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Ash by Alys Einion #bookreview #writingWales

Ash

Anorexia, domestic abuse, female subjugation, religious extremism: Ash by Alys Einion contains an abundance of issues but they don’t get in the way of what is essentially a story about relationships.

Ash is the follow up to her debut novel Inshallah which traced the fateful decision of a woman to swap her native Wales for her husband’s home in Saudi Arabia. When her life is threatened and no-one believes her claims about her husband Muhammed’s abusive behaviour, Amanda flees the country with her children.

Ash finds her back in the UK, struggling to bring up the children, moving from one squalid home to another, always fearful that Muhammed will find them.  The boys eventually find their own way to survive in a country and a way of life that feels alien. But Ash (Aisha) the only daughter, finds it impossible to adjust. Impossible to fit in. Impossible to relate to her mother.

Ash is a moving portrait of a troubled teenage girl and her alienation from her mother. It’s told in the voices of these two women whose experiences have given them a bleak outlook on life.

“Everything is fake, in the end,” says Ash.

All the people who say they love you, they don’t mean it. Those women, the ones my mother shacked up with, they said they loved her, they said they’d be there, and they’re gone. It’s a lie, all of it.

Amanda deals with these frequent disappointments in her life, the times when people let her down by losing herself in her painting. Ash takes a different approach, starving herself and exercising fanatically to lose weight and avoid cruel jibes at school. 

The gulf between these two women is the strongest aspect  of the novel. Initially I found it hard to believe that Amanda would be so engrossed in her painting she wouldn’t notice her daughter’s unhappiness. Forget to shop for groceries yes. Forget to eat, certainly. But fail to see her daughter isn’t eating and has no friends? Not really. As we learned more of Amanda’s background however, her often eccentric behaviour became easier to accept: art is her refuge, a way of forgetting the pain of the past.

Many of the chapters deal with these past events. They help provide the necessary context for the main characters’ current state of mind and explain the tension between mother and daughter. This means there is a certain degree of ‘telling’ in this novel but that wasn’t any barrier to my enjoyment of the book. I found the rewinds to Amanda’s life in Saudi Arabia and her first months back in the UK also helped fill in the background that I was lacking because I hadn’t read Inshallah.  Every chapter is labelled with a colour which often reflects a key mood though this wasn’t always successful and many times I failed to see the significance of the selected colour.

Where the book worked better was in showing the pain and confusion experienced by the teenage Ash. Her response to the psychological warfare waged against her by her class mates — the willowy, slim hipped girls who call her fat — is to reduce her food intake to almost nothing.  Control over her body gives her strength.

They all hate me, they despise me, but they can’t beat me because I am better than them, I can do this now and no-one can stop me. No one is stronger than I am …

If I eat this, they win, and that mens they’re right about it all, that I’m just a fat nothing.

Though Ash is a highly intelligent girl, her predicament makes her vulnerable to exploitation. I won’t go into details of that aspect of the plot because it would spoil the book for other readers, but it gives the novel a highly topical dimension and provides a cliff hanger ending. I suspect that means Alys Einion has a follow up novel in the offing.

There were times I thought the book was a little repetitive but the thrust of the narrative and the depth of the characterisation kept my interest throughout.

Footnotes

About this book: Ash was published in 2018 by Honno Press, independent women’s press in the UK. 

About the author:  Alys Einion has had a varied career. She has been a nurse and a midwife but now works  as Associate Professor of Midwifery and Women’s Health at Swansea University in Wales. She gained a PhD in 2012, studying the intersection between women’s life writing, fiction and representations of sexual violence, which led to the publication of her first novel Inshallah. She also has aPhD in Creative Writing

Why I read this book: I’ve been making a conscious effort in the last couple of years to read more books from authors and publishers based in Wales. I couldn’t resist this one when I saw it on the Honno website. Aly

Books to give and receive Christmas 2018

A few weeks ago the editors at Shiny New Books asked their team of reviewers (plus some friends) to reveal which book or books they’d like to give for Christmas.

I thought that was such a great idea I decided to do my own version but with a little twist. While we all enjoy giving we also enjoy the excitement of receiving. And so I asked  bloggers, publishers, authors and avid readers based in Wales what book/s they’d most like to give as a Christmas gift but what book or books they secretly hoped Santa would bring them this year.

They’ve come up with an eclectic list incorporating a literary classic to a short story collection, a ‘clean eating’ cook book and, in one case, a novel that hasn’t yet been completed…..

