The Forget Me Not Sonata by Santa Montefiore review

Hi everyone! So, remember my last post where I was contemplating doing a post or video about the Fringe? Yeahh…that didn’t happen. Mainly because I didn’t take much footage, and that was dull and grey due to rain. Never mind though – I have a book review for you today instead! And it also counts towards my Reading Women Challenge which is great. The Forget Me Not Sonata is set in Buenos Aires, 1948. Protagonist Audrey lives a fairly quiet existence with her parents and sister Isla. However, this all changes when she meets Louis, a talented musician, and the two have a hidden love affair. Audrey has also caught the eye of Louis’ older brother Cecil, a decorated war hero who everyone in the community (including her parents) adore. It is obvious who they wish their daughter to marry. But who will Audrey choose?

I liked the plot, despite even from the small blurb you can kind of guess what happens. And certainly know from the very first chapter. But Montefiore’s writing is so charming you forget about the predictable plot. I found myself sucked in, captivated by these immigrants living in 1940s Argentina. Montefiore has obviously researched this period, as the mannerisms and attitudes, as well as setting, clothing, and dialogue, seem authentic. She is also really good at imagery and there were some scenes which were beautifully detailed.

The characters were a bit of a mixed bag for me, however. I did like the relationship between Audrey and Isla; Montefiore nails that sisterly friendship/rivalry. Audrey, being the main character, is obviously given a lot of depth, and you feel the struggle as she is torn between two men. But sadly, it is Louis and Cecil who let the characterisation fall down. They fall into cliché – in particular Cecil, who seems to have no personality traits at all. Sure, he’s a war hero and nice and polite to everyone he meets, but that’s it for him. He’s not very engaging, never feeling like a real threat to Audrey and Louis’ relationship. Even when terrible things happen to him, he never changes which is frustrating. He’s there because the story needs a love triangle to work and no characterisation is given to him. Louis only fairs slightly better. He’s a combination of the ‘bad boy’ and ‘misunderstood artist’ tropes which sums him up. Certainly he has more personality than his brother (which isn’t hard) but there were times I questioned his love for Audrey and why she is attracted to him.  Lust, rather than love, maybe?

The Forget Me Not Sonata is a strange one to review. The plot hinges on this love triangle which never worked for me, making this aspect a bit of a disappointment. Yet I enjoyed the setting and Montefiore’s writing, so I will happily check out more of her work. I know she has other novels set in South America, so perhaps I will get along better with one of them.

The Forget Me Not Sonata is published by Simon & Schuster and you can find more information here.  

Top Girls by Caryl Churchill review

Hi everyone! Today is another first for me – my first review of a play. I don’t normally read plays, but as it is a category in the Reading Women challenge I thought I would give it a go. The one play I have always liked the sound of – and having never seen it live, would like to at some point – is Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls. Before going in, I only knew about the opening magic realism sequence, where our lead character Marlene is at a dinner party with historical or mythical women e.g. Pope Joan. After this, we follow Marlene at her new job at the Top Girls agency, as well as supporting characters in the office. There is also the tense relationship between sixteen year old Angie and her mother Joyce.

Despite being written and set in the early 1980s, Top Girls feels startlingly relevant. Churchill explores women’s roles in society, and how women juggle having a successful career and a family/social life. We witness different characters make the difficult choice between the two, and the consequences of their decision. However, Churchill doesn’t judge them, or try to suggest one lifestyle is better than the other – she simply shows the effects of the choice, and it is up to the reader/audience to decide whether it is the right one. Churchill also tackles the idea of internalized sexism, as clear when a woman called Mrs. Kidd visits Marlene in her office. Mrs. Kidd’s husband was passed on the promotion that Marlene was given, and has arrive at the agency to ask Marlene to step down so her husband can have the job instead.  The lack of a forename for Mrs. Kidd, and the language used in this scene (should Marlene really be doing a man’s job?) combine to highlight how sexist attitudes affect how women see each other, and the toxicity that comes with that. Top Girls is incredibly successful in dealing with the themes at hand, and it is sad that the play still feels fresh more than 30 years later.

The characters as well were also a joy to read about. Marlene in particular was fascinating – at times she can be downright unlikable yet I always wanted her to succeed. Out of all them, I think Angie was the character I had the most problems with. She is a teenager but I felt she was so unnecessarily angry and hateful at the world (and particularly to Joyce) that I struggled to sympathise with her. In the final act of the play you do get a sense of where this anger is coming from and you feel sorry for Angie, but at that point I was more interested in other characters. I would have liked to have seen more of Joyce, as I don’t feel she is as fleshed out as some of the other characters. But that might have been a deliberate choice on the part of Churchill.

