Sunday, October 30, 2022

Life in transit

 In Soy Sauce for Beginners , the debut novel by Kirstin Chen, Gretchen Lin, aged thirty, leaves her floundering marriage in San Francisco to move back to her childhood home in Singapore. She finds herself face-to-face with her mother's drinking problem and her father's wish to have her succeed him in heading the family's artisanal soy sauce business. Lin's Soy Sauce was founded by her grandfather, Lin Ming Tek half a decade ago. Her Ahkong began his career at Yellow River, the Hong Kong soy sauce giant responsible for the mass-produced stuff that all of them Lins 'learned at a young age to abhor'. When Gretchen's grandpa became the head of the Singapore division, the president of Yellow River flew him to Hong Kong and treated him to a celebratory dinner at a fine restaurant where he 'had his first taste of real soy sauce, poured by a waistcoat- clad waiter into a porcelain dish small enough to sit in the palm of his hand. Shimmering and lively with a smooth, dry finish, this sauce was a sparkling stream to Yellow River's murky, stagnant, pond-water brew'. That was how Gretchen's grandpa had been inspired to open his own factory to produce naturally fermented soy sauce, made from the highest-quality ingredients. He made up his mind to master the ancient technique of naturally aging soybeans in century-old barrels, a production method that was was quickly becoming obsolete. He had then 'apprenticed with the Chiba Soy Sauce Factory, a premier artisanal soy sauce maker located on the island of Schodoshima, in Japan's Seto Inland Sea.' Gretchen's grandpa had quit his lucrative job in Singapore and his family for six months to pursue some obscure romantic dream. It was the fifties, barely less than a decade after the war but he was determined to learn the traditional process that 'yielded the delicate ,multifaceted golden broth that had long enhanced the flavours of Asian cuisine'. In spite of Gretchen's grandma's dismay and protest, her grandpa pursued his dream and left a legacy for his sons to carry on. Hence everything Gretchen knows about soy sauce she learned from her late grandfather, her father and uncle. They are a family who can talk endlessly about soybeans and their intricacies.

While she is back in her childhood home, she still thinks about heading back to San Francisco. Meanwhile, her college good friend, Frankie Shepherd whom she has known for years comes to work in Singapore . When Frankie arrives in Singapore , she has lost a fair bit of weight and she is no longer a bookish girl who hides 'the soft folds of her body beneath shapeless sweatshirts and baggy jeans.'

Frankie has left California to reinvent herself abroad while Gretchen is back in her home to get her act together. While Frankie is settling in and working hard at her new job at Lin's Soy Sauce, Gretchen is still mourning about her wavering marriage to Paul who has cheated on her with his computer science assistant. She has not told her parents about their separation and Paul's affair. Paul and her have been together for twelve years and married for five years.

Gretchen has obtained a master's degree in English and now she wants to pursue a master's degree in music education. Despite her privileged background and her academic accomplishments, she appears to have low self-esteem. Her mother does not understand why she has agreed to work at Lin's and thinks that she should remain in California. To her mother, after all she'd done to set her free, and here she is right back where she was .

In Gretchen's voice,

' My mother believed her best years were the ones she'd spent as a doctoral student at Cornell. From the very beginning, she was determined to prepare me for a life away from Singapore. She named me after her favourite Schubert lied even though she knew every one here would stumble over the name. She convinced my father to send me, their only child, halfway around the globe to boarding school in California. Later, when I was in college and my parents first met Paul, she counseled Ba not to immediately dismiss my ang mo boyfriend.'

Gretchen is torn between her parents' opposing desires, ultimately it is about what she personally wants. After being sent away at fifteen years old , she finds herself torn between two cultures. Amidst the narratives about the art and business of making the artisanal soya sauce and the need to rise above the food scandal and family feud , Kirstin Chen weaves together an insightful multifaceted tale about familiar love, loyalty, friendship and a woman's journey to find a place in the world. Soy sauce for Beginners is a commendable read.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Books speak

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_1148.jpg

Ruth Ozeki's fifth novel begins in the 1990s. It tells the story of Benny Oh, a fourteen-year- old who begins hearing voices after the death of beloved father, Kenji Oh, a jazz musician, a clarinetist. The voices belong to the things in his house. He does not understand what these voices are saying but he can sense their emotional tone. As a response to bereavement, his mother, Annabelle develops a hoarding problem.

