BOOK REVIEW

COMPETITION

Have you been enjoying a great read during these challenging times? Found a new author or read a book that you've been meaning to get around to for years? We're always on the lookout for recommendations so why not write a short review of the book and enter our Book Review Competition?

 

Write a short review explaining why you enjoyed the book and email it to us at enquiries@barnettsbooks.co.uk (or if you are out for your daily exercise, post it through the shop letterbox).

 

Reviews should be 100-500 (max) words and please make sure you include the title and author. Submissions from ages 0-99+ welcome. Feel free to illustrate (if you are very young, just could just send us a picture).

 

Please submit your review any time from now until 14 June (new, extended date). We'll be giving out a weekly prize and publishing winning reviews here.

A Theatre for Dreamers (Polly Samson)

Competition winner 31 May: Helen Sheldon

I realised that this book was special as I found myself dwelling on it when not reading it.

Told through the voice of eighteen year old Erica, you are transported to the  Greek island of Hydra, in 1960, where a group of young people looking for inspiration and adventure, spend a hot and sultry summer.

We meet the local characters who run tavernas and bakeries, herd goats and hire out donkeys. The fishermen and sponge divers dominate the tiny port, which is the hub of the island. Erica and her friends are welcomed by a community of writers, artists, sculptors and poets, who have made the island their home, some of whom are complex, tortured creatives whilst others are carefree, fun loving souls who live and love for the moment, or sometimes both.

     As Erica’s story unfolds  and she grieves for her mother,  whose death inspired her to travel to the island, she’s given answers about her family’s past from her Mother’s old friend, the novelist, Charmian Clift.

 Some characters you find yourself loving and rooting for, some frustrate you and some you grow to despise for their cruel behaviour, but the fact that some of these people were real, makes this book all the more fascinating.

 Polly Samson captures and shows you a seemingly perfect existence of life on a beautiful island with her descriptions of the landscape, sounds, smells and sensations. She creates a vivid sense of place as she describes white-washed walls in tiny streets where donkeys bray and bells tinkle at their throat as they wind their way upwards to the monastery, and salt crusted skin and ponytails after an afternoon spent dipping and diving in the glassy sea. Plates of squid, octopus and stuffed vine leaves washed down with jugs of retsina, lamb roasting over bunches of rosemary on a firepit made from rocks on a beach under the stars, whilst Leonard Cohen plays guitar and quotes poetry, surrounded by huddled bodies swaying and whispering.

  A Theatre For Dreamers is heady and idyllic, a coming of age drama, a love story, but with tragedy that will stop you in your tracks, within the twists and turns of the plot. I felt bereft when I closed it for the last time. It’s a book I will never forget.

Barnett's note: For more from Polly Samson, including a recent Literary Salon podcast, see https://www.pollysamson.com/

We have copies of A Theatre for Dreamers in stock for collection/home delivery.

Don't call us dead (Danez Smith)

Competition winner 23rd May: Alan Buckle

Poetry serves many purposes but if we could choose just one, it is showing you the world of another’s experience.  It is comforting to read work by people similar to oneself – and with a canon packed full of such similar men it’s easy.  How much better to stretch to the experience of someone completely different?

 

Danez Smith is everything that I’m not: young, black, American, gay, gender neutral, talented and fiery.  Smith’s words have done a better job than any I can recall – and there are some illustrious contemporaries - at making his very different experience accessible. Dare I even imagine seeing the world through Smith’s eyes?  “Don’t Call Us Dead” gives us a chance to unpeel the onion of not just his experience but of a generation.

 

The collection starts with “summer, somewhere”, nineteen interrelated poems, each with eight stanzas of two lines, each so fragile it’s hard to imagine they are still on the page when you return to them.  Interwoven with anger and tenderness “paradise is a world where everything is sanctuary & no place is a gun”.  And wrapped in complexity and ambiguity, “we earned this paradise by a death we didn’t deserve”.

 

Turning the page to the rest of the collection, we are hit with the near brutality of “dear white america” (“take your God back.  though his songs are beautiful his miracles are inconsistent”) and with the more humourous but equally hard hitting “dinosaurs on the hood” (“i want grandmas on the front porch taking out raptors with guns they hid in walls and under mattresses”).  We then career through a range of moods and forms, unable to avoid the truth of Smith’s life.  While we can intellectualise about the difficulty of growing up in an alienating and oppressive society, it is so much harder to share feelings.  Smith pulls off the trick of being uncompromisingly challenging, yet almost welcoming.  

 

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Smith’s work is that despite its directness, it retains a hopeful plea for a better world.  The next to last poem (“little prayer”) closes beautifully with “let this be the healing & if not  let it be”.

 

Poetry often takes time to reach us. But every now and then a new collection comes along that hits home and then keeps drawing us in. This is one.

 

Danez Smith “Don’t Call Us Dead” won the Forward Prize in 2018. Published by Chatto & Windus. Purchased from Barnett’s Books. £10.99

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