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Reflections: a reading list and summary

In keeping with the theme of the issue, here’s some books that explore the theme of reflection, cause you to reflect or have come to mind when thinking about reflection and literature. There are books that I have really loved and I hope you enjoy!

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro

It’s absolutely no secret that Ishiguro is a master of writing about memory and reflections anchor themselves firmly in his work, so it’s not a shocker that ‘Never Let Me Go’ sprung to mind for this list. Despite its high-concept sci-fi elements, what really struck me was the way memory shapes the story, and makes you feel nostalgic for a past you’ve never experienced, something really rare for a writer to achieve. It captures the way reflections and history work, and deep down it’s the parts about reflections and the way he captures them that really gets under your skin. Whether it’s memory, music, people or physical objects, what anchors us to a particular time really takes hold and plays a key role in the story.

Consumed - Arifa Akbar

An absolutely brilliant memoir that’s so articulate about such a difficult topic, with amazing compassion and strength. Consumed focuses on Akbar’s sister Fauzia and her death from tuberculosis, which leads her to reflect on their shared life, art, family and history, as well as Fauzia’s struggles with mental illness. It’s so moving to hear how Akbar reflects on memories and how an understanding of experiences can shift and change from childhood to adulthood; she really articulates how the same events can be seen through a completely different lens from person to person and how this reflects the differences in relationships. This was such a great book to read for its unflinching and really honest descriptions of family and how illness affects it, and as such a refreshingly honest look at sisterhood and everything that comes with it. While it was sad to hear of such a talent lost, it was also amazing to see and hear about Fauzia’s beautiful art.

The Swimmers - Julie Otsuka

It always slightly annoys me when reviews quite smugly say how they ‘devoured a book in one sitting’ when it takes me about three working days to read a whole text message without getting distracted, but in this case it was actually true! Short but so sweet, The Swimmers is the story of an underground pool, the people who swim there and what it means to them. It’s the story of Alice, to whom the second part of the novel is devoted and how her memory is shifting and changing through dementia. At times heartbreaking but with a signature wit and glimmers of humour, Otsuka’s gorgeous prose and style is something so unique, treasuring our memories and routines and how much they mean to us. An emotional one, but a real gem.

Otherlands - Thomas Halliday

Of all the things to reflect on, Halliday takes on the history of the world before us. Nature writing meets a history lesson, Otherlands takes you into a world gone by, going through each geological period and the flora and fauna you’d expect to see there. Halliday really creates the effect of travelling through time, conjuring up images of prehistory like a nature writer, and it’s truly extraordinary to hear and think about how the world used to be. I found myself reflecting on the history of the natural world, how everything has its role within it and how time has passed.

Eve Bites Back - Anna Beer

When talking about reflections, it’s also interesting to think about what we don’t reflect on, which is where Eve Bites Back comes in. It’s easy as book lovers and students of literature to see literary history through the canon, and it’s all too easy for women to be forgotten in the scheme of understanding how literary history is structured and influenced. Beer takes us through the women who have been left out of history, their life and work, in a fascinating and often very witty way. A real insight into literature and the women it forgot, and a celebration of women who broke the mould and tried to make their voices heard.

Thunderstone - Nancy Campbell

A brilliant memoir, Campbell reflects on the brain injury faced by her partner Anna and the challenges they faced coping with it, on their relationship and on Campbell’s experience of living in a remote caravan in the countryside. An amazing reflection of both humanity and the natural world, of breaking and healing, it’s a memoir that has beauty and depth to everyday challenges and everyday beauty. Campbell reflects on nature and the people that she meets in such an interesting, brilliant way…

Thin Places - Kerri ní Dochartaigh

A really extraordinary book that explores language, trauma, history and the healing power of nature. Thin Places is an exploration of those special places that seem to be otherworldly, and cross the line between this world and the next, and the history of The Troubles and its impact in Ireland to this day. I found it really beautiful and interesting to hear about language, and the role it plays in healing and reclaiming history, and Dochartaigh’s prose is really something else – the nature writing sections are breath-taking, and her accounts of The Troubles and her mental health is so moving.

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