Book review – Molly Clavering – “Near Neighbours”


Finally, I’m reading the first book for my own reading challenge this month: Dean Street December. You can find the main post here where I’m recording all our reviews during the month and you can see this post for all the detail. This is one of the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint books; I’ve read some Molly Clavering novels before so I knew I’d like her, and I received this one from my best friend Emma for Christmas last year (for those who like to keep count, I’ve now read three of the books in this pile, but should get another four done this month).

Molly Clavering – “Near Neighbours”

(25 December 2021, from Emma)

Her very last waking thought was how astonishingly nice and good people were when you knew them; and then she was fast asleep.

What she did not know and would not have believed was that the people who knew her could not help living up to her belief in their good qualities, or that their virtues were sometimes no more than the reflection of her own shining honesty and kindliness. (p. 71)

In this fairy tale – for a fairy tale it is, if a believable one rooted in reality and with a central character who does have her flaws and failings – we meet Miss Dorothea Balfour, aged 68, whose tyrannical older sister has just died and who is able to start branching out in ways she had never expected, mainly by finally getting to meet the Lenox family next door, who she’s often watched wistfully out of the back window. Soon she’s engaging with them, providing useful advice and watching over the girls in particular as they negotiate marriage, for the oldest, and work and romance for the others. Then she has dramas of her own, including rescuing a baby and re-encountering her sister’s long-lost husband, a bit of a bounder but charming with it.

We see Miss Balfour blossom as well as watching the Lenoxes enjoy themselves and grow up as they do (or grow up, and enjoy themselves as they do). It does remind me of several other books: bouncing Holly reminds me of I think it’s Lydia Keith in Angela Thirkell’s novels, the sisters theme reminded me somehow of Stella Gibbons’ “The Pink Front Door” and the houseful of daughters E. H. Young’s “Chatterton Square“. But it’s its own book, too, and a lovely satisfying, comforting, kind one that I couldn’t put down.

This was Book 1 in my Dean Street December challenge.

Book review – Jonathan Coe – “Bournville”


I have read the odd Jonathan Coe book over the years – well, I know I read “The House of Sleep” in 1999 because my Reading Journal Index for the pre-blog years tells me so – but I’ve not engaged with his books really, even though he’s a Birmingham author who writes about the city. But when I saw his new book was set in a suburb very close to here, one I visit regularly, and whose running club members I know and like, I had to pick it up.

I actually read this in November, starting it on the plane on the way home from our holiday (I didn’t read it while in Spain for fear of getting homesick) but November’s reviews were so stuffed full of Australia, non-fiction and novellas that I couldn’t find room for it.

Jonathan Coe – “Bournville”

(25 October 2022, NetGalley)

There are certain books that tie you into the characters, get you invested in them, then twist the knife until you could sob. I remember A.S. Byatt doing that with “The Children’s Book” and Larry McMurtry doing it recently with “Some Can Whistle“. Coe certainly does it here, too.

The conceit is a simple one – take an ordinary family in a Birmingham suburb and visit and revisit them at pivotal post-war moments in England – and is here in the hands of a master, who ramps up the relationships and characters, starting with a woman musician and her playing partner experiencing the beginning of the Covid lockdowns in Europe as they try to do a concert tour and returning to them post-pandemic in a heart-wrenching epilogue. In between, we’re moved expertly through VE Day, the Coronation and the World Cup Final to Princess Diana’s funeral, and the 75th anniversary of VE Day, following Mary from a child to an old woman with a looming health condition and the spreading family she engenders. There’s also an email mentioned near the start that we only read near the end, little Iris Murdochian doublings (one character reads the children’s cartoons in his paper; decades later another watches them on TV; two women stand in the doorway of one house, decades apart, hearing the noise of schoolchildren), a sub-plot that surprises and mentions of a favourite character from another set of novels, and sections of the novel are in different formats, reports or lockdown instructions: all very clever but not too clever-clever.

Of course there’s lots for me in terms of local colour – I was particularly pleased to see the little boating lake I love to run to and around mentioned, and there’s an excellent discussion in a restaurant I’ve been to about the origin of the Balti dish.

