Book Review: Things Bright and Beautiful by Anbara Salam

Things Bright and Beautiful by Anbara Salam
Release Date: 5th April 2018
Publisher: Fig Tree
Pages: 288
Buy: Hardback  Kindle
When Bea Hanlon follows her preacher husband Max to a remote island in the Pacific, she soon sees that their mission will bring anything but salvation...
Advent Island is a place beyond the reaches of Bea's most fitful imaginings. It's not just the rats and the hordes of mosquitos and the weevils in the powdered milk. Past the confines of their stuffy little house, amidst the damp and the dust and the sweltering heat, rumours are spreading of devil chasers who roam the island on the hunt for evil spirits. And then there are the noises from the church at night.
Yet, to the amusement of the locals and the bafflement of her husband, Bea gradually adapts to life on the island. But with the dreadful events heralded by the arrival of an unexpected, wildly irritating and always-humming house guest, Advent Island becomes a hostile place once again. And before long, trapped in the jungle and in the growing fever of her husband's insanity, Bea finds herself fighting for her freedom, and for her life.

Things Bright and Beautiful tells the story of husband and wife Max and Beatriz Hanlon in the 1950's. When Max lands a job as a missionary in a south pacific island, Bea is only too happy to accompany him (who wouldn't want to go and live on an idyllic island somewhere in the south pacific?) However Advent Island turns out to be about as far away from idyllic as you can get. It's sweltering hot, always raining and infested with bugs of all shapes and sizes. Then there's the rat droppings in the food, the isolation  and other unidentifiable crawling things to have to deal with. Eeeek.
Whilst Max tries his best to spread his religious messages on the island, Bea also does her best to settle in and lead as normal a life as possible. However, the sudden reappearance of Max's predecessor, Marietta, turns their attempts upside down. Is she really all that she claims to be? It's not long before something very dark starts to take place on Advent Island; but can Max and Bea overcome what appears to be the island turning against them ,which looks to leads to some terrifying consequences...
I was absolutely fascinated by the look and sound of Things Bright and Beautiful. The cover is so aesthetically striking, and the blurb made me feel the need to read this book the SECOND that I discovered it. It sounded unlike anything I had ever read before and after spending a breathless two days racing through this novel, I can confirm that it certainly was. Unusual, quirky and extremely compelling, this novel is a million miles away from my usual read but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
My attention was firmly held within this story throughout. Anbara's writing is so atmospheric and her descriptions made me feel as though I was planted on Advent Island along with Bea and Max (which was not always a good thing...The bugs! Help!)
I would go so far as to call Things Bright and Beautiful claustrophobic. I felt the fear that Bea experienced, I felt the isolation, I felt the madness start to creep in...and ultimately this is both extremely creepy and for a book to have this effect on a reader, also the sign of a very good writer.

The subject matter is a really interesting one and opens up all sorts of debates about religion and cultural differences. Anbara has tackled what must be an overwhelming subject to write about with ease and confidence and some of the subject matter also made me think about certain issues in ways I never had before. It's certainly not always an easy subject matter to read about (and it must be even more difficult to write about) but Anbara never shies away from anything and has clearly done her research. (Which included spending six months living on a small South Pacific island herself!) This is such a promising debut and I'm really looking forward to reading more from her, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.
If you're on the lookout for a read that will get you thinking and offers up something just that little bit different from the norm then I highly recommend The Bright and Beautiful. It's powerful, vivid, unsettling, and an extremely good read. Just listen out for the humming...

A huge thank you to Cat at Penguin for inviting me to be part of the blog tour for Things Bright and Beautiful.

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