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Dividing Grandmother by Monkey, what do you get?

Posted on July 09, 2015 by Sheila Bounford

As our inaugural post on our new ‟books” blog here's a piece about the recent Valley Press title Grandmother divided by Monkey equals Outer Space I first posted to the creative writing and sharing platform, Hi, which I was introduced to by former Inpress Board Member Steve Dearden. I haven't forgotten my self-challenge to read and post about a book from each of the 40+ Inpress member publishers during my time here. I'm up-to-date with the reading, but have a lot of catch-up on the posting ...

Doing a six month stint at Inpress I have several challenges on my hands, not least one that boils down to numbers: with over 40 publishers in membership, there’s a lot of reading to do to become familiar with their tone and style. The ‟guilt pile” on our coffee table has been growing at an alarming rate, to protests from the tidier-minded members of the household, and I've resorted to stashing a second pile under the bed.

So when I awoke this Sunday morning to the first day of British Summer Time - with rain lashing the window and wind whipping noisily round the eaves, my response was to make a cup of tea and retreat back under the covers with the topmost book on the pile. I hadn’t encountered Nora Chassler's debut novel Miss Thing, so had no idea what to expect from Grandmother divided by Monkey equals Outer Space. I don't know if someone who hasn't spent any time in Manhattan would have the same response to the book - but I've spent enough time in Riverside park and walking residential streets on the West Side over the past two decades for my imagination to gain enough traction to be hooked within the first few pages.

I'm not a wide reader of contemporary fiction (I've been reading mostly non-fiction for the past few years), but the novel this reminds me of most is Alison Moore’s Man Booker shortlisted The Lighthouse, published by another brave and innovative independent, Salt. Chassler pulls off the considerable feat of making chaotic lives engaging; ambiguous - even despicable - characters, somehow likeable; and stories and story-telling central to human existence. Taking the narrative(s) at face value, by every conceivable measure this book should be utterly bleak. Yet like Moore in The Lighthouse, Chassler makes deft use of dark humour. Except unlike that earlier novel, in this case, despite the self-centredness of each and every character depicted, this reader emerged from under the duvet - three hours later - with a renewed sense of the tenacity of enduring twin human abilities: to hope and to love.

Fantastic publishing from Valley Press.

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