#BookReview The Push by Ashley Audrain @MichaelJBooks

The Push Ashley AudrainAbout the Book

What if your experience of motherhood was nothing like what you hoped for – but everything you always feared?

‘The women in this family, we’re different…’

The arrival of baby Violet was meant to be the happiest day of my life. It was meant to be a fresh start. But as soon as I held her in my arms I knew something wasn’t right. I have always known that the women in my family aren’t meant to be mothers.

My husband Fox says I’m imagining it. He tells me I’m nothing like my own mother, and that Violet is the sweetest child. But she’s different with me. Something feels very wrong. Is it her? Or is it me? Is she the monster? Or am I?

Format: Hardcover (320 pages)         Publisher: Michael Joseph
Publication date: 7th January 2021 Genre: Contemporary Fiction

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My Review

I first heard about The Push when it was one of the debut novels featured at the Michael Joseph Proof Party at Henley Literary Festival in 2020. Under normal circumstances, I might have expected to be aboard the Hibernia cruising along the Thames, sipping a glass of fizz while listening to Ashley talk about her book. Since 2020 was definitely not normal, instead I had to make do with the online event, which included an uncorrected proof copy of the book in the ticket price.

The compelling and intriguing prologue of The Push sees a woman (whom we will shortly know as Blythe) observing her daughter through the windows of the house of her former husband, Fox, and his new wife. The story that follows is her account of events, addressed to her ex-husband. The narrative style takes a little getting used to but comes to make absolute sense because the book is her side of the story and, to a certain extent, a self-justification of her response to the events that led up to this point.

Interspersed with Blythe’s first person narrative are occasional flashbacks to the troubled childhood of her mother, Cecilia. Cecilia’s experiences at the hands of her own mother, Etta, leads her to warn her daughter, “One day you’ll understand, Blythe. The women in this family, we’re different…”. It’s a statement that will colour Blythe’s view of herself and influence some of the events that follow.

Despite her understandable reservations about becoming a mother, Blythe is persuaded by Fox that they should start a family. I have never given birth but the author’s vivid description of Blythe’s experience of the birth of her daughter, Violet, brought me as close as I’m ever likely to get – or would want to get, frankly – to the reality of it. The book also conveys the rollercoaster of emotions Blythe experiences after giving birth – from the highs of the wonder and astonishment at the new life she has created to the lows of lack of sleep and the unrelenting nature of caring for a young baby. It brings Blythe close to breaking point. “I felt like the only mother in the world who wouldn’t survive it.”

Blythe worries she can’t live up to Fox’s expectations of what a ‘good mother’ should be however hard she tries. And she really does try.  In fact, society’s expectations of motherhood is one of the themes explored in the book and the extent to which it involves an element of performance, of ‘playing the part’ expected, of hiding the private reality behind the public face.

To make things worse, Blythe struggles to bond with Violet in the way her daughter seems to do naturally with Fox. She confides, “I felt like I would never have with her what you had.” I’m sure I’m not the only reader moved by the rare occasions on which Violet responds to Blythe’s loving gestures. It’s a pattern that continues as Violet grows up, leading Blythe to wonder if is it something about her, or something about Violet that’s not quite right?

The author cleverly sows seeds of doubt in the reader’s mind. Are Blythe’s concerns about Violet’s behaviour merely delusions fuelled by Blythe’s own childhood experiences or a recognition of something within Violet that others fail to see? And are Violet’s questions merely a sign of precocious intelligence or evidence of a manipulative mind at work? As Blythe admits, “there weren’t many places my mind wouldn’t go. My imagination could tiptoe slowly into the unthinkable before I realized where I was headed”.

A shocking event part way through the book brings about a sudden change of tone. From that point on the author skillfully ramps up the tension, creating a chilling sense of foreboding that doesn’t let up until the final page.

From its clever title to its heart-stopping conclusion, The Push is an impressive debut about grief, obsession and betrayal.

In three words: Chilling, intense, suspenseful

Try something similar: The Recovery of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

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About the Author

Ashley Audrain previously worked as the publicity director of Penguin Books Canada. Prior to Penguin, she worked in public relations. She lives in Toronto, where she and her partner are raising their two young children. The Push is her first novel.

