It’s been an eclectic mix of books this month – but then isn’t it always with the breadth of literature our readers study! There’s no common theme this month, unlike November, we have simply chosen some of our recent fiction additions to highlight.
As we enter winter vacation, our lending policies have changed slightly. From November 27th, all loanable books will be due back on January 16th – so you’ll have plenty of time to cosy up with a book during the festive period. You can find more information in this blog post, but if you have any further questions do feel free to send us an email or chat to us in-person at the Enquiries Desk.
With all that being said, onto the books!
Mourning Dove, Cogewea, The Half Blood: A Depiction of the Great Montana Cattle Range (1981)
You may notice that one of our recent displays at the EFL was on Native American literature (you can find pictures on our social media here). In that vein, Cogewea is a great addition to the EFL’s collections, not only as one of the first fiction novels written by an Indigenous woman but in the themes it covers as well. Mourning Dove (Okanogan) takes on the difficult task of writing a Western, a genre notorious for its disparaging depictions of Indigenous people – not to mention women. However, she manages this task magnificently, marrying together the Western genre with the internal struggle that Cogewea grapples with as someone who is caught between both Indigenous and White blood. Cogewea did not have an easy to path to publication: it was finished by Mourning Dove in 1912 but not published until 1927 (and only when her publisher was threatened with legal action). Even once published she was accused of not being the author! As November is Native American Heritage Month, I would challenge anyone to pick up a book written by an Indigenous author; if Cogewea intrigues you, you might also enjoy other Indigenous writing from the early 20th century such as Zitkála-Šá’s essays, or Waterlily by Ella Deloria.
Rebecca Stott, Dark Earth (2022)
Dark Earth covers a lightly trod period of historical fiction aimed at women, known to many as the Dark Ages (although I hasten to add that no medievalist would ever call it this!). Set in approximately 500CE, post the Roman occupation of Britain, we follow two sisters – Blue and Isla – as they navigate being a woman in a world in which there’s little room for them; Stott depicting their respective gifts of herbalism and smithing as unacceptable for women in Anglo-Saxon society. After some serious personal and political upheaval (we won’t expand on that lest we get into spoiler territory), the sisters flee to the ruins of Londinium in order to survive the wrath of the merciless Seax Lord, Osric, and his son. However, they will have to leave the comfort of their found community in Londinium to save them. If you enjoy feministic retellings of history such as The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, you will likely enjoy this. However, if you want something to evoke the ghostly feeling of the ruins of Londinium, then perhaps you might be interested The Ruin, an elegy in the Exeter Book from 700-800CE describing the crumbling remains of a once great ancient city.
David Bradley, The Chaneysville Incident: A Novel (1981)
John Washington, our protagonist, is a black man and professor of history – not unlike the author himself. He is unwillingly thrown into uncovering the true circumstances of his father’s death, using his training as a historian to piece together the clues while uncovering deeper, darker secrets along the way. Oscillating between the past and Washington’s present, we witness the multigenerational trauma of racism and slavery and how it affects how Washington perceives himself and his family history. It’s gripping from the very first page, a true must-read for anyone interested in the ongoing and complex history of racism in the United States, and how cultural identities are forged in the face this. If you enjoy Toni Morrison’s works, such as Song of Solomon, or Let us Descend by Jesmyn Ward, this might be the book for you.
Samanta Schweblin, Fever Dream (2014)
Translated from Spanish, a young woman lies dying in a rural Argentinian hospital. Her daughter is nowhere to be seen – instead a young boy named David is at her side, and she can’t shake the lingering feeling that she needs to remember what happened to her and her daughter. Some of the main themes of Fever Dream are parental anxiety, the effects of pesticides and industrial-scale farming, and the transmutation of the soul. If this sounds like a bizarre mixture of themes, perhaps even a fever dream, that would be because it is – and that suits the novel just fine. Told in dialogue, the book’s sparse prose is disorienting at times, adding to the relentless tension creeping in the background of the novel. It’s not quite a midwinter ghost story, but if you’re looking for something to leave you unsettled and looking over your shoulder this December, then this might be the book for you. Great for fans of The Grip of It by Jac Jemc or Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (which was quite literally written in a fevered state!)
Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (2015)
Station Eleven is a strange read in a post-Covid world, somewhat predicting the lead-up to lockdown in its opening chapters with hospital beds overflowing and conflicting reports on statistics. Luckily for us, however, we have fared slightly better than those in the book in which most of humanity has been wiped out by the Georgia Flu (loosely based on Swine Flu). St. John Mandel expertly weaves together the stories of a diverse mix of people across the decades following the pandemic, looking at the bonds of community that can form in the wake of disaster (because “survival is insufficient”) and how these communities can become twisted. A great read if you’re a fan of works like Severence by Ling Ma, and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
(Nb. There are depictions of sexual violence so please proceed with care!)