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Customer reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
The Still Point
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VINE VOICEon 5 May 2010
Julia is the great-grand-niece of Edward Mackley, a polar explorer at the turn of the century, who newly married to Emily, left on an expedition and was never seen alive again after a group of men set out for the North Pole from their ship the Persephone. Emily, effectively abandoned after their honeymoon, waited all her life for him to come back.

Julia, who is married to Simon, lives in the Mackley family house and is guardian of the archive from the ill-fated expedition. Some of the ship's crew survived, and eventually Edward's body was recovered along with his personal effects. Julia is an utter romantic and loved hearing all the stories of derring-do as a child.

The action in this novel takes place over twenty-four hot and sultry hours in the life of Julia and Simon. Their marriage is in something of a rut, but we start off in bed after a now uncharacteristic moment of passion. Simon, ever precise, goes off to work leaving Julia to work in the attic cataloging the collection, but she gives herself over to re-reading the ship's log and Mackley's diary on this hot summer day. Gradually Mackley and Emily's story and that of Julia and Simon reveal themselves to us as the day goes on, and there are surprises in store ...

I liked the way the author told us Julia and Simon's story in the summer heat and the present tense, and that of Emily and Mackley's arctic adventure in the past. The fact that it all takes place over one day made me cross my fingers that it wouldn't resemble If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor - another book that unfolds over a single day, but which I didn't get on with. However, my fears were unfounded; although this is a very contemplative novel too, it is totally focused on the two relationships within and a compulsive read. Although not a long book at just over 300 pages, it did take me longer than usual to read - I found I was often getting as dreamy as Julia and often needed to re-read paragraphs, especially during the first half. That's not a criticism, but the author's style took a bit of getting used to for me. Sackville is not yet thirty, but has managed to write a beautiful yet slightly uncomfortable novel about relationships and being taken for granted.

I couldn't finish without commenting on the lovely cover - probably the best I've seen this year. A brilliant cover for a brilliant novel. (4.5 stars)
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on 8 July 2010
Anyone who appreciates the beauty of the English language must surely enjoy the experience of reading this book. Apart from the occasional glaringly ugly sentence, mainly towards the end, it's beautifully written, almost poetic in the imagery and quality of descriptions. The story too has the potential to fascinate - twenty-four hours in modern-day Julia's marriage interspersed with diaries and speculation about her great-great-uncle's doomed expedition to the North Pole while his young bride, Emily, whiles away her days waiting for the homecoming that would never happen.

Julia and Simon have moved into the explorer's family home, a house of many rooms, stuffed like a museum with Edward's treasures from his earlier Arctic adventures.
You don't have to read far to realise that this is a talented author who will hopefully write many more beautiful books. But although I loved both the idea and the style of the writing, there were aspects that I felt were weak and which therefore spoilt it for me.

Julia herself was the biggest weakness in my view. Despite reading about the detail of her day, with flashbacks to fill in her background story, I never felt I knew her as a person. Not only am I, the reader, made to feel like an observer, I am actually told that I am one, as in, for instance, `You can draw a little nearer, if you're very quiet.' Such comment, and many more besides, destroyed any illusion that I was going to share these people's lives and experience with them how they felt. It is a device used most conspicuously in the early pages of the book, and one that I particularly disliked. As a result, Julia remained a complete unknown so far as I was concerned, despite being the central character. I never understood her or how or why she functioned as she did. I almost felt I knew more of her husband Simon's inner thoughts than I did of Julia's.

Emily's story also suffers. It is told largely from how Julia imagines it, missing so much potential for a thoroughly absorbing tale of a young wife very much in love with her handsome adventurer. Edward's journey, on the other hand, is related through diaries found many years later in the Arctic ice, so the reader experiences with Edward the extreme cold and beauty of the Arctic - and this is indeed very beautifully portrayed. You suffer too the despair of failure, the weight of responsibility for the sufferings and loss of the men he took with him.
I know you can never judge a book by its cover, but I particularly loved the design of this edition. It is so apt - the honeysuckle, the butterfly, the ship, and above all the indigo sea and the ice that all feature in the story.

This came so close to being a five-star read, but for me it barely scraped into the four-star category. It was hard to decide, but it seemed so much better than the mere `it's ok' which, hovering over the button, shows as the criterion for awarding three stars. Such a shame, as it is stacked with wonderful descriptions - the deep ice-blue of the Arctic night when the sun disappears below the horizon for the long winter months, the sultry heat of a summer's day - and an ending that I thought particularly beautiful and sensitive.

