#BlogTour #BookReview Real Life by Adeline Dieudonné @WorldEdBooks

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Real Life by Adeline Dieudonné, translated from the French by Roland Glasser. Real Life was published in paperback on 13th February 2020. Thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate and to World Editions for my proof copy. You can find out what I thought about Real Life below.

Dieudonné_RealLifeAbout the Book

At home there are four rooms: one for her, one for her brother, one for her parents … and one for the carcasses. The father is a big game hunter, a powerful predator; the mother is submissive to her violent husband’s demands. The young narrator spends the days with her brother, Sam, playing in the shells of cars dumped for scrap and listening out for the chimes of the ice-cream truck, until a brutal accident shatters their world.

The uncompromising pen of Adeline Dieudonné wields flashes of brilliance as she brings her characters to life in a world that is both dark and sensual. This breathtaking debut is a sharp and funny coming-of-age tale in which reality and illusion collide.

Format: Paperback (320 pages)          Publisher: World Editions
Publication date: 13 February 2020 Genre: Literary fiction, literature in translation

Find Real Life on Goodreads

Purchase links*
Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com | Hive (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

My Review

At one point in the book, the unnamed narrator attempts to reassure her younger brother, Sam, scared by tales of what lurks in the woods beyond their house, by saying “Stories exist to contain everything that frightens us. That way we can be sure those things won’t happen in real life.”

If only that were so. In fact, the real life she and Sam experience is the stuff of nightmares. A violent, tyrannical father who gets his kicks from killing animals and displaying them as trophies in his carcass room (described as ‘a Noah’s Ark of the dead’). A mother who has been so cowed into passivity by their father’s physical and psychological abuse that her daughter dismissively compares her to an amoeba. The scenes of the family’s tense meal times powerfully communicate the sense that violence can erupt at any moment. “Life was a big soup in a mixer where you had to try and avoid being shredded by the blades.”

When the children witness a dreadful freak accident, the trauma causes our narrator to believe that an evil presence has taken up residence within her brother. Feeling a responsibility to save him, she comes up with a plan that involves channelling her obvious intelligence and hunger for learning into the study of physics.

Our narrator also becomes convinced her life is not the one she was intended to lead, that she is in the “flawed offshoot” of a life that should have taken a different direction, and that still can. This conviction, combined with a growing awareness of her own sexuality, leads her into risky behaviour that will have dramatic consequences.

Described as ‘A Lord of the Flies for the #MeToo generation’, I won’t say Real Life makes comfortable reading but it contains some striking imagery and is a powerful, unflinching depiction of a young girl’s attempt to thrive despite her dysfunctional family. I found her determination to save her brother a flash of light in an otherwise dark story.

In three words: Dark, intense, compelling

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Adeline Dieudonne Author PicAbout the Author

Adeline Dieudonné was born in 1982 and lives in Brussels. A playwright and short-story writer, her first novella, Amarula, was awarded the Grand Prix of the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. Two further booklets were published by Editions Lamiroy in 2017: Seule dans le noir and Bonobo Moussaka.

Real Life was recently awarded the prestigious Prix du Roman FNAC, the Prix Rossel, the Prix Renaudot des Lycéens, and the Prix Filigrane, a French prize for a work of high literary quality with wide appeal. Dieudonné also performs as a stand-up comedian.

About the Translator

Roland Glasser is an award-winning translator of French literature, based in London.

Real Life BT Poster

#BlogTour #BookReview The Bermondsey Bookshop by Mary Gibson @HoZ_Books

Blog Tour Poster

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Bermondsey Bookshop by Mary Gibson, published yesterday in hardback and as an ebook by Head Of Zeus. Thanks to Vicky Joss for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my review copy via NetGalley.

The Bermondsey BookshopAbout the Book

Set in 1920s London, this is the inspiring story of Kate Goss’s struggle against poverty, hunger and cruel family secrets.

Her mother died in a fall, her father has vanished without trace, and now her aunt and cousins treat her viciously. In a freezing, vermin-infested garret, factory girl Kate has only her own brave spirit and dreams of finding her father to keep her going. She has barely enough money to feed herself, or to pay the rent. The factory where she works begins to lay off people and it isn’t long before she has fallen into the hands of the violent local money-lender.

That is until an unexpected opportunity comes her way – a job cleaning a most unusual bookshop, where anyone, from factory workers to dockers, can learn to read and then buy books cheaply. A new world opens up, but with it come new dangers, too.

Based on the true story of the Bermondsey Bookshop, this is the most inspiring and gripping novel Mary Gibson has yet written.

Format: Hardcover, ebook (448 pages)      Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication date: 6th February 2020         Genre: Historical Fiction

Find The Bermondsey Bookshop on Goodreads

Purchase links*
Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com | Hive (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

My Review

The story moves at a pace that allows plenty of opportunity for the author to provide detail about daily life for working class families in 1920s Bermondsey. The contrast between their experience – poor and overcrowded housing, ill health, insecure work – and that of the wealthier and more privileged is vividly depicted. In a neat inversion, it is Kate who lives in a garret and Martin, the artist for whom she models, who lives in a swanky flat.

I might have wished for a little more of the story to be focused on the Bermondsey Bookshop itself (which actually existed, founded in 1921 by Ethel Gutman, who also appears in the book). Instead its main role is to act as a location for Kate to meet other characters that she might not otherwise have encountered. For example, wealthy French teacher, Nora, or Martin, the aforementioned artist.

In Kate, the author has created an incredibly engaging main character – spirited, independent-minded, intelligent, and resilient. She certainly needs to be all those things because the author gives her plenty of trials and tribulations to face including homelessness, unemployment, debt, intimidation and cruelty from people who should treat her better. Happiness is indeed precarious. Through it all, you can’t help rooting for Kate – or forgiving her the odd purloined sticky bun or fisticuffs with her cousin Stan.

Initially, I couldn’t warm to Kate’s childhood sweetheart, Johnny, despite his own unhappy situation, but later I was forced to reappraise my view.  I also thought Kate’s idealised picture of the father who’d abandoned her as a child, although evidence of her generous nature, showed more than a little naivety. I wasn’t completely surprised by how things turned out.

As Kate learns, it’s not merely distance that separates Bermondsey and Belgravia, money doesn’t necessarily buy you happiness, ‘wealth is not the same as worth’, and dreams are sometimes just that. She’d learned the folly of pinning her hopes on someone else to give her a better life, but she’d also learned her own power.’

The Bermondsey Bookshop has all the ingredients readers look for in this brand of historical fiction: a well-crafted story with great period atmosphere; moments of melodrama; a varied cast of characters, some likeable, others definitely not; and an inspiring message of the possibility of triumph over adversity.  Cinderella meets My Fair Lady, if you like.

For more information about the setting of the book (and biscuits) you can read my Q&A with Mary as part of the blog tour to celebrate publication of her previous book, Hattie’s Home.

In three words: Heart-warming, dramatic, emotional

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Mary GibsonAbout the Author

Mary Gibson was born and brought up in Bermondsey, south east London. After a thirty year career in publishing, she took the opportunity of early retirement to write a book of her own. Her début novel, Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts, was inspired by the lives and times of her grandparents in World War One Bermondsey. It went on to become a top ten Kindle best seller and was selected for World Book Night 2015.

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