Category Archives: mental health

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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My review:
The Vegetarian by Han Kang is one of the most unusual books that I’ve read for a long time. Set in Korea, it tells the story of a young woman’s decision to become a vegetarian and the consequences of that decision for her and her family.
Yeong-hye decides to turn from eating meat following a horrific dream and the reawakening of memories from her childhood. Her husband, who narrates the first part of the book, cannot understand what has come over his ordinary little wife; Yeong-hye distances herself from him and her family as lack of empathy and antagonism grow.
The second part of the book is told from the point of view of Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law. He is an artist, whose obsession with an idea and with a mark on his sister-in-law’s body lead to catastrophic outcomes for the whole family.
Yeong-hye’s sister plays a major role in the final section of the book. She questions herself about her reactions to the past and how she could have protected her sister.
However, the book was so much more than the above synopsis.I think it describe the chaos which lurks under the surface of many of our lives, waiting for a trigger to set it free from the constraints that society and we ourselves put upon it. It deals with abuse, obsession and guilt and the effects that these can have on the mind. Unless the ensuing turmoil is dealt with, with understanding, love and acceptance, catastrophe is never far away.
This is a book which will linger long in my mind.The writing is beautifully poetic in places, in contrast with much of the subject matter.

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The Other Hoffmann Sister by Ben Fergusson

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The Hoffmann sisters, Ingrid and her older sibling, Margarete, are taken to German Southwest Africa in 1902, to live on land bought by their father from Baron von Ketz. The Baron, his wife and son, Emil live nearby and “give” their servants Nora and Hans to the Hoffmanns, to help them settle and to make their life more comfortable. It soon becomes clear that Margarete is not emotionally stable and that the hot, arid country does not suit her particularly well.

In some ways, Ingrid settles better. She has her books to read and is given language lessons by Hans. He is well educated and speaks German and French. Time is taken away from these lessons when he has to escort Margarete over to the von Ketz home every week. It is not totally clear to Ingrid why these trips are occurring.

The Hoffmanns eventually leave Africa in a hurried manner, after Baron von Ketz is murdered at the start of a Herero uprising. Hans and Nora are missing, and this is a source of anguish for Ingrid. This younger Hoffmann sister is full of questions about what has happened and what is to come. She loves her sister deeply and cares for her well-being and these feeling for her sister continue on their return to Germany. When Margarete becomes engaged to the young Baron von Ketz, Ingrid has some misgivings. On the wedding night, Margarete disappears and it is presumed that she is dead – drowned in the lake. The rest of the novel is about Ingrid’s search for knowledge of her sister’s disappearance and her reawakened desire to discover what happened to Hans.

A considerable amount of the story takes place in Berlin after the First World War, where Ingrid becomes tentatively involved with the revolution in the city. At times, her searches for the missing are set aside so that she can follow her passion for translating poetry from English and French into German. However, on return to the von Ketz country estate, the anguish of her loss re-emerges, along with her determination to discover the truth.

This was not a particularly easy novel to read, as the pace is variable. At times, the plot seems to come to a standstill, but then, with a new piece of information, or change of scene, it moves along again. Thinking about this, however, I feel now that this is a mirror of Ingrid’s feelings and actions. She was surrounded by unanswered questions and deception; at times, the confusion seemed to overwhelm her and she, herself, came to a standstill. Then, something was revealed to her and she could move on with her quests.

I am glad that I read this book. It gave much food for thought and I was interested in the sections on post war Berlin and the revolution. Much is written about the post war world, but I hadn’t read anything that looked at it through German eyes.

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read “The Other Hoffmann Sister” in return for my honest review.

Meet the Author:8153785

Ben Fergusson is an award-winning novelist. He was born in Southampton in 1980 and grew up near Didcot in Oxfordshire. He studied English Literature at Warwick University and Modern Languages at Bristol University. Since leaving university he has worked as an editor, translator and publisher in London and Berlin and currently teaches at the University of Potsdam.

​Ben’s debut novel, The Spring of Kasper Meier, was selected for the Waterstone’s Book Club, WHSmith Fresh Talent and the BBC Radio 2 Book Club. It was longlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and shortlisted for The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. It won the 2015 Betty Trask Prize for an outstanding debut novel by a writer under 35 and the HWA Debut Crown 2015 for the best historical fiction debut of the year. His second novel, The Other Hoffmann Sister, will be published by Little, Brown in 2017.

Malignant Memory by Barbara L. Paterson

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“Malignant Memory” by  Barbara L.Paterson is a novel that is based on true events, many of which the author learned about in the course of her career. As such, I found this to be an interesting insight into the lives of young people who were unfortunate to be brought up in orphanages or who had to attend residential schools because of their ethnicity in the first part of the 20th century. Many of the stories told by characters in the novel were horrifying to say the least.