Helena Earnshaw: Honno Press 

Would love to give: Stranger Within the Gates by Bertha Thomas

stranger-within-the_gates“Obviously I love to give books published by Honno, and particularly from the Welsh Women’s Classics, hoping to introduce friends and family to these great women writers of the past! Stranger Within the Gates, by Bertha Thomas, is a favourite. Although written over 100 years ago, it has a contemporary appeal — it contains a witty pro-suffrage parody, as well as other sharply observed stories.

We’ve also recently brought out a new edition of The Rebecca Rioter by Amy Dillwyn, with a great new cover that makes a beautiful and interesting gift. ”

 

Hoping Santa will bring….

“I am torn between three books. I’m hoping for The Original Suffrage Cook Book, originally published in 1915 to help raise funds for the campaign for the vote for women. The Women’s Atlas, by Joni Seager also looks like a fascinating resource as does Y Lolfa’s Codi Llais by 14 Welsh women about what it means to be a woman in the 21st century.

“In fiction, I am hoping for Disobedience by Naomi Alderman. A bit of a well known choice, with the upcoming film, but a recent interview with the author was so moving and fascinating that I feel I need to read the book. ”

Cerian Fishlock: Publishing student

Would love to give: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

“Of course you’d want to tailor a gift to your chosen recipient, but this is both my favourite book of all time, and the book I think everyone should read. It’s a phenomenal piece of literature, beautifully crafted, and causes you to question the basis of human nature. The Penguin Classics edition is a beautiful text, making it the perfect present for Stevenson fans and virgins alike.”

Hoping Santa will bring….

modern cook“I regularly buy myself a novel or work of fiction (thank you Waterstones for your buy-one-get-one-half-price offer), but very rarely pick up a non-fiction book for myself. Of course the New Year heralds the season of diet manuals and ‘get fit quick’ guides. Ignore those, head straight to Anna Jones’ vegetarian bibles instead. The Modern Cook’s Year and A Modern Way to Cook ignore all the jargon of current trends and offer realistic recipes which fit in with modern life — all wrapped up with mouth-watering photography.

 

An Edited Life by blogger Anna Newton, is an upcoming guide to getting your life in order (now available for pre-order in the UK). Whilst I’m not usually interested in social media stars turned authors, a quick peruse of Anna’s blog (The Anna Edit) will prove all the inspiration you need to overhaul your wardrobe/loft/kitchen/makeup… I could go on.”

Susan Corcoran: Blogger at booksaremycwtches

Would love to give: The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech

“This is a dark, consuming drama that shifts from Zimbabwe to England, and then back into the past, The Lion Tamer Who Lost is also a devastatingly beautiful love story, with a tragic heart. It’s a joy to read, heart breaking and exquisite. For me, it’s her finest book to date.”

Hoping Santa will bring….

Silence of the girls“The books I secretly hope Santa brings me are Pat Barker’s The Silence Of The Girls. Having fallen deeply in love with Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, it would be fascinating to read the story from a female character’s point of view.

The other would be A Keeper by Graham Norton. I loved his first book and really want to read this one.”

 

 

 

Thorne Moore: author

Albi“I’d give Albi by Hilary Shepherd, the best and most thought-provoking book I’ve read this year. It’s about real history and human nature in crisis.

I’d love to receive — from Santa, who is magical and can therefore achieve anything —volume 3 of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, because I am itching for it, so it would make the perfect Christmas present.”

 

 

 

Kath Eastman: Blogger at The Nut Press

Would love to give: The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale

“I try and fit the book to its recipient and their interests but these are some of my go-to book gifts this year:

The Toy Makers“The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale is set in a toy emporium which opens in London when the first frost appears and shows how magical the imagination can be but there’s also a darkness to it as well which I loved. I think it’s a perfect read for this time of year.

“I’m giving crime fans Amy Lloyd’s The Innocent Wife which is a really impressive debut looking at a woman who campaigns for, falls for and marries a death row prisoner, only for him to be released and for her to discover that’s when life gets interesting.

“My other choice would be The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway by Rhys Thomas which is about an unlikely superhero: it’s geeky, humorous, heartbreaking and refreshingly different. I’d recommend it to fans of Eleanor Oliphant and comic book heroes alike.”

Hoping Santa will bring….

“I already have more than enough unread books to keep me going over the festive period, so I’d be happy with some book tokens for Christmas to put towards some of the terrific new releases coming in the New Year.

