Book review: ‘The Book of Mirrors’ by E.O Chirovici

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How would you piece together a murder?

Do you trust other people’s memories?
Do you trust your own?
Should you?

Princeton, 1987: renowned psychologist Professor Joseph Weider is brutally murdered.

New York, twenty-five years later: literary agent Peter Katz receives a manuscript. Or is it a confession?

Today: unearth the secrets of The Book of Mirrors and discover why your memory is the most dangerous weapon of all.

Memories, those fragments from our past which can create happiness, pain and nostalgia, form the basis of Chirovici’s complex new thriller The Book of Mirrors. It’s a fascinating plot tracing the memories of Richard Flynn, who retells his version of the events which lead to the death of Professor Weider 25 years prior. One half of Flynn’s manuscript lands with an intrigued literary agent Peter Katz, who sets out to retrieve its other half with the help of reporter John Keller. Using his investigative journalism skills to piece together the events, Keller becomes embroiled in finding answers. Lastly, it’s retired cop Roy Freeman who is also on the hunt for the truth surrounding Weider’s death, and carries out his own investigation in the hopes of resolving one of his unsolved cases. Every character wishes to know who killed Professor Weider for their own reasons, and the book is thus split into parts that follow what each character deduces from their individual investigations.

Interestingly, Flynn’s memories and manuscript frame the novel and create a multilayered story within a story – Chirovic makes it clear that the ‘mirrors’ the title refers to reveals harsh truths for each character, but also creates a jarring, distorted world that flits between reality and make-believe. The idea that our memories can fade, mutate, tell us false truths or even be 100% accurate is brought to life in the novel, and adds to the uncertainty of the plot.

The Book of Mirrors does not rely as much as on aesthetic description as it does in revealing its characters’ inner monologues. As the story unfolds, it brings to mind distorted mirrors found in a fairground, where one can face many different versions of one truth, but which feels nightmarish too. The Book of Mirrors is very much a psychological conundrum, but I appreciated that Chirovic sticks closely to the narrative, and carefully ties any loose threads together by the end.

The Book of Mirrors is a fascinating read that shatters the bubble each character is living in. Intelligently written, the novel offers a good insight into the depth of our memories, and the stories that shape our lives.

Rating: 7/10

Inspired by false memories from his childhood and written in the author’s second language, remarkably The Book of Mirrors nearly wasn’t published at all.

Having been rejected in the US, E. O. Chirovici took the novel to a small UK publisher who advised him to try just one more time to get it to a wider readership. He did, and The Book of Mirrors was immediately signed by a literary agent, sparking a UK auction and world-wide rights sales.

E. O. Chirovici now lives in Brussels with his wife. He has had a prestigious and varied career in the Romanian media and has also published novels and short stories in his native language. The Book of Mirrors is his first novel in English and is being published in January.

Follow E.O Chirovici on Twitter: @EugenOChirovici

The Book of Mirrors will be published on 26th January 2017. You can pre-order it on Amazon here.

 

Book review: ‘What Alice Knew’ by T.A Cotterell

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Alice has a perfect life – a cool job, great kids, a wonderful husband. Until he goes missing one night; the phone rings and then goes dead; things don’t quite add up.

Alice needs to know what’s going on. But when she uncovers the truth she faces a brutal choice. And how can she be sure it is the truth?

Sometimes it’s better not to know.

As far as thrillers go, it feels like many authors are striving towards reaching Gone Girl perfection. But with T.A Cotterell’s debut thriller What Alice Knew, it feels as though we’ve arrived in a newer, fresher territory from the first chapter. It’s a welcome change for readers, and one that sets it apart almost instantly.

What Alice Knew centres around Alice, a portrait artist with a relatively normal life, her husband Ed, a life-saving obstetrician, and her two kids. The picture perfect family is built up with the intention that it will eventually crumble, and crumble it does. Alice’s world is rocked when she discovers a truth that affects her day-to-day life forever. Unable to cope, she slowly finds herself swallowed by an unavoidable truth – one that Alice wishes she’d never pursued. The shattering of her world is felt acutely by the reader as we discover Alice’s innermost thoughts and begin to get a very real sense of the suffocation she is feeling throughout. Cotterell seems at his best when describing the increasing guilt Alice feels throughout the story, and in fact, her decisions become more and more questionable as the story continues. Ultimately, What Alice Knew begs the question: just how innocent and moral is everyone?