When Annabelle first met Kenji, she was doing a master's degree programme in Library Sciences as she had dreamed of becoming a librarian since young. But she had to give it up when Benny was born. She first worked at a national media-monitoring agency as a scissors lady who had to speed-read the stacks of local town and state newspapers, and then clipped articles to send to the clients on topics relevant to their interests.

Benny adored the father and he was the anchor for the family despite his drug problem. He died in an accident. One night as he was nearing his house, he fell and was too stoned to move. A chicken truck ran over him mistaking him as a sack of garbage lying on the ground.

After Kenji's tragic passing, chaos takes over the house. Annabelle is trying to keep her job because digital technology has changed the way news get disseminated and she is worried about getting laid off. In the meantime, not only she cannot get rid of the news archives that she had kept for her job, she acquires used things that they do not need and further clutter their home. Benny hears noises at home and everywhere he goes. He also hears voices in class. When a pair of scissors tells him to stab his teacher, he turns the blade on himself and he ends up being sent for psychiatric treatment. His doctor is Dr Melanie who is clueless and diagnoses “schizoaffective disorder,” and prescribes mind-curdling drugs. When his condition does not improve, he is sent to a psychiatric institution.

At the psychiatric unit, he meets, Alice, a young artist who calls herself the Aleph. She writes anonymous messages on scraps of paper. One of her little notes directs Benny to the old public library, where he can seek refuge in its silence and where objects know to behave and speak only in whispers. There he becomes acquainted with Slavoj a homeless Slovenian poet called the B-man described as the Bottleman, and at the same time he has a crush on the Aleph aka Alice.

Alice tells Benny that the hobo is not crazy.

“It’s not him that’s crazy,” she tells him. “It’s the … world we live in. It’s capitalism that’s crazy. It’s neoliberalism, and materialism, and our … consumer culture that’s crazy.” 

Alice makes globes and she thinks they are crap. Benny thinks they are beautiful and says to her,

" How can you be an artist if you don't make stuff?'

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_7762.jpg

Alice regards Slavoj as her mentor and quotes him and says that they should get out on the streets and disrupt the status quo and change the way people normally see things. She wants to focus more on unmaking.

The Book of Form and Emptiness is a Zen parable. Inside the novel, there is a book that talks to Benny. It claims to be Benny's own book. It narrates Benny's life and tells him to listen to the things that truly matter.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_1240.jpg


'Yes. of course. You had an important philosophical question to answer - What is real? - and were so preoccupied with the nature of your own reality, you were oblivious to know your mother might be experiencing hers. But that's okay. It's perfectly natural. Children have a limited ability to understand a parent's inner life, perceiving it through the lens of their own subjectivity and understanding only as much as impacts them. Children are remarkably obtuse that way, but not to worry,. This is not a criticism or a reprimand. You were younger then, and we are not a scolding kind of book. There's nothing worse than books that scold. Nobody wants to read them. We are simply pointing out a well-documented developmental fact. There are many books on the subject of child development, but we are not one of them. Let's move on.'

'Benny? Are you there? Are you still not talking?

  You can try to block us, but the memories are still  in you, and we know where to find them.

All right, fine. You leave us no choice. We’ll just have to continue without you.'

Is it odd to see a book within a book? It shouldn’t be .Books like each other. We understand each other. You could even say we are all related, enjoying a kinship that stretches like a rhizomatic network beneath human consciousness and knits the world of thought together. Think of us as a mycelium, a vast, subconscious fungal mat beneath a forest floor, and each book a fruiting body. Like mushrooms ,we are a collectivity. Our pronouns are we , our , us. Because we’re all connected , we communicate all the time -agreeing and disagreeing, gossiping about other books, name-dropping, and quoting each other – and we have our preferences and prejudices, too. Of course, we do ! Biases abound on library shelves. The scholarly tomes disparage the more commercial books. Literary novels look down on romance and pulp fiction, and there’s an almost universal disregard for certain genres, like self-help

