I am always interested in discovering books by authors local to me so I was excited when I stumbled across Korakas, a novel by Nottingham based writer Anne Holloway which was published by small press Big White Shed which launched in 2015.
“You were born on an island at the farthest reach of the Mediterranean, where snow tips the mountains and the sun shines, the sea laps gently at the shore, where the golden sand is tinged pink by tiny crushed shells”
Korakas tells the story of a mother and daughter and an island that holds their secrets, their former life. From an early age Ally heard stories of the island where she was born from her mother, Anna. These stories are like fairy tales, tales of a beautiful, idyllic home. However, the reasons behind Anna’s departure from the island are unclear. Decades later, when Anna has disappeared, Ally returns to the island to find her. She sets off to discover why her mother left all those years ago and where she is now, along with finding out who her father is.
“He speaks in riddles, tells stories and legends, but never tells me who he is or where he came from”
The chapters alternate between Ally’s story and Anna’s which was a great way of showing how the characters mirror one and other. The two stories are cleverly interwoven following both mother and daughter as they discover the island decades apart. It is interesting to see that whilst they are separated the mother/daughter link is clear and there are similarities between the two and how they react to their surroundings and the people around them. Both women are outsiders and both women are influenced by men. One of the issues raised here is that of control, and how a person can be manipulated.
“My mother raised me on fairy stories”
One of the things I enjoyed most about the novel was its use of storytelling in its different forms. From the ‘fairy stories’ Anna would pass to her daughter to town folklore and mythology there are stories within stories here. This adds to Ally’s turmoil as she has essentially grown up not knowing fact from fiction and her father is a complete mystery to her. We follow Ally as she gradually uncovers the answers to childhood questions, and with the help of her mothers friends on the island, she starts to find out the truth.
“She worried what he would say when he came back. Then there was the thing with the birds”
As Anna’s life on the island is unveiled it becomes apparent that she suffers from the effects of mental illness. In particular the constant presence of birds seems to trouble Anna. The sight and sound of a crow or the scratching of the chickens in the garden is enough to unnerve her. They are symbolic of her fears and they are a bad omen of sorts. There is then the association with a particular individual who has a hold on her. The presence of birds is consistent throughout the novel with frequent mentions of ‘those birds in the trees’, feathers, and the wings of Icarus from the mythology Ally reads.
I enjoyed this book and it captured my interest to the very end. I liked the writing style and the vivid descriptions have a poetic, lyrical quality. This is a brilliant book about love, family, control and finding the truth.
Korakas was published on 1st October 2015 by Big White Shed Publications. Many thanks to Anne Holloway and Big White Shed for providing a copy for review.