Cotterell’s strength also lies in presenting relationships that have been put to the test, and fractures steadily appear. Alice’s love for Ed is thrown into the spotlight, her past comes back to haunt her in the form of an old friend, and a visit home to her mother further throws her world into disarray. This novel is very much a pressure cooker in which Alice is bubbling away, finding relief in very little places. It is clichéd to label What Alice Knew a ‘voyage of self-discovery’, but by the end, Alice’s character develops vastly and creates the most unexpected of twists. It was a twist that had me scream ‘oh my God!’, slam the book shut and ponder, just for a few minutes, about what had just happened.

What Alice Knew is a fantastically dark thriller from Cotterell, bringing together tension and intrigue into a neatly packaged debut.

Rating: 8/10

T. A. Cotterell read History of Art at Cambridge University. He worked in the City before resigning to become a freelance writer. He is now a writer and editor at the research house Redburn. He is married with three children and lives in Bristol.

Follow T.A Cotterell on Twitter: @TACotterell1

The e-book version of What Alice Knew will be published December 2016, and its paperback in April 2017. Pre-order What Alice Knew on Amazon here.

 

“How can you be so Indian, yet so White?”

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Sometimes in life I am acutely aware that I am Indian. This isn’t a new realisation, but it is something I have only recently started to come to terms with.

Not many people know that I spent a large chunk of my childhood growing up in India. I have little recollection of spending time in England, apart from being at school. Summers out playing with kids in the neighbourhood, running out to the sound of the ice cream van, exploring London and its landmarks – it never really happened for me. After finishing the school year, summer was about flying out to India and spending time with my family for a few months, returning just in time for the start of the new school year, and disapproval from my head teacher about me always going on holiday: “where was Martha in the last week of term?”

The first time I became aware that I was confused about my identity, or how to navigate my way through life as a British Asian, was when someone at school asked me: “how can you be SO Indian, yet be SO White?”

Be White? I had no idea what this meant, or why someone would think I was more ‘White’ than other Indians. And anyway, what did ‘being White’ even mean?

Growing up, British Asian youths labelled one another ‘coconuts’ if someone was seen to align themselves more with the British culture rather than their Asian roots – coconut, meaning ‘brown on the outside, white on the inside.’ People were given this label for pathetic things really, for example, listening to rock music over Punjabi Bhangra music. Almost like it was a betrayal. Looking back, it was a pretty cruel insult, and a label thrown around carelessly. But me? With just one question, I didn’t even fall into the ‘coconut’ category. I’d been singled out as a different breed.

Thinking back to my time in school, I was never like my other British Asians classmates – I didn’t fit the ‘rude girl’ image, I never changed the way I spoke around White people, I didn’t swear in Punjabi to earn more friends and just didn’t mesh with other, more popular Asian girls or boys. I always felt like I never fitted in.

When P.E lessons became a split into ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ sets, I was torn away from my friends. I was one of 2 Asian girls placed in the top set, and remember looking around at a sea of White faces who left me feeling completely out of place – and most of whom were relentlessly bullying me throughout school. Fear instantly took over. “Miss, can I move to the bottom set? I don’t feel comfortable,” was the first thing that came out of my mouth. “You don’t always get what you want in life,” she replied. “If you don’t learn now that sometimes, you have to work with people you don’t like, you never will.” I got bullied ten times more for being the quiet, idiotic Indian girl during my time in the ‘top’ set, which ironically made me feel like the lowest rung of the ladder. I just didn’t fit in.

But being told I was somehow White was a whole different ball game. It threw me off guard and it began to dawn on me that I had always felt out of place, but that now, people were picking up on it. I was a mixture of the India so deeply embedded in my veins, but equally in tune with the Britain that had given me a home, friends, education and occasionally, half-decent weather. It occurred to me then how confusing my dual identity had become.