After experiencing a great deal of physical and emotional pain, Benny finally embarks on his hero’s journey to reclaim his own story.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_7624.jpg
Daunt Books Marylebone,London

Ruth Ozeki is a novelist, film maker as well as a Zen Buddhist priest.The Book of Form and Emptiness has won the 2022 Women's Prize( formerly known as the Orange Prize). It is a beautiful tale about present-day living.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Modern Love

 In Fault Lines by Emily Itami, Mizuki, a Japanese young woman is married to Tatsuya. She appears to have got it all, a perfect life -two beautiful children, a hardworking husband and they live in a beautiful apartment with views from balconies in Tokyo. Since his recent promotion, his mind never leaves the office, and he comes home late. Mizuki waits up for him, cooks and never complains. Mizuki has a job where she gets to meet clients a few times a week. Her official title is Intercultural Consultant and her main role is to act as tour guide for the foreign visitors and foreigners who have been relocated to Tokyo. She has got the job through her 'glamorous French friend, Eloise, who, despite having lived and worked in Tokyo for years, still assumed everyone around her was as straight- talking as they are in Paris and couldn't understand the constant miscommunications'.

Here is a narrative in Mizuki's voice about examples of miscommunications.

'When she recounted examples, the problem was blindingly obvious -she was hearing 'yes' when her Japanese friends and colleagues were saying 'no'. When we gaze into the middle distance and make sympathetic, affirmative- sounding noises, it means' no'. When we rephrase your question, or agree with your sentiment, it means 'no'. And most obviously, but apparently most perplexingly to Westerners, often the answer ' yes'- clearly, evidently, incontrovertibly - means 'no'. '

- Fault Lines, Emily Itami

Ghibli Studio, Tokyo

While MIzuki had always meant to become a mother, she did not set out to become a housewife. Once upon a time, before Tatsu and the kids she had dreamt of her name in lights.

When she was sixteen years old, her dad had sent her to New York on a student exchange programme. After spending one year attending an American high school , she finds herself at odds with her own culture. While she feels pride in the complexities of Japanese culture, she also feels entrapped with all that has been imposed on her by the culture.

New York was a revelation for her. She was staying with the Michaelsons who were nonchalant about things that would have had her parents keeling over. She was surprised that she could 'do a maths lesson in anything other than a long-skirted school uniform and sometimes there were teachers you could call by their first names and flirt with'. When her host sister, Cassie and her got drunk at house parties, Cassie's father commented that he was glad they had 'had fun and kept it control.'

Cassie's mother's job had something to do with arts sector in the city. She would kiss her daughter absently on the head 'while she rummaged in her bag for the $20 Cassie needed, still on the phone to someone important.'

During her year in New York, Mizuki found out that she had a taste of performing and singing before an audience and liked it. When she arrived home, she could not keep up with her kanji and Japanese studies and was no longer the daughter her parents had said goodbye to. She wanted to pursue her singing dream so she went back to New York for three years before returning to Japan.Her mother wept that her morals had been corrupted by America. Now that Mizuki is a mother, she sometimes feels like she misses her mother even when they sit next to one another.

Marriage was not on her mind until she met Tatsuya. They have been together for sixteen years, which is over half her life. Her elder daughter. Eri is ten going on eleven and her son Aki is four. As it happens in most marriages, the man assumes the role of breadwinner as the woman assumes the role of homemaker. After two kids, they settle into their routine, she feels like she is stuck in a rut.

In her voice, Mizuki muses,

'If i'd had a career, I could change jobs, apply for a promotion, do something. If i'd stayed in New York, I could have had it all couldn't I ? But I am a Japanese Housewife, a proper, old -school job for life, and you only get to choose your colleague once.'

