Review catch-up

On Presence: Essays | Drawings by Peter Reason and Sarah Gillespie

Recruiting Peter to the team of Shiny New Books reviewers was a bit of a coup – in fact he approached us. A retired professor, he has a deep interest in the natural world and humanity’s place in the ecology of the planet. His deeply considered reviews of books on nature, climate change, ecology etc. have given Shiny’s non-fiction offerings a welcome focus in that arena. Before Shiny, Peter has written two books about his sailing voyages, weaving ecology into them – and he’s currently sailing to Iceland!

In the interest of full disclosure, although we’ve yet to meet in person, I’d consider Peter a virtual friend now. So I couldn’t say no to receiving a copy of his latest publishing venture – thank you Peter. He has worked with his artist niece to produce a short book, On Presence, combining his essays with his niece’s drawings.

This beautifully produced slim book with its wraparound cover (above) by uncle and niece was a pleasure to read and examine. Peter’s essays dwell on nature and being in nature, The Orchard, The Nest and Silence are complemented by his niece Sarah’s incredibly detailed, almost photographic drawings. The fourth essay Art in a Time of Catastrophe is more of a conversation between the pair discussing their work and Sarah’s art techniques, again it is bookended by Sarah’s drawings.

Both art and essays beguile, but the underlying message is ecological, as presaged by the epigraph to the book from Jan Zwicky’s Learning to Die: Wisdom in the age of climate crisis, which Peter reviewed for Shiny here. I savoured this contemplative book and just adored the drawings.

Buy On Presence £7 at Amazon UK (affiliate link).

A rare DNF: Village of the Lost Girls by Agustín Martínez

Translated by Frank Wynne

Being a fan of translator Frank Wynne, I was looking forward to reading this Spanish abduction thriller. But, although Wynne’s translation was excellent as usual, the book wasn’t – I only read 112 of its 487 pages before giving up.

It tells the story of a remote village in the Pyrenees where two eleven-year-old girls went missing. The village lived on in hope, and when, five years later, one of the girls reappears, the stakes are raised sky high to find the other. After a prologue in which the two girls play in the snow before their abduction, and a newspaper report of it – the novel itself begins with a car crash, the driver is killed, but the girl is alive. The girl is Ana. Where is Lucia?

From thereon in, the story jumps around all over the place – from person to person and location to location – some short vignettes, some longer sections. Presumably intended to illustrate the real-time nature of the case – but for me it had the opposite effect of making it rather bitty to read. The first twist came surprisingly early in the story, which destroyed some of the initial tension. However, I would imagine that there will twists aplenty to come – after all – this is a relatively closed community and everyone knows everyone else, they’ll all have secrets – but there are too many characters.

The main problem with the book was its waffle. I wish it had been edited down to say 350 or so pages (or fewer even). At 487 pages, the waffle continually diluted the urgency. Only the burgeoning relationship between local policeman Victor and imported major crime officer Sara, who manages to shoot Victor’s dog by mistake early on, kept me reading as far as I did. The rest of the plot was too diffuse and slowburn, (and potentially nasty in a paedophile way), to continue.

Source: Review copy.  Agustín Martínez, Village of the Lost Girls, trans Frank Wynne (Quercus, Jan 2019) Hardback 496 pages.

BUY at Amazon UK, Blackwell’s (affiliate link)

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