Hello. Before we start, a huge shout out to real, brick-and-mortar libraries and their brilliant staff who have been doing their best to reopen and let us get our grubby fingers on their lovely stock. Library life is currently different, but it’s brilliant to be able to get back in there. So a thank you to everyone in the library community.
The Secret Library is different, of course: staffed virtually by authors who share three titles that don’t get the recognition they deserve. And showing us round the stacks today is the author Lily Hayden. She worked in finance before fulfilling her ambition to write books which she describes as ‘chick lit with a kick’. She sent me some brilliant pictures of her in a cafe which is meta indeed. Lily is a writer of women’s contemporary fiction and of YA dystopia, and while chick lit (her term not mine) isn’t something we comprehensively cover on this site, we’re no stranger to the strong modern women that are Lily’s protagonists of choice. Over to Lily:
There are so many books that have been deeply influential to me, and it was a lot more challenging to narrow it down to three than I thought it would be. As an author of contemporary fiction that falls into the fluffy feel-good ‘chick lit’ category, it was tempting to stay loyal to my genre, however I’m a huge fan of literary fiction and thrillers, and the more serious plots and themes tend to be the ones that leave a lasting impression. After much deliberation, I decided to go with these three more recent reads:
The Girl in the Tree by Sebnem Isiguzel
The book is a time capsule, interspersed with literary and pop culture references, of life during civil unrest, narrated by a teenager driven to despair by her own tragic losses who decides to live in a tree. From her spot up high in Istanbul’s Gulhane Park, she meets a young hotel porter and she reflects on the injustices of life, both personal and political, that have led her to hide away from the world.
The style might not be for everyone, but I loved it. The messy storytelling, the crude language of the narrator and the tangled web of lies amongst her recollections gave authenticity to the teenaged voice. The jump from poetic prose to the very real logistics of living in a tree, that most books would gloss over, creates a breathtaking contrast and I could read it again and again.
The Colours That Blind by Rutendo Tavengerwei
A story of a boy and his grandmother set in modern-day Zimbabwe, Tumi is desperate to find acceptance, obsessed with making the national swimming team to make his peers see him for more than just his albinism. When he is sent away from the comforts of the city to stay with his grandmother, the horrifying events of his past come racing back to him. His grandmother tells her own tragic, heartbreaking story, partially in person, partially through excerpts of her diary, of growing up amongst hatred in a war-torn country as she tries to support him through his fear.
I like dual narratives, and the split between past and present help move the story along at an engaging pace. It’s marketed as Young Adult due to the protagonist’s age and there are an array of pop culture references which may be off-putting to those that consider themselves serious readers, but the story is masterfully put together and the overarching themes of prejudice and forgiveness intertwine two very moving, and at times shocking, stories.
The After Wife by Cass Hunter
Rachel was a happily married mother and a respected scientist, and the story follows her grieving husband as he attempts to navigate life after her death. She has left her legacy for him and their daughter in the form of Artificial Intelligence created in her image.
One of the most thought-provoking and poignant stories I have read in a long time. I love the originality of a book that has all the ingredients (themes of family, grief and love) that we tend to associate with the contemporary women’s market being about a humanoid robot. The story is told through the voices of multiple characters, and the contrasts are clever, capturing complex emotions perfectly. Looking at the blurb, I wasn’t sure how this book could work in its genre, but the science is so subtle and believable that it doesn’t take over, and the book manages to deliver a heart-warming, feel-good vibe at the end.
These are great choices so thank you Lily. Lily’s latest book, New Rules, is contemporary light-hearted fiction about two women at the opposite end of the career ladder. Both Kate and Ellie have their own relationships dramas within the book, but the main story follows them dealing with injustices and prejudices of their own and in the workplace. You can get it here (all links are as ever affiliate links).