The Rites [of beauty] teach women to fear our own futures, our own wants. To live in fear of one’s body and one’s life is not to live at all.
From: The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
I was given The Truth and Other Lies by Sacha Arango by the lovely Elizabeth Preston on my last visit to London, and I could not be happier, because I have to admit that I would not have picked the book for myself in a book shop. Elizabeth is a great friend of mine, and she knows what I like to read – we finally met in real life at this year’s CrimeFest, talk about common interests! – so, I trusted her when she said I would love this book. She was right.
Fiction is the truth inside a lie.
The Truth and Other Lies tells the story of Henry Hayden, a best-selling author leading a tranquil life in a little town with her wife, Martha, while working on his next novel. Until everything falls apart. We soon learn that it is not Henry himself who writes the novels, it is his wife, but trying to escape all fame, and success, she lets him publish the texts under his name. Martha writes at night, art for art’s sake, while Henry leads a socially active, and very public life. The dualism between the couple, the way they complement each other, reminds the reader of old-fashioned narratives, and I could not but resent the way Martha was relegated to the private, domestic sphere – Martha does not even accompany Henry to literary festivals or readings – while Henry did all the social activities related to being a writer. However, Arango goes beyond this simply gender-biased construction of social roles, using some meta and postmodern techniques that I’d rather let you discover by reading the novel. This is one of the things that I loved most about the novel: because it is a writer’s story, there are constant references to writing, narratives, and images, that make the novel a very complex text.
The book is compared to Patricia Highsmith’s work, and I can see why. The characters, as well as the themes, felt very classic, and I wondered a few times while reading, if Arango is trying to pay homage to mid-century crime fiction writers. However, his writing is strong enough to stand on his own, and I plan on keeping an eye on him. It took me only three sittings to finish the novel, and even though the female characters were somehow irritating – I quote: “Man is his own worst enemy; women’s worst enemy is other women”– I loved the little surprises that the meta-text gifts the reader with. And, above all, I loved the way Arango made me want to know more about Henry, and about Martha.
By the time this post goes up, I hope I’m already enjoying my short, but well-deserved (and PhD-Supervisors’-forced) summer break, on which I plan to go with a case full of books to our house by the beach and spend my days reading and writing – until I get really bored, which should happen by day 3, and then I’ll enroll on some kind of course. Meanwhile, I’ve finally started Atonement by Ian McEwan, bought in September 2014.
No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary is the second installment in the very successful Marnie Rome series. If you have not heard about Sarah Hilary or Marnie Rome yet, and you are looking for a great crime fiction series, skip this review and go back to Someone Else’s Skin, read our exclusive interview with Sarah herself, or our article on her now famous main character, feminism and women in crime fiction.
No Other Darkness starts soon after Someone Else’s Skin‘s ending. DI Marnie Rome, now safe back home, and recovering from her own personal ordeal, is called along DS Noah Jake to a peculiar crime scene: a bunker under one of Bristol’s most recent suburbia, where the corpses of two children have been found. The existence of the bunker, unknown to all neighbours, will start one of the most traumatic investigations in crime fiction I have ever read.
My experience reading crime fiction is that most readers have some taboo subjects that they will not consider reading about at all – one of mine is the Holocaust – but crimes against children seem to be a popular one. So, if you fall into this category, do not consider No Other Darkness, because although Hilary treats the victims with the respect, and sympathy they deserve, she does not omit the most violent details. If with her first Marnie Rome novel the author took a chance with the resolution of the crime, then, with No Other Darkness Sarah Hilary is positioning herself among the most subversive crime authors nowadays.
This second novel also puts DI Rome’s personal life besides to focus in DS Jake’s one. No surprise here, except for the fact that Jake’s position as a Black, gay man, with a troubled family life is a shout-out to the lack of racial, and sexual diversity in crime fiction, even in 2015. I especially liked how the reader is presented with love scenes between Noah and his boyfriend, and the glimpse we get into homosexual desire, which locates it equally – in many ways – to Marnie’s own heterosexual desire for her boyfriend.
So, I really enjoyed No Other Darkness, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Someone Else’s Skin, but I would also recommend reading the series in order: there are only two books, and Rome’s personal journey is worth doing the effort. As for Hilary, I think she is one of the UK’s most complex, and subversive crime fiction writers nowadays, not only because of the crimes she writes, but also because of the inclusiveness of her writing: gender issues, sexuality, race, mental health, and body issues make of her stories top crime fiction.