Fast-forward a couple of years and I was studying English Literature at university. I began reading books which opened up a new world to me – and I realised that before me, people had felt like I did. The feeling of not quite knowing, culturally, who I was. Works by Zadie Smith, Sam Selvon, Buchi Emecheta – they all made sense to me. Finally, it felt as though I was being understood. And the phrase that stuck out for me the most? Second class citizen.

I live in what I see as peak multicultural Britain, but do I feel as though I belong? No, not at all. Do I still feel conscious of my skin colour, the way my brain thinks in Punjabi but speaks in English, the roti I bring to work and secretly eat, the Facebook post about India I hesitate to share to predominantly non-Asian friends? Absolutely. Why is it that someone else’s trip to India ‘to find themselves’ is exotic and amazing, but my Indian culture is sidelined? Why is my culture only acceptable when mainstream culture says so? When the White girls wear bindis and the White boys don top-knot hairstyles, why must I sit in silence and applaud with everyone when this has been my life since birth?

Often at work, while listening to Hindi/Punjabi music on low volume in my headphones (normally out of embarrassment), I become aware that my story and journey is very different. I am born in Britain, I know and respect British culture (notice that I don’t say ‘love’), but I feel temporary in my existence here. Who I am now, and what I was before, often feels like a façade.

Like the time when I told someone White that I didn’t drink alcohol and laughed off their ignorant response. “Is that because of your religion then, or just because you’re boring?” Or the awkward conversation which ended with a man saying ‘all Indian people shake their head like this!’ *man mimics a head tilt from side to side while I helplessly laugh and walk away, confused* This is just a snapshot of what I’ve encountered.

My country and my Indian culture forms a huge part of me, but every day I am forced to hide it from people around me because they don’t understand it. Any new relationship I form must begin with a ‘being British Asian 101’, but nobody truly understands how much time it takes for someone like me to explain my story, when the truth is that nobody really wants to listen.

People frown at why BAME groups are offered platforms to breakthrough into sectors where diversity is lacking and the talent is all White. The clue is the word ‘minority,’ broken down further it’s ‘minor,’ and that tells you all you need to know: we feel invisible, insignificant, small, when doing our 9-5. It’s further complicated by people who take no interest in becoming more culturally aware or sensitive, yet say they embrace people of all shades and backgrounds.

I am now less confused about who I am, but more confused by what others want me to be. If my story feels invisible now, will it be erased in 10, 20, 30 years?

 

 

 

 

A letter to my younger self…

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Photo credit: fleurdanielle.blogspot.com

Dear 16-year-old Martha,

It’s me, Martha. I’m 20, and luckily, you’ll get to reach this age fairly smoothly. Hurray!

You’re having it pretty easy right now and enjoying some of the more happier times in your life. Your confidence – which has been low for a long while – is steadily growing as you find out that you’re kind of awesome, kind of witty and honestly, kind of hilarious. All in all, you’re in a pretty happy place and you’re surrounded by positive things.

However, the things and people you view as permanent fixtures in your life right may not be around forever. You have faith in a lot of your relationships, but many will teach you (in very challenging ways) a few things about people but most importantly, about yourself. Some people will let you down hugely, while others will give you a boost and prove their worth without effort. You’ll see very soon.

Even the career you’re thinking of going into is merely the result of cultural pressures and bad advice. You’re confused right now, but clarity will come later, especially when you follow your heart and stop pushing yourself to be someone who pleases everyone.

Another thing: the person you’re convinced you are now is going to change drastically. You won’t even realise how fast those changes will come, and it’ll take you a long time to realise that they even arrived at all. Just go with the flow.

Although you hesitate to speak now, you’re soon going to find your voice, and it will only grow louder once you accept it. You’ll be silenced by a lot of people who want you to act or think a certain way, but you’ll find a way to be true to yourself and shape your own thoughts and beliefs. However, not everyone will adjust to your ways… you may need to work on that.

The most important thing I can tell you is that you are tougher than you give yourself credit for. Come what may, you will need to keep ploughing on and become the fabulous 20-year-old version of yourself which I currently am (it’s tough right now too but you’ve got a really fantastic support system, so don’t worry too much little one).

