Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

This strange, beguiling novel tells many stories. Natalia is a doctor working in the Balkans in the aftermath of years of war. She learns her grandfather - also a doctor - has died in peculiar circumstances, and in trying to investigate what happened we learn about their time together, and his past. That includes his meetings with a man who cannot die, and childhood experience with a deaf-mute woman known as the Tiger's Wife. We unpick the lives of peripheral characters along the way.

It's beautifully written and full of striking imagery. I find myself lingering over particular moments: Natalia and her grandfather following an elephant as it is escorted through town, or Natalia spraying water at her family's holiday home while a wildfire gets ever closer. The sequences with the Deathless Man are brilliantly creepy - at one point, we discover him walled up in the basement of a church, calmly pointing out which of the other people there will not survive the night.

For all the fantasy elements, the real horror is from ordinary people - their cruelty and indifference, the suffering they inflict. Luka, for example, abuses his wife and when he then vanishes people assume he's been murdered - and don't really seem to mind. But we also follow the thread of his life to understand why he is violent. It doesn't condone his actions, or make them any less appalling.

The fate of an apothecary, told right at the end of the book, is the most potent example of what can happen when a country turns on itself and anyone thought of as "foreign". It felt depressingly timely. And then his story concludes by almost casually mentioning the fate of the Tiger's Wife, which is devastating.

One puzzling thing: on the cover, a header proclaims, "Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction 2011". There's then also a sticker proclaiming the same thing.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Victorian Queens of Ancient Egypt

Marianne Brocklehurst's diary
Victorian Queens of Ancient Egypt, my fourth documentary for Radio 3's Sunday Feature will be broadcast on 3 February. This morning, presenter Samira Ahmed is in the Guardian about it:

There are details for the programme on the BBC website:

Samira Ahmed explores the profound connection between ancient Egypt and the Victorian heyday of Britain’s industrial north – in a legacy of museums and northern pride.

Being taken to see the mummies has become a rite of passage, captivating generations of children since the late 19th century. Ancient Egypt is now embedded in early years education. At more than a hundred museums across the UK, that culture helps shape the British imagination. Where did that affinity come from?

To find out, Samira follows in the footsteps of three extraordinary women: Amelia Oldroyd, Annie Barlow and Marianne Brocklehurst. Each came from a northern, mill-owning family, and each felt compelled not only to visit Egypt and to collect antiquities, but to share their treasures with those at home. Each established local museums that survive today, inspiring new generations.

Today, such museums face an uncertain future. By returning to these women’s stories, can lessons be learned from the past?

Katina Bill, Kirklees Museums and Galleries
Matthew Watson and Rizwana Khalique, Bolton Library and Museum Services
Danielle Wootton
Emma Anderson and Kathryn Warburton, Macclesfield Museums
Rebecca Holt, MPhil student at Oxford University
Heba abd al-Gawad, Egyptian Egyptologist
Alice Stevenson, Institute of Archaeology, UCL
Dr Chris Naunton

Producers: Simon and Thomas Guerrier
A Whistledown Production for BBC Radio 4

Monday, January 07, 2019

Christel & Simon Talk Doctor Who

Here's an interview with me and Christel Dee about our book, Doctor Who - The Women Who Lived, conducted at Forbidden Planet in London. It includes glimpses of the book and of some of the brilliant artists. And if you look very carefully, you can spot out loitering boss.