'I love beautiful things, beautiful people , the magnetism of someone you can't take your eyes off. It used to be fun morphing into that person, tending to all the details that make the fantasy, but now I can't imagine it. It isn't as if I've turned into Jabba the Hutt; physically I don't look all that different. But nothing about me is inviting or mysterious or alluring. And where would I be luring anyone to - a den full of Hello Kitty tea sets ? When would I be giving the come-hither eyes - on my way back from the supermarket, on my pink mamachari bicycle, with bags of groceries loaded onto the front and back baskets? In my anorak, dripping wet, at the door of Eri's ballet class with tis distinct children's aroma of funky shoeboxes? '

'One day i'd remember to be both competent mother and radiant beauty. Tatsu would once again be prostrate at my feet and I'd be full of the serenity of Venus. '

How many times have I wished I could be outside myself, outside all my limitations and neuroses, so I could make a different decision and live a different life? Now, when I remember what I wanted before I met Kiyoshi, I think it was just to start over, to do it all again for the first time, or maybe not to do it at all. To have a clean slate. To be somebody else. But then there would be no Aki, no Eri, and life doesn’t work like that, does it? So I’m not leaving Tatsu for Kiyoshi, because that might be love, maybe, but it isn’t happiness, not for me or for anybody else.’ 

- Fault Lines, Emily Itami

In the story, Mizuki meets Kiyoshi, a restaurateur and in him, she rediscovers freedom, friendship, a voice and the neon, city lights that she has always loved. To her, Kiyoshi is somebody who's succeeding in doing what they dreamt of doing, an impossible thing. Unlike her 'pedestrian floundering' and failing efforts to pursue her singing dream , his dream is a reality and he is proof that you can build castles in the sky.

Emily Itami's writing is lyrical,dreamy and descriptive.

Here is how the story begins.

'The whole Kiyoshi situation started a long time before he was ever in the picture. The way a calligraphy painting begins before the first black stroke makes it onto the page. Begins when the painter collects together scroll and brushes and grinds up the pigment, or even before that when he (or she- and yet , int this country, it's almost invariably he) has an idea in his head of what to paint. So , the scene was already set, the pigment crushed, the painterly hand posted. '

Emily Itami's writing is also insightful in that Mizuki's musings and observations are totally relatable. For Example, 'On occasions, my whole life can feel like a pile-up of unintended consequences.' I feel that way on occasions too.

Muzuki is torn between her traditional duties and role as a wife and mother, societal expectations of women and her own unfulfilled dreams. Fault Lines by Emily Itami is a modern tale about a mother's love for her children, collision of old and new traditions and a woman's identity. The book is shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Love and Algorithms

I am all for serendipity call it destiny or fate but then with dating apps and all the social media sites, karmic energy is no longer limited to looking for The One IRL…. It is going to take time for some of us to get our head around to this innovation never mind that algorithms appear to know us better than we know ourselves.

As technology advances, families can be created via IVF , sperm and egg donation and surrogacy. Science has now made procreation possible with or without finding Mr or Ms Right and adoption is no longer the only way for an individual to become a parent. There are mating sites for wannabe parents to post their profiles and indicate their health and education. The unorthodox exercise does sound a tad transactional and calculating but elective co-parenting makes sense for those who cannot wait for The One to start a family.

Lucie Yi is Not a Romantic by Lauren Ho is a funny and fresh tale where the main character decides to take things in her hand when she wants to have a child of her own.

In Lucie Yi is Not a Romantic by Lauren Ho, Lucie Yi, thirty-seven, has ended a relationship and is focusing on her career working towards a partnership at a tax consultancy firm. She has been in New York for twenty months and will return home when the secondment ends. She feels that finding Mr Right is a myth but finding Mr Right good enough to have children with is the next best option.  She signs herself up on a platonic co-parenting website. She meets Collin Read, a software engineer who loves dancing hiking yoga and does sudoku and puzzles but he is lactose intolerant and is very allergic to nuts  ( he carries EpiPens with him all the time ).  Lucie is Singaporean and Collin is Malaysian but spending most of his life living in America. His mother is Japanese Scottish American and his dad is Malaysian Peranakan with a dash of Malay and Chinese living in Singapore.As Lucie and Collin become acquainted with one another, they quickly get down to brass tacks and come up with some ground rules. Lucie asks Collin about his thoughts on death penalty and euthanasia and is pleasantly surprised when they get talking on the phone. Admittedly in an arrangement such as this, the bar is set lower than when you are looking for a romantic partner. She knows where he stands on so many issues and it is odd that these are the kinds of questions one should ask one another in a romantic relationship. Can we sum up who we are by providing answers in a questionaire? I tend to think that often we are all too fluid and changeable, do we really know what we think? Can we trust the algorithms to decide on our matches?

