Lose yourself in summer fiction

Staying In

Bríd Conroy

There’s still time to squeeze in a couple of great summer reads this August. Both my book choices this week have that lovely air of freshness about them, while at the same time inviting us to reflect on how the echoes of our past stories define whom we belong to and indeed where we belong to.
‘The Snow Line’, by Tessa McWatt, published by Scribe Publications, takes us on a journey to an Indian wedding where four unlikely strangers are thrown together. Subsequent to the wedding, they embark on a road trip to ‘the snow line’ of the Indian Himalayas; the place where the ice begins.
Reema, a Londoner who left India at a young age, is searching for the answer to a life changing decision. She’s hoping to find herself and her sense of belonging in the country of her birth. “Life before memory is a cocoon of other people’s stories, punctuated by a vague soundtrack of voices.”
Jackson, now in his 80s and also of Indian descent, is desperately trying to make sense of the path his life took both within and away from India. He is carrying the ashes of his recently deceased wife, in the hope that finding her final resting place will bring him peace and understanding. “...he discovers a new opening in time. The more vivid these borderless moments have become, the more he realises he can slip into them without moving.”
Yosh, is their guide for the trip. He left India five years earlier never to return, but here he is in India again. He descends from the Dalit caste, also known as The Untouchables. His father became a millionaire, yet they cannot escape their assigned caste. Yosh has unexplainable marks on his back. He is stoic and protective of the group, yet we sense his volatility and his inner struggle.
Monica had arrived from Vancouver, to escape the reality of her life in Canada. She is the photographer in the group, and whilst in denial about her own circumstances, her lack of empathy for herself, acts as a mirror to the group, reflecting back on the lives of the other three.
‘The Snow Line’ has wonderful moments of contemplation and compassion for the complexity of lives lived. We are reminded of the beauty of life in the spaces where strangers’ lives may intersect. Throughout the book, we are transported, in our minds, to the smells, sounds, beauty and madness that is India.
‘Holding Her Breath’, by Eimear Ryan, published by Sandycove, is a story closer to home, being set mainly in Dublin. The main character is Beth, whose grandfather, Benjamin Crowe, was a famous literary figure in Ireland. Now at university, she has found herself amongst a group of people who adore his poetry and appear to know more of his life than she does. Throughout her own life, her grandmother and her own mother have preferred to keep the finer details of his life buried.
Growing up, competitive swimming had been Beth’s main focus. Her extraordinary ability and determination kept her going throughout her parent’s breakup, and in a sense forms the mainstay of her continuing relationship with her father. Yet there are ghosts here too as she struggles to get back on form after dropping out of competitions.
Beth embarks on a quest to discover the truth of her grandparent’s lives and ultimately her own. She attempts to comprehend the chains of family and the price of genius. What stories has she been running in her head, and how do they really matter? Was her grandfather’s ‘genius’ in actual fact his saviour, and what does it mean for her own need to please and achieve greatness?
This book oozes with youth and freshness and is perfectly crafted.
Both ‘The Snow Line’ and ‘Holding Her Breath’ remind us to give our present and our past the time they deserve. Therein may lie many answers to whom and to where we belong….