Conjure Women – a review

This excellent narrative is centred on Rue, one of the ‘conjure’ women of the title, who works as midwife and herbalist for the other enslaved people on a plantation in 19th century America. When Bean, a pale-skinned child with strangely dark eyes is born, Rue is horrified: ‘She felt then that she knew him for what he was, a secret retribution for a long-ago crime, the punishment she had been dreading.’. It is from this moment that the story begins to unfold.

In this wonderful debut novel, Afia Atakora has created strong women characters who live and breathe. Rue, her mother, Miss May Belle and a white woman, Varina, daughter of the owner of the plantation, are complex and conflicted and all linked in ways that are gradually revealed through the telling of the story. These are characters who will stay with you.

‘Conjure Women’ is a skillfully realised and rewarding read, set against the background of the Civil War and emancipation; and moving back and forward from ‘Slavery time’ to ‘Exodus’ to ‘Wartime’ Perhaps a little overlong and slow at times, it’s a very ambitious novel, particularly for a debut; and brings to life the harsh realities of living under terrible oppression and violence.

Afia Atakora could well be describing her own writing when she says: ‘The words blossomed black out of his pen like fast, elegant little miracles.’ This is writing of a very high calibre and I can’t wait to read more from this author.

Writing update: exciting news!

Retreat west logoAmanda Saint founder of Retreat West Books writes:

Ali Thurm signed for debut novel

Thrilled to have signed the debut novel from Ali Thurm for Retreat West Books. One Scheme of Happiness is a story of desire, obsession and delusion and just how far you will go to get what you think you want. It was shortlisted for the 2018 Cinnamon Debut Novel Award and the narrator Helen is telling the story of her complicated and deceitful friendship with married couple, Sam and Vicky.
Friends when they were children, they are all now in their forties and haven’t seen each other since school. Helen has remained in their home town to look after her sick mother and when Sam and Vicky return to try and repair their shaky marriage she gets embroiled in their games, but she’s also playing some of her own and things spiral out of control. Ali’s writing is beautiful and atmospheric, and I am very much looking forward to bringing this story to the world.

Ali Thurm is a novelist, poet and teacher living in London. Her poems have been published in magazines and anthologies, and in 2016 she was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. Her first poetry collection was shortlisted for the Cinnamon Press debut poetry collection in 2015. In 2017 she was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award and shortlisted for the First Novel Award (Daniel Goldsmiths). She also won a prize in the 2017 Troubadour International Poetry Competition. Ali completed City University’s Novel Studio course in 2013, where she worked on the draft of One Scheme of Happiness. She is represented by Emily Sweet at Emily Sweet Associates.
Ali said:

‘I’m thrilled that Retreat West Books has taken on One Scheme of Happiness. I’ve been working on the novel for several years with the support of a group of friends from my City University writing group and with advice from my agent, Emily Sweet. I’m looking forward to working with Amanda and to benefitting from her expert editorial skills to make the story really shine.
My first-person narrative explores what can happen to a character when the lid is
taken off her deeply-repressed emotions and how, without support, mental-health issues can lead to destructive and disastrous choices.

One Scheme of Happiness will publish in February 2020.