As soon as Lucie and Collin have decided to take the leap, the process is set in motion. They decide to move back to Singapore to co-parent their child and thus the ride begins when they arrive home. Lucie meets Collin’s estranged dad and Lucie finds out more about Collin who seems laid back about everything else.

Collin meets Lucie’s parents who are very traditional. Ivy Chen and Yi Wei Liang find the whole situation totally unacceptable when Lucie is not planning to marry Collin. Although they do not quite approve of him, they feel that an illegitimate grandchild will bring shame to the family. To them it is about security and ‘face’ reasons and they reckon that all this will affect Lucie’s brother Anthony Yi who has political ambition. Enter her remorseful ex-fiancé who is bent on winning her back and together with her two bffs , Weina Ling ( a former investment banker now a stay-at-home mother of a five-year-old and newborn triplets ) and Sushila Mahmud aka Suzie ( divorced and best friend since primary school), you have the perfect rom-com that you want to sit back and read the book with a glass of wine or cocktail.

Lucie Yi is Not a Romantic by Lauren Ho is a story about taking a chance at love and knowing what you want and who you are. It is a fun read that you very much like to finish in one sitting. Lucie Yi is Not a Romantic is Lauren Ho’s second novel. Her debut, Last Tang Standing is another fun read.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Love Transcends


In The Impossible Us by Sarah Lotz, Bee has a successful business repurposing wedding dresses and friends who love and support her. A mail gets misdirected to Bee’s inbox and the sender is Nick, a writer whose career has stalled after early promise and now his marriage is on the rocks. Nick has just ghost written a book for a client whom he thinks is avoiding payment. His viciously funny message that is entitled ‘ What the HELL is wrong with you?‘ and intended for his client ends up in Bee’s box. You would think the mail goes to spam, but Bee actually responds to tell him to double- check the recipient’s address. It does not stop there. Nick responds and then she reciprocates. When another Tinder date turns out to be a nightmarish experience for Bee, she finds comfort in exchanging texts with Nick via email. Perhaps it is easier to rant to a stranger online all your frustrations. Nick is suffering from low self esteem and to top that his wife Poll and his best pal have been carrying on behind him, things cannot be worse. Chance meet with Bee over the cyberspace certainly makes things look less bleak . But should they meet? Maybe they do not want to spoil things as the email exchange is going so well. With some support from Bee’s best friend and Nick’s stepson, they decide to meet. The meeting place is Euston station in London. Nick is from Leeds. That is when things get complicated. In Nick’s world there is no large clock at Euston Station. When they both arrive at Euston Station, Nick explains that he is in this Tweed suit, evidently looking out of place and when Bee does not see him, she thinks that she has been had. Bee decides to block Nick but she misses their exchange so she unblocks him.

The Impossible Us is narrated in two voices, Nick and Bee’s and partly in an epistolary style.

Here is an excerpt in Nick’s narratives.

 DESPERATION. HOPE. IN the weeks following what would eventually become known as Euston- Gate, I became overly familiar with those two weeks. I now understand why desperate people find religion, or end up believing in aliens or conspiracy theories. Because sometimes the rational answer doesn’t cut it. Sometimes you have to look outside the box. And my hope-desperation twofer had led me way outside the box, all the way to a Willow Green allotment in fact, where, God help me, I was walking to meet a bunch of people who even the most charitable among us would label “raging nut-job weirdos.“‘

So Nick finds a bunch of people who may have some answers why he and Bee could not meet. It turns out that they are from two different worlds. Both worlds are ‘poisoned with racism, sexism, social and gender inequalities, and capitalism, albeit with subtle differences ( due to the social stigma attached to being a sociopathic greedy bastard)‘ Nick’s world is greener while Bee’s world is technologically more advanced. Nick’s world has Universal Basic Income and Bee sums up his reality as “Quaker capitalism with a side order of socialism“. Both worlds have the Google and the Net but in Bee’s world, it is not subject to reams of privacy legislation. Nick’s world has Elective Euthanasia but does not have Tinder. David Bowie is present in both worlds except that when they compare notes about the albums, they are different. Both worlds have experienced pandemics and they both have Star Wars, Star Trek and the Marvel Universe.