This is only my own personal view. If you appreciate beautiful language for its own sake then I'd recommend that you read it as you'll probably enjoy the book, at least as much as I did. If you prefer a faster-moving story that's driven more by plot then this is probably not for you.
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on 20 April 2010
I liked this a lot, and I'm quite sad to see it didn't make the Orange Prize shortlist. This isn't a plot-driven novel - it's all about the style, but it is astonishingly engaging. I was drawn in from the first few sentences. To me the tone recalls John Fowles' omnipresent narratorial voice, but with less archness and more compassion, alongside the wry humour. The author is very successful in bringing about a sense of being a privileged, private audience to something unique and significant, even when describing the most quotidien of details.

At first we see waiting wife Emily and her arctic explorer husband through the preoccupations of present-day wife Julia, who idolises her ancestor and has vague plans to edit Edward's diaries of his arctic expedition. There is an intriguing blend of precisely focused depictions of the present moment, and an attachment to things valued in a past era but perhaps no longer. For a time, the narration moves back to those ill-fated arctic explorations, describing with harrowing precision the deteriorating mental and physical condition of the team. Around this, we are invited to peer into Julia's own awkward but honourable marriage to architect Simon who himself has old-fashioned interests, being a keen butterfly collector. We also see the reaction of other members of Julia's family, past and present, to Emily and Edward's tale, but it is most deeply felt by Julia herself.
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on 5 March 2010
The beautiful imagery and personal detail Ms Sackville uses in the intricate narrative makes it a delight to read. It is a vividly drawn journey between the cold wastes of the north (almost feeling the frostbite), the loneliness of the waiting wife in Edwardian England, and the bittersweet relationships of today. A skilled wordsmith, the author draws you in through the intense highs and raw pain of that longed-for perfect romance, and confronts the frustrations and distances between lovers. On a practical note, the novel is a perfect length for a weekend curled up in front of the fire and will impress any lover of fine literature.
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on 18 April 2010
David Attenborough reached the North Pole as I finished this novel today; the explorer, Edward Mackley, and his crew were not so lucky. Set at the beginning of the nineteenth centure, Mackley and that part of the story seems to be based on the experiences of several explorers - probably Scott, Shackleton and the Franklin expedition. A century later Mackley's descendant, Julia, now lives in the same house as Emily, Mackley's wife, who waited for him for the rest of her life. Julia is now the guardian of Mackley's legacy and her own life and marriage parallels the story of Edward and Emily. This is a stunning novel: it is wonderfully lyrical but also very controlled and it reads like the work of a major author on top of their game. We are guided effortlessly back and forth in time and place. The book works largely through images and metaphor: the descriptions of the ice are breath taking; the house becomes increasingly oppressive and is skillfully realised. There is much to think about in this book but it is an effortless read because the quality of the writing is so fine. It deserves to win every prize going. Something as great as this does not come along every day - can't recommend it enough.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 13 November 2011
'The Still Point' is one of those curious books, where I only realised how good it was after I'd finished it. Whilst there is some undoubtedly beautiful prose, I found the story slight, with little to compel me to read on. If I'd left my copy on a train, I'm not sure I'd have bothered to find another one. Fortunately I didn't, as I would have missed out on a highly accomplished debut.

The novel's structure follows the dual narrative formula that abounds in modern literary fiction. In the present we follow Julia and Simon, a couple who have been married for nearly ten years. One hundred years earlier, Emily and Edward are separated by hundreds of miles of ice; Edward leads a doomed expedition to the North Pole, and Emily waits in vain for his return. Julia lives in the house in which Emily waited, and is her great-grandniece. She has become the curator of the documents and artefacts retrieved from Edward's expedition.

After a hot sultry summer night, Simon heads off, disgruntled, to work, leaving Julia with her memorabilia. The present day deals with the minutiae of Simon and Julia's lives, their thought processes, their aspirations, their discontentedness. The other narrative strand, does pretty much the same for Edward and Emily, only it's mostly much colder. Something happens, Julia reappraises her life; Simon has an epiphany and as midnight approaches the novel finishes. That's the short version.

But there is so much more to 'The Still Point' than that. Foremost is the quality of the prose. The relentless isolation of the Pole, the beauty of the ice, and the desperation of the explorers is evocatively drawn. There is a roast lamb dinner, the descriptions of which will have you craving mint sauce. The characters are artfully created, with many layers, giving this novel great depth. I particularly liked Simon, a bundle of uncertainty with an unsettled childhood that has left its mark.