Overall, I really enjoyed Top Girls and am more keen than ever to see it performed. I always have mixed feelings reviewing plays – they are meant to be performed and seen, rather than read like a novel.  Yet sometimes reading them is as close as I can get – location, money, and time restrictions all affecting my ability to get to the theatre more. So, I simply have to take what I can get. But Top Girls was a really interesting, thought-provoking play, and I think one a lot of women could relate to.

Top Girls is published by Bloomsbury and you can find more information here

Reading Women Challenge so far!

Hi everyone! So I mentioned at the beginning of this year I was going to do the Reading Women Challenge, set up by the lovely ladies at the Reading Women Podcast. As it is now June, I thought I would check in and see how I’m getting on. It’s not exactly great. But first, here is the list of challenges:

Reading Women Challenge
And here are the ones I’ve completed so far:

3. Author from Nigeria or New Zealand – My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braitewaite

5. A children’s book – The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay

9. A novella – Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh

13. A myth retelling – Circe by Madeline Miller

20. Historical Fiction Book – Transcription by Kate Atkinson

21. A book you bought or borrowed in 2019 – The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

22. Book you got because of the cover – Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

23. Any book from a series – Jorrie and the Skyhorse by Zoe Landale

24. YA book by a WOC – The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 

So that brings me to 9 out of 24 (or 26 if you include the bonus challenges) which is… not great by anyone’s standards. It’s funny, I seem to have plenty of options in some categories (myth retelling and historical fiction I’m looking at you!) yet none in others. It is clear I don’t branch out as much as I thought I did, or indeed, as much I wished to have done in 2019. Going forward, that will have a bigger impact on my decision to read which books. We will find out in December how well that went.

A couple of empty categories I’m not too worried about: A play and Women in Science. I already have books for each of them – Top Girls and The Radium Girls – so I should cross them off with ease. The ones that are stumping me at the moment are: a book about nature. I don’t think I’ve read any nature writing. At all. To be quite honest, I don’t know where to begin on that subject, as I have no idea who is considered a good nature writer. Romance is a similar topic. Whilst I have read books with romance in them, I’ve never read a romance book. I would like to give the genre a shot though, so this list might be the push I need to explore it. And finally, the first one on the list: mystery/thriller by a WOC. Ashamed as I am to say it, I only know of Attica Locke. There must be tons of women of colour writing thriller or mysteries but I can only name one. That is shocking.

The other categories I reckon I could find at least one book to fit the criteria so I’m not panicking about them (yet). But the main three that are throwing me way off are nature, romance, and thriller by WOC. So if you have any suggestions for these three, please leave them in the comments below!  Also let me know if you’re taking part in the Reading Women Challenge and if so, how many books have you read?

 

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson review

Hi everyone! This Thursday I’m reviewing Daisy Johnson’s debut novel Everything Under, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker last year with Johnson becoming the youngest ever nominee of the prize. The novel follows Gretel, a lexicographer whose mother Sarah abandoned her sixteen years ago. She has never heard of Sarah since, until one day she receives an unexpected phone call. The novel is split between past and present; we watch a daughter struggle to reconnect with her mother, while Gretel and Sarah’s life on a canal is slowly revealed, where they meet a mysterious boy called Marcus.

Johnson’s language is beautiful and haunting, capturing this really intense, complicated relationship. She also manages to put into words sounds and smells that I would have found impossible to describe; like the sounds of water against a barge. Her writing is truly impressive. Language itself is a major part of the novel and Johnson spends a lot of time mulling over it. There are the obvious allusions; Gretel being a lexicographer, so she effectively gives words definitions and early in the novel it is clear Sarah has dementia and is losing her vocabulary. This focus on language highlights how much is unspoken between the two women; how much Gretel would like to ask her mother but not having the words to do so. It is particularly heart-breaking as chapters set in the past show that they used to have their own, secret language; and to witness both this language and relationship crumble is saddening.

