Friday, 18 August 2017

Review! The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit and The Nearest Faraway Place by Hayley Long

I recently finished Rebecca Solnit's The Faraway Nearby, after dipping in and out of it for about 6 months, before reading The Nearest Faraway Place by Hayley Long, which I was sent a review copy of from the publisher.  I didn't notice until much later the mirroring in their titles.

The Faraway Nearby is part memoir, part cultural history book, in which Solnit examines her relationship to her mother, who is deteriorating with dementia. She looks at how stories are told, how humans connect and how monsters are depicted. There is a quote on the back of the edition I have from the Finical Times calling it "an exhilarating form of literary cartography." It's a beautiful, and complicated book. 

The Nearest Faraway Place is a young adult novel telling the story of love between two brothers. After a car crash in Manhattan kills their parents, Dylan finds himself in the role of protector over his younger brother. Griff navigates his life as an orphan, who is moved from New York to Wales to live with their mum's cousin, with Dylan there being as supportive as he can be while his brother seems unable to speak about the tragedy. This too is a beautiful, but heartbreaking book.

The title of The Faraway Nearby is inspired by artist Georgia O'Keefe. After moving from New York to New Mexico, she would sign off letters to friends with "from the faraway nearby." The Nearest Faraway Place is an instrumental Beach Boys track from the album 20/20, which the characters in Long's book seek comfort from. 

Solnit writes on p.108,
"It was a way to measure physical and psychic geography together. Emotion has its geography, affection is what is nearby, within the boundaries of the self. You can be a thousand miles from the person next to you in bed or deeply invested in the survival of a stranger on the other side of the world." 

 Long's character Dylan says to his brother on p.305, 
"'As long as I'm in there,' I said, gently touching Griff's forehead, 'I'm always, always here. That's how close I am. It's not like getting on the train and going to Shrewsbury or Birmingham or anything. You only have to think about me to cover the distance.'"
These are two entirely different books for entirely different demographics but they're speaking to the same themes; of closeness to other humans, of the nearness of death, of the distance from those living nearest to us, of the nearness of those no longer living, or facing death. 

I've suddenly realised the value in reading broadly- I'm feeling pretty smug that I'm adult who reads both young adult fiction and literary memoir, among other things. There is a lot to be gained, which is something I'll need to remember when it's taking months to read a Rebecca Solnit book and only a few days to read a Hayley Long book- there is value in both experiences and sometimes those values align perfectly. 

The Nearest Faraway Place came out on July 13th from Hot Key Books- I received a review copy of this book. The Faraway Nearby is out from Granta Books- I just plain bought this one.