That said, I wouldn’t say no to finding the Costa shortlisted novel The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman under the tree, or John Boyne’s A Ladder to the Sky, both of which really appeal to me.

Megan Farr: Firefly Press and Graffeg

Would love to give: The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher

Clockwork Crow“A book I would gift to all children aged 8-12, as well as their parents, is this beautifully written and magical book by Catherine Fisher. It is the perfect read over the Christmas holidays, as the story is set in a snowy Victorian mid-Wales in the lead up to Christmas Day. When orphan Seren arrives as her new home she finds that the family is in mourning as their son has been missing for a year and a day. Seren sets off with the help of an enchanted Clockwork Crow to find him in this magical story of snow and stars from a master storyteller.”

 

Hoping Santa will bring….

“I am very much hoping to find Middle England by Jonathan Coe and Cassandra Drake by Posy Simmonds under the Christmas tree. I recently read The Rotter’s Club and very much look forward to revisiting the characters after the financial crash of 2008, following them to the present day, and seeing what Coe makes of the Brexit fall-out. I am equally excited to read Posy Simmonds’ first graphic novel in 11 years, being a huge fan. Her graphic novels are always a delicious mix of gorgeous drawing, brilliant characters and great societal observation.”

Bookends #9 Sept 2018

For once I am not racing to get the Bookends post done before the weekend disappears. Maybe it’s the Indian summer we are currently experiencing in the UK that has stimulated my productivity?

This week I bring you an article about one woman’s bid to read 200 female writers by 2020, how to tackle the challenge of reading challenging books and a novel

Book: Ash by Alys Einin..

AshMy book choice today comes from Honno, an independent women’s press based in Wales. This is the second novel by Alys Einon who somehow finds the time to write in between her work as an associate professor in midwifery and women’s health and a part-time lecturer for the Open University.

Ash is the story of a woman who runs away from an abusive marriage in Saudi Arabia with her four sons and infant daughter, Aisha. She finds sanctuary with a community of women at Blossom House but is always fearful that her husband will come looking for his children.

It’s a while since I read anything by Honno but this is a good opportunity to make up for lost time.

 

 

Blog Post: Unhappy experiences reading assigned books

CurlyGeek has been making good progress with a ReadHarder challenge this year but the latest requirement, to revisit a classic that she hated, has her thinking back to other unhappy experiences with classics.  In her latest update she names Jane Eyre as her nemesis but also still bears scars from being made to read Crime and Punishment, The Grapes of Wrath and The Scarlet Letter.

I bet everyone has their own bête noires from their time in the education system.

Mine would be:

Comus by John Milton. Can you imagine anything more unlikely to interest a bunch of hormone-charged sixteen-year-olds than a 17th century masque in honour of chastity? I have no recollection about the plot or the characters – I simply remember it as being deadly dull.

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev. This was something to do with a student and the gulf of understanding between him and his father. I had my usual difficulty with Russian novels – the way that characters seem to have more than one name, making it doubly hard to keep track of who each person is.

The Rover by Aphra Behn. This was a set text on an Open University literature course, selected I strongly suspect because it was felt there should be a recognition of women writers. Even seeing a production starring Daniel Craig (many many years before he became famous as James Bond) did nothing to increase my enjoyment of this text.

Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I know that for some people, my inclusion of this novel is tantamount to heresy. Sorry everyone but I just don’t get what all the fuss is about. It’s ok but nothing more. I’ve read it three times and get the same reaction each time.

What would be on your list??

Article: 200 books by women writers

Sophie Baggott was shocked to learn that male authors account for two thirds of the translated fiction market. Three months ago she set out to change her own reading habits by embarking on a project to read 200 books by women authors from around the world by the year 2020.

Her starting point she says was ” a realisation that anglocentric and male-dominated reading habits were blinkering my worldview.”

She’s now 10% of the way to achieving her goal and has put a list together of books she has read so far, and the countries she has yet to visit. The Guardian article in which she explains her project  is here.  She has also created a blog where she lists the books she has read and the countries she has yet to visit.  I’m going to watch this with interest because in my own world of literature project (one that is considerably more modest in scale than Sophie’s) I have struggled to find authors from some countries and I wasn’t giving myself the added hurdle of only reading female authors.

And so that’s a wrap for this episode of Bookends. Have you found anything new exciting and to read this week that might entice me?

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