Bee asks Nick:

<Can I come to your semi-utopian world, Nick? Wait, do you have Netflix? >


<Scratch that then>

Here is an excerpt from Bee’s narratives

THE WHOLE THING was bonkers, with a capital WTF, but in a weird way it made sense. The Red Flags, his sincerity ( which, deep down, I knew couldn’t have been faked) , the technical glitches that occurred whenever we tried to communicate via methods other than e-mail. Alternate reality and parallel universe theories were part of our DNA and pop culture; even I, a quantum-physics ignoramus, was aware of them. But bizarre as it all was ,it took me a surprisingly short amount of time to stop using the stipulation “if this IS what’s actually happening.” Because, I suppose, adaption and acceptance were also hardwired into our DNA. Nick was right:people needed answers. We needed answers, and this was the only one we had. And, as shallow as it sounds, my overriding emotion was relief at having him back. A missing piece restored in good order. 

Imagine two nearly identical world with some differences….

Bee asks Nick :

< Did you have 9/11, Nick>


<The Twin Towers blown up?>

< Fuck no. Bloody hell Bee>

< So no Iraq War, Afghanistan??ISIS?>



<You mean Biscuit? 🙂 No. We are fully in the eurozone>

No wonder Nick keeps mentioning euros.

Big Ben, London

The question is when you know that is your soul-mate, how far would you go for love?

Lotz is imaginative and original in that she makes her central characters go further by looking up the versions of each other in their respective sides of the world. In Nick’s world, there is Rebecca when in Bee’s world, there is Nicholas. With the Internet, it is not difficult to track down each other’s versions in the parallel world. When they locate each other’s version in their respective world, they make contact with their other versions and things get complicated. The whole story is full of twists and turns, it is hilarious and a fun ride. 

The Impossible Us by Sarah Lotz is an excellent read for diehard romantics.

Brighton Railway station

Saturday, April 23, 2022



Olive by Emma Gannon is a contemporary read that examines the choices that young women make in their lives. In Olive, thirty-three-year-old Olive Stone as a millennial feels strongly about not having a child of her own. She has no sign of ” twitching ovaries’ or fertility flutters, or random broodiness.”

As the editor-in-chief of .dot, an online platform, she writes this:

   ‘I hold babies and , sure, they ‘re cute, but I give them back and don’t feel any biological shifts or urges. I see pregnancy announcements online and press the heart button but feel zero jealousy. I picture myself twenty, thirty years into the future, with silver in my hair, walking on a beach with a partner, writing in the evenings with a glass of wine, and multiple nephews and nieces visiting me in my cosy home. There might be no children of my own in my future, but why should this cause me any worry? ‘

The fiction is narrated in Olive’s voice. It explores different variations on adulthood and motherhood. Olive tells her readers ‘ the decision to have kids might be one of the biggest choices we ever face, and we should be talking about this in all its complicated, nuanced depth.

In 2019, Olive breaks off a nine year relationship with Jacob whom she loves and adores. Jacob wants kids and her not wanting kids is a deal breaker. She is heartbroken but like all those who have been in love and then out of love, you go through a period where you mope and wonder if you will ever feel the same way again or resist the temptation to just rekindle the relationship that will only end in more heartaches and tears. Olive is terribly sad, crying and drinking booze a lot and leaving heaps of washing -up that needs doing. She feels like a woman made of ‘Play-Doh‘. She distracts herself ‘ by watching Netflix documentaries about climate change, serial killers, and how the world is totally fucked beyond repair.’ She watches old episodes of MTV Cribs on Youtube and even forces herself to have a haircut. But none of it helps. She badly wants to share her news with her close friends from college flat share days. She finds that she can no longer connect with her married friends whom they have gone through things together and vowed to be there for each other no matter what. For a start, they cannot hang out freely just like before. Bea is a mother of two, and she is naturally good at running a household, a planner and organizer. ‘In Bea’s book, you embrace the madness of life and stop trying to control everything by keeping your life clean and orderly‘. When Cecily gets pregnant, both Bea and Cec become close. Cecily used to be the friend whom Olive can count on when she wants to have a wild evening out but now she is an expectant mother who is trying to do everything right for her first child. Isla has been struggling for months in trying for a child through IVF . Olive cannot tell them how she is really feeling and the reason why she and Jacob have broken up.

