I’m a bit behind in my reviewing, so here’s a quick round-up of books I have recently read. This trio comprises an Irish “supernatural” story, a medical memoir from the UK and a historical novel by an American writer. They have been reviewed in alphabetical order by author’s surname.
‘The Raptures’ by Jan Carson
Fiction – Kindle edition; Transworld Digital; 332 pages; 2022.
Shortlisted for the 2022 Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year award, Jan Carson’s The Raptures is an unusual tale about a mysterious illness that spreads through a group of children from the same village, killing them one by one. But one young girl, Hannah Adger, remains healthy, the sole survivor of her entire classroom. Scared and haunted by survivor’s guilt, Hannah, who is from an evangelical Protestant family, discovers she can see and communicate with her dead friends.
Set in Ulster in 1993 during The Troubles, the illness that sweeps the small community is a metaphor for a war that rages on with seemingly no end in sight. As the children fall prey to the mystery illness, the community is brought together by a desire to end the disease that is killing its loved ones — but many families get caught up in the fear and the anger of an out-of-control plague and look for someone to blame, contributing to the divisions in an already divided community.
Admittedly, I struggled a little with this book. The structure, repetitive and predictable, quickly wore thin and I found the supernatural elements hard to believe. Ditto for the explanation of what caused the illness (which I guessed long before it was revealed). Perhaps it didn’t help that I had Covid-19 when I read the tale, so I wasn’t in the mood for reading about sick people dying. But as a treatise on religion, grief and faith, The Raptures is an unusual — and unique — read.
‘This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor’ by Adam Kay
Non-fiction – memoir; Pan Macmillan; 256 pages; 2018.
One of the best things about living in the UK (which I did between 1998-2019) was the free medical treatment I was able to access under the National Health Service (NHS), a centrally funded universal healthcare system, free at the point of delivery. But the system is not perfect and is chronically underfunded and overstretched. Adam Kay’s memoir of his time working in the NHS as a junior doctor highlights what it is like to work on the front line, where every decision you make has life and death implications for the people under your care.
Written in diary form over the course of several years, This is Going to Hurt is a no-holds-barred account of a medical career forged in an overwhelmingly stressful environment dominated by long hours, poor pay and next to no emotional support. But Kay, who has since left the profession to become a stand-up comic, takes a cynical, often sarcastic tone, recounting stories and events — mostly to do with obstetrics and gynaecology, the areas in which he specialised — with sharp-edged humour, so I tittered my way through most of the book.
And when I wasn’t laughing, I was crying because it’s so heartbreaking in places. Mind you, it’s nowhere near as dark and oppressive as the recent BBC drama series, which prompted me to read the book.
(Note, I wouldn’t advise anyone who is pregnant or has had a traumatic birth experience to pick it up.)
‘Euphoria’ by Lily King
Fiction – paperback; Grove Press; 288 pages; 2014.
Said to be loosely based on American anthropologist Margaret Mead’s time spent researching tribes in New Guinea in the 1940s, Euphoria is a story about a love triangle set in the jungle. It’s the first time I’ve ever read a novel about anthropologists and I found it a fascinating tale about ego, arrogance, academic controversy and desire.
I knew nothing about Mead and her achievements, so I can only judge the book on the power of its storytelling, which I found compelling even if the plot was a little thin. This is essentially a character-driven story — and what characters they are! We meet American Nell Stone, the central character, upon which the others revolve, including her Australian husband Fen, and the couple’s English friend Andrew Bankson.
King paints a convincing portrait of a trio of anthropologists at work, fleshing out each character so that we meet them in the past and the present, understand what drives them, what infuriates them and why they do what they do.
And the setting, including the (fictional) tribes that are described in such vivid detail, imbues the story with a rich sense of atmosphere and realism.
16 thoughts on “Three Quick Reviews: Jan Carson, Adam Kay & Lily King”
That would be the same Jan Carson that wrote The Fire Starters? That was such an intriguing book, and it had magic in it too.
I really liked Euphoria, mainly because it was set in New Guinea, a place I’ve never been to and know so little about. It makes you wonder why we never seem to come across books written by people from PNG!
Yes, the same Jan Carson. I have The Fire Starters on my Kindle somewhere.
I guess PNG might have more of an oral storytelling tradition ? Not sure.
I’m sure they would… but there’s an educated elite, and I would hope that there are initiatives to encourage the kind of storytelling that has led to the explosion of Indigenous writing here.
Hmm… according to World Bank , 85.7% of population live in poverty so writing / publishing industry probably not high on the agenda.
True. But you could say the same thing about some of our Indigenous communities, and they value storytelling as part of their culture, and from what I’ve read (in various memoirs) it is very important to them to record some of those stories and their experiences so that they are not lost.
Well, you haven’t sold the Carson, but I don’t do supernatural. I didn’t get on with the Kay TV drama: because I’m really no good generally on series set in hospitals. I am the world’s worst nurse. So that leaves the King, which certainly looks worth while hunting for, despite your reservation about the plot.
You’d probably like the King… I enjoyed it but the story didn’t really stay with me but the mood of the book and the people did. It’s very evocative.
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I thought Euphoria was really good.
Glad to hear you enjoyed it. I picked it up secondhand, a random find in a charity book sale.
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Euphoria was a fav of mine the year it was published esp the bits that made me think about the nature and art of anthropology. The cover you chose was my fav cover too. The Aust cover was nowhere near as beautiful imo.
Oh, I didn’t see the Australian cover. I purchased my copy at a charity book sale (think it was the one the Uni of WA held in April 21) do hadn’t clocked it was a “foreign” edition.
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Interestingly, I also had Covid when I read The Raptures and I also had some issues with the repetitive nature of the deaths. I do think she raised some clever points about the situation in Northern Ireland though.
Yes, the repetitive nature of the deaths wore thin, but you’re right, the book does raise important points about The Troubles, albeit in an understated subtle way.
Re Euphoria: I was recently listening to The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska. It is a novel about anthropologists in a Port Moresby, at the Uni in the 1960s. Modjeska was actually there for a while, and how she portrays black white relations is fascinating and beautifully written. For technical reasons I didn’t get to finish it, but I really must secure myself a copy.
Thanks, Bill, that sounds interesting. Might see if I can find it in the library or hunt out a secondhand copy somewhere.