Book Review - Nutshell

by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape) ISBN 9781911214335 


As a big fan of Ian McEwan, well-known author of Atonement (film won Golden Globe), Amsterdam (Booker Prize), and The Children Act  to name a few, I was looking forward to his newest book. And yes, he did it. He managed to enthral me again. Nutshell is original and nothing is predictable. This short, wonderfully different book is skilfully crafted, with believable characters. 

A very convincing unborn child tells the Hamlet story of his mother Trudy and the brother of her husband John, her lover Claude. They are plotting the murder of John, Trudy’s husband and father of the foetus. The unborn son is trying to prevent this, but feels restricted (“Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space –were it not that I have bad dreams.”) Trudy is of course a reference to Gertrude and Claude to Claudius. 

The neonatal narrator is intelligent and gets a lot of information from the radio podcasts his mother listens to and loves the Sancerre wine his mother drinks. 

Brilliant and funny. Thought provoking. Full of word play. Highly recommended. 

Pauline Vijverberg
www.writerswrite.co.za 
5/5

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - The Long Wave

by Tom Dreyer (Penguin Books) ISBN: 9781415208953


Gilbert du Toit is on a mission. He has seen fish in the sky two weeks after his father’s death. Not just one, but ‘a single mass of glistening fins’. When a shoal of fish appears for a second time, he knows these visions have meaning. 

He leaves his girlfriend and his work and goes on a road trip through the Karoo to decipher the message the fish contain. On his journey he meets several people, seeing patterns and believing there are no coincidences. ‘Without purposes things are random. And if you’ve got randomness, you’ve got nothing.’ 

I liked this book, full of symbols and deep and emotional themes. It made me think about the nature of coincidence. But there were also moments that I had to put the book away, because it almost became too repetitive. Is it a story of survival? I think it is. Du Toit needs to solve something that happened in the past. But it’s also about finding patterns in randomness. There’s even a name for it. Apophenia. Intriguing. 

Dreyer won the Eugène Marais Prize in 2001. 

Pauline Vijverberg
www.writerswrite.co.za
3.5/5

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - The Comet Seekers

by Helen Sedgwick (Harvill Secker) ISBN 9781910701744 


‘Why draw a square house with a triangular roof when you can draw the patterns in the stars?’ 

This is definitely my best book of the year. It has everything I’m always looking for in a book: magic, science, and love stories. The tone and lyrical clear writing resonate with Sarah Winman’s books, including When God was a Rabbit and A Year of Marvellous Ways

Several stories are intertwined, like echoes of past generations, moving backward and forward through time. But the two main storylines are about Róisín and François who meet in Antarctica at a research centre. She is fascinated by comets. He is the chef of the team. 

The comets that have passed through the skies for the last hundreds of years connect them and influence the destiny and fate of this unlikely pair. The ghosts of the past also play an important role in the lives of Róisín and Francois. A thread through the embroidery of this narrative is the tapestry of Bayeux. 

This is Sedgwick’s debut novel. She is a research physicist from Edinburgh. Science and poetry often go together. I can’t wait to read her next book. 

Pauline Vijverberg
www.writerswrite.co.za
5/5

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - Terrestrial Game Birds & Snipes Of Africa

by Rob Little (Jacana) ISBN: 9781431424146


This handbook on Guinea fowls, Francolins, Spur fowls, Quails, Sandgrouse, and Snipes offers a detailed glimpse into the lives of these remarkable species. As a beginning bird enthusiast I was thrilled to learn more about these African game birds. 

The book has a wide selection of beautiful photographs. It is divided into six parts with detailed information on for example habitat and habits, food and feeding, breeding and conservation of each species. The descriptions and pictures were helpful to identify and distinguish adults and juveniles. 

I was also interested by the paragraphs on habits including a description of the call of each species. It’s full of fascinating facts: Some birds are monogamous, of some their breeding is triggered by rainfall, some birds react to calls played back to them. 

I never knew that the Helmeted Guinea fowls in my garden were so sociable: they socialise and dust-bath at dawn, then a couple of hours before sunset they socialise again and flock members emit a single-noted ‘cheenk’ to each other. 

I can highly recommend this book to bird lovers, but also to anyone who is interested in Africa’s beautiful bird life. 

Pauline Vijverberg
www.writerswrite.co.za
5/5

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - Be Frank With Me

by Julia Claiborne Johnson (Corvus) ISBN: 9781782399179


Julia Claiborne Johnson is an American journalist and this is her debut novel.
 
Mimi, known as M.M. Banning, is another Harper Lee. She is a reclusive writer who had one literary bestseller. Mimi decides to write a second novel, because she has lost all her money. Upon her request, her editor sends his own assistant Alice, so Mimi can meet her deadline. 

Alice has to look after Mimi’s nine-year-old autistic son, Frank. He is intelligent and unusual, because he dresses like a 1930s movie star. Despite his tantrums, he is lovable and funny. Be Frank With Me refers to his need for honesty. 

The story sounds appealing, but I struggled through the first part, because Frank is a walking encyclopaedia. The information is overwhelming and it does not blend in naturally. The narrative then becomes a bit lengthy.

The novel is well-written, but when I was reading the blurb, I expected a book like Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. It did not live up to my expectations.  