Stay awesome.

Lots and lots of love, your 20-year-old self.

Eurovision: Do the British care anymore?

Conchita Wurst, winner of the 2014 Eurovision song contest for Austria.

Last night marked the 58th Eurovision song contest which took place in Copenhagen, Denmark.

I’ve grown up always being quite excited about Eurovision. I’m not sure where this excitement came from, but I do remember tuning in year after year – especially in my teenage years – hoping that Britain would win. This wasn’t the only reason I watched, as I was also fascinated with hearing the snazzy European accents and watching the little introductions to countries like Azerbaijan, which left me wondering how cool every other European country looked in comparison to England.

However, during the last few years, I simply haven’t cared about Eurovision, and it seemed my disregard of it was also reflected on my Twitter feed. However, this was the kind of carelessness and disregard where people don’t actually care about Eurovision but at the same time, feel the need to tweet about it and rip the singing contest to shreds. Of course, I’m all for slaughtering a TV show and picking out all its faults, but when it came to Eurovision, I also found myself questioning whether Britain really cares about the contest anymore?

I conclude that no, we really don’t. Until about half an hour ago, I wasn’t even aware about who was representing Britain at the Eurovision last night, and it was only from Google that I found out it was a woman named Molly. Google also informed me that she finished 17th and that more than likely, her performance was probably quite rubbish. Okay, I lied, I’ve concluded that it was probably quite rubbish. Personally, I believe that Britain likes to act like they’re interested in the whole Eurovision shebang but that really, it’s just a chance to feel part of Europe and have a little sing-song while they’re at it. There is never any intention left to actually win Eurovision, and our previous entries really showcase that…

…but it’s not just this. Eurovison on the whole has recently become more about the bizarre and eccentric and less about the singing talent – but I suppose this speaks for the music industry overall anyway. From my Twitter feed, I gathered that a lot of entries were just performing a less-than-average song and dance and hoping to win a prize that was always going to be won by Austria’s Conchita Wurst anyway. Lovingly (please note the sarcasm) labelled the ‘bearded lady’, Conchita was destined to win this accolade since her transphobic stories had been splashed across and reported heavily on within European media for the last few weeks. With that much coverage, the win was almost inevitable, so well done to Conchita.

Anyway, Eurovision has now become a laughing stock, and the prestigious nature it once may have held is surely dwindling. With Sir Terry Wogan’s departure and Graham Norton taking over the commentary, there has been an extra air of humour and mockery added to the manner in which it is presented to the British audience. Similarly, British audience themselves seem to gain a night off where they can criticise and poke fun at the random acts on-stage.

Last night seemed more about laughing at everyone, and I for one heard a lot about a cheescake or two. Eurovision just isn’t so cool anymore.

The ‘no make-up selfie’.

I simply can’t go by without expressing my thoughts on the ‘no make-up selfie’ social media campaign.

I think it’s a fantastic idea that a lot of money has been raised since the trend unleashed itself. Over £2 million raised by a campaign that has no link to Cancer Research. That’s pretty amazing! I have also been nominated to take a ‘selfie’ without any make-up on but (no disrespect to the person who nominated me) I can say without hesitation that I always knew I’d never take part in it.

“Why?”, you ask?

It’s actually quite simple. I’ve seen women take these selfies with the wrong kind of attitude. Granted, there are women out there doing it ‘correctly’, but what is actually correct about uploading a picture of yourself without make-up on, screenshotting your message to Cancer Research and publishing it on a social media website for all to see? I cannot help but think people are AGAIN, seeking affirmation from others through this trend. For why is there a sudden relationship between women wearing no make-up, taking a selfie and a desire to donate to charity? Nobody will want to speak up and voice this but I’m sure a lot of people who up till now didn’t donate or never really thought about it suddenly feel very pressured into doing it – simply because everyone else is doing it too. So, are you actually donating from your heart or are you donating because if you get nominated and don’t do it, you’re suddenly going to be branded evil and somehow against beating cancer? How is uploading a photo of yourself without any slap on actually beating cancer anyway? Don’t use the ‘#beatcancer’ tag because that’s not what you’re doing. The sentiment may be nice but…really…why can’t you just donate whenever you feel like it and without the selfie?

