I have been known to get carried away in recommending books. I have said out loud on more than one occasion ‘this is the best book you will ever read.’ About different books. And I was going to start this post by saying Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune is the best book I’ll read in 2016. But then I picked up H is for Hawk this morning and now all bets are off. It’s probably better to stop ranking things (this is good advice all round, actually) and accept that there might just be many books that are very, very good and worth pausing whatever you’re doing in order to read (just as there are many pies worth eating and why do we need to have a best one? Because best lists are the best that’s why. And obviously raspberry. Oh fine, let’s carry on with having bests).
ANYWAY. So the book.
Set in the 1830-50s in Chile and California, it follows the wickedly fantastic Eliza as she sets out to find her love(r) who is somewhere in the chaos of the San Francisco gold rush. I don’t want to say much about the plot because I’m hopeful you’ll read the book, so I’ll leave off with describing the what and instead focus on what the book does masterfully well: exploring the simultaneous absurdity and real consequences of gender/race and class divisions, lyrical language, conflict, capturing cultural mores, loss. It evokes mood and place, it offers threads of plot you think are going to be significant only to leave them behind and weave them back in later in ways that catch your breath with delight to see it all come together. There’s magic to the elegance of the writing (in translation, no less).
So there you go. The first book of 2016 is a total win (thanks, mum for the gift). And if the first three chapters of book number two are any indication, we’re in for a good run of reads post holiday gifting. Hold tight.