• Shanley McConnell

Week One: The Monday Review.


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It is Monday again, and I am four layers of sweaters & gloves in the library of stained-glass and quiet. Mondays are my favourite for they are the space between the-rest-of-the-week and the-weekend. I think that is why I am most productive on Mondays. Why I spent a little extra time on breakfast. Why I stay a little longer under white covers in pink pyjamas listening to Liszt and Lo Mimieux, reading summer-books in Autumn. Why I don't worry too much about the essay and script that needs written by next week. Why I think about it, and let that be enough for the morning. Why, when I wish the shower-water warmer, it brightens up a little. Just a little. Why I don't mind waiting for the Maintenance Team because there's avocados and onions and fresh eggs from the Farmer's Market in the fridge, and the sun is awake today, fending off the rain.


With that little bit of an introduction, I've finally reached the main purpose of this post: this week's collection of work (poetry and prose). I've organised the summaries from my top-to-least favourite. If you have read any of these works, or would like to know a bit more about each writing, comment below. I'd love to hear from you!


Wishing you all the best.




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1. Half Life, Roopa Farooki

(Macmillan, 2010).


This book; it has the power to surprise, to compel---to challenge conventions of romance. It is the most beautiful representation of conflicted love, and I am in awe of its feeling. It feels as alive as Aruna feels numb.


Set over the stage of two continents: Europe to Asia, Half Life is the story of Aruna, whose life begins to unravel upon reading these words from a Bengali poet:


It is time to stop fighting, and go home.

Within moments, Aruna has book a ticket, boarded a plan and prepares herself for her return: to Singapore and her old life. Behind, she leaves her devoted husband of one-year, and fragmented memories of their life together.


Roopa Farooki's Half Life is a "coming-to-terms," a need for forgiveness and closure. Aruna first arrival in London was an escape: from her recently deceased father, a complicated psychological diagnoses, her best-friend-her-lover, and a life she had tried and failed to create. Her return to Singapore begins with a reunion with the man whose hope in her is as strong as hers is failing.


Commitment is what makes this book so compelling. Aruna has a choice to make. They are both returns.


A return to London: to the man who loves her still-and-despite her unreliability, or a return to Singapore: to the boy who loved her first-and-in-spite of this unravelling.


Is it possible, to remain committed to loves? As deeply as this novel explores Aruna, I believe that it simultaneously examines the sacrifice, loyalty and choices made by her two recipients of love.


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2. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

(Virago, 1986)


Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston was written in 1937. It is both imaginative and raw in its depiction of the non-fiction South Florida of the early 20th century.


The novel is about reflection; Janie Crawford narrates the story of her three marriages - It is time to explain her return home.


Hurston follows the life of this girl, of mixed black-and-white heritage, documenting her emotional growth through each of these loves.


'It is so lyrical it should be sentimental; it is so passionate it should be overwrought, but it is instead a rigorous, convincing and dazzling piece of horse, as emotionally satisfying as it is impressive. there is no novel I love more.'

- Zadie Smith

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3. The Occupant, Jane Draycott

(Carcanet Press Ltd, 2016)


I read Jane Draycott before my Interview at Oxford University; her work seemed to reach for the walls with their textile, print and colour. Her words were so alive, and yet, the rhythmic subtlety and metrical poise of her poems hinted at clarities only found in worlds of dream likeness and stupor. The Occupant, in its non-linearity, is a seeking book. It looks for itself in timelessness, growth, selfness and community.


It was such a privilege to meet Jane at a recent MSt Residential where she spoke about the power and potential of poetry; each one crafted through multiple new-first-starts. The Occupant is such a lyrical read. It asks questions, and in doing so, embraces readers. It is an empathetic collection, full of understanding and convention.


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4. Lovers in the Age of Indifference, Xiaolu Guo

(Penguin Books, 2010)


Lovers in the Age of Indifference is a series of short stories: love and lust are two words simultaneously so compatible and incompatible they confront worlds of contemporary-romantics. In this collection, Guo explores intimacy, examining both tenderness and detachment. The provocative forces each story to embody 'the uncanny' of modern romance, comparing readers to characters who search for connection in cultures and change all across the globe.


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5. Kumukanda, Kayo Chingonyi

(Chatto & Windus, 2017)


Kumukanda: Initiation. Kumukanda, we learn, is the title given to the rites a young boy from the Luvale tribe must endure before he is considered a man.


'A brilliant debut - a tender, nostalgic and, at times, darkly hilarious exploration of black boyhood, masculinity and grief. A gorgeous and necessary collection from one of my favourite writers.'

- Warsan Shire


In this collection, Kayo Chingonyi splits and reunites two worlds: ancestral and contemporary. Here, there is a void (an emptiness) between perception and reality, especially in terms of the autobiographic.


Chigonyi's approach to identity and race is gripping. He celebrates what it means to be the expression of two countries, simultaneously unifying and separating them.


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6. Paper Aeroplane: Selected Poems, 1989-2014, Simon Armitage

(Faber & Faber, 2015)


I think it is supposed to be reflective; to make use of imagery and real, concreteness. Paper Aeroplane: Selected Poems, 1989-2014 by Simon Armitage is an interesting read because it is a collection of work written across twenty-five years. Each one reads with definitive phrasing and distinctive voice; a testament to Armitage's experimentation and evolving poetic style.


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7. The Book of Joan, Lidia Yuknavitch

(Harper, 2017).


The future is was medieval as it is technical - technological - in Lidia Yuknavitch's The Book of Joan.


Joan of Arc and Christine de Pizan are reimagined in a post-apocayptic dystopia, in this compellingly ambitious examination of gender, semiotics and warfare.

- Lara Feigel, in her review for The Guardian


The Book of Joan is difficult to summarise for it is, essentially, complex. The futuristic earth is devastated; a battleground of violence and radioactivity, and, following a similar construct for Sci-Fi storylines, humans have regrouped to CIEL, a platform hovering over home, hovering in the sky.


This is where Yuknavitch's novel differs from convention. Her changed world has upended evolution and humanness. The remaining, surviving humans have become sexless, hairless pale-white creates floating in this isolation. They have become scribes; their pain and pleasure, tattooing stories upon stretched-thin, stretched-out skin.


Joan of Arc is a memory - a martyr, and it is her story that returns and unravels itself, grate-after-tattooed-skin-grate. It is her story, come to life, that shatters the structure and stoicism of "surviving."


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