This is a state of the nation novel, as Coe loves to write – in this one we have the interplay of pro-Europeans and pushy money-makers giving a fraternal contrast – and a Europe novel – the scenes in the European Parliament hilarious and battles over chocolate naming baffling – and it’s also Coe’s Covid novel and it clearly comes from a huge anger – in the Author’s Note at the end he clarifies that it’s a tribute to – not a portrait of – his mother and that she died alone with no personal contact from her family as they followed the rules – unlike the residents of 10 Downing Street. Being a consummate storyteller and craftsperson, he – just – doesn’t allow his angry agenda to unbalance the book.

An excellent book, readable and with depth, technically adept but not offputtingly literary, and highly recommended.

Thank you to Viking for selecting me to read a copy via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Bournville” was published on 3 November 2022.

I have some Bookish Beck serendipities, too, remembering that I read this just after finishing Kamila Shamsie’s “Best of Friends“: there is a great description of the coming of lockdown and the atmosphere of it in both, and Boris Johnson features as a character in both!

Book review – Chelsea Watego – “Another Day in the Colony”


Here we have the last book I read for AusReading Month: fortunately, Brona, who runs the challenge, has allowed people to post reviews after the end of the month! I continued my theme of reading books set around social justice and Australia’s Aboriginal/Indigenous peoples along a sort of curriculum: I read “Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence” to get a background idea of the Stolen Generations and a summary of the experience of Aboriginal peoples from when the White invaders first came; then “Growing up Aboriginal in Australia” gave the experiences of Aboriginal people growing up from the 1940s to 1990s and now we have the lived experiences of one woman who is an Aboriginal/Indigenous [she uses both terms in the book, Indigenous more often and I’m trying to reflect that] writer, academic and campaigner. This is the third book that Bill from The Australian Legend kindly sent to me in January. His review is here and I urge you to read it.

I admit right now that I’ve been a bit nervous about reviewing this book. It is not written “for” me, the author makes it clear (and fair enough, of course) and it’s doubly not about my culture, being Aboriginal/Indigenous centred and about Australia. All I can really do is set down my reactions and the connections I have drawn with other works I’ve read or cultural issues I’ve noted: and like all great works, it’s both specific to its time and culture but can have general global points drawn from it. I’d encourage people to read it for themselves if they’re at all interested in learning about colonialism, current issues of the “settlers” in a claimed territory that is actually someone else’s and Indigenous people’s lived experience.

Chelsea Watego – “Another Day in the Colony”

(13 January 2022, from Bill)

It took me a while to realise that in teaching Indigenous anything I was meant to be teaching students to feel good about being a coloniser; that in my presence I was meant to be the site of absolution both for the institution and its students. Despite transcending our role in the academy as engraved objects carved into sandstone, to enter classrooms as educators we are still being called to accessorise white knowing and affirm white belonging. (p. 109)

Dr Watego is clearly angry, and she has good reason. She is also exhausted, and as we read this book, we can see why. She doesn’t want to, and doesn’t, explain terms, history and experiences for White / settler [her term] readers, and why should she? (this fits with a long-held view of mine which I know is contentious that it’s my job to look stuff up, not the author’s job to explain her culture to me when things are easily looked up; terms, yes, experiences, no, and we get them from this book).

I’d like to say Dr Watego’s experiences are shocking, but if you’ve read a fair bit of work by Global Majority and Indigenous peoples, unfortunately they’re not. Or not surprising. She experiences racism and exclusion in academia and expected to remove guilt from White students (I’ve read Black and Brown academics talking of that here). She’s blamed for all sorts of things outside her control. If she’s in confrontation with a White person, the White person will be believed (and let go and she’ll be taken into custody). If she dares to say that someone who claims to be Indigenous but has no connection to the culture which is so communal and relational is not yet wholly Indigenous, she’s told she’s wrong. She encounters White anthropologists who try to tell her about her own lived experience. She sees her own people denigrated for having poor health outcomes when it’s clear those outcomes are a direct result of the pressure and colonisation, institutional and intersectional racism, sexism and classism imposed upon them by a coloniser ideology that believes they should have died out decades ago. (This last reminded me of the blame heaped upon Global Majority People in the UK when they died disproportionately of Covid: it was biological or due to “lifestyle choices”, not of course because they were forced into poverty and overcrowded living and compelled to go out and do risky face-to-face work while the White middle class sat in our homeworking isolation.)

