What Pegman Saw – Follower

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. Many thanks to Karen and Josh for organising this most stimulating prompt!

WPS - Follower 190601

Balbulol Dive Resort, Indonesia | Lera 76, Google Maps

Follower

He’s here again, not doing anything, just sitting and watching me.

At first he hid. He’s bolder now, in plain view.

I chant invocations as I shovel ash from a bonfire into a sack and put it into my outrigger. Nine and ninety days it has sat in sun and rain, and now it’s ready to bless the land and the sea.

I paddle hard for hours, and as I approach the atoll the sun is at its zenith. Has my pursuer had the stamina to keep up with me? I can’t see him. Perhaps the heat has overcome him? I shrug. If it has, he will not do.

I have been quick. The sun must be three-quarters through her journey before I scatter the ash. I eat and drink, and, behold, my hunter paddles slowly to the beach. His head droops.

He’ll do. I shall make him my apprentice.

Friday Fictioneers – Fuel Poverty

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © TED STRUTZ

Fuel Poverty

Her marijuana was hidden above the reach of the kids. It was her lifeline.

Noreen emptied the mailbox. Two red reminders and a Final Demand. How could they use so much electricity and yet be cold all the time? She’d asked about insulation, but there were no grants for trailers – a mobile home was not a building.

She switched off the tumble-dryer; that monster ate electricity. “My blouse is wet, Mommy,” whined five-year-old Reena.

Baby Kyle started to wail. Teeth, Noreen supposed.

She glanced up at her stash. No. Keep it until she really needed it in the evening chill.

InLinkz – click to join the fun!

Book Review – NW by Zadie Smith

Book Review – NW by Zadie Smith

Title – NW

Genre – Literary Fiction

Author – Zadie Smith

Published – 2012

Enjoyment rating – 9/10

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This novel is a tour de force. It’s only a little over 300 pages long, but it took me a full week to complete even though I was reading several hours every day. I wanted to savour Zadie Smith’s writing, which had me hooked from the very first page.

The novel has two principal characters, Leah and Keisha/Natalie. By the end of the first page, Zadie Smith hasn’t told us this; all we know is that one of them has red hair, and a husband, Michel, whose politics differ from hers. What we have instead is dazzling description, a reference to Shakespeare, philosophy, politics and a terrible pun.

If the novel is about anything, it’s about the nature of friendship. Or the nature of love. Or the futility of life. Or a hymn to the tight-knit communities of London villages. Or a dissection of human motivations, in particular the urge to project a consistent narrative about one’s life. Or all of the above.

It is carefully constructed; very carefully indeed. One of the climactic events is foreshadowed at least twice, and yet it’s still a shocking surprise when it comes.

The principal characters are Leah Hanwell, daughter of Irish immigrants and her best friend Keisha who is BAME. We learn of their childhood friendship, and how it evolved from a chance dramatic event. We read how they approach life, Keisha even going so far as to change her name to Natalie to achieve her goal and become a highly paid lawyer. We see how their life-choices take them into quite different social worlds, and yet they retain their childhood friendship.

Men, their thoughts and needs, are not prominent; for example, Natalie’s husband, Frank, is more noticeable by his absences than by his presence. Even Leah’s husband Michel, who is written fairly sympathetically, is excluded from crucial actions by Leah, who decides and acts unilaterally.

The novel portrays men’s principal characteristic as desire for sex and respect. And the novel suggests an answer as to why respect is so important to the men of this community; it is because society, backed by the Establishment, doesn’t show them any. There is a very telling scene where a young man is smoking in a children’s play park. The women, with Natalie prominent, order him to stop; they overwhelm him with their criticism. It is no coincidence that Natalie is a lawyer – here, she symbolises the weight of the Establishment.

But it’s the two women and the constancy of their friendship that is the heart of this novel. Their affection isn’t romanticised; they argue, criticise, even steal, and it’s clear that in many ways they’re very different. And yet the bond is there, unbroken. The novel closes with Leah and Natalie doing something that is the adult equivalent of how they behaved together as teenagers, showing that despite the stress on their friendship, it remains solid.

I have to say, this novel enthralled me. It is so well written, and so thought provoking I’ve returned to it again and again.

