Hazel McHaffie

Kathy Reichs

Turkish delight? Not so much.

Way back in 2017 I read my first novel by much-garlanded Turkish author, Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red. It was shortly after I’d visited Turkey myself, and I reviewed it on this blog.
Verdict? Brilliant and well worth the time spent.
I’ve just read a second one of his: Snow, which I bought on the strength of the first experience.
Verdict? Much harder work and not so gripping.
However, I’m game for a challenge, so I persevered through this labyrinthine story, all 436 pages of tiny font, densely packed, precise, slow moving prose.

Journalist and poet, Ka, has travelled to a mountainous border city called Kars – one of the poorest and most overlooked corners of Turkey – ostensibly to investigate an epidemic of suicides amongst young women. He is both shocked and frightened by the manner of deaths: abruptly, without ritual or warning, in the midst of their everyday routines, one minute jostling normally with siblings or playing with babies, the next lying dead from shotguns or pills or nooses. The speed and efficiency of the deaths convinces him that they had been carrying suicidal thoughts around with them for some time.  But why?

Local reaction is powerful. Posters proclaim: Human beings are God’s masterpieces and suicide is blasphemy. Pamphlets are circulated. Such is the sensitivity around this issue that Ka himself is offered police protection. As he unravels attitudes and mores underpinning both religion and atheism, Ka also writes poems that come to him in blinding flashes – a significant development after a very fallow period in his creative energies.

He’s also looking for answers to his own existential questions. He’s searching for a God who doesn’t ask me to take off my shoes in His presence, and who doesn’t make me fall to my knees to kiss people’s hands. I want a God who understands my need for solitude. But he knows this is dangerous territory and is highly sensitive to the threat on all sides.

The story wanders into some pretty serious territory: the existence of God, why are we here, the problem of suffering, life after death, the importance of headscarves, religious fanaticism, media ethics … But the author, Pamuk himself, describes the heart of the story thus:
How much can we ever know about the love and pain in another’s heart? How much can we hope to understand those who have suffered deeper anguish, greater deprivation and more crushing disappointments than we ourselves have known? Even if the world’s rich and powerful should ever try to put themselves in the shoes of the rest, how much would they really understand the wretched millions suffering around them?

Maybe, after all, the right book to read in this second week of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, where we see such grave inequalities exposed between ‘the rich and powerful’ and ‘the wretched millions’.

It’s a fact universally acknowledge that I rarely have more than one book on the go at once. Simple mind! So, it’s probably a measure of the density of this particular novel that I dipped into two others in the time it took to complete it. My companion on a long train journey – Deadly Decisions by Kathy Reichsrequired no effort or analysis, and was pure mindless distraction during a time of significant mental and emotional turmoil. A more serious alternative to Snow was Lies Lies Lies! by Michael Green, which looks at claims against Christianity. It provided a fascinating contrast with the religious bigotry and fanaticism within the Muslim world in Turkey depicted in Pamuk’s novel.

 

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By the way

The old brain is somewhat discombobulated by rather too many competing demands at the moment. Not a time for deep analytical reading or serious long distance writing, but  even in the busiest times, my obsessions won’t allow me to abandon writing and reading altogether. And it’s curious what life throws in your path when you’re not looking, or when you’re tramping through the autumn leaves.

Who’d have thought to find the ethics of stem cell research buried in a Kathy Reich‘s murder mystery?! Grave Secrets is billed as a chilling murder in the searing heat of Guatemala. Forensic anthropologist, Dr Temperance Brennan, is searching for the remains of twenty-three women and children, victims of a brutal massacre. She’s then somewhat distracted by the disappearance of four teenagers who go missing, not to mention being physically involved in the retrieval of a skeleton of a young woman from a septic tank. I confess I got rather bogged down in the complexity of the plot at times, but interest was reignited by the excursion into my field of ethics.

And the newspapers yielded their usual challenging real-life sensations.

In the central German state of Hesse, for example, police are investigating a woman who forged documents to pass herself off as medically qualified, to see if she’s responsible for multiple deaths. She worked as an anaesthetist/anaesthetic assistant – different papers, different claims – either way, the mind boggles! How could she not be detected in that high-risk arena over two years? It’s reported that evidence links her with repeated medical failures and botched procedures, and many more are likely. If I’d put that in a novel, the critics would deem it ‘too far fetched to be credible’!

A birth coach has resigned from an association called Doula UK, claiming she’s been driven out because transgender activists took offence at one of her Facebook posts. Reacting to the trend towards gender-neutral descriptions she wrote: ‘I am not a cervix owner … I am a woman; an adult human female … Women birth all the people.’ Up flew the activists objecting to ‘trans exclusionary comments’. Out went the mother-of-four birth coach. Hello?

A 29-year-old Christian man who uses a wheelchair after breaking his back in a climbing accident, has become the first person to be arrested and prosecuted for praying in public outside an abortion clinic in Ealing, west London. A Public Spaces Protection Order is in place creating a buffer zone around that particular clinic, forbidding anyone to show either approval or disapproval with respect to issues relating to abortion. However, the case has collapsed because there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. Cue another outcry re injustice!

Never a shortage of challenges to keep the grey cells buzzing whatever else my hands and feet are busy with in this gloriously autumnal month. In those situations, what would I do? What do I think? Could I defend my position?

What would YOU say?

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Pride and prejudice

I do a fair amount of travelling by train nowadays, and it’s safe to say Birmingham New Street station is one of my least favourite haunts. Not only is it fearfully busy, but platforms aren’t revealed until close to leaving time, and literally-last-minute alterations occur with alarming frequency. Me, I like to be ready and waiting in plenty of time. Mad dashes from 8a to 9b with leaden cases through seething crowds of single-minded commuters do nothing for my health.

In all the years that I travelled regularly to the Westcountry, I went to great lengths to avoid changing in Birmingham, but these days I can’t avoid it, because my mother is now being cared for out in one of its leafy suburbs. Anyway, I was down there again this week, during the heatwave. Quietly melting on Moor Street station waiting for a connection, I noticed, across the track on the far platform, not one but eight massive posters – all identical. All advertising Kathy Reich’s latest book, 206 Bones.
A SHALLOW GRAVE; AN UNKNOWN VICTIM ran the heading. EIGHT times! Lots and lots of spooky black and white. All very tempting. And eloquent.

I was just comparing her marketing strategy … her sales figures … her royalties … with mine, in a fairly green-eyed, if-only, tone of thought, when my eye caught another message on a stand-alone poster:
Everyone that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD.

Brought me up with a jolt I can tell you. Back to being Ms Unknown Writer; and humble with it.

Sigh. I guess I’ll never know what world-wide acclaim would do to my character. But I can always blame my marketing team – or lack of!

Since that eureka moment, I’ve been admiring the huge range of gardens and exhibits at the Chelsea Flower Show, and I’ve taken heart again. We can’t all be gold medallists. Very few of us will reach ‘Best in Show’. But there’s room in this world for us all.

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