Books of the month

Charlie Wahl's book of the month - March

I Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harpman

It’s unusual, to say the least, to refer to a sci-fi or dystopian novel as a ‘little gem of a book’ – but I Who Have Never Known Men certainly is. A novella written in 1995; this book was tragically hidden beneath the competitive influx of post-apocalyptic tales around that time, but is no less precious a book, worthy to be spotlighted as a named classic. Thankfully, it’s finding it’s well deserved accolades now.

This is a dystopian novel like no other, a soft story that packs a punch, set in a contained world where forty women have been caged for many years with no memory of why or by whom. Their guards refuse to speak or acknowledge their desperate cries for answers, except only through the threatening crack of their whips, until eventually the women accept their fate and wither into their new mundane existence of endless days in captivity. All except one. A young girl, a claimed anomaly who was never meant to be rounded up with the others, and who knows nothing of the world before the cage. It is she who challenges their situation and refuses to accept this existence forced upon them.

Jacqueline Harpman paints the perfect alien-world, its simplicity allows for utter realism yet has a distinctive psychedelic landscape. Written with succinct clarity, you will feel the destitution and hope as sharply as the characters themselves. It’s an exploration of human nature, and what exactly that means to a person who grew up in a cage. This book questions what survival means, what propels us as human beings, what gives us purpose when we have nothing left at all. It’s an appreciation of every life, even the quietest, smallest, least impactful one – in effect it magnifies the ordinary life the majority of humans will live, inconsequential to the wider world but, nevertheless, worthy and significant.

The story’s theme takes on an even higher level of poignancy when knowing the author’s own life experiences – Harpman and her family having been forced to flee their home of Belgium, to escape the capture of Nazi invasion, and live out the remainder of the war in a foreign land, for reasons so cruel and unfathomable. This context is important in giving an unexpected underlying meaning to the tale and makes this so much more than a surface level book.

I Who Have Never Known Men teaches us about the mystery of life, that sometimes cruelty and love have no reason for why, and we don’t always get the answers we deserve. And yet, it’s overall message is in the importance of carrying on, even in the face of not understanding, to find meaning in life through a little slice of peace that can only come from true acceptance.

Charlie Wahl @wonderwahl

Childrens book of the month - March

Nine Lives Newton by Alice McKinley

If Newton’s got nine lives, he can be a daring dog of danger! Or can he…? Meet Newton – the dog who thinks he has nine lives and infinite luck. And if Newton has nine lives, then that means he can do all his favourite things but be MUCH more daring. But what if Newton’s got it all wrong and he’s not quite as invincible as he thinks he is?

Non-fiction book of the month - March

Maurice and Maralyn by Sophie Elmhirst

Maurice and Maralyn couldn’t be more different. He is as cautious and awkward as she is charismatic and forceful. It seems an unlikely romance, but it works.

Bored of 1970s suburban life, Maralyn has an idea: sell the house, build a boat, leave England — and its oil crisis, industrial strikes and inflation — forever. It is hard work, turning dreams into reality, but finally they set sail for New Zealand. Then, halfway there, their beloved boat is struck by a whale and the pair are cast adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

On their tiny raft, their love is put to the test. When Maurice begins to withdraw into himself, it falls upon Maralyn to keep them both alive. Filled with danger, spirit, and tenderness, this is a book about human connection and the human condition; about how we survive — not just at sea, but in life.