Constancy

30 09 2017

The Constant Gardener

Tessa Quayle has been horribly murdered on the shores of Lake Turkana in Northern Kenya, the birthplace of mankind. Her putative African lover, a doctor with one of the aid agencies, has disappeared.

Her husband, Justin, a career diplomat and amateur gardener at the British High Commission in Nairobi, sets out on a personal odyssey in pursuit of the killers and their motive. His quest takes him to the Foreign Office in London, across Europe and Canada and back to Africa, to the depths of South Sudan, and finally to the very spot where Tessa died.

On his way Justin meets terror, violence, laughter, conspiracy and knowledge. But his greatest discovery is the woman he barely had time to love.

An intelligent and astute thriller which is also subtle, nuanced and insightful. Balancing the very human stories of the protagonists with critique of the colonial legacy and big pharma it is a thoroughly good read. Impressive work by Le Carre.

 

four stars

 

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President gas

16 09 2017

To Kill the President by Sam Bourne

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The unthinkable has happened…

The United States has elected a volatile demagogue as president, backed by his ruthless chief strategist, Crawford ‘Mac’ McNamara.

When a war of words with the North Korean regime spirals out of control and the President comes perilously close to launching a nuclear attack, it’s clear someone has to act, or the world will be reduced to ashes.

Soon Maggie Costello, a seasoned Washington operator and stubbornly principled, discovers an inside plot to kill the President – and faces the ultimate moral dilemma. Should she save the President and leave the free world at the mercy of an increasingly crazed would-be tyrant – or commit treason against her Commander in Chief and risk plunging the country into a civil war?

Not remotely unthinkable, unfortunately. There are so many parallels with current events it’s frightening but this is a genuinely gripping and fast-moving thriller. Intelligently written and with plenty of twists and turns it is just all too believable. Well worth a read.

four stars

 





Endless days

9 09 2017

Days without end by Sebastian Barry

After signing up for the US army in the 1850s, aged barely seventeen, Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, fight in the Indian Wars and the Civil War. Having both fled terrible hardships, their days are now vivid and filled with wonder, despite the horrors they both see and are complicit in. Then when a young Indian girl crosses their path, the possibility of lasting happiness seems within reach, if only they can survive.

It’s an extraordinary tale and beautifully written. Captures the hardships and horrors exceptionally well and with a distinctive  angle. Highly recommended.

four stars





It can’t, can it?

2 09 2017

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

A vain, outlandish, anti-immigrant, fearmongering demagogue runs for President of the United States – and wins. Sinclair Lewis’s chilling 1935 bestseller is the story of Buzz Windrip, ‘Professional Common Man’, who promises poor, angry voters that he will make America proud and prosperous once more, but takes the country down a far darker path. As the new regime slides into authoritarianism, newspaper editor Doremus Jessup can’t believe it will last – but is he right? This cautionary tale of liberal complacency in the face of populist tyranny shows it really can happen here.

As the Guardian described it, “eerily prescient,” and it certainly is. The parallels with the ascendancy and electoral success of Trump are striking. What happens afterwards though is much, much worse. But then we are only just at the beginning. Well worth reading.

 





Going Underground

19 08 2017

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North.

In Whitehead’s razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But its placid surface masks an infernal scheme designed for its unknowing black inhabitants. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher sent to find Cora, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

At each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once the story of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shatteringly powerful meditation on history.

It’s hard to argue with the brief Barack Obama assessment on the front cover here, this really is a terrific book. It’s thrilling, horrific in places and brilliantly imaginative and overall a completely compelling and deep story. Rightly long listed for the 2017 Man Booker and should be a tight battle with the superb Reservoir 13.

four stars





Go between days

12 08 2017

Grant & I by Robert Forster

In early ’77 I asked Grant if he’d form a band with me. `No,’ was his blunt reply.” Grant McLennan didn’t want to be in a band. He couldn’t play an instrument; Charlie Chaplin was his hero du jour. And yet, when Robert Forster wrote Hemingway, Genet, Chandler and Joyce into his lyrics, McLennan couldn’t resist a second invitation to become 80s indie sensation The Go Betweens. The friends would collaborate for three decades, until Grant’s premature death in 2006. Beautifully written – like lyrics, like prose – Grant & I is a rock memoir akin to no other. Part `making of’, part music industry expose, part buddy-book, this is a delicate and perceptive celebration of creative endeavour. With wit and candour, Robert Forster pays tribute to a band who found huge success in the margins, having friendship at its heart.

As a fan since first being introduced to the Go Betweens by an Aussie friend (thank you Andrew Rohl) back in 1983 or thereabouts I couldn’t wait to read this. It’s a lovely but melancholy tale which is a true and heartfelt memoir about love, loss and music and quite like nothing else I’ve read in this genre.

Bit of a fanboy rating therefore but it is genuinely a really good read.





Are we there yet?

15 07 2017

This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell

A reclusive ex-film star living in the wilds of Ireland, Claudette Wells is a woman whose first instinct, when a stranger approaches her home, is to reach for her shotgun. Why is she so fiercely protective of her family, and what made her walk out of her cinematic career when she had the whole world at her feet?

Her husband Daniel, reeling from a discovery about a woman he last saw twenty years ago, is about to make an exit of his own. It is a journey that will send him off-course, far away from the life he and Claudette have made together. Will their love for one another be enough to bring Daniel back home?

I love Maggie O’Farrell’s writing and her form in this novel is pretty impressive, demonstrating her customary style and flair. The intentionally disjointed narrative, whilst excellent in places, is though challenging at times and the overall effect is, I have to admit, a bit disappointing. It’s pretty good but, by the high standards of previous outings, not her best.

 

 








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