I understand that this no make-up selfie campaign has spread ‘awareness’ of cancer, but just hold on for a second. What were people doing before this all started? Wasn’t putting up a Facebook status or tweeting or walking around witih a tin saying “hey, donate to Cancer Research!” also a form of spreading awareness? Why was that not enough but this somehow, is? Now, if someone goes against supporting the ‘no make-up selfie’ campaign, we’re suddenly ‘not spreading awareness’, when actually, a lot of us have probably been doing it way before this trend emerged. We are not the bad guys.

Not to mention that most people are forgetting that there is nothing courageous about putting up a picture without make-up on. Not when you place in this opposition with those suffering from cancer. Young feminist Yomi Adegoke rightly stated the following on BBC Radio 4:

“But if women not wearing makeup is deemed as brave when held against cancer, it does say quite a bit about society today… I know the campaign was to normalise women not wearing makeup, but to suggest that by doing so is being exposing and leaving somebody vulnerable [and] that is problematic”.

Aside from this, I strongly believe that it is an issue when people have to CONFIRM TO OTHER PEOPLE that they have indeed, donated to a charity. I feel a lot of people have forgotten that doing a good deed is not done so you can then tell everybody else about it. You simply do it, and be done with it. If anything, the no make-up selfie is to me, a chance for a lot of women to show they were ‘brave’ enough to shed the make-up and take a selfie while doing so. The donation to Cancer Research is just a small add-on to justify they also donated to charity while fuelling their vanity.

I for one will be donating, firstly, in my own time, and secondly, without attaching a selfie with my donation or taking a screen-shot to prove I did so.

HAIM: a revolution for female rock musicians.

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Photo credit: blog.motelrocks.com

The arrival of HAIM in my playlist has undoubtedly been a very good thing.

Up until a few months ago, I’d never heard anything like them, and was more than intrigued when I first heard ‘The Wire’. These girls sounded so…absolutely…cool. I feel rather embarrassed that I’m not selling them to you better, but HAIM just sounded sublime. Really.

On a more personal note, I haven’t had many female musical heroes to be inspired by. I’m not stating that female rock musicians have been absent from my knowledge as such, but as a teenager growing up in the 21st century, it was a struggle to find someone current to fangirl over. It was increasingly hard to obsess over female rock musicians who were making music and making it well, and obsessing is my forte. My playlist was dominated by male rock bands and it was Hayley Williams of “Paramore” and Florence Welch of “Florence and the Machine” that had my boat floating for a while, but inevitably, I grew bored of them. For a long while now, I have needed something more!

In HAIM, I have found three female idols who fit the bill. They’re making their own music and most importantly, doing something different. I am absolutely crazy about them.

HAIM’s new video for their single If I Could Change Your Mind has just racked up one million views in just two days and features them having a jaunty little dance while seamlessly oozing a sophisticated and once again, extremely cool aura. With a UK number one album (titled Days Are Gone), awards recognising their work and an overall infectious persona, HAIM are (for me) revolutionising the way we view female rock musicians.

Haim, working it.
Photo credit: popdust.com

They are slowly becoming a band that I – and many others – can look up to as stamping their foot down on a largely male-dominated indie/alternative music scene and showing that females in rock aren’t dead just yet. The best thing about them is that HAIM don’t limit themselves to just rock music, as they fuse various elements of pop, rock and even r’n’b to create a sound that feels like it’s opening up a whole new genre. Even their music videos reflect newness and an implicit victory at knowing they’re doing exactly what they want to do. HAIM are taking the bull by the horns and making music that encompasses a whole range of influences. I’m hooked.

Now, this isn’t just the inner feminist in me talking, but someone who has in fact craved for a female band to rave about and be proud of for what feels like a very long time.

So, thank you HAIM, for I am now able to say that firstly, you are making amazing music and secondly, you are paving the way for more women-orientated rock bands to emerge from wherever they are hiding.