Friday Fictioneers – “Lakeside fine dining chez Louis”

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © DALE ROGERSON

“Lakeside fine dining chez Louis”

Louis was proud of his newly-opened restaurant. True, the view was better than the wine, and the wine was better than the food, but nine out of ten of his customers wanted steak anyway. What could possibly go wrong? More covers were served every week.

Louis bought himself a celebratory cigar.

Then the rain started.

Nothing dramatic, just steady rain.

For days. Weeks. 

Customer numbers dropped as the lake rose. When the deluge finally stopped, the decking, so recently occupied by happy diners, was submerged. Everything was covered in mud.

Louis sighed, got out his broom and started cleaning.

Inlinkz – click here to join the fun!

Friday Fictioneers – Reaching for the Stars

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © DAVID STEWART

Reaching for the stars

It’s a long way to the stars. Even the nearest is more than 23,000,000,000,000 miles away. Out of reach?

They fired the rocket towards the sun, tracking it meticulously. It gained speed like a slingshot as gravity swung it round the blazing orb.

In Mission Control, student John Batchelor and the other scientists heard the AI announce, “Satellites deployed”. They cheered when the monitor showed an armada of craft, their sails stealing momentum from the sun’s light, each bound starwards.

Many years later, silver-haired Professor Batchelor watched enrapt as the craft beamed back their first image from an alien sun.

Inlinkz – click here to join in the fun!

Book Review – The Cleaner of Chartres

Book Review – The Cleaner of Chartres

Title – The Cleaner of Chartres

Genre – Literary Fiction

Author – Salley Vickers

Published – 2012

Rating 6/10

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I enjoyed this novel. It kept me turning the pages. The central character, Agnes Morel, caught my sympathy to the extent that I wanted to know how her story developed. The plot was intriguing, with a twist that took me by surprise.

The novel depicts human nature convincingly. There are good characters and bad characters, weak characters and strong characters, and they play out their roles in a satisfying manner. Skilful writing shows different facets of their personalities, and gives insights into how they became the people they are. Salley Vickers has a humane view of people, and this glows through the way she depicts her cast.

So, why only 6/10?

The problem I have with this book is that it constantly feels like an excellent novel trying to escape from the strait-jacket of one that is run-of-the-mill. It has flaws that reduced my pleasure as a reader.

For example, language. The very first line of the novel is, “The old town of Chartres, around which the modern town unaesthetically sprawls…”. Unaesthetically? Really? I nearly closed the book then and there.

Then the characters. I realised quite soon that I was struggling to remember who was who, so, when I had finished the novel, I counted how many significant characters there were. There were at least eighteen. When reading, I had to make a special effort to identify the characters as they appeared.

Having so many characters brings other problems too, one of which is the characters’ voices. Professor Jones’ voice caught something of the Welsh lilt, but I felt that the voices of most of the characters were inauthentic, or just plain dull.

The central character, Agnes Morel, is attractive. She’s also believable; but only just. Her wardrobe is a strange mix of shabby and glamorous, just as her intellect is a mixture of limited and unusually insightful. More than once she is referred to as a savant, which is fair enough. Her character requires a willing suspension of disbelief, and the writing is strong enough to maintain that.

The novel is written in a mix of contemporary and flash-back, and uses the third person universal point of view. The action takes place in four places, Chartres, Evreux, Le Mans and Rouen. Every chapter is headed with the location so we know where and when the action of the chapter is set. I occasionally found this confusing.

In summary, a good novel, one I could imagine reading again, one which had me thinking about what it is to be human, but a novel with irritating flaws. Definitely worth reading.

Friday Fictioneers – The Wall

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © Anne Higa

The Wall

Ralph coughed and spat brown phlegm. How the hell was he supposed to climb a brick wall? His vision swam as he looked around. What the hell was a bucket doing here anyway?

One foot in the bucket and…

It swivelled from under his feet.

He fell, awkwardly. Hell, that hurt.

Something to take away the pain. Quickly. He swigged. Belched. Acid reflux filled his mouth.

Safe behind the armoured glass of an adjacent window, bargain-hunting shoppers barged through tinselled aisles.