In this bold and usettling book, Dr Watego sets down her experiences on her terms. She is able to print a (perfectly reasonable, well-argued and massively referenced) article that ended up not going out in an academic journal because the publishers weren’t keen on the racist stereotyping and violence clearly portrayed in the book being exposed without having some spurious balance: she did claim room for a rebuttal and letter to the managing editors in the journal. She states powerfully in the final essay that there is no room for hope, only for sovreignty, and for standing your ground, not fighting back, for strategies and not solutions. You’re not going to read this to feel better about the world or your place in it, apart from the fact that there are people like Dr Watego who are managing to speak out and get published so others can see themselves reflected or learn about what’s happened and happening. There is a superb playlist in the back of the book of “songs that brought joy” while she was writing it, and I salute her (not that she needs my salute, obviously) for including that in what is a confrontational and at times very dense read.

One powerful lesson that was reiterated for me here (which I did learn when reading a book by a non-Indigenous Canadian about Indigenous Canadians last year and bought a new book instead) was to go to “own voices” for books about Indigenous and Global Majority peoples, which I do do on the whole, but I need to stay in this space and not go back to White people’s, even if not Australians’, narratives about Indigenous/Aboriginal peoples like the one I read last year. And I recommend this powerful and strong narrative by very much an “own voice”.

This was Book 3 for AusReading Month and Book 12 for Nonfiction November.

Nonfiction November Week 5: New to my TBR


It’s the final week of of Nonfiction November – thank you so much to all the hosts! This week it’s New to my TBR time! I always save it to post at the end of the week because I usually see books on other people’s roundups that I fancy. For me, these books aren’t necessarily going on my TBR right away, but are going on my wishlist. I waited until today to look at everyone else’s Week Fives as there’s always something I’ve missed, and I added the last one on this list this week, so am vindicated in that!

Week 5: New to My TBR with Jaymi at The OC Bookgirl: It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR?

Books I have added to my Wishlist this November

Terri Janke – “True Tracks: Respecting Indigenous Knowledge and Culture” from ANZ LitLovers’ Week 1 post

Dylan Taylor-Lehman – “Sealand: The True Story of the World’s Most Stubborn Micronation” from Plucked from the Stacks’ Week 3 starter post

Rachel Bertsche – “MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend” from Lisanotes’ Week 3 post

Guillaume Pitron – “Digital Hell” from Words and Peace’s Week 4 post (not out in English until October 2023, though!)

Mark Gevisser – “The Pink Line: Journeys Across the World’s Queer Frontiers” from She Seeks Nonfiction’s Week 4 New to my TBR post

What about last year’s list?

These are the books I added to my wishlist last year.

Richard Seabrook – “All the Devils are Here”

Hanif Abdurraquib – “A Little Devil in America”

Amy Ettinger – “Sweet Spot”

Rachel Johnson – “A Diary of the Lady”

David Epstein – “The Sports Gene”

Ian Williams – “Disorientation”

Amrit Wilson – “Finding a Voice” I bought this one and it’s in my house but has not yet reached the top of the TBR pile!

Michael Twitty – “The Cooking Gene”

So one out of eight purchased or otherwise acquired and none read so far! Ah well! Here’s to next November and a hint to everyone doing it – start making notes for all the weeks as you go through the year – much easier than flailing around trying to remember stuff from the previous 12 months!

State of the TBR – December 2022


Looking at last month’s picture, I have done quite well again! Incomings have come in but books have come off the TBR, too. Even though I’ve added five books to the little pile at the end, it’s not as big as last month.

I completed 23 books in November (thanks to my week’s holiday and doing Novellas in November), and am part-way through three more (one my Emma Read and one reading along with Matthew), plus the long-term ongoing Tolkien and Sagas books. I read all my ebook TBR books for November (my picture was wrong last month; I have yet to review two of them), and also got my September ones and all but one of my October ones read or (one) started. I read eight out of the fifteen novellas I put out to choose from and two others (one in from a publisher then read right away, one from the TBR), making a total of ten, and I read three books for AusReading Month (one left to review) and twelve for NonFiction November.


