Books and the Natural World (2016)

It's true that the natural world can be found in most literature; however, it generally can't be said that it's so much apart of the novel that it might even be considered a character itself. Today I'm discussing two recent releases that use evocative descriptions of the Earth's varied landscapes to shape narratives and provide the perfect setting.

Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith

Twenty years ago Lucie Bowen left Marrow Island; along with her mother, she fled the aftermath of an earthquake that compromised the local refinery, killing her father and ravaging the island’s environment. Now, Lucie’s childhood friend Kate is living within a mysterious group called Marrow Colony—a community that claims to be “ministering to the Earth.” There have been remarkable changes to the land at the colony’s homestead. Lucie’s experience as a journalist tells her there’s more to the Colony—and their charismatic leader-- than they want her to know, and that the astonishing success of their environmental remediation has come at great cost to the Colonists themselves. As she uncovers their secrets and methods, will Lucie endanger more than their mission? What price will she pay for the truth? (Goodreads)

I really loved Smith's debut novel, Glaciers, about a precocious young woman coming of age in the Pacific Northwest. And while it wasn't the read of the year, or really a novel I can remember with great clarity, I do recall liking it and thus excited to see what Smith was up to next. Marrow Island did not disappoint.

The novel is slow going and alternates between past and present. I felt that Smith did a great job moving between the two periods without sacrificing clarity even if the memories slowed the momentum for the big reveal. The environment, and the devastation described after the horrific event that defines the novel, were such large parts of what made this book so successful for me. As a reader I found myself instantly transported and equally devastated when the narrator returned to the broken island so many years later. It's clear that Smith has much to offer on the subjects of environmentalism and sustainability; however, our protagonist, Lucie, does more navel-gazing than big picture analysis, and it loses its punch towards the end of the novel. What's more, there's a healthy dose of intrigue with a neighbor missing and a friend lost to a potential cult-like farming commune. Highly recommend this one for all readers!

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success, but when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crew mates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home. (Goodreads)

This is definitely an author to be watching in the future! I enjoyed this novel for so many reasons and one was the attention to descriptions to build this world and set the tone. The reader is immediately immersed in these landscapes of unrelenting sub-zero temperatures and days without sunlight, or deep darkness miles and miles away from planet Earth. The characters were flawed and realistic with complex thoughts (for most of the book) capable of eliciting feelings of empathy from the reader. It's a slower read with much to offer towards the end. Good Morning, Midnight was brilliant on so many levels with minor pitfalls slowing the pace and quality, briefly, about halfway through. A perfect read for a chilly, winter weekend.

*Header image my own.

Have a title that would fit this list? Share it in the comments below!

1 comment:

  1. I recently read Marrow Island too. I think Smith did such a fantastic job of bringing the locations to life. It was such an atmospheric read!


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