The Closest Thing to Flying by Gill Lewis

Gill Lewis is well known for her novels about the interaction between animals and humans which tell stories within which important issues are interwoven. In this new novel the focus is on the parallel stories of two girls living in different times and how they interlink. Semira is a refugee from Eritrea living with her mother in modern Britain who finds a diary kept by Henrietta, a girl living in Victorian times. Although superficially their lives would seem to be very different, both are constrained by the attitudes of others and Semira finds a real connection with this girl from the past. The emerging women’s suffrage movement plays a part in Hen’s life and for both girls the freedom brought about by cycling is significant.

The importance of the natural world is not absent, however, as Semira’s discovery of Hen’s ‘Feather Diaries’ comes about due to her attraction to a hat decorated with a bird which she finds on a market stall.  Back in Hen’s time, she comes into contact with Emily Williamson who was the founder of the RSPB and who campaigned against feathers being used for fashion. In one of life’s strange coincidences, around the time I was reading this book, there was an item on BBC’s Countryfile about Emily Williamson who I had never heard of until then. It’s exciting when this sort of serendipity leads you to new discoveries!

Oxford University Press 9780192749482