Incoming print books. I had some lovely books in this month.

“Mary & Mr Eliot” by Mary Trevelyan and Erica Wagner is an author copy from the publisher – it’s based on Mary Trevelyan’s manuscript about her friendship with T.S. Eliot which I copy-typed a few years ago to start off the process for Erica to edit and provide commentary on it. Lovely publisher Michael Walmer kindly sent me a review copy of his reprint of Howard Sturgis’ “On the Pottlecomble Cornice” which I promptly reviewed for Novellas in November and the British Library Publishing folk kindly sent me “Stories for Christmas and the Festive Season” which of course I have saved to read this month. We had a tea party at Ali’s the other weekend and Meg gave me her copy of Claire Keegan’s “Small Things Like These” while Ali passed me her copy of Elisa Shua Dusapin’s “The Pachinko Parlour”. I went to a Brian Bilston poetry reading run by The Heath Bookshop last week and bought a copy of his latest book, “Days Like These” (a poem for every day of the year!), and finally I received a copy of Nigel Green and Robin Wilson’s “Brutalist Paris” which I had helped crowd-fund. What a lovely variety of ways to receive books!

I won five NetGalley books this month:

“The Silence of the Stands” by Daniel Gray (published November) is about football’s lost season in the lockdowns – whose blog did I see this on?? Alexis Keir writes about returning to St Lucia and tracing his family’s journeys to the UK and New Zealand in “Windward Family” (Feb 2023) and in “Black Girl from Pyongyang” by Monica Macias (Mar 2023) we’ll learn about how the author was transplanted from West Africa to North Korea to be raised, and how she searched for her identity once she’d grown up (that’s going to be a good one for the Stranger than Fiction segment of NonFicNov next year!). “Happy Place” (April 2023) looks like another good novel from Emily Henry, a break-up novel with a big lie to all the friend group and Shauna Robinson’s “Must Love Books” (Feb 2023) pits a young Black woman against the world of publishing.

And I bought three e-books from Amazon in their Black Friday sale:

I always think I have Trevor Noah‘s memoir, “Born a Crime” but I didn’t, until now. John Cooper Clarke is one of the few poets I like and I couldn’t resist his autobiography, “I Wanna Be Yours”, for 99p. And Patrick King’s “Stand Up For Yourself, Set Boundaries and Stop Pleasing Others” might stop me making myself labour over these massive posts (right?!).

So that was 23 read and 15 coming in in November – back in the right direction!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading “Settlers: Journeys through the Food, Faith and Culture of Black African London” by Jimi Famurewa, which is a NetGalley book published in October and is marvellous so far, Jini Reddy’s “Wanderland” is my readalong with Emma and most entertaining so far, and I’ve finally got to reading Dave Grohl’s “The Storyteller” with Matthew, so he does a bit of the audio book (with Dave narrating and a musical background) on his walk and I catch up with the book (no Dave’s voice or music) at home.

Coming up

This month, I’m taking part in two challenges: my own Dean Street Press December, of course (see my main post here) and I’ve laid out all the DSP books I have in paperback plus one more modern one on Kindle. I’m looking forward to seeing what I and everyone else can read in the month from this lovely publisher.

And I’ve also decided to do #DiverseDecember to maintain the diversity of my reading, though I don’t have a main post to link to for that. So upcoming are Nova Reid’s “The Good Ally”, Riva Lehrer’s memoir of her life and art living with a disability, “Golem Girl” and Rabina Khan’s essays, “My Hair is Pink Under this Veil”. I have my lovely Christmas stories from the British Library, too, and my great big Larry McMurtry, “The Evening Star”. This isn’t the end of Larry McMurtry Rereading, though, as I only have “Cadillac Jack” left so am going to read that in January.

My NetGalley TBR for December has just two books, but of course I have September to November ones, too:

“Beyond Measure” and “Femina” are older ones I need to get read, “The Racial Code” and “The Christmas Castle in Scotland” are two from October I need to polish off (the latter saved on purpose of course) and Meron Hadero’s “A Down Home Meal for Difficult Times” and Eris Young’s “Ace Voices” are published in December.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s one book to finish and 21 to read (ten of them paperback novels and I have a week off over Christmas …), but I’m looking forward to it all!