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#BookReview The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn @MichaelJBooks

About the Book

Nature holds the answers for Raynor and her husband Moth. After walking 630 homeless miles along The Salt Path, living on the windswept and wild English coastline; the cliffs, the sky and the chalky earth now feel like their home.

Moth has a terminal diagnosis, but against all medical odds, he seems revitalized in nature. Together on the wild coastal path, with their feet firmly rooted outdoors, they discover that anything is possible.

Now, life beyond The Salt Path awaits and they come back to four walls, but the sense of home is illusive and returning to normality is proving difficult – until an incredible gesture by someone who reads their story changes everything.

A chance to breathe life back into a beautiful farmhouse nestled deep in the Cornish hills; rewilding the land and returning nature to its hedgerows becomes their saving grace and their new path to follow.

The Wild Silence is a story of hope triumphing over despair, of lifelong love prevailing over everything. It is a luminous account of the human spirit’s instinctive connection to nature, and how vital it is for us all.

Format: Hardcover (288 pages) Publisher: Michael Joseph
Publication date: 3rd September 2020 Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction

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My Review

I recently read – and loved – The Salt Path by Raynor Winn so how could I resist reading this, the follow-up to that book, especially as Raynor Winn took part in this year’s online Henley Literary Festival and I was lucky enough to bag myself a ticket.

In The Wild Silence, Raynor Winn recounts how the writing of The Salt Path came about, namely her growing realization that Moth had no memory of certain events during their time on the South West Coast Path. “He had let go of a moment that hung so brightly on my tree of memory that I could find its glow in any dark place. But for him the light had dimmed and gone.” She decides to transfer the pencilled notes from their trusty guidebook into a more readable form. “If the guidebook could put me on the path, could it do so for Moth too?”

The book goes on to describe the journey to publication of the book that eventually became The Salt Path (not the author’s original preferred title) and readers’ reaction to it. An introvert by nature, Raynor talks honestly about how difficult initially she found it to attend public events to promote the book. However, hearing the very personal responses to it – “Stories of lives lived, loves lost and walks that changed beliefs” – made it easier over time.

Ironically, it is publicity for The Salt Path that leads to an offer too tempting for Raynor and Moth to refuse – the chance to restore a neglected cider farm and increase its biodiversity. As Raynor notes, “The South West Coast Path had led us out of anguish and despair to a place of hope and possibility. And now, by walking it again on paper, The Salt Path had led us to the farm.”

What started as observation in The Salt Path, namely the positive impact on Moth’s health of their time on the South West Coast Path, is translated in The Wild Silence into a passionate thesis on the contribution that exposure to the natural world has on our physical and mental health. In particular, human interaction with the chemicals emitted by plants. “We need the plants, the land, the natural world; we actually physically need it.”

And it seems to work, having an effect on not just Moth’s health but the natural world on and around the farm. “As surely as removing heavy human interference from the land was allowing the wildlife to return to the farm, so Moth was surviving by returning to a more natural state of existence.” That wildlife includes mice, ospreys, herons, badgers, roe deer, moles, foxes, goat moths, skylarks, goldfinches and toads – not all of it outside the farmhouse.

In fact, Moth’s health is restored to such an extent that he proposes they undertake another long walk. I won’t say where except that it’s through a cold, harsh environment.

As in The Salt Path there is some wonderful writing such as this description of sunset over the Cornish coast: “Torn ribbons of colour fluttering across the evening sky, a maypole dance of light“. Or this, describing the impact of the cider farm being restored: “A deep glow of noise, moving like a whisper across land freed from pollution, lifting over pollen-filled banks of new-sown flowers.”

If you loved The Salt Path you’ll enjoy finding out what happened next and immersing yourself in more of Raynor Winn’s passionate advocacy of the benefits of nature. I received an advance review copy courtesy of Michael Joseph via NetGalley.

In three words: Honest, inspiring, heartfelt

Try something similar: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

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About the Author

Since travelling the South West Coastal Path, Raynor Winn has become a regular long-distance walker and writes about nature, homelessness and wild camping. Her first book, The Salt Path, was a Sunday Times bestseller and shortlisted for the 2018 Costa Biography Award. In The Wild Silence, Raynor explores readjusting to life after homelessness. She lives in Cornwall with her husband Moth.

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