Soak up the sun with these summer reads: this month’s offerings range from a bewitching romance to a cookbook full of heart
Words by Charlotte Griffiths
By Chloe Timms
This bewitchingly sinister gothic romance is set on Eden Isle, a distant community isolated from the world. Young Esta lives on the island with her pious grandmother, in constant fear of transgressing the barbaric, misogynistic rules that dictate the inhabitants’ lives. Her mother and father mysteriously disappeared the same night as the fire that burned their family home to the ground and scarred three-year-old Esta’s face – but precisely what caused the blaze is just one of the mysteries set up at the start of this haunting book. The women of Eden Isle live in constant terror, forbidden even to look at the sea in case they succumb to the lure of the Seawomen – semi-mythical merwomen alleged to have tried seducing the women and girls of the first settlers. Wives and daughters are tightly controlled by the Keepers and the Ministers, a ruling class of priests led by the all-powerful Father Jessop – as well as the anonymous Eldermothers, who help to carry out punishments, prepare women for marriage and decide when their ‘motheryear’ will start. During this appointed 12 months, a new wife must bear a child or, presumed barren, face ‘untethering’: the barbaric witch-trial-esque ritual with which this brilliantly imaginative novel begins. A childless wife is sent back to the Seawomen by being bound, drugged and inevitably drowned in an old boat, pushed out to sea by her husband, rendered free to marry again. As Esta grows, so does her curiosity for the Otherlands, and
her sense of unease with the constricting rules that dominate her very existence. But is testing her boundaries worth drawing the wrath of the Ministers, or worse – the Seawomen? Did she really see a silvery face flash beneath the shallow waters? With splashes of The Handmaid’s Tale and the isolated, quasi-religious communities in the films Midsommar and The Village, this is a book you can truly submerge yourself in: so take a breath and dive beneath the waves…
By Kitty and Al Tait
This beautiful book tells the soul-warming story of The Orange Bakery, narrated by baker Kitty and her father and fellow baker Al, with each point of view told in different fonts to mark their takes on the tale. After 14-year-old Kitty fell prey to a particularly vicious bout of anxiety and depression, her parents and older siblings clustered round to help. Al left his job as a teacher to be with Kitty and help her recover, although nothing they tried seemed to bring her out of the dark – until one day when Al made a loaf of bread, cut a slice, buttered it and handed it to his daughter, igniting a love of baking that would change both of their lives. The story continues, covering her experiments, sharing loaves with neighbours and starting to take orders. It’s all told in perfectly simple, yet beautifully evocative language, such as how Kitty moved like a ‘quiet elf’ between houses while wearing her soft pyjamas, checking on bread cooking in neighbours’ kindly donated ovens to keep on top of the ever-increasing number of customers. Kitty and Al then discover the delights of proper sourdough, and recruit ‘Ferguson’ the starter (delightfully, all their equipment gets a first name). They connect with other bakers through Instagram, bravely venturing to meet them in person and hosting their first pop-up with a superbly crafted guerrilla marketing campaign, which helps them sell out in 23 minutes. Before long, they’re Kickstarting an actual shop, adorned with a hand-painted orange tree, laden with fruit bearing their initial investors’ names. The first half of the book tells their story, the second holds their recipes; and I had to immediately stop writing this review to start baking the ‘Comfort’, a white loaf with Marmite in the crust – if you need me, I’ll be sat by the oven. Buy this for keen bakers, or anyone who built a relationship with bread over lockdown: guaranteed inspiration on every page.
By Cecilia Knapp
Friends Leah, Matthew, Jay and Nathan have grown up together in Brighton, all living in neighbouring flats – the ‘little boxes’ of the title. Jay and Leah are an on-again, off-again couple that would probably be happier apart, but don’t know how to break the habit of a lifetime. Matthew’s life is on pause, living with his elderly grandfather, convinced it would be impossible to come out as gay; while Nathan is working in a local pub, still at home with his incredibly supportive parents. The book tracks the quartet over the weeks that lead up to, and follow, an unexpected tragedy. They fight, flirt, fall in and out of danger, parent each other and reveal their own weaknesses. Relationships shift almost hourly, flaring into passionate fights or fumbles, seeking the solace that can only be provided by someone who has grown up in the same set of claustrophobic circumstances. It perfectly captures that hot, dry, desperate, drifting sensation of youthful summer in a British seaside town, where your next steps are not clear, and you might just as easily float out to sea and be lost forever as find your path. Lurking beneath the surface of the book is the slow realisation that it’s a coming-of-age tale, and all too soon the four will be out of their nests, having to make decisions for themselves. There’s a spellbinding passage towards the very end of Little Boxes, where Leah imagines what her future might be in captivating detail – serving as an invaluable lesson to start thinking of the versions of us that are yet to come. An unforgettable first novel from poet and playwright Cecilia Knapp.
Stay tuned for more summer reads in the next issue!