How was your November reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection? Are you doing Dean Street December with me?

Dean Street Press December Main Post


It’s time! Are you in? This month, I’m going to be reading quite a few books published by Dean Street Press, the indie publisher devoted to finding and republishing good fiction and non-fiction. This is the starter post and where I’ll record all your reviews during the month. See this post for all the detail.

What should I do?

Read your book(s) and comment on this post with a link to your blog post, Goodreads review or other place where you’ve written about your read.

I will also read and review books during the month and add my own links; please also feel free to chat about those books and visit other people’s links during the month and afterwards.

What if I don’t have an online presence?

If you don’t post about your reading online but want to join in, please send in a short review via my Contact Form and I’ll post a digest of your offline reviews at the end of the month.

Ready to go?

Are you in? Link to this post in your reviews, comment here with them and use the hashtag #DeanStreetDecember on social media through the month!


Here are people setting their intentions for the month!

Robin’s Reading Rambles

All the Vintage Ladies

Hopewell’s Library of Life (with a selection of her older reviews)


Bush, Christopher – Dead Man Twice

Clavering, Molly – Dear Hugo

Clavering, Molly – Near Neighbours

Flynn, Brian – The Orange Axe

Flynn, Brian – The Padded Door

Gibbons, Stella – The Woods in Winter

Scarlett, Susan – Babbacombe’s

Smith, Dorothy Evelyn – Miss Plum and Miss Penny

Stevenson, D.E. – The Fair Miss Fortune

Vivian, Francis – The Laughing Dog

Vivian, Francis – The Singing Masons

Novellas in November – catching up with a last few reads


I seem to have managed to run out of days in November, what with all the challenges I’ve been doing. So here are short reviews of the last few Novellas in November I fitted in this month. I’ve really enjoyed this challenge, as ever – from picking out a grid of possible reads to working my way through them. I got up to ten this month, eight from the grid of possibility, one that I was sent to review and read and reviewed within the month and one that I inexplicably didn’t include on the grid, so not bad going, and it’s been fun reading everyone else’s reviews, too.

Tessa Wardley – “Mindful Thoughts for Runners”

(25 December 2021, from Meg)

A nice little book looking in quite a lot of depth at mindfulness for runners, covering starting running, enjoying different weather, communities, injury time, etc. I particularly liked that the images through the book were really diverse, and there are lots of details of things you can do like not taking the headphones, noticing different kinds of trees and plants and taking note of the feel of the ground beneath your feet. There’s an environmental element, too – treading lightly, reusing water bottles and the like, which was nice, and a useful chapter on approaching running as you age.

Maya Angelou – “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey Now”

(21 January 2022, from Ali)

A book of essays first published in 1993 without any real explanatory matter around them: there’s an Acknowledgements page which mentions two magazine editors who encouraged Angelou to put down her thoughts, but nothing with each piece. But anyway, they’re good, succinct essays with Angelou’s usual direct style and straight talking, encouraging us to do the right thing and be authentic, in summary. Slotting in gaps in her autobiographies, the collection is notable for having quite a lot about her faith, which I don’t remember as a huge part of those works, including the moment she was brought to humility by reading and re-reading a passage about God’s love. I can only presume this is why the book was marked by Virago “Autobiography/Spirituality” on the back of the book: it’s not the main part of it by any means, though. Funny and moving stories mix with exhortations on various subjects: the pieces are short and easy to read and it was an enjoyable collection: I’m looking forward to reading the other two I have TBR.

Hans Siwik – “Iceland: People, Sagas, Landscapes”

(20 May 2022)

I found out about this book in Paul HalfManHalfBook’s April 2022 roundup, where he listed books recently acquired. Intrigued by the title, I managed to hunt a copy down on Abe Books quite soon afterwards. I don’t know if he’s read it yet as I couldn’t find a review.