Pauline Vijverberg
www.writerswrite.co.za
3/5

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - The Salmon Who Dared To Leap Higher

by Ahn Do-hyun (Pan) ISBN: 9781447269991 


The beautiful cover made me pick up this book. The illustrations are exquisite. 

This lovely fable is about a salmon who is different because of his silver scales, but also maybe because he questions everything and thinks about the meaning of life. It reminded me a bit of the children’s story of The little Engine that Could

Just like the little train, this silver-scaled salmon learns about perseverance and that hard work is necessary to achieve what lies beyond his dreams. That not taking the easy way, but leaping up over perilous rapids is better because, ‘all the actions of our lives, the choices we make and the challenges we accept, will go to make the bones and flesh of our children, becoming the substance of those future lives.’ 

The Salmon Who Dared To Leap Higher is about interconnectedness, the circle of life and the importance of looking after the environment. The book could be read as a quick inspirational story, or better, I recommend it to be read out to children as a bedtime story. 

This is the first work by best-selling Korean poet Ahn Do-hyun, translated into English. 

Pauline Vijverberg
www.writerswrite.co.za
3/5

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - We Are All Made of Molecules

by Susin Nielsen (Andersen Press) ISBN: 9781783443765 


In alternating chapters, nerdy, 13-year-old Stewart and one year older Ashley have to come to terms with their new lives after Stewart’s dad moves in with Ashley’s mom. 

Stewart was looking forward to getting a new (step) sister, although he dreaded leaving his old home that was still full of his mom’s molecules. It had been two years ago when his mom died and he doesn’t want anyone to forget her. 

Ashley couldn’t think of a worse thing happening to her, apart from the reason why her parents broke up. Her dad came out a year ago as gay and now lives in the garden cottage. Ashley doesn’t want anyone to know. The two teenagers have nothing in common, except that ‘we are all made of molecules’. 

I found this charming story of a modern family entertaining, especially because of Stewart who names his cat Schrödinger, talks about Einstein, and is full of science jokes.

It is a fun and light teen read with some serious themes about grief and loss, homosexuality, social media, and bullying. I can recommend it to all thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds. 

Pauline Vijverberg
www.writerswrite.co.za
3/5

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - The Shouting In The Dark

by Elleke Boehmer (Jacana) ISBN 9781431422333 


This book had me enthralled. It is haunting, honest, and beguiling. It resonated with echoes of The Poisonwood Bible, and I couldn’t put it down. The story stayed with me long after I finished reading. Now I want to read all her books.

It’s an intimate, disturbing portrait of a girl growing up in South Africa during the seventies. Nine-year-old Ella moves to rural Braemar, fifty miles from Durban, with her Dutch parents: the angry father, Har and the unhappy mother, Irene.

Both parents are abusive. The mother, because of her fear and tears, administers sleeping tablets to her young daughter. The father belittles his only daughter. He spends long, drunk, cursing nights on the veranda, ‘shooting out words like bullets’. Hence the shouting-in-the-dark of the title. His sorrow comes from his experiences during the war and losing the love of his life, hers from missing Holland and her unhappy marriage. Irene married her sister’s widower and named Ella after her.

Ella watches, absorbs the rage, stands up to her father and finally writes about it. ‘Writing, she notices, fuels her courage’.  Highly recommended. 

Pauline Vijverberg
www.writerswrite.co.za
4/5

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - The Girl In The Blue Coat

by Monica Hesse (Macmillan) ISBN 9781447295013 


With her words of courage and hope, written from an attic in the middle of an occupation, Anne Frank has inspired many authors to write books of fiction and non-fiction. 

Add to her diary echoes from The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Book Thief and you have another good Second World War-story. The Girl in the Blue Coat is about the search for a Jewish girl in Amsterdam in 1943 who disappeared from a secret room behind a pantry. 

Hanneke lost her boyfriend in the beginning of the war and feels guilty about his death. She is dealing in black-market goods as a small act of rebellion. When one of her clients asks Hanneke to find the missing girl, she gets involved with a group of students who work in the Resistance. Will she find the girl before the Nazis do? 

Especially now, just over seventy years later, it is important never to forget what happened. With this novel for young adults, about friendship, loss and love, Hesse has given the old story a new coat of fresh paint. Not only valuable for young teens, but also for adults. 

Hesse is a reporter for the Washington Post. 

Pauline Vijverberg
www.writerswrite.co.za
3/5

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Book Review - Emperor Of The Eight Islands

by Lian Hearn (Picador) ISBN: 978509812479


Lian Hearn, successful author of the Tales of the Otori series, that sold more than four million copies, has produced a new book. It’s the first of a new series, The Tale of Shikanoko

Set in medieval Japan, demons, beasts, sorcerers rule the kingdom alongside warriors, priests and warlords. They cast chanting spells and roam in the world of spirits, battlefields and forests. 

The story is about a boy who lost his father, his land and his position as a future lord and his quest to get it all back. It has a Game of Thrones feel to it. Filled with suspense, adventure, love and betrayal, it has all the elements of an action-packed story, but I found it hard to relate to the characters. I’m sure fans of this genre will love it. 

My concern is that there are too many characters. I had to go back several times to consult the list in front, because the names were confusing and too similar, for example, Lady Tora, Tama and Taro. 

Lian Hearn is a pseudonym for best-selling author, Gillian Rubinstein. 

Pauline Vijverberg
www.writerwrite.co.za
3/5

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.