The structure of the novel is also very effective in telling the story. The novel is told in quite short chapters, which will flit between different moments in time. They read like memories, these snippets of life that we remember clearly. It is interesting as Gretel has tried to repress her memories after her mother left, not thinking about her life on the water. Yet as the novel progresses and the more she looks back, the more these apparently disjointed narratives come together to form a cohesive whole. The individual plots featuring Gretel and Marcus were fascinating in their own right, but together they are truly devastating, and it was incredible how Johnson wove them together seamlessly.

Everything Under is a remarkable novel and it easily deserved its place on the Man Booker shortlist. Not only is it an immaculately crafted novel, from the structure to the word choice but it also is just a great story. The relationship between Gretel and Sarah was my highlight as I couldn’t stop reading it, but I also really liked Marcus. I haven’t spoken about him in this review because his story is so full of twists and turns it is better not knowing much beforehand. But it was very compelling. Also, Johnson blends the mythical aspects into the novel really well, but again they contain spoilers, so I won’t say anything. I was swept away (no pun intended) by Everything Under and am eager to read Johnson’s short story collection Fen.

Everything Under is published by Vintage and you can find more information here.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite review

Hi everyone! Some people might remember that I included Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer in my predictions for the Women’s Prize this year. I included it on the list because I was intrigued by the premise but I didn’t necessarily expect it to make the longlist, perhaps due to the fact the plot is quite odd. But I was pleasantly surprised when I found out it was. Set in Lagos, Nigeria our protagonist is Korede, a nurse who receives a phone call from younger sister Ayoola during the night. Ayoola has killed her third boyfriend, supposedly in self-defence, and Korede arrives to clean up the crime scene. However, not long after this Ayoola starts to date a doctor that Korede has secretly been in love with. Not wanting to see him become the fourth victim Korede has a choice to make: does she save the man she loves or protect her sister?

The novel wasn’t what I was initially expecting. The quote on the back from the New York Times begins ‘A scorpion-tailed little thriller’ so I thought this would be a plot-heavy, fast-paced read. Instead, Braithwaite has focussed on the relationship between Korede and Ayoola. This is the heart and soul of the novel, and the strange dynamic they have never failed to interest me. Both are truly terrible people. Korede seems exasperated by her sister but she is essentially Ayoola’s enabler and an accessory to these murders. She is also an unreliable narrator; the reader has no idea whether her descriptions of characters are accurate or whether she is projecting on to them. It was fascinating to try to read between the lines in an attempt to grasp these other people better, away from the sisters’ influence. I did find Korede the more interesting of the two; Ayoola didn’t really stand out for me but this could simply be due to the fact we see events unfold from Korede’s perspective, so we gain a better understanding of what she is thinking and feeling rather than her sister.

Without going into spoilers, Braithwaite adds a red herring into the mix. The plot seems to be suggesting a particular development for a character but at the last minute it’s yanked away.  At first I wasn’t sure – I felt the sub-plot with the red herring added nothing  – but upon reflection it made the final image of the novel all the more poignant. There are some twists and turns that are quite predictable but I was so invested in the characters that I didn’t really mind.

My Sister, the Serial Killer also contains flashbacks to when the women’s father was still alive. He reminded me of the father in Chimamanda  Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus; a man beloved by his community but secretly feared and hated by his family. This idea of public vs private, that people reveal or hide different aspects of themselves depending on who is with them is present throughout the novel. Korede and Ayoola are obvious examples but some of the secondary characters reflect this theme too.

Overall, I really enjoyed My Sister, the Serial Killer. There are some darkly comic and tense moments which kept me on edge and I loved to hate these people. So much. Braithwaite’s writing style isn’t necessarily the most complex or ‘difficult’ out of all the Women’s Prize nominees (looking at you Milkman) but I believe she deserves her place on the longlist. This was a really fun, dark, delicious read and I can’t wait to see what Braithwaite publishes next.

My Sister, the Serial Killer is published by Atlantic Books and you can find more information here.

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi review

Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I picked up a short story collection and I was in the mood for one, having finished quite large novels. I also have never read any Helen Oyeyemi before and kept hearing good things, so I picked up What is Not Yours is Not Yours. All the loosely interlinked stories in this collection have fantastical or magical realism elements to them, with one story ‘Dornicka and the St. Martin’s Day Goose’ alluding to Red Riding Hood. I won’t review each individual story here but instead give my impressions of the collection overall.