After a potted history of Iceland, Sigurdur A. Magnusson, who wrote this and presumably chose/edited the other texts, explains that “

No direct correspondence was sought between the texts and the photographs of this book. Word and image may be said to create fruitful tension that should expand rather than confine the central theme, which is the interplay of man and nature … (Foreword, n.p.)

and indeed if you look for a clear correspondence, you won’t find one. There are some longish selections from 1950s and 1960s translations of the sagas interspersed with blocks of very fine colour plates of photographs of landscape and the odd person. The saga selections include my (and probably everyone’s) favourites: Gudrun being asked which husband she loved best in Laxdaela Saga and Gunnar’s death from Njal’s Saga with other bits from Egil’s Saga and Grettir’s Saga.

One for the Iceland/sagas completist maybe, and it was a bit disappointing that there was no list stating where the photographs were of. But a nice book to while away a few hours with.

So that rounds up my go at Novellas in November. More non-fiction than fiction as usual – Matthew did suggest it should be called “Not-Many-Pages November” as even the official page includes non-fiction (though he concedes Novellas in November is the better name!)

These were Books 8 – 10 for Novellas in November, all three from the original selection of 15. They are also Books 9 – 11 for NonFiction November.

Book review – Dr Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogas – “This is What it Sounds Like”


I have been reading my NetGalley books behind the scenes, filling in September, October and November’s publications, and have saved up some reviews for next week but this is a good solid non-fiction title that fits in with Nonfiction November. Yes, it’s a music/neuroscience book by a Rogers but is very different from Jude Rogers’ “The Sound of Being Human” (links to review on Shiny New Books) and the two books complement each other nicely.

Dr Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogas – “This is What it Sounds Like: What the Music You Love Says About You”

(25 October 2022, NetGalley)

Music’s features do not predict love – music listening does. Two people can listen to the exact same song and report dramatically different accounts of “This is what it sound like … to me.”

Rogers is a sound engineer who worked for such luminaries as Prince: she went back into education mid-life in order to study psychology and came out with a PhD and as a professor of cognitive neuroscience. Ogi Ogas is more in the background, providing neuroscience detail and notes on research and being credited as co-author.

Rogers’ central thesis is that there are seven dimensions of music listening, and by paying attention to these we can work out why we love a particular piece of music / song / record and even learn something about ourselves in the process (I wasn’t entirely convinced by this: does my love of the timbre of an American slightly whiny man’s voice (They Might Be Giants, REM, Weezer, et al.) really say much about my own personality?). The dimensions themselves are useful pegs to hang decisions about music on: authenticity, melody, realism, rhythm, etc. and the suggestions for tracks to listen to that feature various aspects of these were useful and interesting and enlivened a few dinner times.

There’s lots of detail, especially in the later chapters, about what our brain is doing when we hear familiar music or music we score highly when we first hear it.

Woven through the book are details of Rogers’ life in music, the developments in the technology of recording and how they changed what music sounded like, her reaction to various songs, records and musicians, and even a chapter on how the facets introduced in this book relate to music production. There are also short pieces from a range of her students and associates on their favourite piece of music and why they love it, so the text stays lively and varied throughout. The notes are great and there’s also a website, a playlist and the like to allow you to explore the text and its concepts further.

A really interesting and well done book, never boring or too technical.

Thank you to Random House for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “This is What it Sounds Like” was published on 6 October 2022.

This was Book 8 for Nonfiction November.

Book reviews – Sam Selvon – “The Housing Lark” and Caleb Femi – “Poor”


Two books read for Novellas in November which detail Black men’s lives in London 55 years apart but with many similarities as well as differences. Of course the men in Sam Selvon’s novel, Selvon himself, have fairly recently arrived in London from Caribbean countries, while poet Caleb Femi was born in Nigeria. South London features heavily in both – Brixton and Peckham, respectively; I don’t know Brixton that well but I lived in Peckham for a year in the mid-1990s, well before the gentrification I’ve been reading about in later novels and at the time of the North Peckham Estate, which Femi records in detail in his poems and photographs. Both men detail simple wishes for safety, companionship, some money, some way to advance in life. Both have friends laughing at friends who wouldn’t know what to do with the women they are chasing if they caught them, and both feature strong, uncompromising women.

I bought “The Housing Lark” in November 2021 after it was mentioned on Ten Million Hardbacks’ blog; out of the eight print books purchased that month, I’ve read two so far, but that is only still a year ago. “Poor” came in Bookish Beck’s parcel-before-last in December 2021 and I’ve actually read four out of the ten making up the pile I gathered before Christmas that year!