Ralph beat on the glass, then slid to the ground.

The shoppers neither saw him nor heard him.

Inlinkz – click here to join the fun!

Book Review – Hallucinating Foucault

Book Review – Hallucinating Foucault

Title – Hallucinating Foucault

Genre – Literary Fiction

Author – Patricia Duncker

Published 1996

Rating 10/10

*       *       *

Wow! Just – wow!

I first read this novel about twenty years ago. I was impressed, yes, and some images stayed with me, but I remember feeling uncomfortable and slightly bemused.

In retrospect, I can see why that was; for all sorts of reasons I lacked the emotional generosity to respond authentically to a challenging love story – for, at its heart, ‘Hallucinating Foucault’ is a love story.

It’s a simple, linear narrative, the quest of a young scholar to find and free Paul Michel, the writer whose works have enthralled him.

Or is it?

The quest story lies nestled in a story of old passions; the passion of a man for his first love; the passion of an artist for his art; the passionate need of a writer for his ideal reader. By the time we reach the last page we can see a monumental structure, solid as concrete, against which the hapless scholar has been mercilessly broken. We can make out seductive whispers, just below the threshold of audibility, blaming Fate and denying human responsibility, even as they admit human agency.

We never learn the name of the scholar. It is as though he exists only in relation to Paul Michel. And yet, we care. I cared passionately for him. I shuddered with trepidation as the inevitable denouement approached. I wept at his destruction.

Few books have moved me like this one. Few books have given me such delight by the sheer quality of their writing.

Read this novel for its superlative writing. Read this novel for its insights into human love and life. But, above all, read this novel for pleasure; it’s a delight.

Friday Fictioneers – Hunted!

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © Brenda Cox

Hunted

Murumatsu knew they were hunting him.

From the corner of his eye he caught the flash of a lantern reflected from a knife blade, and ran. If he could only reach Midori’s bar…

He barged between cursing men. Rain-drenched awnings clung to him like the tentacles of an octopus. Murumatsu winced as he grasped a hot grill to lever himself round a corner.

He side-stepped into Midori’s bar.

“Whatever’s the matter, Murumatsu?” she asked with concern.

Two men appeared at the door to the bar, blocking Murumatsu’s escape.

“Midori, can you please make sure your brother takes his medication?”

 Inlinkz – click here to join the fun

Friday Fictioneers – The Healing Tree

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © LIZ YOUNG

The Healing Tree

That night the pain was worse. I silenced my cowardly groans, biting hard on a willow twig.

Our shaman nodded at me next morning.

“You are sick,” he said. “You must go to the Tree of Healing.”

“What do I do there?” I asked.

“It is your presence that heals, not what you do. Go!”

I walked. On the second day there was blood in my mouth. I kept walking.

On the third day, I saw the tree; I saw a light, brighter than the sun; I heard chanting voices.

The light faded and I fell.

The pain was gone!

Inlinkz – click here to join the fun!

Normal People – a review

Normal People – a review

Author – Sally Rooney

Genre – Literary fiction

Rating – 9/10

This is an outstanding novel that explores the redemptive power of human love.

Marianne and Connell live in a provincial town in Ireland, and have known each other since childhood. Connell is popular; captain of the school football team, and with good social skills. Marianne is unpopular, derided for her looks, her dress sense and her refusal to conform to the social norms of her peers. Connell is poor; Marianne is well off. Both are extremely intelligent.

In their last year at school, they feel a powerful sexual attraction to each other, and make love. The experience reaches a level of intimacy that startles them both – but they conceal this. As far as the world knows they are casual friends.

Although by the time they go to university they have ‘split up’, the attraction is as strong as it ever was. They struggle against it, forming sexual relationships with other partners, but there is always that spark when they meet.  

Gradually we are led to understand how each of them is damaged. Can their relationship survive this? Can it, indeed, save them? For salvation is what they need; the stakes couldn’t be higher. If they get this wrong, they can never fulfil their potential; they will shrivel and die as individuals.

I found the novel gripping. Having read it once, I admired it so much that I read it again intending to learn from it. Lo and behold, I was about three pages in and the story took control again, and I just read it for pleasure. It really is that good!