‘ Everyone else seems to have exciting or important news, while my only update is that my relationship has come to an end.’

So Olive begins to weigh the pros and cons to have or not to have babies. She feels lonely and to her friends, she is not a grownup. Of course everyone of her friends is just too involved with their own trajectory based on the choices they have made. They each have expectations of how the others will be understanding and supportive of some of the big changes they are going through and be there for each other. Olive feels alienated and in standing by her own feelings of not wanting children of her own, she ends up looking like she is totally insensitive to women like Isla who is struggling to conceive.

Olive by Emma Gannon is primarily a story about becoming adults and friendship between four women who manage to move pass their differences and follow their own paths and make peace with whatever life throws at them. It is sweet and funny, a commendable and thought-provoking read about cross-roads and milestones in life. Gannon is a Sunday Times bestselling author, speaker, novelist and host of the No.1 careers podcast in the UK, Ctrl Alt Delete. She also writes a weekly newsletter called “The Hyphen’ and runs a book club, The Hyphen Book Club.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

A Time Travel Story


The Door that led to Where by Sally Gardner is a young adult mystery novel about sixteen- year-old AJ Flynn who has to go back in time to make sense of the present. Flynn has only one GCSE, his future is looking far from rosy. He is not happy at home as his mother finds him a disappointment and is critical of him. He does not enjoy school for he feels that he is forced to learn subjects that he lacks interest in. He goes to the library after school to read the classics such as Dickens and that explains why he has scored A* for English Lit. His mother gets him an interview at a London law firm and he is offered a junior clerk position at the firm. His life is about to change as he starts working at Baldwin and Gray as a trainee clerk. One day at the firm, AJ  is asked to tidy up the archive and there he comes across an old key, mysteriously labelled with his name and date of birth 2nd October 1996. He thus becomes determined to find the door that fits the key. He meets an old professor who asks him to look for a lintel in an old wall. Based on a map found in a file, he finds himself walking through a waste ground that used to be a car park. He then begins an amazing journey to the streets of Clerkenwell in 1830, where the streets are replaced with cobbles and carts, and the law can be twisted to suit a villain’s means. Life in 1830 is tough but not unlike the present days.

In 1830, AJ and his friends, Slim and Leon quickly find that their own lives have much more value. They’ve gone from sad and hopeless youth statistics to young men with purpose – and they find themselves adjusting to life without smart phone and modern amenities. AJ is an avid reader and he is knowledgeable about what happens in history so he advise those in 1830 not to worry much about certain outbreak . AJ finds out that it was his grandfather, old Jobey who first went through the door and he discovered that one could profit handsomely by trading with the future. He took a partner , a Mr Samuel Dalton and started to break every rule.

There are rules ?’

Every game has its rules, Mr Jobey,’said Mr Stone.’And it is a rule of time travel that you do not do business with the future. It is forbidden.’

Who by?’ asked AJ.

By gravity, by the laws of physics.The future has, by tis very nature, to remain unwritten, always to be a blank page. When your grandfather handed the key to your father, Lucas, it was already too late. His fate and the fate of his family were sealed. And there lies the sorrow.’

-The Door that led to Where Sally Gardner

AJ is told that his father was murdered and an innocent girl was sent to the gallows for killing the Jobey family. The story is fast paced and there are many characters as the story spans between 1830 and the present day. As the story progresses, there lies a crime only AJ and his friends can solve. The Door that led to Where is a delightful read. Its author, Sally Gardner is a multi-award-winning novelist whose work has been translated into more than twenty-two languages. She lives in North London, an area that features in the story. Gardner‘s writing is described as genre-defying. She lives in North London, an area that features in the book. Thanks to the Internet, I understand that the author ‘grew up amongst the drama of London’s law courts, as both her parents were lawyers. Having been branded ‘unteachable’ by some and sent to various schools, Sally was eventually diagnosed at the age of twelve as being severely dyslexic. Sally is now an avid spokesperson for dyslexia; she sees it a gift, not a disability, and is passionately trying to change how dyslexics are perceived by society.’


London 31st December 2014