Sam Selvon – “The Housing Lark”

(04 November 2021)

Is so life was, you had to take chances, and one day your luck might turn. And if you yourself ain’t have anything to offer, it good to stick with fellars like Harry, and Alfy and Syl and the rest of the boys. All of we can’t be blight, Bat think, out of six seven fellars, one bound to be lucky, something good bound to happen to one of we. Bat ain’t care who it happen to, as long as he around to share in the good fortune. (p. 34)

I can’t remember if the characters in this short novel appeared in “The Lonely Londoners” but we’re back in familiar territory with a disparate group of men struggling to survive in a mainly unfriendly and difficult post-war London. We open with Battersby regarding his rented room, hoping the lamps on the wallpaper might issue a genie, wishing for simple things, food, company, money. The plot revolves around the resolve of a group of friends to club together to buy a house – the only way they can see of getting secure accommodation and their own agency.

Maybe it’s not such a good idea to make Battersby the treasurer, as the money seems to fritter itself away … He does run a coach trip to Hampton Court which gives us a hilarious interlude as the participants eat and laugh their way around, observed with some alarm by their White counterparts, and of course it’s the women, Battersby’s sister Jean, her room-mate Mathilda and Teena, unfortunate enough to be married to one of the men, who take the scheme in hand and make it work. Written in dialect like “The Lonely Londoners”, like that novel, too, it’s both funny and tragic, the characters making the best of their situation, destitution only one step away.

Interestingly, it has a very modern comment to make about education:

‘I must say you boys surprise me with your historical knowledge. It’s a bit mixed up, I think, but it’s English history.’ ‘We don’t know any other kind. That’s all they used to teach we in school.’ ‘That’s because OUR PEOPLE ain’t have no history. But what I wonder is, when we have, you think they going to learn the children that in the English schools?’ (pp. 100-101).

A touching and lively novel and an important record of first-generation immigrants’ lives.

Caleb Femi – “Poor”

(11 December 2021 – from Bookish Beck)

This will not be enough for them

so they’ll force us to put it into words

& we will say: When hipsters take selfies

on the corners where our

friends died, the rent goes up. (“On Magic / Violence”, p. 39)

I have read more poetry this year than I have for a long time; I still favour the very clear and direct and I got a bit lost in the allusions in this one (I was mainly OK with the language and dialect terms) but could see my way through a good proportion of them. I’m not sure “enjoyed” is the word as most of them are very hard-hitting and full of pain and distress, but it’s an important and strongly beautiful collection of both words and images.

With poems about the concrete landscape and the miles of walkways connecting the spaces of the North Peckham Estate, the poetry is going to be unyielding and strong, but there’s a lot of feeling, emotion and care in the book, from the unconventional signs of spring (young boys play on the grass, people get the new trainers) to the moving eulogies for Damilola Taylor, Mark Duggan and the Grenfell Tower residents. It’s worth looking at the notes, which explain which poems are memorialising which lost people.

There’s anger and understanding of anger, with some very powerful poems about the “riots”/uprisings and their meanings, and there’s bewilderment at the start of the gentrification which has now hit the South London suburb (I have most notably read about this in “Yinka, Where is your Huzband?“). The images of people and tower blocks work perfectly with the poems, couplets and prose pieces and the work is technically complex and adept, pulling at the heartstrings, raising a smile, documenting how it feels to feel you are every Black man who is shown mistreated on the TV. I hope this reached a variety of audiences, including those people who are portrayed in it and will see themselves in a poetry book published by a mainstream publisher, for once. Rebecca’s review which originally attracted me to the book is here.

These were Books 6 and 7 for Novellas in November, both from the original selection of 15.

