The Young Bride by Alessandro Baricco

I read Silk a couple of years ago, and to this day it remains the best book I’ve ever read. In fact, it was so good, I couldn’t finish another book for months. But I realised … and I’m doing it again: this isn’t about Silk, this is about another piece from Alessandro Baricco’s multi-room writing studio.

I’m not sure how the Young Bride escaped my radar for so long, but when I found it, it was a day of joy. It’s an odd story; a dense, literary tale about a young woman who comes to live with a family of wealthy textile merchants. She has been promised to the Son of the family’s patriarch, but on her arrival she discovers the Son has travelled to England to study manufacturing. No one is sure when he will return, so she decides to wait for him, slowly becoming indoctrinated into the strange domestic and sexual rituals of the Family. After a time though, it becomes clear that the Son is no longer in England; he left the country to travel further, and has not been heard from since. The Bride, now bewitched by the Family, and weaving an intricate web of desire of her own, must face the possibility that the Son may never return.

Yes, it’s Alessandro Baricco, so you know it’s going to be a great book, though that doesn’t mean you’re going to like everything about it. I mean, I like a good poetic read as much as the next would-be writer, but sometimes I found the prose a little dense, to the point that it sometimes got in the way of the story, and that’s a shame because it really is a great story. The characters are perfectly flawed, the setting is immaculately crafted and the pace, while measured, is pretty much what a book like this needs. But occasionally, very occasionally, the story gets lost in the poetry.

But aside from that, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read that doesn’t builds to a gentle but satisfying end.

Seven out of ten

When Fortune N’tobe Fell from the Stars

If you glance over to the sidebar – that’s it; near the top, just after the recent posts section – you’ll notice that something has changed (aside from finally updating the icons for Apple Books).

Yes, it’s finally here: book number four. A novella (only 40,000 words or thereabouts).

I took a writing break after The Quisling Orchid and just focussed on short stories and reviews. Book 3 was an expensive effort in terms of time, brain space and money, so I thought I’d dial it back a bit.

Fortune started out as a collection of short stories about life in Soweto, something I could read to my mum while she was in hospital. Unfortunately, my mum didn’t recover away, so I didn’t want to carry on with the book.

A few people who’d read the unfinished version said they’d like to see how it ended, and hoped that I’d pick it up again, eventually. ‘Time’s a great healer, Dom.’

Well, they say that, but it doesn’t apply to everyone, so the book stayed in the drawer (metaphorically speaking; it actually stayed halfway down the tree in Ulysses) for a couple more years.

I think it was a combination of things that finally got me to dust it off (metaphorically speaking; I actually just opened the folder in Ulysses and started typing):

  1. Last July (2019) there was an incident in which a body fell from the undercarriage of a plane approaching Heathrow, so I sort of thought it was a story that needed to be told.
  2. I’d like to think my mother didn’t raise a son who didn’t finish something he’d started.

Besides, good writing is supposed to hurt, isn’t it?

Book review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Somehow, describing this as the ‘long-awaited sequel’ doesn’t quite cover it. I’ve had this on preorder for MONTHS. As I’m sure you know, The Testaments is the follow up to the enormously successful, and worryingly prophetic, Handmaid’s Tale – the story of a dystopic America, where a huge swathe of the country is under the control of a totalitarian government that has removed the rights of woman to exist as individuals. (Seriously, if you’ve never heard of this book then I think you may be on the wrong blog).

The Testaments carries on a few years after the last book left off, delving deeper into the world of Gilead from the point of view of women living within it, and outside. It’s not the same literary horror story we saw in the first instalment (or indeed, the tv series), so I don’t think it carries the same shock value I remember from reading The Handmaid’s Tale, though now I get less of a sense of ‘this could happen!’ and more of a sense of ‘I think it already has.’

The writing is much lighter, with less of the literary flair we saw in June’s account of her life as a handmaid. What does come across is the hypocrisy of the entire Gilead setup, and the sense that many of the original characters (Aunt Lydia in particular) are perhaps just as much victims as the handmaids; they were just better survivors.

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