Review of The Mahogany Pod by Jill Hopper
by Ian Tattum
I heard about this forthcoming book from Jill long before it finally got into my hands at the beginning of this year. I didn’t know anything about its nature in advance, other than it being a memoir. Immersing myself in it I was immediately drawn not only into Jill’s memories but into my own too. I didn’t find this was the kind of book that I could read with a sense of distance and curiosity, not only because of the universality of so many of its themes, but on account of the grace of Jill’s writing. Her particular story of love and grief is all her own but it is so gently and sensitively told that I doubt that any reader will not find their own recollections stirred!
The story of Jill’s love for Arif, which was cut short by his death, due to the rapid onset of fatal illness half a lifetime ago, is filtered through her experience of life lived since. It begins with the re-discovery of the mysterious pod of the title when tidying up for the decorators in the terrace house she now shares with her husband and son. We read of her first meeting with Arif and their growing sympathy and affection while sharing a house on the island of Osney in Oxford. Jill brilliantly captures what it is like to live surrounded by water.
‘Sometimes after a rainstorm, the water was brown and turbulent and frightening…On windy days when the sun shone, the surface was chopped into millions of glints, too bright to look at.’
The Mahogany Pod is a very moving account of what for the majority of people is the most intensely experienced period in their lives, their twenties, and it explores love, and the agony and pallor of loss, but it is full of the wonder of small things too – from long lost mixed tapes to collections of postcards. It is possibly also a corrective to the wrong message taken from stories such as that of Lot’s wife. In looking back old things are seen in a new way and some enriching discoveries are made – including, thanks to a very helpful member of the staff at Kew Gardens, exactly what that ‘mahogany pod’ is!
The Mahogany Pod by Jill Hopper was published by Saraband Books in February 2021.