#BookReview Red Is My Heart by Antoine Laurain and Le Sonneur @BelgraviaB

Red Is My Heart CoverAbout the Book

How can you mend a broken heart?

Do you write a letter to the woman who left you – and post it to an imaginary address? Buy a new watch, to reset your life? Or get rid of the jacket you wore every time you argued, because it was in some way … responsible?

Combining the wry musings of a rejected lover with playful drawings in just three colours – red, black and white – bestselling author of The Red Notebook, Antoine Laurain, and renowned street artist Le Sonneur have created a striking addition to the literature of unrequited love. Sharp, yet warm, whimsical and deeply Parisian, this is a must for all Antoine Laurain fans.

Format: Paperback (192 pages)         Publisher: Gallic Books
Publication date: 18th January 2022 Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Literature in Translation
ISBN13: 9781913547189

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My Review

Red Is My Heart is one of those books that looks simple on the surface but repays a slow reading to appreciate its subtlety. The musings of the narrator following the end of a love affair are communicated in a reflective manner but with a wry humour and incorporating subtle wordplay, skilfully preserved in the translation by Jane Aitken. One of my favourite examples was the narrator’s cheeky comment about the book’s illustrator, street artist Le Sonneur, ‘His art does not last and serves no purpose’.

The narrator finds reminders of lost love in everyday objects such as a watch, a ‘his and hers’ keyring or a jacket. Through some sort of twisted or desperate logic he blames the latter for the failure of their love affair.  He even clings to the memory of their relationship through the unlikely vehicle of an airport tannoy announcement. The book also details the slow, painful process of discarding memories of a relationship whether that’s in the form or photographs or gifts.

There’s very little text, some pages containing only a single paragraph or a few sentences. However, what text there is uses different fonts, different sizes of text, words in bold, etc. to reinforce the meaning of the prose. Some of the text is printed upside down or at right angles meaning the reader has to physically manipulate the book to read the words. This is definitely not a book that could be appreciated in digital format!

The illustrations are a brilliant companion to the text, especially striking because of their use of only the colours black, white and red. The illustrations pick up on elements in the narrator’s musings – such as a ladder – or act as metaphors for separation, such as the scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle or a small, lone figure looking out from a balcony surrounded by a sea of houses. The repeated motif of a red dot that gets smaller and smaller, always remaining out of reach, seems to reflect the growing distance between the narrator and his lost love.  Does the quirky keypad on a door and a red dot that increases in size towards the end of the book suggest the possibility of a new relationship?  Perhaps he was wise after all to give away that unlucky jacket!

Leaving aside the writing and illustrations, Red Is My Heart is a work of art in itself, from the embossed front and back covers to the French fold jacket. My thanks to Isabelle at Gallic Books for my advance review copy of this little gem of a book.

In three words: Touching, playful, imaginative

Try something similar: Together by Luke Adam Hawker

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About the Author

Pascal Ito © Flammarion

Antoine Laurain is the bestselling author of six previous novels, including The President’s Hat, a Waterstones Book Club pick which won the Prix Landerneau and the Prix Relay des Voyageurs, and was adapted for television, and The Red Notebook, which featured in the Duchess of Cornwall’s Reading Room, an Instagram book club with over 100k followers. His novels have been translated into more than twenty languages, including Arabic and Korean.  A writer, journalist and antique collector, he lives in Paris.

Connect with Antoine
Website | Instagram

About the Illustrator

Le Sonneur is a contemporary Parisian artist. His work tells the story of Paris and the people who live there. His artwork is often placed in public spaces with an invitation to passers-by to interact with the work, for example by picking up a key or calling a telephone number. As well as in Paris, his work has been exhibited in Tokyo, Berlin, Melbourne and Dubai. (Photo/bio: Publisher author page)

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#BookReview Jane’s Country Year by Malcolm Saville @KateHandheld

Jane's Country YearAbout the Book

‘At last she reached the brow of the hill … now the country opened out below her and she looked down into a wide and lovely valley … Still patched with snow the little fields spread like a carpet below her and here and there a farmhouse with barns and golden ricks was clearly seen. Across the plain ran, straight as a ruler, a railway line and she saw a toy train puffing and crawling across the picture.’