Forensics (2015) by Val McDermid is a non-fiction book, and the official companion to the Wellcome Trust’s exhibition with the same name, that runs from January until June, 2015. Because of the theme of this blog, and my PhD, fellow crime fiction academic Mrs.P encouraged me to pay my first visit to London to see the exhibition. After much thinking and planning, I made it to the City a month ago, and what can I say? I fell in love with it.
Reading Forensics has been one of the most pleasurable readings of 2015. I had been trying to get back to my normal reading for some months, and this book played the trick perfectly. Val McDermid has organised the book thematically, so that each chapter is devoted to a different forensic science. You can find anything from DNA profiling to fire scene investigation, and experts back up all the narrative, so that the reading feels well-researched, and accessible at the same time. However, the book is not simply a non-fiction exploration of forensic science, and McDermid’s voice is present throughout the narrative, so that we get glimpses of her own life experience with forensic science. And not only that, but her admiration for forensic experts percolates the pages as well. Sue Black from the University of Dundee is a forensic anthropologist and the person that, during my reading, appreciated the most. I don’t know if it was because the chapter on forensic anthropology hit close to home, or if McDermid herself has a special relationship with Dr. Black, but I know regard her with special fondness.
Now, Forensics – the book – is the companion to the Wellcome Collection exhibition under the same name, currently open at the Wellcome Collection building in Euston Road, London. The book follows the exhibition in its organisation, so that there are five rooms, each devoted to a different stage in the investigation of a crime, from the crime scene itself to the courtroom. I visited it last Friday, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in crime fiction, because the curators have found the perfect combination between science and art, all accessible for the general public. However, there is some sensitive content, so, please make sure you are aware of this before visiting. For crime fiction fans, the exhibition could very well be Heaven, because the Trust has made available original manuscripts from the Jack the Ripper cases, as well as some medical evidence. There are also short videos in which forensic experts explain their roles during a criminal investigation, and artistic recordings of – please, sit down – the first cut performed on a corpse during an autopsy.
So, if you are incurably curious about forensic science, I think you should visit the Forensic exhibition before it closes its door on the 21st of June, 2015. However, do not read Forensics by Val McDermid before your visit. Let the place surprise you, and then you will be able to remember bits, and explore forensic science more in depth if you decide to purchase the book. I made the terrible mistake of studying the book before the visit, and I felt it was just offering me glimpses of the text.
I have now been back Home for a week, and things have changed in unexpected, beautiful ways. Back at CrimeFest15 I was asked by a few people whether Books & Reviews was still running or not. The last six months have been quite an adventure, and my reading suffered from it. I tried to keep up with my PhD reading, and that left me feeling exhausted once I was back home, so my non-official reading was almost non-existent.
However, a wonderful trip to Swansea and the lovely bunch of people I met there have radically changed this for me. And I know this because I’m back to reading. It is not that I have to read, I want to. I need to. Watching TV does not work anymore – at least not as much as it did three months ago – and I feel a hunger for books, for stories, and for words. And it is thanks to people who I can now call my friends that I can do this. If any of you ever stumble upon this post, thank you :)
My first book on my back-to-reading era is Forensics by Val McDermid. This book was created as a companion to the Wellcome Trust exhibition with the same name that has been running since February in the organisation’s building in London. McDermid does a terrific job revising the history of forensic science and making it available for non-scientific readers. I have even had the pleasure of commenting my reading with her on Twitter, because apart from doing excellent research, she consistently uses ‘she’ instead of ‘he’ to refer to generic individuals, and… it was about time!
As for more reading, I am writing this on a stay-at-home Saturday evening, counting the minutes until writing has made it for me to rush back to my To-Be-Read pile and pick another book to enjoy. I have never been good at parallel reading, but if I’ve learned something these past months is that things change. And that’s OK.
This year I actually made it to CrimeFest 2015 held at the Royal Marriott Hotel in Bristol, and as you can imagine, I fangirled my way through it. I got to meet some of my favourite authors and bloggers, and I was asked a few times if Books & Reviews is till running, which I can say yes. My PhD, a bad break up and lots of travelling have kept me busy for the last months, but now I’m back!
And here they are, the pictures of me with every author, blogger and publisher who spent more than 5 minutes with me: