Monday, January 21, 2013

Salt order



Happy New Year all! Hope you all had a grand holiday. Despite appearing to have only read eleven books EVER, according to Goodreads, I have been gorging on literature, which could account for my poor blog output! The less said about that the better. Call me a slim volume. Therefore, what better way to kick off the New year than with a review?

 SaltWater

Saltwater is Lane Ashfeldt’s debut fiction collection. As the title suggests, saltwater is the theme running through all the stories, whether it be sea or tears. There’s tragedy here, but not the morbid, hang your soul out to dry sort of tragedy. Boat trips go wrong, lives deviate unexpectedly from familiar and unplanned routes, and new places are discovered, but there is no drudgery. There is, however, a strong sense that life, like the sea, is unpredictable. 

Ashfeldt is extremely good at revealing the inner machinations of her characters. She writes with un-showy prose yet her characterisations are visceral, even when describing the sea, volcanoes, the road to Titirangi (I know well), these are things that matter, are tangible. These stories feel real. It is perhaps no surprise, then, some of them are based on real events: family histories and fictions indistinguishable and all the more fascinating for the boundary blur. 

In her own words, the author says:
“the title story, ‘SaltWater’, is a fictionalised version of a family story. In August 1940 my grandfather’s cargo ship the Loch Ryan was attacked by German fighter planes in the neutral waters of the Irish Sea. My mother was already born, so the fact I am here does not give away the ending. This is actually one of the very first stories I remember being told as a child. Though of course I’ve gone and changed it.”

It follows on perfectly from “The Boat Trip” in which pushed-aside, ordered-about run-around girl Nola is reluctantly invited on a boat trip with her sister Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s friend Róisín.
Captained by Róisín’s uncle, the boat trip changes Nola’s outlook (to say the least).
Indeed, all the stories in Saltwater flow from one another so effortlessly, the settings evoked so clearly, this collection reads almost cinematically.

A favourite story for me was the magic realist “Catching the Tap-Tap to Cayes de Jacmel”, particulary for the old woman who speaks to the story’s protagonist in a “hoarse whisper” as they encourage one another in the aftermath of an earthquake at a cinema. This story won a global Short Stories prize. It's easy to see why. 

Many writers would shy from broaching such subject matter, rightly so, but Ashfeldt manages to tell simply, stories of real and imagined lives with empathy and respect for her characters. 

Another favourite is “Pole House” where “authentic” and “inauthentic” kiwi experiences are juxtaposed when a woman leaves the Piha bach she shares with her kiwiana making boyfriend and heads into the city via Titirangi’s Scenic Drive. This story could have gone horribly wrong in the hands of a less skilled or culturally aware writer. But Ashfeldt writes with intelligence and integrity and it’s clear from the locations of her stories she is globe savvy. The result is as stand-out as the pole house described within it. 

The forbidden looms ever close in these fictions, yet often it is not doing as they are told that saves a character's life.

Ashfeldt writes of the sea so convincingly that her prose is imbued with the menace and familiarity of it, lending suspense and drama to many of these stories, keeping the reader hooked until the very last line. 

Finally, like the sea, it’s the familiarity of Ashfeldt’s characters combined with the unpredictability of these fictions that makes them so very readable. 

Available from Kindle for a special reduced price of $2.99 for January. 
And you can read more about Lane's grandparents - the inspiration for the first two stories in this collection - soon, here http://www.ashfeldt.com/

17 comments:

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Lovely review - great collection.

vx

Rachel Fenton said...

Thanks, Vanessa :)

Lori said...

This book sounds awesome, Rachel. Thanks for letting us know about it.

Dan Purdue said...

This sounds very interesting. I just wish I could read books as fast as I add them to my to-read pile!

Rachel Fenton said...

It's a gorgeous collection, Lori. I was surrounded by sea as I read it. KNow you'll enjoy it.

Rachel Fenton said...

Dan, I read lots then forget to add them to Goodreads or blog about them or decide I could read another in the time it would take me to write about them. Have to say, this collection is a quick read - thanks to the stellar writing.

Thanks for stopping by :)

helencaldwell said...

Sold :) I'm really interested in fiction inspired by real life people and events. This sounds like a beautiful collection and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Rachel Fenton said...

It's a gorgeous collection, Helen; I'm sure you'll love it!

The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy said...

I've received my copy and am looking forward to delving in. I also forget to list my Goodreads, and I also crash pretty early at night. I hate these pre-dawn starts and ought to reward myself with some sneaky reading afternoons! Great review Rae xxcat

Rachel Fenton said...

Sneaky reading afternoon sounds very tempting, Cat. You can pretty much guarantee that the reason I'm not posting on Goodreads is because I'm reading. Speaking of.....

Lane Ashfeldt said...

Hey Rachel thanks so much for lovely review. A friend is going to NZ soon, wish I was too...

Rachel Fenton said...

Ah, and here's me yearning for a trip to Yorkshire and beyond!
If you do ever get to come, give us a shout, I'll buy you a coffee and throw in a choc fish :) Thanks Lane - you wrote a stunning collection (and top points for rhyming comment)!

ashfeldt said...

They still do chocolate fish? Will have to ask friend to bring a few back - would be the perfect free gift to add to postal copies of SaltWater.

Rachel Fenton said...

Only a few places still give them away with drinks - one marshmallow, two if you're lucky is more usual now. Happy to send you some fish :)

Lane Ashfeldt said...

Aw thanks Rachel, but am good for now - arranging a special import, via friends and family, to save postage! Hopefully will arrive in time for my London reading later this month...

ashfeldt said...

Aw thanks Rachel, but am good for now - arranging a special import, via friends and family, to save postage! Hopefully will arrive in time for my London reading later this month...

Rachel Fenton said...

:) Hope the reading goes brilliantly, Lane!