Book review – Anita Heiss (ed.) – “Growing up Aboriginal in Australia”


Back to AusReading Month and I’m continuing my theme of reading books set around social justice and Australia’s Aboriginal peoples along a sort of curriculum: I read “Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence” to get a background idea of the Stolen Generations and it gave me a short history of the experience of Aboriginal peoples from when the White invaders first came; this book charts the experiences of Aboriginal people growing up from the 1940s to 1990s and “Another Day in the Colony” which I am starting now, will fill in a lot more gaps hopefully (I don’t think I’ll get to “Lies Damned Lies” but can save that for next AusReading Month of course). This is another of the books that Bill from The Australian Legend kindly sent to me in January. His review is here and we largely agree on the pieces that most struck us, interestingly.

Anita Heiss (ed.) – “Growing up Aboriginal in Australia”

(13 January 2022, from Bill)

… this anthology is not one of victimhood: it is one of strength and resilience, of pride and inspiration, demonstrating the will to survive and the capacity to thrive against the odds. Growing up Aboriginal in Australia paints a landscape of a country that has created leaders who form strong communities, with a generous heart and passion for change. That is why this anthology matters. The goal is to break down stereotypes – many of which are identified with these pages – and to create a new dialogue with and about Aboriginal Australians. (Introduction, p. 2)

This excellent book takes 50 submissions from Aboriginal people living in Australia which (sometimes loosely) follow the theme of growing up. Some of them relate in a straightforward manner what it was like to be a child in Australia, some take the idea that they are still “growing up” and some just fill us in on what life continued to be like. I don’t think I’d heard of any of the contributors, but some are well-known writers, academics, musicians and sports players and some are ordinary people. The ages of the contributors range from 13 to people who must be in their 80s and this gives an excellent perspective as some are from the Stolen Generations (Aboriginal people, especially those with lighter skins, who were taken from their families and ‘raised’ on missions and in special schools to ‘protect’ them from taint by their darker-skinned relatives) or are children of people who were stolen, or look back to a fractured family line because of this vile policy: we really see how that has reverberated through the generations.

I learnt a lot reading this. Many of the contributors described their anguish at being lighter-skinned, asked to prove their Aboringinality, told they could and should ‘pass’ for non-Aboriginal, were questioned on what proportion of their heritage was Aboriginal and found they were too light-skinned for some of their family group or activists but too dark-skinned for European-origin Australians (this chimed with the works I’m reading on people with dual heritages elsewhere in the world, but with special horrors to do with their geography). I also hadn’t realised that Aboriginal people were only accepted as actual PEOPLE in the 1960s when there was a referendum about ‘allowing’ them to appear on the census and vote – before that, they were counted as sort of part of the flora and fauna [Edited to add: this is actually a myth, please see the comments and links by my Australian blogger friends below]. And I was completely unaware that people were captured and removed from Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and other islands and used for labour.

It’s not all doom and gloom: there’s a lot of humour, a lot of anger and pushing back, and a lot of people finding their Aboriginal heritage and connecting with it, learning the traditional ways and cultures of the different Aboriginal groups and becoming workers or activists or educators in their communities and beyond. Interestingly, although I re-read his review after I’d finished the book and put down some thoughts, I liked similar essays to the ones Bill chose: for example, “Two tiddas” by Susie and Alice Anderson, who record a dialogue about their feelings about being Aboriginal, and Dom Benrose’s powerfully sarcastic apology to “Dear Australia” for basically existing or pushing back: “I am sorry I can’t tot paint, play football or run really fast” (p. 17). There’s a lot of intersectionality, too, looking at race, class, gender and/or sexuality, with Celeste Liddle in “Black bum” unable to separate her experiences of being Aboriginal from those of being female.

One tiny criticism I had is that I struggled to find a pattern or structure in the book, so while it showcased diversity in ages, backgrounds and experiences, you sort of dotted from one to another without a clear pathway through it. The introduction by the editor only explains they came from 120 submissions and notes on why the anthology matters, which is great, but I’d have liked to understand the selection and organisation principle. This is a minor point, though: the thing that matters is the diversity, own voices and chances for people to express themselves and readers to find themselves mirrored or to learn.

At the end of his review, Bill notes that many people of his generation and younger don’t understand/accept that racism existed and still exists in Australia and adds his hope that school children are all reading this book: I add to that hope and also think it’s very important to know about these issues outside Australia, hence being very glad to have had the opportunity to read this powerful, fascinating and moving book and share about it here.

This was Book 2 for AusReading Month and Book 7 for Nonfiction November.

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