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Archive for April 2016

Reading ‘The Sorcerer to the Crown’ in Batticaloa

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The book: The Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho.

The place: Batticaloa, Sri Lanka.


Mostly posting because is that not the most jealousy-inducing reading-books-in-places photograph you have ever seen? But also:

  • Excellent book, think Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell but with the gender- and race-related aspects that Clark starts to explore more fully realised; also delightfully charming and arrogant sorceress; also laugh-out-loud funny in multiple places. (I feel like this is the sort of book that Deepad was writing about in “I didn’t dream of dragons”, and MORE OF THAT PLEASE.)
  • Gorgeous location. No singing fish yet, but I remain hopeful.

Written by Jess

April 24, 2016 at 10:26 am

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Reading ‘Reef’ in Jaffna

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The book: Reef, Romesh Gunesekera

The place: Jaffna, Sri Lanka


In Sri Lanka for just over two weeks of glorious, glorious holiday. My brother lives in Colombo, which is the ostensible reason for the visit, and I spent a couple of sybaritic days with him and his partner in Negombo and Mount Lavinia before setting out for a bit of solo wandering. I came up to Jaffna by train a couple of days ago: the plan had been to book on the first class 5.10am service, but it was sold out, so I went in second class at 5.50am (after an excess of beer and whisky turned into an inadvertent all-nighter) and spent the next eleven hours crammed sweatily into a corner, dangling one now-sunburnt arm out of the window to catch the breeze, and reading pretty much the entirety of Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, recently recommended to me by a couple of friends. (It is excellent.)

Having spent so much time in parts of Africa over the past several years, it’s always very pleasing to land somewhere that feels properly different, as most of the places that I spend time have lost novelty value and become familiar, to some degree. It’s not quite as extreme here as it was in Burma last year, but it’s the little things that are the most pleasing: I find the scale of things in Sri Lanka is different to what I’m used to, smaller and neater; the shapes of the vegetation are different; the view from my hotel is of a sea of palmyrah palms dotted with temples stacked up like ziggurats. Up here in Jaffna you can see the remnants of the war – bombed out houses long overtaken by greenery – but in the main it’s hard to believe that it ended as recently as 2009; what comment can I make after all of 48 hours in Jaffna, of course, but it doesn’t fit my own map of a nation still emerging from conflict. As with Rwanda, or indeed Sierra Leone (though their conflicts are further in the past), it’s nice to spend time somewhere that has truly Got Better.
Jaffna Fort

Jaffna Fort

Jaffna Lagoon
Mysterious fish-fences in Jaffna Lagoon


Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, one of the most significant Hindu temples in Sri Lanka

From my sixth-floor hotel room, much of Jaffna looks like this – lost amid a sea of palmyrah palms

Written by Jess

April 22, 2016 at 9:57 am

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Reading ‘A God in Ruins’ between Glasgow and London

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Somewhere between Ayr and Troon.

The book: A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson

The place: UK


Almost exactly two years after reading Life After Life, I’m reading the sequel, or perhaps not exactly a sequel, but a companion volume. I have complicated feelings about Kate Atkinson and didn’t get on enormously well with her earlier writing, and I know people who are detractors of these books, too, but I find them very effective in terms of … I guess evoking a particular understanding of humanity, and (without wishing to sound insufferably self-important) the nobility in futility.

(Two years ago I read Life After Life over the course of a weekend in Kuajok, South Sudan, where I would spend my non-working days prone or supine in front of a blessed solar-powered fan and intermittently wandering through town with my colleague to eat at a Ugandan restaurant in a bamboo hut, where we had to guard our meals from marauding buzzards. It was, obviously, post-crisis in South Sudan even then, but somehow it didn’t feel quite as desperate or as sad as it does now. Or perhaps I am the desperate or sad one.) P1060898
The road between Kuajok and Wau, April 2014, shortly before the heavens opened and I started seriously wondering what happens if you’re in a car that is hit by lightning.

I am on my way down from Glasgow to London, on a ridiculously overpriced Virgin train that has the temerity to also charge for wifi. I have gone from overcast Glasgow to the Lake District and Lancashire bathed in glorious sunshine and now back to gloom again, because that’s the midlands for you. (Sorry, midlands.) I was in Glasgow for a week and a half – perhaps the longest I’ve been there at a stretch since this time last year, and during that time I went and saw Rusalka at the Theatre Royal (absolutely gorgeous production) and went to Lochwinnoch to see a very pregnant friend and search for otters (sadly did not see any) and did two long walks: from Falkirk to Croy along the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal (20km, thoroughly enjoyed up until the final 5km, whereupon I had to listen to Cameron Esposito on Spotify to keep my spirits up) and then from Ayr to Troon, just yesterday, along part of the Ayrshire Coastal Path, which was utterly gorgeous. One of the things on my Life List is to properly explore Scotland, which I tend to think of in quite grandiose terms – gotta get to Shetland! St Kilda! Climb Ben Nevis! Etc. – but which can also be immensely satisfying closer to home.


Watchful sheep on the Union Canal. 20160403_133648
Falkirk Wheel, which allows boats to transfer between the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal. WTF, engineering.


Potential pitfall of West Coast hiking. 20160409_150205

Written by Jess

April 10, 2016 at 9:36 am

Posted in Uncategorized