Themes in: Crossing the River by Caryl Phillips

Crossing The River is an odd book to describe. It is a piece of historical fiction, with a trans-historical mode. This means that, whilst focusing on issues of colonialism and slavery, it collectively tells the stories of multiple characters, both black and white.  However, despite being a collection of different stories, they are all thematically linked.

Slavery

Phillips wanted to write about slavery involvement in the UK, so naturally, this theme is clear throughout Crossing the River.  At the start of the book, The Ancestor sells his children into slavery. The pairing of money and slaves is continued significantly in the characters of Captain Hamilton and Edward Williams. Captain Hamilton is the owner of a slave-ship who, ironically, believes slave-trading is wrong. However, the financial gains he makes from the slave industry is the motivation behind his continued involvement. Edward Williams is the owner of a slave plantation, who also believes slavery is wrong, and yet participates in the industry regardless. The monetary value placed on a human life, and the commodification of slavery is absolutely vile; apparently it is not enough to benefit from having someone fulfil each and every of your desires, a profit must be made too. Crucially though, the author is unbiased in their depiction of these characters. Their involvement in the slave trade industry is neither praised nor condemned, leaving it to the reader to respond.

Melancholy

Each story seems to have an undercurrent of sadness. The Ancestor sells his children, which breaks his heart. Edward and Nash are separated*, Nash’s letters to Edward are never responded to and Nash is given no reason as to why this is the case.

*It’s hinted Edward’s wife forced communication between the pair to end after she discovered the homoerotic nature of their relationship.

Martha travels across America searching for her daughter, and Joyce sadly gives up her baby. This melancholia is often paired with feelings of loss, abandonment, displacement and/or severed relationships – perhaps to reflect the feelings of slaves across history.  They have been taken from their homes, removed from their families, and forced to suffer at the hands of a slave master.

Journeys

Many of the characters undertake journeys in Crossing the River. There are two types of journeys however: physical and metaphorical.

Physically, Martha travels across America to find her daughter, Edward travels to Africa to find Nash, Travis travels from America to Britain because of World War II, and Captain Hamilton goes on sea voyages as a slave-ship owner.

Metaphorically, some of the characters make the “journey” from life into death. Furthermore, journeys may also represent the trans-historical mode of the novel. Taking a “journey across time” is a popular phrase to describe tracking certain events of themes through history.  By presenting multiple characters’ physical journeys and metaphorical journeys of self-discovery and freedom, Phillips provides the reader with a historical journey, presenting how the issues of slavery and race relations are still as relevant today as they were during the time of the British slave trade involvement.

 

– Judith

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Book Review: Devil In The Countryside by Cory Barclay

Devil In The Countryside is a historically inspired thriller set in 1588 at the time of the Reformation. The plot follows investigator Heinrich Franz, who is looking for answers after numerous mysterious killings in the German countryside, attributed to the Werewolf of Bedburg.

The concept for the book reminds me of stories like Van Helsing, which is just the sort of thing I enjoy.

I think Barclay’s decision to mix fact and fiction was a bold one, but it made the political and historical context in which the book is set interesting.

Conventions of the genre, such as mysterious characters and gruesome murders were used well, and the writing was mostly easy to follow.

However, I struggled to imagine the settings and characters as authentically German. It felt more like a story about American characters that happened to have Germanic names. For me, this was particularly obvious when reading the amount of American slang used within dialogue – slang I’m quite sure wasn’t around in 16th century Germany!

This was a shame, because I think it prevented me from reading Devil In The Countryside as a historical fiction, and I read it more as a modern thriller.

Similarly, the dialogue also contained a surprising amount of crude swearing.

Normally, this is isn’t enough to discourage me, but in an era of strong religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants, I doubt casual phrases such as ‘God dammit’ would be used in dialogue between priests and religious citizens.

Devil In The Countryside is a reasonable thriller inspired by historical events, and if you enjoy violence or the supernatural, I’m sure it would be a good read for you.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

Devil In The Countryside is available to buy as a paperback or an e-book from Amazon UK or Amazon.com.

– Judith

An Interview With Terry Tyler

This week, I interviewed Terry Tyler, a writer and blogger who currently lives in the North East of England. She has published 13 books to date, her most recent novel being The Devil You Know, a psychological thriller released in October last year.

Terry is a huge fan of history and therefore loves historical novels. “Philippa Gregory’s historical novel The Other Boleyn Girl is a masterpiece!” she said.

The Other Boleyn Girl is loosely based on the life of Mary Boleyn, the sister of the infamous Anne Boleyn.

Terry explained, “The book was brilliant; I like the Plantagenets, the Tudors and the 17th Century most of all, although I will read about other periods too. I prefer serious historical fiction, not romances, and it needs to be extremely well researched, so that it can teach me about the period. The film adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl, however, was garbage!”

History also inspires many of Terry’s novels.

I read one of these novels, The House of York, a historical fiction inspired by the Tudors and Plantagenets, which I reviewed here:

However, Terry is not only interested in the past, but the (possible) future.

“I’ve watched every season of The Walking Dead three times over!”

She explained, “I love stories about life after pandemics and zombie apocalypses, but they must be really well-written and thought out. It’s how people survive on the breakdown of society, when the world as we know it has gone, that fascinates me.”

Yet being a keen reader writer, it took Terry a while to begin blogging. “Although my first book was published in 2011, I didn’t start a blog for another six months.” She said, “Everyone kept telling me writers have to have blogs, so reluctantly, I started one.”

Eventually, Terry began to appreciate the use of having a blog. “It was a useful tool for me when I wanted to write things other than my current novel-in-progress. Now, I’m a part of Rosie’s Book Review Team and I write about all sorts – writing advice, publishing advice, book reviews and other random things that pop into my head!”

Terry’s newest novel, The Devil You Know, was the culmination of half a year’s hard work.

My Photo [The Devil You Know]

“It takes me about six months to go from having an idea for book to finishing it” Terry said, “I write very intensively once I get going – it’s what I do – and I fit the rest of my life around it. Although all my novels have different storylines, they always tend to be character driven and have a good plot twist or two!”

I asked Terry if she had any tips for any other writers. She said, “Show what you’ve written to someone who you can trust to give you an honest opinion, to make sure you can actually write.”

Whilst on the subject of honest opinions, Terry shared her thoughts on positive and negative reviews. “Negative reviews are just as valid as positive reviews because everyone reads a book differently.” she explained, “Even if a book is so badly written that it makes your Kindle cringe, they have the right to tell you so, just like when someone enjoys it, they have the right to express that.”

However, despite the risk of negative reviews, this shouldn’t be scare away a budding writer, Terry says.

“Don’t give yourself any grief; write because you want to write.” Terry said, “Even if you can only manage 500 words a day, you’ll have a first draft ready in six months or less.”

The Devil You Know is available as an e-book on Amazon UK and Amazon.com.

You can find Terry Tyler on Twitter @TerryTyler4 at and her website is terrytyler59.blogspot.co.uk.

***

– Judith