Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman

51tBL7+KbKL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_How do I review a book that has shaped the majority of my reading life? I first picked up this book around the age of 10 and His Dark Materials became an obsession with me for the the early part of my teenage years, neck and neck with Harry Potter. This series is exceptional, both as a children’s book and and adult work full of complexities and exciting ideas.

Lyra Bevacqua and her daemon live carefree and half wild amongst the scholars of Jordan College, Oxford. One night she sneaks into the Retiring Room to spy on her Uncle Asriel, giving a talk to the scholars before his expedition to the North, and her life changes forever. Meanwhile children all over the country are going missing and Lyra heads on a quest North where witches fly on pine branches, bears rule in ice palaces and scientist are conducting horrifying experiments under the Aurora.

There are no words to describe how thrilling this book is, 18 years after I first picked it up it still excites me. Pullman has a gift for characterisation- these are characters that stay with you forever- the beautiful Mrs Coulter with the golden monkey, Lord Asriel, Lee Scoresby and of course, Lyra herself. I loved her as a child for the same reason I loved Mary from The Secret Garden, for being a sort of anti-heroine. She is a skilful liar and lies as often as drawing breath, she can be selfish, violent but she has a heart of pure gold and courage which is why she wins so many people over.

The story itself is both a gripping adventure story and subtle one of magic and ideas. One of my favourite moments is when Lyra is talking to a witches daemon (an outward expression of a human being’s soul) a snow goose.

He raised his wings and spread them wide before folding them again.

“There,” he said, “I have just brushed ten million other worlds and they knew nothing of it. We are as close as a heartbeat, but we can never touch or see or hear these other worlds except in the Northern Lights.”

I am re-reading this series in anticipation for La Belle Sauvage which comes out next week. It is a captivating series with so many layers that I find something different to enchant me every time I read it.

 

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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

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Audiobook. Pan Macmillan Publishers. 2013. Read by Morven Christie.

As soon as I read the blurb for this book I had to read it. The story is set in northern Iceland in 1829. Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the murder of two men. She is sent to the home of district office Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters to await the execution of her sentence.

The family are horrified to have a convicted murderer in their house and at first the only person to attempt to converse with Agnes is a young assistant priest, Tóti, who has been assigned to help Agnes repent her crimes before her execution.

This is an incredibly beautiful and dark story written in gorgeous prose. Australian author, Hannah Kent writes with haunting clarity of a land iced over with harsh winters and rich with literary sagas. I’m so glad I decided to listen to the audiobook as I cannot imagine a better narrator for this book than Morven Christie. Her voice is as cool and soothing as a glass of water and matches these bleak yet lovely lines perfectly.

“Now comes the darkening sky and a cold wind that passes right through you, as though you are not there, it passes through you as though it does not care whether you are alive or dead, for you will be gone and the wind will still be there…”

The story unfolds in layers as we see the same crime from a thousand different angles. We hear interpretations, guesses, pieces from the trial, gossip and we read the official letters as the execution approaches but what actually happened on the night Agnes committed a brutal murder? We start to see she is not only being punished for her crime but also for being a woman who is too clever and doesn’t care to hide it.

I have reviewed books on here that show the dark side of human nature. Well this shows the ugly side of the human psyche. What at first seems romantic, shows itself to be tragic and sordid. What seems villainous is small mindedness, greed and violence for the sake of violence. The questions Christie leaves us asking is; what is the difference between the truth and the perceived truth and how much can we really know another person?