Readers of the Little House books will remember Caroline Ingalls as Laura Ingalls Wilder's Ma. Stoic, hard working, firm but fair, Ma anchored the family while her husband moved them from place to place across the American west in the latter years of the 19th century. In Caroline, we discover the woman Ma really was; beset by anxiety about her family, their safety and their future, a strong defender and carer of her children and a loving, devoted wife, even in the worst of times.
Where do our best impulses come from? Empathy, cooperation, compassion? Do they arise from the rational application of divine instructions or moral codes, or are they part of our animal heritage? In The bonobo and the atheist, de Waal continues his defence of the latter view: “Rather than having developed morality from scratch through rational reflection, we received a huge push in the rear from our background as social animals.”
When a new Ann Patchett novel appears on the shelf, we wonder if it will be a suspenseful read like her earlier works Bel Canto or the Amazonian tale State of Wonder or if it will follow the same lines carved by the more recent Commonwealth – a deep dive into the relationships we have. This isn’t to say that Pratchett’s writing casts too wide a net. Her latest novel, The Dutch House, more likely suggests a narrowing in, a refining of her unique and beautiful approach to characterisation.
Taryn Cornick is a lover of libraries, a valuer of ‘just in case knowledge’, and an observer: “She was always studying the world, not rapt or curious, but patient and dutiful, as if the world was something she’d paid good money to see.” Taryn meets a man with whom she enters into an agreement – to avenge the death of her sister, Beatrice. And Taryn’s world will never be the same again.
One for another is a classic Western set in Idaho in the 1880s. It is full of great characters, balances colonial racism with the recognition of indigenous wisdom and is also a cracker of a murder mystery. The novel introduces Hennessey Reed, a woman who runs the local bar and brothel, who has an alcohol and drug problem, who is a ‘sensitive’ and who has a stubborn streak a mile wide.
Almost human is the biography of Julius, a chimpanzee who was born on Boxing Day 1979 in the Kristiansand Zoo, Norway, and who is now the alpha male of the zoo’s chimpanzee community. He was born to Sanne, similarly born in captivity and with no idea how to be a mother, so Julius was taken from the other chimps to save his life.
What a delightful book. Jenny’s neighbour Andrew seeks her out to tell her he has found her husband in bed with his wife – the rest of the book deals with the fall out of this infidelity. It is an entertaining read, which considers why we make life choices, and how to stay above the morass of insecurity that often bubbles beneath us.