#BookReview The Night of the Flood by Zoë Somerville @HoZ_Books

NightoftheFlood Blog TourWelcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Night of the Flood by Zoë Somerville, which will be published in hardback on 3rd September 2020. My thanks to Lauren at Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my proof copy.

Somerville_The Night of the Flood_HBAbout the Book

Summer, 1952. Verity Frost, stranded on her family farm on the Norfolk coast, is caught between two worlds: the devotion of her childhood friend Arthur, just returned from National Service, and a strange new desire to escape it all. Arthur longs to escape too, but only with Verity by his side.

Into their world steps Jack, a charismatic American pilot flying secret reconnaissance missions off the North Sea coast. But where Verity sees adventure and glamour, Arthur sees only deception. As the water levels rise to breaking point, this tangled web of secrets, lies and passion will bring about a crime that will change all their lives.

Taking the epic real-life North Sea flood as its focus, The Night of the Flood is at once a passionate love story, an atmospheric thriller, and a portrait of a distinctive place in a time of radical social change.

Format: Hardcover (352 pages)              Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication date: 3rd September 2020 Genre: Historical fiction

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My Review

The Night of the Flood involves not one but several love triangles. And we all know that three into two doesn’t go, that there’s always one left over.

The four main characters all to some extent feel as if they are outsiders. Arthur arrived at Howe Farm, home of the Frost family, as a child evacuee but feels he no longer belongs there. Peter Frost feels isolated by his inability to express his true nature and his sister, Verity, finds the expectations that she will marry and start a family alien to her nature. The most obvious outsider is Jack Doherty, a pilot stationed at the nearby American air base. However, he exudes a confidence and easy charm that enables him to be absorbed into local society in a way someone like Arthur can only dream of. A fifth character, Muriel, floats on the periphery. Once a playmate of the Frost children, she now feels distanced from them by her family’s poverty and social status.

Many of the characters also share a sense of thwarted ambition. Arthur has returned from National Service disappointed with the experience. He has aspirations to be a writer or journalist but finds himself instead acting as delivery boy in his mother’s grocery shop. It doesn’t help that he harbours doubts about his relationship with Verity, his childhood sweetheart. His frustration at times manifests itself in violent thoughts. Peter finds himself landed with the task of trying to rescue the family farm from financial ruin caused by his father’s profligacy, unwillingness to embrace change and descent into despair following a family tragedy. Verity’s hopes of studying and travel seem likely to be thwarted at the first hurdle.

In creating such a complex web of relationships, the author has skilfully created the ingredients for a dramatic and enthralling story. At the centre of the web is Verity, although she seems unaware of this and the effect she has on men who, as one character puts it, circle her like dogs on heat.

Starting the story in the months before the flood creates a sense of tension and expectation. Added to this is the backdrop of fear of nuclear war and the beginnings of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. When the flood does finally occur it is both actual and metaphorical. There are dramatic scenes as people try to escape the rising seawater, rescue others and salvage homes and possessions. But the night of the flood also sees events that will have long-lasting repercussions. Like an ebb tide, it leaves Peter and others trying to piece together what, if anything, is left from the wreckage and come to terms with what has lost been forever.

The Night of the Flood is an absorbing story of secrets, obsession and thwarted desire.

In three words: Atmospheric, compelling, dramatic

Try something similar: Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

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Zoe SomervilleAbout the Author

Zoë Somerville is a writer and English teacher. Having lived all over the world – Japan, France, Washington – she now lives in Bath with her family. After completing a creative writing MA at Bath Spa, Zoë started writing her debut novel, which is inspired by her home county, Norfolk, and the devastating North Sea flood of the 1950s.

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#BookReview The Bitch by Pilar Quintana @WorldEdBooks

20200724_093255-1About the Book

Colombia’s Pacific coast, where everyday life entails warding off the brutal forces of nature. In this constant struggle, nothing is taken for granted. Damaris lives with her fisherman husband in a shack on a bluff overlooking the sea. Childless and at that age “when women dry up”, as her uncle puts it, she is eager to adopt an orphaned puppy. But this act may bring more than just affection into her home.

Beauty and dread live side by side in this poignant exploration of the many meanings of motherhood and love.

Format: Paperback (160 pages)       Publisher: World Editions
Publication date: 6th August 2020 Genre: Literary fiction, literature in translation

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My Review

The publishers describe The Bitch as being written in ‘terse prose’ and, in one of the cover quotations, Colombian writer Juan Gabriel Vasquez characterizes the prose as ‘no-nonsense’. I can only agree, as the writing in this slim novel, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman, contains few literary flourishes. That doesn’t mean, however, that the writing lacks power.

