ARCHIVES: BOOK REVIEW: Greenwich Park is a gripping weekend read while Against the Loveless World is a powerful political book
This week, Joy Watson reads and reviews Katherine Faulkner’s ‘Greenwich Park’ and Susan Abulhawa’s ‘Against the Loveless World’.
Helen and her husband, Daniel, are expecting their first child. Everything in their lives seems “perfect” – they have also just inherited an English heritage house in Greenwich Park, London, overlooking the River Thames, as well as a substantial sum of money from Helen’s parents.
The Greenwich Park house is artistic and flamboyant, originally designed by Helen’s father. Daniel is an architect and has a vision and the ambition to notch up the elegance levels of the house. Except that he decides to start the renovations just as Helen goes on maternity leave.
The grime, the noise and the chaos of major construction work grates at Helen and adds to her sense of feeling washed-out and permanently exhausted. Soon, she meets Rachel at an antenatal class; Rachel shows up chewing gum, wearing purple nail polish and bypassing the tea at the social event afterwards for a glass of wine instead – it’s clear that Rachel wants to befriend Helen from the outset, but she’s brazen and not a neat fit in Helen’s world, yet she starts showing up everywhere, bumping into Helen on walks and at coffee shops. headtopics.com
Think you know where the story goes? Indeed, at first, Helen tries to brush Rachel off, but, be it because she comes off as slightly odd and lonely, or because Helen also needs someone to confide in, the two start to meet. Until Rachel is impossible to escape or get rid of.
Greenwich Park is a gripping weekend read with a ratcheting level of suspense. Katherine Faulkner is a promising new writer with an ability to create characters that are not easily likeable, yet we remain invested in them.***Susan Abulhawa’s ‘Against the Loveless World’
Against the Loveless Worldstarts with Nahr, the narrator, imprisoned in an Israeli jail, which she calls, “The Cube” and where she has spiders and ants for company. We don’t know why she is there, but we get the sense that she has been in jail for a while:
“Abandoning the imposition of a calendar helped me understand that time isn’t real; it has no logic in the absence of hope or anticipation. The Cube is thus devoid of time. It contains, instead, a yawning stretch of something unnamed, without present future or past, which I fill with imagined or remembered life.” headtopics.com
In solitary confinement, Nahr has no way of knowing whether it is day or night. She spends her time writing on the walls with her nails, dancing, waiting for an automated shower to switch on for seven minutes, and finally, reliving her past. Nahr’s story is intertwined with a series of flashbacks, interspersed with life in jail.
Against the Loveless Worldis a commanding story about forced removal, migration and displacement. Nahr’s family was forced to leave Palestine to settle in Kuwait. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Nahr’s brother was tortured by the Kuwaiti authorities and the family was forced to flee to Jordan where Nahr tries to earn a living as a beauty consultant, operating from their cramped living room.
Eventually, Nahr is forced to return to Palestine to sort out a legal matter.The story is told in the settings of Kuwait, Jordan and Palestine. Abulhawa brings the colours, foods, smells, music and feel of these countries to life with extraordinary skill – the narrative takes us to the different places in a visceral way.
While we are deeply immersed in each sense of place and time, we are made to feel the lack of anchor of a family constantly on the move. The theme of statelessness and the need for belonging and ties that tether us to land, to place and to identity, is palpable. headtopics.com
Abulhawa uses the concept of movement to show how moving is integral to what we do – we move as part of a way of life, to and between places. We move our bodies and our ideas. Yet, when movement is a result of having to flee, when it is shut down because it is curtailed in terms of where we are allowed to go, whether or not we can escape violence – both movement and the lack of it can be a source of oppression.
Nahr is deeply compelling as a character. She defies social conventions and dares to whisper into the loudness of what it means to be a woman in a society that prescribes what one’s life trajectory should look like.At one point, Nahr becomes a sex worker to help finance a better future for her brother so that he can study further. While she is repulsed by the men that she has to have sex with, she claims agency throughout – boldly holding onto the terms in which she will engage in the work.
The book is astute in its subliminal commentary on gender relations, identity and sexual violence. Even when jailed, Nahr refuses to lose her spirit – she dances within the confines of her cell wall and humanises her shower (whom she names “Attar”) to create her own sense of community and to hold the horror of isolation at bay:
“Now I don’t care. I love him whether the water is hot or cold. When it is perfect, I imagine Attar loves me. But it does not last. Attar stays only seven minutes. I counted the minutes several times. I never know when he will return. Sometimes he is absent for days. Sometimes, he comes while I am sleeping and I rush to disrobe.”
When Nahr finally travels back to Palestine, the land of her family, the story leaps off the page:“The landscape, topography, weather and smells were no different from the east side of the Jordan river, but Palestine was nothing like Jordan… Images began to emerge in my chest, deepening and breathing. Memories of two trips we’d taken as children with Baba, neighbours, and friends about Haifa. The ones I thought I’d discarded, tuned out, dismissed. They were all there to greet me, enfolding me in the embrace of our collective dislocation from this place where all our stories go and return.”
This is whereAgainst the Loveless Worldbecomes more than just narrative – it becomes a political commentary on landlessness, occupation and displacement. This is the power of the book: not only will you find yourself invested in a story that you might not be able to put down, but you will leave feeling like you’ve learned so much more.Read more: Daily Maverick »
South African Depression and Anxiety Group
SADAG - South African Depression and Anxiety Group Read more >>