Magic Realism Blog Hop 2015: Heightened senses of reality in the magical realist novels of Sarah Addison Allen

allonymbooks magical realist author Evie Woolmore peeks, sniffs and cranes to hear the faintest hints of sensory perception for this year’s Magic Realism Blog Hop.

blog hop 2015 dates

Magical realism is often about stretching our definitions of reality, but one of the things I most like to do as a writer of magical realism is to plunge the depths of the most tangible features of our reality: our senses. The magical aspects of MR are often enabled by challenging what we see or hear, or harnessing the sixth senses of intuition and perception beyond the other five. But there is a kind of enchantment to be found in the most everyday of the senses, particularly smell and taste.

I mentioned in last year’s Blog Hop that that is one of the qualities I most admire in the novels of Sarah Addison Allen. Her plots may be uncomplicated with respect to some of the storytelling in the genre, the settings domestic, the life challenges identifiable, but within them lies the magic, much of which is crafted by the way Allen uses the senses to describe her characters’ experiences.

Food plays an important part in Allen’s books, indeed Garden Spells is essentially a love letter to the sensory pleasure that food can bring, and many characters cook or bake, seducing themselves and others into states of calm, romance, safety. Allen uses flavours and scents to evoke memory, which isn’t in itself unusual: “cinammon…was a calming scent, reminding him of mulled wine, baked apples, and winter nights.” (Lost Lake).

But it is not merely one sense that Allen uses but senses in combination, connected, fused together.

“His words surrounded her like perfume.” (The Sugar Queen)

“Snow flurries began to fall and they swirled around people’s legs like house cats.” (The Sugar Queen)

“Lisette loved the flavors of old, simple recipes…[that] tasted soft and sure of themselves.” (Lost Lake)

“Her mom used to take her coffee like this. So sweet it could kiss you, she used to say.” (Lost Lake)

Incidentally, that same fluidity between states of sense is also found in Allen’s management of time in her books. Time is crafted, manipulated, rewound to reset the past, the present and the future, and memory and anticipation, the past and future versions of ourselves are also key to the magic of Allen’s story-telling.

I could write all day, picking out lovely sentences and ideas from Allen’s books. But I suppose the reminder for me in my own writing is that magical realism thrives on creating the imaginative and extraordinary from the everyday components of experience.

The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore

Evie Woolmore is the author of three magical realist novels: Equilibrium, The Salt Factory, and Rising Up. You can find out more about Evie here on the allonymbooks website and buy her books on all Amazon sites.


This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2015) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the button below to visit them and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.


You can also read Magic Realism Blog Hop posts by allonymbooks authors from previous years:

Facts and Fiction: Historical Magical Realism – 2013

Evie Woolmore on the Six Senses

Magical Realism for Men? – 2014 (Cadell Blackstock)

Crime Novel Review: A Man of Some Repute by Elizabeth Edmondson

This week, allonymbooks author EJ Knight reviews Elizabeth Edmondson’s period crime novel, A Man of Some Repute.

Period tone is always a controversial area for writers, actors, directors, filmmakers and musicians. We pursue authenticity relentlessly, and yet sometimes only hindsight makes it possible for certain stories to be written. An opera buddy of mine refuses to see any productions of operas which are set in ‘modern’ productions, hating the reinterpretations of what he sees as classic stories and music against the framework of anachronistic contemporary values. In a similar vein, a piece about British actor Benedict Cumberbatch in The Guardian quoted director Marilyn Imrie on Cumberbatch’s uncannily accurate and rare grasp of the post-war vernacular in both movement and dialogue style: “he has that rare thing in a younger actor – he can summon up that quality of post-war Englishness that a lot of actors under 40 really can’t capture.”

One considers many of the same issues when reading Elizabeth Edmondson’s crime novel set in  1953. Hugo Hawksworth relocates to deeply rural Selchester Castle, still adjusting to an injury he received when undercover during the war. With his 13 year old sister, Georgia, he is seeking stability of a sort, and yet he is not a man to settle easily. Nor, it seems, are the bones of Lord Selchester which are found shortly after his arrival in the Castle, giving prospect to the solving of his disappearance – and, it seems, murder – six years ago. In the company of the last remaining resident of the Castle, Selchester’s niece Freya, Hugo explores the background to Selchester’s death, driven partly by Freya’s insistence that she is innocent, and partly by some murky business that he must undertake on behalf of Sir Bernard at The Hall, a local outpost of the intelligence community. Hugo, keen to prove his worth despite his injury, uses his natural investigative instinct, aided for the most part by the zealous and enthusiastic Georgia, and eventually by Freya who must face the fact that the Selchester she thought she knew had clearly made an enemy.

Making a story period is, however, about much more than just inserting period details. Edmondson is thorough with reference to the stringencies of post-war life, from ration books to clothes, rural poverty, switchboard telephony and modes of transport. There is also detailed historical framing, particularly with reference to social themes regarding sex, adultery, homosexuality, secrecy, and the financial independence of women, as well as the political landscape of post-war Britain, America and the Soviet Union. And it is here that the challenge for the historical novelist starts and ends. To what extent can motives, motivations and morals of a period be authentically employed by a contemporary writer?

It is easy enough for us to research and review what we know about lives lived before, and create plots from what we understand to be the complexities of life, but the truth is often that the sorts of themes we write about now would not have been written about then. The paradox of Edmondson’s novel is, to me, that she has written in a very authentic period voice, but that the plot itself is redolent of a more contemporary interpretation of social motivations and thus motives for murder. Indeed, the main opening of the novel is so period that I had to check that it wasn’t actually written in the 1950s, for it has the flavour of the style, a sort of Tommy and Tuppence scent to it. (I would note that Edmondson’s editor has let one or two verbal oddities escape: there is reference to ‘ultra casual’ which is surely a 21st century modifier, and a ‘soft drink’ which, if it is not an alcohol-awareness label, surely sounds anachronistic enough to stick out.) But if I have a criticism of this novel which otherwise flies along in dialogue terms, albeit with periodic down time for extensive description which does slow the pace, it is that it feels slightly forced from the plot point of view. And there is a faint hint of stereotype about the characters with motive for murder, all of whom stack up very plausibly in terms of motive, but whose secrets are so because they belong to the period. 


EJ Knight’s historical crime novel Broadway Murder of 1928 is available from all Amazon sites for Kindle. Broadway Murder is the first in the Lucille Landau series.