When the stories leaned more into magic realism I felt Oyeyemi was in her prime. The main examples of this is ‘Dornicka…’ and the first story, ‘Books and Roses’. They seemed like modern-day fairy tales and I loved getting sucked into their worlds. Oyeyemi uses third-person narration which is incredibly effective as not only does it emphasise this fairy tale quality by mimicking their structure and how they’re told, but it also means she does not force the reader to celebrate nor condemn the characters. You are able to make your own impressions about these people which I really enjoyed. ‘Books and Roses’ might be my favourite story of the whole book, though ‘Drownings’ was a close second as I was getting Angela Carter vibes whilst reading it. I found their plots really intriguing, the characters interesting and both were really well-written.

However, I did have problems with some of the other stories. One thing I noticed about Oyeyemi’s writing is that there seems to be a lot of unnecessary details. For example, in ”Sorry’ doesn’t Sweeten her Tea’, she describes a character called Tyche and mentions; ‘There’s a four-star constellation on her wrist that isn’t always there, either. When it is, its appearance goes through various degrees of permanence, from drawn on with kohl to full tattoo’ (pg.53). Tyche later briefly appears in other stories. But neither here nor in the others does her ‘magical’ tattoo have any relevance to the plot; it just seems to be ‘there’. This is one example but there were a few dotted throughout the book where it felt like Oyeyemi was being quirky and unusual just for the sake of it rather than adding anything to the story.

Speaking of ”Sorry’…’ the story felt more like two separate plots mashed together. I didn’t see the correlation between our narrator having to look after his friend’s house whilst he’s away and the downfall of a once popular singer. Like I mentioned previously, characters from this story crop up in others and for the most part they work better in these other narratives. Here, they felt plopped into the narrative so the reader will recognise them later and no more. Admittedly, I did really like the theme of fame and celebrity and how fans can go to extreme lengths to defend their hero, but overall the story didn’t work for me. There was a mix of ideas but they never really blended together.

Despite my criticisms, I would like to try more of Oyeyemi’s work after finishing What is Not Yours is Not Yours. The stories that worked for me I really enjoyed and was engaged throughout, and I think really highlight Oyeyemi’s talent. Some stories sadly didn’t work but as a whole I liked the collection and am thinking of trying Boy, Snow Bird next (unless anyone has any recommendations, feel free to comment down below!).

What is Not Yours is Not Yours is published by Picador and you can find more information here

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows review

Hi everyone! Today I’m reviewing the hugely popular novel by aunt and niece Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Given that it has sold over 5 million copies, I probably don’t need to write a plot synopsis but I’m going to do it anyway. It is 1946 and London-based writer Juliet Ashton is struggling to think of an idea for her next book. However, a letter from a man called Dawsey Adams living on the island of Guernsey arrives on her doorstep and peaks her interest. They begins to correspond regularly and Juliet discovers Dawsey is a member of the eponymous society. Intrigued, Juliet writes to other Society members and begins to learn more about life under the Occupation of the Channel Islands.

This is an epistolary novel using mainly letters, which for the most part works. Juliet, living in London, is quite isolated; her closest friend lives in Scotland and obviously she befriends more people on Guernsey. Other than her editor, she doesn’t seem to talk to people in the city. Her incredibly detailed letters highlight how reliant she is on these communications and hints that she might be lonely living there. Of course it isn’t just Juliet; we see letters from other characters which I had mixed feelings about. It was nice to hear other characters’ perspectives and it gives them much greater depth. However, I noticed everyone wrote in the same manner which seemed a bit jarring. There were no spelling or grammatical errors that you might find, and everyone is incredibly witty and charming. So whilst the contents of the letters reveal aspects of their writer’s personality, their actual execution is quite bland so readers don’t get a sense of these people through the actual writing style. This is only a minor criticism but I felt it would’ve added a bit more to the story and characterisation.

The story itself would initially appear quite grim; looking at life under the Occupation. But Shaffer and Barrows add an uplifting, almost funny element which stops the plot from becoming too dreary. It was really fun and interesting seeing how the locals came up with these ingenious ways to survive the war. Yet I never felt the plot outstayed its’ welcome; my edition is 240 pages and it whizzed by, though I’ll admit I was more interested in life on Guernsey than Juliet’s subplot. However, this minor plot point is dispatched quite quickly (and predictably) so it never bothered me too much. Juliet herself seemed like an interesting character in her own right so I just didn’t think it was necessary.