A great deal of the story is told by the imagery in Sackville's writing. She uses polar opposites to give her story more resonance, for example, the hot summer day juxtaposed with the cold of the ice and the burning love of the separated couple, set against the doldrums in which Julia and Simon find themselves, The novel does occasionally feel like the result of a creative writing course (Which Sackville did take), but mostly her artful style works beautifully.

'The Still Point' is not a novel that will blow you away, but it will ensnare you, and keep tugging you towards its hidden depths. I think this is a novel that improves if you have somebody to discuss it with, making it ideal for book groups. Each person in our group found something different that they liked about this book, making for invigorating conversation. Sackville is a bright new talent, and I look forward to seeing what she produces next.
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on 25 December 2012
What really amazes me is why this book is not better known - it seems to have all the qualities that would win it prizes: it's beautifully written, especially its descriptions, it has well drawn, sympathetic characters, and an interesting subject, with an unconventional structure. Oh, and a distinctive voice.

The story takes place over one day in the life of Julia and Simon - we see them both from waking up to bed, almost every waking moment. At the same time, it is the story of Edward Mackley, Julia's great-great uncle, and Emily, the wife who waited 50 years for news of him. Both stories are not so much told as revealed - the story emphatically doesn't follow the usual structure of setting up a conflict for the main character, which she then has to overcome. Yes, there is a conflict, and there is a resolution, but the story is told by focus on tiny details, then pulling back to reveal part of the big picture, then focussing in on another detail. Ms Sackville gives all her characters dignity and love, which is important, because you find yourself really caring about them.

There is a great deal of beauty in this book, from the perfectly described English summer's day, starting with poached eggs and toast, passing over home-made jam through gins and tonics to roast lamb at the end of the day, harshly contrasted with Arctic explorers starving as they eke out their rations in the hope of surviving long enough to return home. All lovingly and beautifully described.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 December 2010
This is a book written in beautiful dreamy, lyrical prose, fragile and delicate as the moths and butterflies which appear in the story-line - but, like the dead butterflies themselves, the beauty is on the surface, and the body and content of the book lacks somewhat in substance.

Two love stories play out over a single day, neither perfect. But neither is terriby original: the secrets of Edwardian households vs. the imperfections of modern marriage.

The tone overall has a kind of faded elegance about it, like a sepia-tinted photo. At some points the ornate prose feels lovely; at others it's a bit overdone and I felt like someone overdosed on chocolate: it might be very good quality but a surfeit leaves one crying out for something more robust and savoury to cut through the cloying-ness.

This is very literarily self-conscious with its title from Eliot and the prose and structure reminiscent of Woolf (especially, I thought, Mrs Dalloway). So overall this is a book which shows a huge amount of stylistic promise but lacks anything truly important or original to say. According to the blurb Ms Sackville is 29 - hopefully she will produce further books which meld style and content in a more significant way. Recommended with reservations.
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on 19 May 2010
I took "The Still Point" on holiday for evening reading - I ended up taking it everywhere because I couldn't stop reading it. If you see a picture of a tourist on an open top bus in New York with her nose in a book, that will be me reading Sackville's book. I absolutely loved it, the narrative is wonderfully engaging and the descriptions are just like you are there.
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VINE VOICEon 24 June 2011
The action in this book takes place over one day in summer in the life of Julia, who is married to Simon, and who is archiving the history of her great-uncle Edward Mackley who set off the North Pole and never returned. Julia is also intensely interested in Edward's young wife Emily, left behind soon after their wedding.

It is absolutely beautifully written. Some of the turns of phrases and descriptions are breathtaking. Amy Sackville is clearly a very talented writer. One reviewer compared her to Rachel Cusk, and while I think this is true, this is also what spoiled it a little for me. While I appreciate Cusk is a brilliant writer too, I have always found her a little too dry - her writing lacks the emotional impact sometimes needed to make a reader (well me, at least, I'm sure not everyone) truly connect with the characters in a story. I'm afraid this is the problem I had with this book. I just didn't really care what happened.

The 'past' story of Edward and Emily is more interesting than the present day narrative, and while descriptions of the expedition were exquisite in places, I kept thinking of Beryl Bainbridge's The Birthday Boys which tells the story of a similar, ill-fated expedition to a snowy wasteland, is similarly well written, but which literally had me wracked with emotion all the way through and by the end I was begging everyone I knew to read it. This book, The Stillpoint, I enjoyed for the quality of the writing, and it's worth reading for the elegance of style and the descriptions, but it didn't 'get' to me.

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