The Motherload Book Club: Our January Bookshelf

The Motherload Book Club: Our January Bookshelf

How Far We Fall by Jane Shemilt

Set between London and the Scottish island of Jura, How Far We Fall tells the story of Beth, Albie and Ted who are caught in both the past and the present in a web of lies, betrayal and loss.

Almost at the height of his career, Albie is close to achieving his life’s ambition as a neurosurgeon. In his desire to win against Ted, Albie makes a disastrous decision. One by one, the threads of Albie’s career begin to come undone, until he is spiralling uncontrollably. In an attempt to stop the chaos he finds himself in, he makes further immoral decisions to try to cover his tracks. Beth’s presence in Albie’s life adds fuel to his fire, and as he shares his secrets with her he is unaware that she has been keeping plenty of her own.

The Scottish coastal landscape provides a perfect backdrop for this book, and the wild, rugged imagery runs throughout the story. There is a satisfyingly stormy darkness to the themes of secrets, betrayal and long-lasting grudges, and the isolation of the island fits well with this.

How Far We Fall was a joy to read. I found myself completely immersed in the story and the characters, and gripped by Albie’s runaway train that refused to stop. The distance we will travel to protect ourselves, and to feel that justice has been done, is something to be feared.

Reviewed by Hannah England

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Bitter by Francesca Jakobi

Set predominantly in the late 1960s, Bitter tells the story of fifty-something Gilda and her preoccupation with her son Reuben and his new wife, Alice. Through flashbacks, we learn about what has made Gilda into the prickly, difficult woman she is – her early years in Germany, her lonely time at an English boarding school, her loveless marriage to a much older man. At key points, Jakobi draws our attention to the small moments that cause big changes in a life, and how things could have turned out differently.

This is a quiet novel, and an exquisite one. I read a lot of books with dramatic twists and turns, and while this is not without plenty of action, it is, at its heart, a straightforward story beautifully told. And it served as a reminder to me that if a tale is told this well, that makes for the very best kind of novel.

Gilda is a problematic narrator, in that she is hard to like. She’s also hard to trust; we see her lie to her friend Margo a number of times, we see her sneaking around in places where she shouldn’t be. And yet, there are a few small moments that bring on a rush of affection for our troubled heroine. The confidence she keeps for her daughter-in-law, Alice, when they are cooking together. The gesture she makes with the photograph at the end of the novel.

I felt bereft when I finished Bitter. I wondered about Gilda and the other characters, afterwards. I thought about who I could recommend it to. It made me think about the prickly people in my own life, and look at them differently. If I could press a copy of Bitter into everyone’s hands, I would. It’s that kind of a book.

Click here to find out more about the next Motherload Book Club read-along

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

This is a post-apocalyptic story that starts with the death of a famous actor on the same night as the outbreak of a global epidemic. The narrative is divided into two timelines, one following the life of the actor who died through the viewpoints of himself and those closest to him. The other stream follows some of the characters there when the actor dies and those closest to him through what survives after the end of the world as we know it.

One of the main characters is Arthur Leander, the famous actor who dies at the beginning. His life is fundamental to the plot and all the other featuring characters link through him. The story follows him at all different stages of his life through flashbacks. The bulk of the post-apocalyptic story follows Kirsten, a young girl at the collapse of civilisation, who is part of a travelling symphony, going from settlement to settlement. She’s a strong female lead and is shown to be physically powerful and mentally resilient too. Kirsten reminded me a little of Katniss in The Hunger Games in her outlook and her ability to stand up for herself.

I really enjoyed this book, and once I got in to it, I couldn’t stop and I thought about it for ages. The main reason for this is the author’s ability to make the characters come alive. I still want to know more about them, especially the main protagonists. Without spoiling the plot, there is an open question around one of the characters named ‘the Prophet’. Usually I dislike things that aren’t neatly tied up in a book but I really liked how it wasn’t spelled out and left for the reader to guess. My main criticism of the book is that it’s a slow starter; it took me a few chapters to become hooked. That being said, once engaged I couldn’t get enough!

Reviewed by Gabrielle Clapp

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Laura Pearson

Laura is a writer who lives in Leicestershire with her husband and their two children. When she’s not writing or reading, she can usually be found trying to get her son to put his shoes on, encouraging her daughter to sleep past 5am or moving small items from one room to another. You can follow her on Twitter and on her blog about getting cancer when she was pregnant.

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