Overall, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was a really fun read. It has some flaws and is quite predictable in places, but I found the plot quite interesting and the characters endearing. Like the movie adaptation starring Lily James released last year, the novel seems like one to enjoy at the weekend when one is all cosied up and has nothing to do. I don’t mean this in a condescending way; it just has this heart-warming quality which I found a breath of fresh air after the darker novels I’ve read. It isn’t going to break new ground but I liked this quiet, very sweet novel with a great message about community and friendship.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is published by Bloomsbury and you can find more information here.  

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates review

Hi everyone! Before I begin my review of Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates I have a small confession to make: I love Marilyn Monroe. I own 9 of her movies, 2 documentaries about her, the book Fragments which features her notes and letters, and used to have a poster of her in my childhood bedroom. Yes, I am that sad. So naturally when I found Oates’ fictional biography of the woman at my local bookshop, I pounced. The novel begins at the end; August 1962. We then go back to Norma Jeane’s childhood when she is living with her mentally ill mother and follow her life and career, eventually becoming Marilyn Monroe.

Despite discussing the film business in the ’40s and ’50s, and the novel being written in 2000, there are eerie comparisons to the MeToo movement. There are men in power who abuse said power and at moments Harvey Weinstein sprung to mind. Therefore the novel isn’t going to be for everyone due to the recurring theme of sexual assault throughout. And even when those moments aren’t being depicted, Monroe is constantly objectified. Her body is mentioned in pretty much every chapter. This makes Blonde a very uncomfortable read; as a reader, you are placed in the position of a voyeur (in some ways that is what readers are, gazing on to others’ lives) yet are disgusted by this consistent objectification, of people valuing her body over any other qualities. It felt very oppressive at times and occasionally I had to put the book down; the fact this feeling occurs throughout means there is no real relief from it. So I can see people being uncomfortable or turned off by the subject matter.

People may also be turned off by the structure of the novel. Whilst the chapters are linear, their actual contents sometimes isn’t. There might be flashbacks, with the chapter beginning at the end. The narration is also unusual, going between third and first person narration; sometimes hearing Monroe’s POV, sometimes a secondary character. There are also poems and play scripts. It is a real mish-mash of styles and narrative techniques; I thought this worked really well, particularly in the latter half of the novel where Monroe is becoming increasingly dependent on prescription drugs. It reflects her confusion and how muddled she becomes after taking these. I also liked how Oates integrated actual quotes from Monroe, whether that be from interviews or her own poems. Monroe has been talked and written about ever since she burst on to the screen, so it was nice to hear her own voice sneak into the narrative; to hear her reclaim some of her own life.

Despite the unusual narrative and disturbing topics that arise, Blonde is beautifully written. Oates’ imagery is so evocative and tender that it easy to get sucked into this world. My favourite scene involves Monroe and a fellow actor ice-skating in New York whilst Arthur Miller (only known as ‘The Playwright’) looks on. Whilst the scene obviously hints at voyeurism, it has a really sweet, joyous quality. It made me reminiscent of periods in my own life and that is mainly due to Oates’ successfully capturing this feeling of fun and lightness through her word choice and imagery. There are also really powerful descriptions of nature that capture the imagination and reflect Monroe at various points in her life.

If you are in any way interested in Monroe, or this period of Hollywood in general, I would recommend Blonde. It is told in an unusual manner and covers some difficult subjects but it is absolutely worth the read. Though a fictional account of Monroe, it is still a wonderful testament to a great actress. Also it is fun to see cameos from other Hollywood legends: Ava Gardner, Marlon Brando, Clark Gable, and Montgomery Clift (another actor whose personal problems seems to overshadow their acting ability) all make appearances. One of my favourite books I have read this year so far.

Blonde is published by 4th Estate and you can find more information here.  

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas review

Hi everyone! So continuing my Reading Women Challenge 2019, I picked up YA sensation The Hate U Give. Between the massive success of the book and a movie adaptation released just last year, I’m sure the plot is fresh in many people’s’ memories. Our protagonist is teenager Starr Carter who seems to live in two worlds. She lives with her family in the predominantly black area Garden Heights, whilst attending Williamson High School, whose pupils are mainly white and feels she needs to act differently in both. However, her world is turned upside down when she is the sole witness to her friend Khalil’s murder at the hands of a police officer.

