Review : Yellow Room by Shelan Rodger
Shelan has a beautiful and gentle way of writing coupled with a humungous plot that somehow allows me to switch off from the outside world and lose myself in her words.
Nellie Pom Poms
Haunted by a tragic accident from when she was young Chala's whole life has been mouded by guilt and secrets. After the death of her stepfather who took his own secrets to the grave, Chala re-evaluates her life and volunteers at a Kenyan orphanage. There, she gets caught in the turmoil of the country and takes action to help those suffering. Chala must eventually return home where she is forced to reveal a truth that my ruin her future, making her realise that some words should be left unsaid.
When I began reading Yellow Room my heart ached for Chala, her childhood had left scars on her that she carried throughout her life which affected her relationship with her Paul "As he drew her up from the chair and into his arms, she felt equal tugs of gratitidue and fear: gratitidue for his ability to to paint away the bubbles from her past, for this faith in their future, and fear that she didn't deserve it."
As the plot unfolds Chala uncovers a part of her life that she was missing and when she reconnects with a person from her childhood a number of her questions are answered, her memories are challenged and her fears are removed.
Shelan Rodger has grown up in a patchwork of different cultures and landscapes, Born in Nigeria, she grew up up among an aborogina community, and moved to England, aged eleven. After graduating from Oxford, she travelled to Argentina, England and then Kenya. She now lives in Andalucia, Spain. Her professional career has revolved around around international education and learning and development.
Shelan has an amazing way of drawing the reader into the plot and once I picked the book up I was unable to put it down. The book is written in 3 parts with an epilogue containing the most fantastic twist. With a reference to the film Sliding Doors leading to the big build up in the epilogue I was gripped throughout.
I asked Shelan "Is it possible to read a novel with mindfulness?"
Shelan replied "I live in a place where mindfulness is easy: a wild stretch of volcanic coastline on a cape in Andalucía, where wind, light and temperature play glorious havoc with the sensation of the landscape. It’s easy to sit on a rock shelf overlooking the changing colour and movement of the sea and be present. And yet, even here, it is also easy to slip into the grip of my monkey mind – the eternal worrier obsessing about the future or the past…
We live in an ever more frantic world where technology and social pressure diminish our attention span and frighten us into a vicious circle of multi-tasking that can make us ill. Small surprise that so many of us turn to pills or addiction or yoga to help us through. The mindful message is a powerful one. Time is a human construct, a tool for organising ourselves and our societies; the future and the past do not exist – the only thing that actually exists is now.
"Ordinary thoughts course through our mind like a deafening waterfall," writes Jon Kabat-Zinn, the biomedical scientist who introduced meditation into mainstream medicine. In order to feel more in control of our minds and our lives, to find the sense of balance that eludes us, we need to step out of this current, to pause, and, as Kabat-Zinn puts it, to "rest in stillness—to stop doing and focus on just being."*
This got my monkey mind mulling on my walk this morning over the relationship between reading a novel and mindfulness. Are we victims of the time delusion when we read a book? Travelling in our monkey minds into lives that are not even connected to us? The essence of ‘story’ is the unravelling of past and anticipation of resolution; we connect with characters who are intimately rooted in their own past - and fears and hopes for their future. Is reading a novel just one more of those distractions that take us away from the ability to be available to the present? Is it possible to read a novel with mindfulness?
I googled God for the answer but although I found lots of interesting articles about what it means to be present and mindful and why it is good for us, none of them directly answered my question. So, I reached my own conclusions, motivated by a desire to include a good book in the box of ‘ways into being present’- along with perfume, flowers, velvet, the sky at night, the sound of crickets, a child laughing, a flute, and a wet puppy dog nose.
I imagine that if we read on automatic pilot - that experience of realising you’ve just read a page without really taking anything in, just as you can arrive somewhere in a car without any conscious recollection of the act of driving that you got you there – then this is at the mindless end of the spectrum. But if we savour the language on the page and our interaction with it, if we are aware of ourselves in relation to the drama unfolding, quietly conscious of the emotions being stirred in our own bodies, if we are so engaged that external distractions do not interrupt the flow… then, I would like to conclude that we are reading with mindfulness. The more absorbed we are by a book, the more present we are in the act of reading.
And that creates a delicious and challenging dilemma for a writer. How to use language that is not so transparent that the reader slips into automatic pilot, merely scanning the words for the plot, so hungry to find out what is going to happen - for the book to end - that they do not really engage with the journey. And yet at the same time, the desire to create characters and a narrative that will absorb the reader so completely that they forget the passage of time. The best books are like a river – you literally flow with them and lose track of time.
Yes, that is what I aspire to as a writer: to create a river you can flow in, letting yourself go, letting yourself flow with the rhythms of the current, simply being and moving, and feeling the water on your skin.
Truly huge thanks to Shelan
for inviting me to be part of this exciting Blog Tour
and Amanda Jennings who first introduced me to Shelan all those years ago.
You can read more reviews over on the blog tour