Alice Zorn's Reading Recommendation
“A sound, a punctuation point hitting the air. A ladybug landed on the glass of the window.” Two short lines of precise, imaginative observation. They’re from Happiness by Aminatta Forna, a Scottish and Sierra Leonean writer. I read the novel when it was published in 2018 and recently reread it. One of the characters is an urban wildlife biologist tracking fox in inner-city London. She has also worked with the coyote population in New England. Another character is a psychiatrist from Ghana who works with civilian populations in the wake of war. He has an unusual response to how people from Western societies evaluate PTSD. There is much to think about in this novel about damage, suffering, and civilized numbness; how humans do/don’t take care of each other; how humans do/don’t interact with the animal world. It is sobering material, yet Forna includes much delight—one man teaching another a dance, street sweepers sharing a joke, rooftop gardens, the memory of past loves, the unfolding of new love. In the first chapter a fox crosses Waterloo Bridge, wends its way through pedestrians who don’t see it, and bolts into a theatre lobby. What a great opening for this novel! I’m rereading it for the freshness and intelligence of the writing and the ideas, and because I’m working on a new novel which is partly about wildlife in urban spaces.
Alice Zorn has published two novels and a book of short fiction. Her novel, Five Roses, was a finalist for the 2017 Ontario Library Association Evergreen Award. She has twice placed first in Prairie Fire’s Fiction Contest and won the 2013 Manitoba Magazine Award for Fiction. She lives in Montreal.