Some books tell a damn good yarn, some provoke, and some linger in the mind, the beauty of their prose warming the soul. These three novels revel in the richness of language and the power of a word well turned.

If you’re going to entitle your novel Defenestrate, you’d better follow through with some more words of weirdness and wonder. Renée Branum does so, with aplomb.

The novel tells the story of Marta and Nick, twins born into a family plagued by a falling curse. Their great-great grandfather pushed a man to his death in Prague in 1835 and since then, generations have fallen to their deaths. It’s Nick who falls, and Marta who tells the story of their close bond, their panic driven mother, their years in America and in Prague, trying to beat the curse and find out who they really are.

Branum is the queen of the simile, my pencil scratching underneath sentences of sheer beauty as I read. A woman’s body slams from a height into a car bonnet, ‘the rumpled metal forming around her like the silken sheets of a deep soft bed.’ A man is observed at an ice rink, ‘the blades of his skates making jagged, punctuated lines, like dashes of Morse code.’ And my favourite, concerning the twins’ father’s heart condition, ‘the danger was elsewhere…like the rot surrounding a cherry pit.’ Shivers.

It’s not just the richness of language that marks this book as a beauty, but the themes on which it dwells. Falling, yes, but also the act of being seen, always observed when in the company of others. The twins are obsessed with Buster Keaton and Marta muses on the incredibly dangerous stunts he filmed, his crew unwilling to watch: ‘They all looked away, hiding their faces, while Keaton did not flinch, did not blink, the camera’s lens the only eye to meet his.’ It’s mind blowing.

Kate de Goldi is a fan of the word and in Eddy, Eddy she wields it as a weapon and a salve. 

Eddy is a nineteen year old soul, brought up by his Uncle Brain. Stuff is going on for Eddy: some kind of catastrophic exit from his Catholic high school, a caustically clever but needy best friend in Thos More, a series of unsatisfactory jobs. 

Eddy is aware of the influence that Brain has had upon the formation of his character, and worries that he’s a boy aging too soon. He freaks out at Thos’s place one night, terrified that he sounded just like Brain. Thos replies. ‘No more than usual,’ he concluded. Eddy was appalled. ‘It’s the vocabulary,’ said Thos. ‘How many fourteen-year-olds say concatenation?’

Eddy tries to supress his Brain-like wordage after this incident, vowing to live a ‘two-syllable life.’ It doesn’t work of course, because he loves it.

Eddy’s current job is pet minding, and this is the catalyst for him to meet, and reacquaint with, the extraordinary people who will weave through the story with him. It also provides opportunity for humour – example: Mother the constipated (male) cockatoo: ‘Eddy should expect some semi-aggressive openers and a salty vocabulary.’ 

Eddy has had some major trauma in his young life and it is gently unwound and sorted throughout the story. He, and his accompanying human and animal friends, work it out together. It’s delightful.

Babel is a doozy of a novel by R.F. Kuang. Described as an arcane history, it charts the journey of four students (Chinese, Indian, Haitian and English) in the Royal Institute of Translation at the University of Oxford. The seat of this faculty is Babel Tower, an eight storey edifice of libraries, offices and workshops housing the country’s most valuable scholars. Babel is where words are manipulated onto bars of silver, rendering the metal magical and powerful. A match-pair can power steam trains, heal wounds, hold up buildings and forge protective wards.

Our main protagonist is Robin Swift, a child of Canton. At about ten years old Robin’s family are struck by cholera. He is on the verge of death, his family having already perished around him, when Professor Robert Lovell arrives and offers him an opportunity: come to England, study hard, become a translator at the fabled Babel Tower.

What Kuang weaves is a complex tale of power, corrupted politics and colonisation. The dreaming spires of Oxford are beautiful, filled with genius minds doing prodigious work. But what they’re really doing is holding up an Empire that relies on pillaging other countries and cultures to retain its power. Robin and his cohort of ‘foreigners’ are essential, but still seen as other, barely human and only accepted because their skills are essential. 

Three very different novels exploring the deepest longings of humanity, linked by a richness of language and an acknowledgement of its beauty and importance. Immerse yourself. 


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