 

The novel is told through the eyes of Elizabeth, who is a “secret keeper”. Over her lifetime, she has been told many secrets, which she has kept, but there was one that had caused her anguish. This is the malignant memory which she hopes to expunge by telling it to us, her readers.

 

In order for us to understand this secret and why it has had such an effect on her, she feels the need to tell us of her life. Her early days were spent on a farm with her parents and brothers, but she was sent to live with her little known grandmother, Andy. This was to enable her to have a good education. Life was not easy for Elizabeth. Her grandmother, who was highly thought of in          the town, was subject to uncontrollable rages – “the furies”- in which she would physically and verbally abuse her granddaughter. Eventually, with the help of some of the people who lived nearby and knew of Andy’s history growing up in an orphanage, Elizabeth and Andy worked at overcoming the traumatic experiences that they had and were suffering.

 

Towards the end of the book, after meeting several others who played significant roles in Elizabeth’s life, we are told what the malignant memory is and what she has learned about herself and others by disclosing the memory to her readers.

 

Although written in the form of a fictional memoir, with little dialogue, I did not become bored. As well as revealing some of the abuse suffered by the vulnerable, it also provided food for thought about grief, acceptance and being judgemental. All in all, an interesting novel that I am glad I have read.

I would like to thank NetGalley for the opportunity to read and   review “Malignant Memory”.

About the author:

Dr. Barbara Paterson was an adult before she discovered that her dearly beloved grandmother had grown up in an orphanage. This information helped her to make sense of the uncontrollable rages that her grandmother often experienced. Later, in her work as a nurse with residential school survivors and people who experience devastating illnesses, she recognized that the ravages of extreme grief are often revealed in behaviors that are harmful to the suffering person and to those around him or her.

Dr. Paterson has an interdisciplinary doctorate in nursing, psychology and education, as well as a master’s degree in post-secondary education. She served as a professor at the University of Manitoba, the University of British Columbia, the University of New Brunswick, and Thompson River University until her retirement in 2013.

Dr. Paterson is the recipient of several prestigious awards, such as the 3M Teaching Excellence Award, the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal and Canada’s Most Powerful Women Award for her work as a university educator and her research on chronic illness. Dr. Paterson speaks frequently on topics of education, health and Canada’s aboriginal people, and has been featured on top media outlets like CBC Radio and in more than one hundred scholarly journals. She lives outside Winnipeg, Manitoba.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Malignant-Memory-Barbara-L-Paterson-x/dp/0995332703/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1490895354&sr=1-1&keywords

Featherbones by Thomas Brown…..a soon-to-be-released novel by a fine writer.

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“Featherbones” is the second of Thomas Brown’s novels that I have read and I think that I enjoyed this more than “Lynnwood”, which I loved. Having made this statement, however, the book is going to be hard to review without telling readers too much about the plot.

Felix, the main character, is a young graduate, living his rather mundane life in Southampton. The highlight of his week is his Friday night drinking binge with his workmate and long-time friend, Michael. All seems fairly commonplace, until an event acts as a trigger for Felix to fall, swoop, descend into unreality.

The novel looks back to Felix’s traumatic childhood – so many events that could lead to an uncertain future for Felix’s mental health. Looking into the past, we meet Felix’s father, his teacher, his very best friend, Harriet and a man who was supposed to be helping Felix overcome his disturbed childhood.

What I love about this novel is that it works on several levels and is open to different interpretations. For me, it is about guilt, repression, sexuality and the need for each of us to know ourselves. It is about acceptance, love and trust.

Thomas Brown writes such beautiful prose;” Featherbones” is worth reading for this alone. However there is much more to appreciate – a fine, thought-provoking novel.

My thanks to NetGalley for providing the book for me to read, in exchange for an honest review.

51vMEQLvYBL The author, signing copies of his first novel, “Lynnwood”.

Thomas Brown is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Southampton, where he is exploring the relationship between horror and the sublime in literature. Literary influences include Friedrich Nietzsche, Poppy Z. Brite and Thomas Ligotti. He writes dark, surreal fiction.

Thomas has written for a number of magazines, websites and independent publishers, including: Almond Press, Dark Edifice Magazine, Dark River Press, FUSSED Magazine, Hampshire View, Horrified Press, Notes from the Underground, Pen of the Damned, Sirens Call Publications, Sparkling Books, The Horror Zine, Thirteen Press, trans lit mag and the University of Southampton’s annual Creative Writing anthologies. In 2010 he won the University of Southampton’s Flash Fiction Competition for his short story, ‘Crowman’. In 2014 he won the annual Almond Press Short Story Competition, ‘Broken Worlds’. He is a proud member of the dark fiction writing group, Pen of the Damned.

Thomas is currently working very hard to promote his writing and is most appreciative of the support he has received to date