My thanks go out to author Anne Goodwin, who organised this lovely Blog Tour and was kind enough to save a space for me.
SUGAR and SNAILS
Shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize.
At fifteen, she made a life-changing decision. Thirty years on, it’s time to make another.
When Diana escaped her misfit childhood, she thought she’d chosen the easier path. But the past lingers on, etched beneath her skin, and life won’t be worth living if her secret gets out.
As an adult, she’s kept other people at a distance… until Simon sweeps in on a cloud of promise and possibility. But his work is taking him to Cairo, the city that transformed her life. She’ll lose Simon if she doesn’t join him. She’ll lose herself if she does.
Sugar and Snails charts Diana’s unusual journey, revealing the scars from her fight to be true to herself. A triumphant mid-life coming-of-age story about bridging the gap between who we are and who we feel we ought to be.
Anne has been scribbling stories ever since she could hold a pencil and now she writes fiction for the freedom it offers her to contradict herself, although she hate bios for fear of getting it wrong!
During her career as an NHS clinical psychologist, her focus was on helping other people tell their neglected stories to themselves, although now that her short fiction publication count has overtaken her age, her ambition going forward is to write and publish enough novels to equal her shoe size!
She writes entertaining fiction about identity, mental health and social justice and is also available as a speaker and trainer / workshop leader.
Anne juggles her sentences whilst walking in the Peak District, where she is now a volunteer ranger with the Peak District National Park, only to lose them again while battling the slugs in her vegetable plot.
“I write to tame and organise the thoughts that bubble in my head. I write for the part of me that’s inconsolable and don’t have the hands or the talent for painting, pottery or the piano. I write because it’s proven more effective than screaming to communicate my personal truths. I write because publication provides the perfect payback for a painful childhood and because I’m addicted to alliteration, a glutton for grammar and ruled by the rule of three. I continue writing to discover where my imagination will take me; because if I stopped, I’d no longer be me”
Visit Anne at her website
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Halfway down the stairs, I sink to my haunches and hug my dressing gown across my breasts.
Below me in the hallway, Simon reaches up towards the row of coat hooks. His hand hovers above the collar of his black fleece and then falls, combing the sleeve as his arm flops to his side. “This is ridiculous, Di. We should at least talk about it.”
Can’t he see this has gone beyond talking? “It’s late. You’ve got a long day tomorrow.”
“Come to Cairo, then. Whatever’s bothering you, I promise, I can help.”
“We’ve been through all that.”
“Yeah, and you’ve served up one feeble excuse after another. Don’t you trust me, Di?”
Staunch as sculpted granite, Simon exudes reliability from every pore. Over the past five months, I’ve imagined him sharing my duvet, my toaster, my council tax bill. On good days, I persuaded myself I could summon up enough maternal sentiment to play mother to his kids. After tonight, I can’t envisage a casual catch-up over coffee.
Yet Simon rattles on, as if hope were a virtue: “Come to Cairo, Di. Come for a long weekend if that’s all you can spare.”
If I could explain, if I could open my mouth to speak, even, he would come to me. He would spring up the stairs and cradle me in his arms. If I could cry, perhaps, as other women can, and let my weakness make him strong. But tears don’t come naturally to me: I haven’t cried for thirty years.
“Like a dance-floor buffed to a silky sheen, hope is riddled with risk for the unwary: let yourself go and, sooner or later, you’re bound to come a cropper”
“We all crave acceptance, and we get it where we can”
“I’d never been comfortable with teasing. It gave me a sense of wrong-footedness. Of taking the world too seriously, seeing darkness where others found light”
“You can’t obliterate one pain by creating another”
“Only those who’ve never left their beds believe their dreams will come true”
“I’d never have dreamt a middle-aged man dressed as a woman could release me, that a person the wrong shape for her clothes should hold the key to setting me free. The door of my cage is finally open and I’m ready to fly”
“As I put in my letter, psychology and psychiatry are trying to change my mind to match my body. I don’t see why it has to be that way. Why can’t you change my body to suit my mind?”
“You can’t think properly when you’re scared; panic makes you rush towards a resolution before you’ve considered all the options”
“The past lingers on, etched beneath our skin…”
Oh My Goodness! I had no idea what to expect from this story and having closed the final page I can’t believe what a moving experience and a complete roller-coaster of a ride I have just experienced. My tears were many and genuine, although I am convinced that Di wouldn’t have appreciated or wanted my sympathy, or my virtual hugs; just my understanding and acceptance.
It is going to be so difficult to write a meaningful review which will fully do justice to this powerful story, especially without giving away too many spoilers – But then, consider that Di has lived most of her life trying not to give away too many spoilers, and my own small challenge pales into insignificance compared to hers.
