The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley

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The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: Intelligent and thought provoking, The Arrival of Missives is a genre-defying read that uses mystical elements to explore the post war landscape of the early 1920's in surprising depth for such a short book. Moving, effective, and evocative.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 120 Date: May 2016
Publisher: Unsung Stories
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781907389375

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In the aftermath of the Great War, Shirley Fearn dreams of challenging the conventions of rural England, where life is as unchanging as the seasons. The scarred veteran Mr Tiller, left disfigured by an impossible accident on the battlefields of France, brings with him a message: part prophecy, part warning. As Shirley's village prepares for the annual May Day celebrations, where a new queen will be crowned and the future reborn, she must choose between change and renewal – will the missives Mr Tiller brings prevent her mastering her identity?

I'll be honest – I didn't know what to make of this book until long after I had finished it. It's certainly well written – with a concise plot, incredibly real characters and a landscape that is at once familiar and bizarre, there is a certain rawness to this tale that initially discombobulated me somewhat. It was only upon reflection that I realised quite how skilfully this story had been crafted – and the thoughts and feelings which arose in me were with me for quite some time.

I've always enjoyed stories that focus on England from 1920 to 1955 or so – the years between and post wars, and especially the societal changes that had women pushed into roles they had never been allowed to even consider filling before. Shirley Fearn is a woman who is aware that she can choose her own future – but mysterious forces tear her between her wants, her hopes, and her desires. The futuristic element introduced certainly adds an element of mystery and suspense – but the main journey here is following Shirley, and watching her grow into herself and reclaim her own future. Powerful and moving, Whiteley manages to draw on the social tensions of the time, the science fiction elements introduced by Mr Tiller, and the raw paganism of an event such as May Day in order to fuel a story that throbs with a powerful intensity, and is one of the most unique pieces I have read in some time – well recommended, and many thanks to the publishers for the copy.

For further reading I would recommend The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Outwardly both are remarkably different reads – but there is a strong current of feminism and celebration of the female that runs through both.

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