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Heligoland by Shena Mackay
Rowena Snow has lived a life without much hope. She's an orphaned Himalayan girl, schooled in Scotland, and then sent to live in south London where she makes a living providing service to others. Her fantasy is the island of Heligoland off the German coast, an ideal place in her dreams. Instead she moves into the Nautilus, a building designed like the sea shell in the 1930s for a utopian society of artists and bohemians. Now it's just a shell of its former self, as are the few remaining inhabitants. Rowena finds herself, and her Heligoland, there. Shena Mackay's novel has met mostly positive reviews. The Guardian says of Heligoland, "This is drawn so playfully and so compassionately - and with such consistently beautiful writing - that the experience is mysteriously comic and sweet."