Thomas really gets into the mindset of Starr and narrates her story convincingly. It doesn’t feel like an adult trying to mimic a teenager’s mannerisms and language; it feels natural and makes the story feel more immersive. Also Starr serves as an excellent window into the story; she is a relatable character in the sense we have all had friend/boyfriend/parent troubles as a teen but she is thrust into a complex, potentially dangerous situation which allows really interesting discussions of race and identity to occur. As a reader you experience and learn the same time she does. Perhaps because I live in the UK and Black Lives Matter is most commonly known as an American movement (if I remember rightly all the founders are American) but I found this book really eye-opening and I think seeing the story through Starr’s eyes was a very effective way of narrating it.

However, there were some moments of THUG that dragged a little. There is a sub-plot featuring domestic violence, which can be upsetting to some, but I felt that it wasn’t explored enough. Whilst it does serve a purpose in pushing the plot forward, that felt like the only reason to add it in and so it became a bit unsavoury (in a sense the characters involved aren’t really seen in the novel until the end so it is hard to connect with them) and I couldn’t help but think Thomas could have handled that topic better. Also that plot wrapped up a bit too easily for me at the end. I just wanted more. Another thing I wanted more of was character development. Apart from Starr and maybe a couple of other characters, not a lot of people evolve in the story. This might be due to seeing events from Starr’s perspective but I would have liked to have seen more of the supporting characters and their thoughts and feelings.

Overall, I think The Hate U Give is a great YA novel. It is great starting place for young people to explore difficult topics such as racism and police brutality; if I were in its target audience I probably would have loved it. But I’m no longer a young adult (sob!) and I accept the book wasn’t written for me. However, I did enjoy the character of Starr and I think Thomas’ writing is very good; very accessible and clear but with a lot of heart and emotion woven within. Although I did have some issues with the book I can see why The Hate U Give has appealed to YA audiences and achieved critical acclaim. An important, if slightly flawed, novel.

The Hate U Give is published by Walker Books and you can find more information here

 

Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh review

Hi everyone! So this year I’m taking part in the Reading Women Challenge. I really enjoy the podcast and when I took a peek at this year’s prompts I decided to give them a go; they seem challenging yet not impossible, plus I can fit them around my other reading. Here are this year’s challenges if you are interested in taking part, also if you have any recommendations for certain challenges I’d love to hear them. This week I completed the prompt to read a novella when I finished Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh. This is a fictional account of the last days of playwright Christopher Marlowe, before he is accidentally killed/murdered in 1593 at the age of 29; aspects of his death remain a mystery to this day.

Welsh’s imagery is incredibly evocative, capturing London in its darkest moments. There are mentions of smells and sounds which help to create this bygone era. It is gritty and gruesome, with violent scenes that people may find disturbing. There were a couple of moments when I felt the violence was a little too much; it didn’t necessarily add anything to the plot, though I admit it did contribute to the theme of death. Death is very much the main character in Tamburlaine Must Die; it seems to lurk everywhere. Marlowe is mulling over death throughout the narrative, London is in the throes of plague and the prospect of war looms over the city. Death is even mentioned in the title. There is a very palpable sense of death, of things ending, that helps emphasise the seedy underbelly of London that Marlowe inhabits. It is a very dark, dangerous world and I think Welsh is able to capture that beautifully.

However, despite how wonderfully written the novella is, I’m not sure whether I can recommend it to people who have never read about or heard of Christopher Marlowe. As I mentioned previously, Welsh is focussing on his final days so you are thrown straight into the action. There are some references to his past and events happening during the Elizabethan period but nothing really in-depth. This is fine if you know about Marlowe; there is no info-dumping and you can dive right into the plot which I appreciated. But if he’s a figure you’re not familiar with, it might be worth reading a little bit about him beforehand. Other historical figures come and go (or are briefly mentioned in conversation such as Sir Walter Raleigh and fellow playwright Thomas Kyd) within the story as well; so it might be worth googling them too.

I really liked Tamburlaine Must Die. It is part historical fiction, part whodunnit so it will appeal to many kinds of readers. But I think the main draw is Welsh’s writing. It is beautiful and visceral; simultaneously making me squirm but longing to read on. There are some particularly gorgeous writing during a sequence where Marlowe is in the countryside; it provides such a startling contrast to London and may be my favourite scene from the novella. So if you are a fan of or are interested to read about Christopher Marlowe then I do recommend Tamburlaine Must Die. A great first read to my Reading Women Challenge.

Tamburlaine Must Die is published by Canongate and you can find more information here