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung
Published by Little, Brown UK
Publication date: 07 November 2019

To say The Tenth Muse is a triumph would be an understatement. The writing is eloquent, poised, and fresh, all without feeling that it’s trying too hard to be anything. It draws you into the world of mathematics with such ease that you feel you belong, even if, like some of us, you most certainly do not.

I went into this book knowing very little about it. I’d read the blurb quite some time before I received it and beyond remembering that I’d thought it sounded interesting, I had no expectations. To be met with a story filled with so much emotion, insight—humanity— wrapped up in a plot that kept me turning pages was a rare gift. So often when I read, my critical (if not cynical) eye takes me out of the story, distracting me with what I think will happen, what I find predictable, improbable or unrealistic—this just didn’t happen with this book. I was captivated.

When I review books I normally focus on impressions, points that make it something I’d recommend or not, preferring to leave summarising to others (I’m spoiler-averse and this is also the kind of reviews I like to read); I find with this book I’m even more inclined to keep my review brief so as to leave the ground fresh for potential readers. I will say, I unreservedly recommend this book to anyone interested in literary fiction regardless of whether or not they have an interest in mathematics and, though I was given an advance copy for review, I will be purchasing this book for my mother as well as some friends.

With many thanks to NetGalley, Little, Brown UK, and Catherine Chung for the opportunity to read and review The Tenth Muse.

BOOK REVIEW — Body Tourists by Jane Rogers

Body Tourists by Jane Rogers

Published by Sceptre, An Imprint of Hodder & Stoughton, An Hachette UK company

Publication date: 14 November, 2019

Conceptually, Body Tourists intrigued me from the beginning. Though the core idea, the transplantation of consciousness, has been explored in fiction before, the blurb promised a modern take that would not shy away from societal commentary and implications.

The opening chapters delivered on those promises, a story compelling in plot, but also thought provoking. As I carried on, however, a sense of impatience grew in me—at first I wondered if it was the format, the frequent addition of new characters, but soon realised it wasn’t that, so much as a problem with pacing within these sections. They sometimes seemed to drag; there were passages that seemed to add nothing integral to the characters or plot. At times I was left feeling as though pieces were written as character studies rather than with a cohesive narrative in mind. Looking back, after reading, it seemed a shame, as I did enjoy the book and would have appreciated it so much more with some tighter editing.

With all this said, I’d still recommend Body Tourists if you’re interested in the subject matter. It explores some interesting ideas.

With many thanks to NetGalley, the author, and publisher for providing me with a copy for review.

Inktober Day 19: Owl

An owl we saw at the Hawk Conservancy Trust awhile back. If you’re into birds at all and are ever near Andover in the UK, it’s well worth a trip. Not entirely happy with how this drawing turned out (partly down to execution on my part and partly to using a new paper that I won’t be using with ink again), but sharing anyway as I’m behind on my Inktober pieces 😉

Inktober Day 14: Kyoto Street Scene

Drawn from a photo I took in Kyoto in 2015. This took me longer than I’d have liked (largely due to lack of time!), so I’m behind again on my Inktober drawings. Though that’s the case, I’m very much enjoying this process; I may not be posting every day, but I am drawing every single day and do plan to have 31 drawings by the end of the month 🙂

Inarizushi

IMG_6370

Another one from the archives. I originally posted this back in 2010 (how time flies!)

I’ve always loved Inari; it’s yummy and for me brings back fond memories… when I was little my Grandma would make it every time we went to visit her as she knew it was my favourite. We used to call it ‘Bag Sushi’. Image result for copy and paste laughing blushing emoji

Ingredients:

Inarizushi Bags (here are a couple links to different brands sold by Japan Centre in London to show you what I’m talking about. You can probably find them at your nearest Asian food store or, if you are in the UK, can order them from Japan Centre online: Hime Inarizushi no moto and Hikari Inari Age)

2/3 c sugar

1 tbsp salt

1 cup rice vinegar (you can substitute with white vinegar, but rice vinegar is nicer)

2 medium sized carrots

1 tbsp soya sauce

2 tbsp sugar

approximately 3 tbsp pickled ginger, finely chopped

5 cups cooked Japanese/sushi rice

 Instructions:

1. In a small saucepan, mix the sugar, salt, and vinegar together, place over low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

2. Wash, peel, and grate the carrots using a large cheese grater. Put the carrots in a small saucepan, add enough water to cover, plus the tbsp of soya sauce and the 2 tbsp sugar. Simmer for 3 minutes, drain, cool, then squeeze out excess moisture. Set aside.

3. Cook the rice and put into a large flat dish, sprinkle about 1/2 of the carrot and 1/2 of the ginger over the rice, then pour about 1/2 of the vinegar mixture evenly over the rice as well. Wet a wooden spoon/rice paddle/spatula and use that to gently turn the rice over, mixing everything together. When the carrot and ginger look evenly incorporated, taste the rice to see if it’s seasoned to your liking. If you prefer, add more of the carrot, ginger, and/or seasoning liquid (being careful not to make the rice soggy) and again gently turn the rice to mix and cool. Do not overmix or squish the rice. If you’d like, you can fan the rice to help it cool.

4. When the rice mixture is cool enough to handle (normally just slightly warmer than room temp), open the package of Inarizushi bags. Stuff the bags with the rice (messy, but fun!), fill them about 3/4 full and then fold over the ends to cover the rice. (Some people fill them to the brim which works well too, but I find the ¾ full method helps keep the rice moist for longer if you have leftovers).

Enjoy!

They keep well for a couple days in the fridge if wrapped well (I normally keep ours in a Ziplock bag or on a plate well covered with plastic wrap).