• Sunday, March 01st, 2020

Ella Griffin was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland. When twenty-one, she quitted college and went to Holland, where she worked in a Kodak factory, followed by advertising at the age of twenty- three. Griffin won an award as an advertising copywriter before deciding to become a novelist. Since 2011 she has written four novels. The Memory Shop, her fourth novel, was published in 2017.

Ella Griffin says: “I started travel writing in my thirties. Then, when I was forty, I went to Greece on a writing course and came home with the love of my life and an idea for my first novel”. She presently lives with her husband in County Wicklow in Ireland.

The Irish, Nora Malone, the main character of The Memory Shop, is a young design artist living in London. Nora is on her way to Blackrock in Dublin for the reading of her grandmother Lainey’s will and also to collect some items from Temple Terrace – her late grandparents’ home – before it is cleared and sold. While heading towards Heathrow Airport, she discovers that she has forgotten the keys to her grandparents’ home on the hall table of her house in Fountain Road, London.

When Nora arrives home unexpectedly, she discovers her husband of two years in bed with a woman and soon after she discovers by coincidence that it is Liv, her colleague and best-trusted friend.

Under the shock, Nora decides to quit everything in London and stay in her grandparents’ home in Dublin where she grew up. But, reluctant to auction her grandparents’ belongings to strangers, she chooses to open The Memory Shop by using the vacant premises attached to the house. She decides to sell all the contents of the house to people who will appreciate them as well as put them to good use by matching up the appropriate person with a suitable item.

The reader is introduced to new characters who come to the shop, attracted by specific objects. There is Lia, the unsettled, worried mistress who fell in love with the freshwater pearl earrings and buys them. Caroline, the unhappy wife and the hand-knotted, silk Moroccan prayer rug, “the rug had been admired by dozens of people (…), but nobody loved it the way Caroline did”. And the boy Christopher, whose face lit up with excitement when he saw through Nora’s shop window the two hundred and forty million-year-old ammonite fossil marble table and pleaded with his father to buy it for him as a birthday present.

After redecorating the place and attracting buyers with her beautiful and original thematic window displays, changing every few days, gradually each object finds a happy owner and a new life. Because, with a new buyer, the items will start different, fresh, memorable stories.

Through clearing and dealing with each item of her grandparents’ memorabilia, letters and handwritten notes of her grandmother with a heavy heart, Nora unravels joyous, sad and secret old stories as well as memories of her childhood. She also unwinds interesting concealed secrets of her grandmother’s mysterious past.

In the seaside town of Blackrock, a suburb near Dublin, where Nora now lives, she has made new friends. Like the all-round helper, Fiona, the owner of the local café and her cook, Adonis, the widower, Will and his daughter Alice, and several other characters, each one of them with his or her own story.

The Memory Shop vividly describes items, surroundings and feelings. It portrays gripping characters, all with their stories intertwined with Nora’s shop. It is a heart-warming novel about love, deception, family bonds, community friendship and nostalgia.

It underlines how it is essential to pick oneself up and have the self-confidence to overcome life’s inflicted wounds and to be set free from the past, looking forward to building a better future.

• Friday, January 31st, 2020

Mikkel Birkegaard was born in 1968 in Denmark where he still lives. He is a computer engineer by profession as well as a writer. His debut novel, The Library Of Shadows, which became an instant bestseller, was first published in Birkegaard’s native country in 2007. The English version was published in 2009, followed by several other translations.

Mikkel Birkegaard says about his novel, The Library Of Shadows, that he worked on it for seven years, wrote it in two years, reworked it for two more years and then looked for a publisher for the next three years following many refusals.

The Library Of Shadows begins with the demise of the Italian, Luca Campelli, the librarian and owner of the old antiquarian bookshop called “Libri di Luca”, situated in the centre of Copenhagen. Luca Campelli, who has just returned home after a business trip, dies brutally in very mysterious circumstances soon after his arrival, while reading a book late at night in his store.

Following Luca’s death, there is an arson attempt on the same premises, which will intrigue the only inheritor to the business, Campelli’s son, the thirty-three-year-old Jon.

Father and son have been estranged for twenty years following the puzzling suicide of the wife and mother, Mrs Marianne Campelli. Jon is half Italian, half Danish. He is a successful lawyer working for a prominent law firm.

After what happened to both his parents, Jon finds himself obliged to dedicate his time searching for his family’s history. Through his research he discovers that for many years his father had been holding secret meetings with an extraordinary group of book lovers, having considerable powers inherited from the time of the renowned, monumental library of ancient Alexandria, Egypt.

Unearthing his father’s long and uncommon underground bibliophile society exposes Jon to a rival clandestine book circle with similar magic powers. They are called “the Shadow Organisation”, led by a dubious, wealthy businessman named Remer, who will try to destroy Jon and his new friends.

Remer fails in his endeavour and finds that Jon is a powerful medium. Consequently, the power- thirsty Remer attempts to manipulate Jon’s mind to have him join his community to enhance their power greatly for criminal purposes. Remer is hoping to gain control by taking on evil supremacy over the world and influencing its leaders for his own benefit.

The author explains that there are the Lectors or transmitters, like old Iversen, Luca’s long-time faithful assistant at Libri di Luca, Jon, Luca’s son and Remer, leader of the opponent’s group.

Through their reading, these Lectors influence their listeners’ feelings and perceptions regarding the text read by charging it with whatever emphasis they desire. They control their listeners’ thinking by generating pleasant, colourful, life-like images which transport them inside the world of their story.

To succeed in fulfilling this endeavour, the choice of texts is essential. “Fiction is more effective than non-fiction and the quality of the work is also significant (…) certain books become ‘charged’ when they are read, so that the text presentation becomes stronger – more effective at communicating the message and emotions it contains. Older and frequently read volumes are therefore more powerful than new, unread copies”.

The second type is the Receivers, like the red-haired, severely dyslexic young Katherina, Luca’s protégée. She has the ability to tune into people whenever they read, whether aloud or silently to themselves.

The intensity of a Transmitter reading can have a significant influence on the Receiver, who amplifies the text, rendering it very persuasive. The combination of a Transmitter versus Receiver can be extremely high-powered.

The Library Of Shadows is a very original, captivating mystery. It is a supernatural thriller as well as an esoteric fantasy fiction of people born with exceptional powers. The writing is smooth, easy to read, but there are some unfortunate lengthy parts which could have been avoided.

The third-person narration is mainly by the two likeable protagonists, the lovers; Jon and Katherina. On the opposite side, there are the detestable, Machiavellian Remer and his faithful minion and spy, Pau. The characters are well developed and feel real on both sides, whether heroes or villains. The action scenes are skillfully and vividly described.

The Library Of Shadows is a fascinating novel aimed at book lovers by placing the books in the foreground as the main characters. The story subject is the magical power of reading. I am questioning what would happen if reading could take people far beyond what they think, creating disturbing or enjoyable as well as unexplainable events? A thought-provoking book.