I am also still reeling after spending almost half of this book assuming one thing about Di’s story, when in fact I had turned things completely on their head, and the reality of the situation was the complete antithesis to what I had thought. Am I that ‘green’ or naive that I missed so many clues, which on careful retrospection were there in abundance, or was I simply conditioned to expect one outcome and couldn’t imagine or embrace the notion, that the actuality of the situation could be any different?
Notwithstanding that Di is a now a forty-five-year-old woman, this is something of a mid-life coming of age story. Having reached a decision in her teenage years which, in her own mind, she is still certain was the right one for her, she has nonetheless spent the intervening thirty years in a state of emotional flux, feeling the need to ‘play life safe’ and thus denying herself the true happiness her childhood decision was supposed to bring. She has spent so much time being certain of what she is not, yet frightened to stake a claim to the person she really is and the life she knows she wants; that it is only now, when she has something and someone worth fighting for, that she is forced to examine her motives, embrace who she is, be happy in her own skin, and finally to be ready and wanting to move on with her life. If only it all isn’t too little and too late!
For a while, I was a little nonplussed that the storyline weaves rather erratically back and forth between the 1960s and 1970s, when Di was growing up, and the 2000s, which is where she finds herself now. However I was essentially following Di’s journey, as seen through her own eyes, so it was no real surprise that in the vulnerable turmoil of a mind trying to rationalise and finally lay the past to rest behind her, that her thoughts would be erratic and a little muddled, I know mine would be.
From a visit which Di makes to her parents right towards the end of this chapter in her ongoing story of self-discovery, it is obvious that she has and probably can never, truly forgive them for certain aspects of the way she was treated as a child growing up. Not having been in Di’s mind space at that time, it possibly isn’t for me to comment about. However, being of almost the same age and coming from a similar working class background as Di, I actually think that her parents were quite progressive in their handling of events, as I just know that my own family would have taken a much different and more harsh approach to the situation, if I had been her. At one point Di observes that her parents seemed to listen to everyone except her, trying to make their own circumstances fit that of other people they know, almost as if the situation was happening to someone else. Again, I actually think this would have been a pretty standard response from most parents, given the social mores of the times, when prejudice and bigotry against minority groups, was still alive and thriving, many so called ‘deviances’ were still actually illegal, and being seen by your peers to be the textbook family of domestic bliss and stability was everything, with the label of ‘not being normal’, being an unendurable stigma.
Author Anne Goodwin, has donned her ‘work hat’, as a clinical psychologist, to write this wonderfully perceptive and fluent, sensitively nuanced and disturbingly bold story, about one woman’s search for cultural identity and social justice. It is multi-layered, well structured, highly textured and visually descriptive to the point where little is left to the imagination. Di’s story is totally compelling, immersive and often claustrophobic, such is the fragile state of her mind, and I didn’t really want to get pulled into it as deeply as I did, but once I entered her life, escaping without knowing an outcome, was never going to be an option. Although (again a little vague I’m afraid for fear of spoilers), I was a tad disappointed with the ending, as I really needed to know if there was going to be that ‘happy ever after’ moment for her and if not, would she regress and consider all her reserves of inner strength to have been depleted in vain, or was this leap into the unknown always going to be the catalyst for a new and exciting future, as it should have been all those years ago?
Anne has created quite a large and sprawling, multi-faceted cast of diverse characters, who with the exception of Di herself, are neither well defined, have any genuine depth of character, nor are easy to connect or identify with. They were a complex jigsaw of human emotions, often manipulative and duplicitous, making them completely unreliable and volatile, at a time when a desperately vulnerable Di, most needed their strength and stability to help her see things clearly, although she ultimately felt unable to confide in any of them, even Venus, who has been a huge part of her life for as long as either of them can remember. Di herself, has been empowered with a strong voice with which to guide this storyline, manoeuvring it in the direction of her own choosing and taking with her only those who mean the most to her.
Everything about this lovingly written book makes reading it a ‘must’ and the right thing to do. I am really interested to know just how Anne came up with the excellent title “Sugar And Snails”. Start reading and within a few minutes that evocative cover art makes perfect sense. And if you ever needed to lay a soundtrack from the times, over the early years of Di’s life, I guess that David Bowie’s ‘Rebel, Rebel’ would be the obvious choice and the one I can hear playing away in my head as I write.
What typically makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every new book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by authors who fire my imagination and stimulate my senses. This story was definitely one of a kind, so I can only recommend that you read it for yourself and see where your journey leads you!
A complimentary kindle download of this book, for review purposes, was made available by the author.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!
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