3 books, 3 points – October 2019
I’ve been a bit slack with the book reviews in recent months – I found myself in a little world where I just wanted to hunker down and read through a big pile of books, instead letting my thoughts mellow over time, swirling the words around in my head for a little while, instead of forcing myself to get my opinions down in a blog post as soon as possible. I’ve found this actually helped a lot, and the books in this post are ones I’ve read over the last couple of months and taken my time to digest! Read on for my thoughts on the raw Cilka’s Journey, the magical The Animals at Lockwood Manor, and the fascinating The Ancient Paths.
Please note that these reviews contain spoilers.
The Animals at Lockwood Manor**
Available for pre-order, publication date: 5th March 2020
I found myself absolutely lost in this book. The atmosphere of Lockwood Manor just pulled me right into the story, following Hetty as she tries to keep the animal collection safe in its temporary home.
– As the threat of bombing looms, the extensive animal collection of London’s Natural History Museum is evacuated to a safer location at Lockwood Manor. Hetty Cartwright is appointed as the guardian of the collection, and moves alongside it to take up residence at Lockwood Manor. However, almost as soon as the collection arrives, pieces start to disappear. Hetty is treated with disdain by the staff and by Lord Lockwood, but manages to find support from Lucy, the daughter of Lord Lockwood. As the story progresses, we follow Hetty’s experiences navigating life in the manor, whilst simultaneously trying to uncover the truth behind the strange disappearances of pieces from the collection….
– This isn’t just an atmospheric mystery. The characters have a depth that had me wanting to know more about each one, even the pretentious Lord Lockwood. I couldn’t wait to discover the reasons behind the behaviour of the staff, and I was gripped to learn about Lucy’s life growing up in Lockwood Manor. We view Lucy from Hetty’s viewpoint, feeling what she feels towards her, and learning the sad secrecy that people were forced into to hide their relationships. I didn’t want to put this book down – as the dark secrets of Lockwood Manor were slowly exposed, I was absorbed into the world.
-As the tension built throughout the story, I was torn between expecting a happy ending or a sad one, I just didn’t know how it would turn out! Thanks to the beautiful descriptions and the way Hetty cares for her exhibits, I felt almost as protective towards the animals as Hetty towards the end, which made the events in the book even more climactic. I just loved this book – it was right up my street, a little spooky, very evocative, and with a sense of tension and foreboding building throughout, which I loved. A really, really good book.
Not quite a follow-up to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Cilka’s Journey follows Auschwitz prisoner Cilka Klein, after the camp is liberated. Cilka’s Journey is just as hard-hitting as The Tattooist of Auschwitz. After the liberation of Aushwitz, Cilka is sent to a prison camp as a result of her being seen to have worked ‘with’ the Nazi’s during her time in the camp. What Cilka was forced to do during her time in Auschwitz is slowly revealed over the course of the book, and has long-lasting effects on her choices during her time in the prison camp, as well as the attitude of other prisoners towards her.
-Most of the information regarding Cilka and her life in Aushwitz and her subsequent time in the prison camp is gleaned from interviews with those who knew Cilka, as well as Morris’s friendship with Lale Solokov, the subject of Heather Morris’s previous book. As such, her story feels somewhat surface level, as if lacking her inner voice, although the narration is from her point of view. Morris has stated
that Cilka’s story is a blending of these facts into a fictionalised telling of her story. This is only a slight feeling, and there is still a lot of detail in the story. Over time, Cilka is able to work in the medical centre, then out in the ambulance. There is a focus on Cilka’s relationship with other prisoners, and this showsthat there are both similarities and differences between prisoners in the concentration camps and prisoners in the work camps afterwards. Learning the true extent of Cilka’s experience in Auschwitz was a truly harrowing process, leaving me wondering just how she was affected going forward, especially after the subsequent imprisonment and hard labour as well.
-The experiences of women in the camp are not glossed over. Cilka and the other prisoners are regularly beaten, starved and raped. It was horrific to read of their experiences, but at the same time fascinating to see how some women acted tin order to cope with these awful experiences. Developing a knowledge of how to act was essential if you wanted to survive. Although Morris clearly advises us she had not met Cilka, the detail of the conditions she endured is still so vivid. Cilka is able to develop her skills in the hospital, and eventually meets and falls in love with a patient she is caring for, Alexandr.
-Cilka is eventually released, and managed to meet Alexandr outside the camp, in freedom. The story ends quickly after this, which is expected, I suppose, as the detail of her life must fade at points with Morris relying on second hand accounts of Cilka’s life. I found myself wishing for a little more detail as Cilka’s journey continued outside the prison camp. However, I appreciate that Morris has not embellished the story afterwards, and kept it as accurate as possible. Overall, I found this book stayed with me for a long time afterwards, and if not in the same way as The Tattooist of Auschwitz, it was still a remarkable read.
The Ancient Paths
A wander across Celtic Europe in the footsteps of Druids, Romans and Celts.
– If I’m honest, this book turned out to be rather different than I was expecting from the blurb. Billed as
a cycle exploration across Europe, following the ancient paths of the Celts, the book was in fact more of an exploration of the ancient geometry of the Druids and the connection between historical towns and cities across Europe and the UK, with limited focus on the cycling or journey part. This wasn’t a bad thing at all, but the blurb was rather misleading in terms of what I expected!
– Although it took me a while to get into the writing style, I actually found The Ancient Paths to be really interesting. I learned that many major Celtic trading posts and towns are built on solstice lines,connecting them via straight lines over hundreds of miles. Robb shows that modern day villages with ancient roots can seem to be nonsensical road-wise, until we realise that paths may still exist as field boundaries, hedges and more.
– Robb also discusses how Britain seems to differ in that major centres of habitation do not line up in the same way as on the continent, even though Britain was a Druid stronghold and we would expect the same methods to be used – however, when we account for the difference in degrees that the solstice line follows as we move further North into the UK, the alignment is in fact the same. I was fascinated by this and am inspired to learn more about this period before the Roman empire spread to the UK!
Have you read any of these books, or any other great books this month? I’d love to hear your recommendations!