BOOK REVIEW: Things Bright and Beautiful by Anbara Salam

Anbara Salam’s debut novel ‘Things Bright and Beautiful’ is such a vivid read. Salam is a PHD graduate of Theology and is now a research associate at Oxford University! Penguin have rightly snapped up this unique work of fiction from someone who has such a fresh, yet detailed understanding of the world around her, making for interesting reading. Simply put, the story entails Bea Hanlon figuring out how to survive on Advent Island after her husband, Max, moves them both to the South Pacific for his religious mission.


In the fictional pacific land, Bea’s narration immediately exposes how her reality of living on the island is definitely not what she idealised. Bea is bombarded with new rules, new ways of life… a completely alien culture. Then forced to adapt to it. You can’t really indulge in any more details without spoiling parts of the novel, so I’ll have leave you to explore it yourself!


Something definitely worth noting is Salam’s spectacular attention to detail. The pretexts of the book tell you that her own experiences in the South Pacific serve as the inspirations for some of its content and you can really tell. Whilst reading, I felt as though some of her descriptions of what could be considered mundane objects were made ten times more interesting by the angle her imagery came from. Description like that comes from experience. The way she built up such an intense image of the forest by only describing the different layers of the colour green was something I found interesting.


It was very ‘Robinson Crusoe’ and ‘Heart of Darkness’ esque, given the story following similar themes of a mysterious lands, adaptation and human development. I found it to be quite a slow starter, but persevere! So, if that kind of fiction floats your boat, this is definitely a read for you!


You find yourself immediately compelled to all the characters because of their quirks, however I felt the novel didn’t need the extensive amount it had. I struggled to maintain my connection with all the characters as there were so many to wrap your head around. By the time I’d gotten to know the next two characters I’d forgotten half of what I’d just learnt about the ones before! I felt the plot need a more focused group of characters in order to me to really connect with book as a whole.

Regardless, this is a very unique work of fiction from a new novelist! I look forward to see how Salam progresses.

Things Bright and Beautiful is published by Fig Tree and is available to purchase here.

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Anbara Salam

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Anbara Salam is half-Palestinian and half-Scottish, and grew up in London. She has a PhD in Theology and is now a research associate at the University of Oxford. She spent six months living on a small South Pacific island, and her experiences there served as the inspiration for her first novel, Things Bright and Beautiful

Reviewed by Marika Lomax

The SHALLOW CREEK Short Story Competition

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