I particularly liked the way the author makes the jungle that surrounds the shack in which Damaris and her husband live seem like a character in its own right. Damaris recalls a childhood journey alone through the jungle: ‘The treetops above her formed a solid canopy, and the roots below snarled together. Her feet sank into the dead leaves carpeting the ground and got buried in the mud, and she began to feel like the breathing she could hear was not her own but that of the jungle…’ Later in the book, she faces the prospect of venturing out at night. ‘Before her lay nothing but jungle, still as a beast that’s just swallowed its prey”. In truth, the jungle does indeed harbour very real dangers – venomous snakes and insects.

The Bitch is the third book I’ve read set in Colombia. The first two were The Existence of Pity by Jeannie Zokan and A Reluctant Warrior by Kelly Brooke Nicholls. The latter especially featured the drugs trade as part of its storyline. And, as it happens, later this week I’ll be taking part in the blog tour for Son of Escobar: First Born, a book by the son of notorious drug baron, Pablo Escobar, who controlled eighty per cent of the global cocaine trade before he was shot dead in 1993.

The Bitch portrays another side of Colombia, not necessarily a more attractive side, but one which probably challenges many commonly-held perceptions about the country. Through the experiences of Damaris, it provides an insight into the everyday lives of the ordinary people of Colombia. At times, it was only the mention of cell phones that reminded me the book is set in the present day, so basic are the conditions in which Damaris and her husband, Rogelio, live.

I was struck by the contrast between the ‘big, beautiful weekend homes with gardens, paved walkways and swimming pools’ which Damaris and Rogelio are employed to look after for their absent owners and their own home. ‘The shack where they lived was made of wood and in bad shape. When a storm hit, the whole place shook in the thunder and rocked in the wind, water leaked through the roof and came in through the gaps between wall slats.’

As the book reveals, there’s not just an economic divide but a social one as well. When Damaris and her relatives use the pool of one of the houses one afternoon, she thinks to herself, ‘Nobody would ever mistake them for the owners. A band of poor, badly dressed black folks using rich people’s things’.

It’s difficult not to feel sympathy for Damaris, despite some of the actions she takes towards the end of the book. Her inability to have a child leaves her feeling ‘crushed and inadequate, a disgrace as a woman, a freak of nature’. She also harbours a sense of guilt at her failure as a young girl to prevent a tragedy; so much so that she feels she somehow deserves the hardships and disappointments in her life. That, if anything, these are not punishment enough. When further misfortunes are visited on the same family, she fears they will see her as ‘a black crow, a sign of bad luck’.

Initially devoted to the dog she adopts, which she names Chirli for the daughter she never had, Damaris becomes frustrated and angry when the dog continually misbehaves and runs away. Having drifted apart in recent years, for a brief time the relationship between Rogelio and Damaris is rekindled when he joins her in the search for the dog. Sadly, this is short-lived. Later, the dog’s return acts as a troubling reminder of what has been missing from Damaris’s life. Her disappointment will eventually turn to horror and provoke a rather shocking act of despair and desperation.

I can’t say I found The Bitch an easy read but it certainly provided an insight into a part of the world about which I knew very little. To mark its publication, the book has recently been on tour. Check out the banner at the bottom of this post to see the bloggers who took part.

A final word about the publishers, World Editions. Not only do I admire their championing of translated literature but also that, as well as providing biographical information about the authors and translators of the books they publish, they also include details about the typography and cover designs. Which means, for instance, you get to find out how the cover image for The Bitch came about.

My thanks to World Editions for my advance review copy.

In three words: Dark, atmospheric, unflinching

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About the Author

Pilar Quintana is a Colombian author. She debuted with Cosquillas en la lengua in 2003, and published Coleccionistas de polvos raros in 2007, the same year the Hay Festival selected her as one of the most promising young authors in Latin America. Her latest novel, The Bitch, won the prestigious Colombian Biblioteca de Narrativa Prize, and was selected for several Best Books of 2017 lists, as well as being chosen as one of the most valuable objects to preserve for future generations in a marble time capsule in Bogotá. The Bitch is the first of her works to be translated into English.

Connect with Pilar
Website | Twitter

About the Translator

Lisa Dillman lives in Georgia, USA, where she translates Spanish, Catalan and Latin American writers and teaches at Emory University. Some of her recent translations include Such Small Hands (winner of the 2018 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Award) by Andrés Barba; Signs Preceding the End of the World (winner of the 2016 Best Translated Book Award), Kingdom Cons, and The Transmigration of Bodies (shortlisted for the 2018 Dublin Literary Award) by Yuri Herrera,; and Breathing Through the Wound and A Million Drops by Víctor del Árbol.