Malcolm Saville’s classic novel is about eleven-year old Jane’s discovery of nature and country life during a year spent convalescing on her uncle’s farm, after having been dangerously ill in post-war London. This deeply-felt novel was written while Saville was extending his range as a writer, alongside his very successful Lone Pine adventure series, and nature anthologies for children.

Inspired by the experiences of Saville’s own god-daughter, this marvellous novel is full of the wonder of discovery, as well the happiness of regaining health, making friends, and learning to love the natural world. The novel is also a record of rural England eighty years ago, written by one of the great twentieth century English nature writers.

Format: Paperback (237 pages)         Publisher: Handheld Press
Publication date: 18th January 2022 Genre: Modern Classics, Children’s Books, Nature

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My Review

Handheld Press has built a deserved reputation for publishing new editions of forgotten fiction and books by lost authors. Jane’s Country Year is no exception being the first new edition of the book since it was first published in 1946.

As with all books in the Handheld Classics series, it has a fascinating introduction, in this case by Hazel Sheeky Bird of the University of Newcastle. As well as providing background information about Malcolm Saville and his other works, Hazel Sheeky Bird explores some of the themes of the book and puts it into historical context. She notes the book’s ‘unsentimental attitude to the natural world’ and its place in what has been described as ‘didactic fiction’, in other words fiction intended to educate as well as entertain.  The book also contains useful notes by Handheld’s founder and commissioning editor, Kate Macdonald, in which she explains some terms in the book that may be unfamiliar to modern readers. My favourites were ‘warm knickers’ and ‘licked his pencil’.

Jane's Country YearFrom the moment Jane arrives at Moor End, the farm owned by her Uncle William and Aunt Kate, she notices the differences between town and country life: the lack of traffic noise, the unimpeded view from her bedroom window, the sound of bird song and the daily rhythm of farming life. As time goes by she learns more about animal husbandry and how food is produced. As she discovers, the operation of Moor End Farm still relies largely on manual labour, horse-drawn ploughs and basic farm machinery. The changing seasons are marked by tasks in the farming calendar – sowing, threshing, harvesting – with Jane enthusiastically joining in some of these tasks.

She is also introduced to the fauna and flora of the countryside surrounding the farm by Robert, the son of the rector of the local church. Together, the friends explore the woods, fields and country lanes spotting birds, insects, butterflies and woodland animals as well as identifying the wildflowers that grow in the fields and hedgerows.  Jane recounts some of these finds in the touching ‘Moor End’ letters she writes to her parents.

The author clearly has a passion for the natural world and a desire to pass on that enthusiasm to his readers. There are some wonderfully lyrical descriptions of the countryside and nature. ‘Her uncle’s cornfields blazed with scarlet poppies and a handsome lime tree in the rectory garden sang with the music of myriads of bees seeking the honey of the little flowers.’

The healing power of nature and the outdoors is another theme. Jane arrives at Moor End a pale, sickly child but a spring and summer spent out in the open air, as well as Aunt Kate’s simple but hearty meals and an abundant supply of tea, restores her to health, so much so that her parents hardly recognise her when they pay a visit. One can perhaps sympathize with her mother’s over-protectiveness towards Jane having nursed her through a serious illness, however, I’m sure I’m not the only reader to give a little cheer as Jane takes part in a race at the Bank Holiday fair on the village green.

Jane's Country YearThe book has beautiful full colour illustrations by Bernard Bowerman reproduced from the original edition. I think they would make a wonderful calendar.

In her introduction, Hazel Sheeky Bird notes, ‘Like many authors of genre fiction, Saville has always occupied an uneasy position – beloved by his readers, but frequently criticised by those who were not his intended audience’.  Although written for younger readers, I believe Jane’s Country Year will appeal to anyone interested in rural life in the 1940s, the countryside or the natural world. It also ties in with present days concerns about the environment, sustainability and the preservation of the countryside. As Uncle William remarks at one point, ‘And so you see Janey how ’tis that everything that came from the soil goes back into it at last’. I thought it was utterly charming.

If my review has made you interested in learning more about the book and its author, you can obtain a free ticket for the online book launch on 17th January 2022 here.

My thanks to Kate at Handheld Press for my advance review copy.

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