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.

 

 





Fearful

8 07 2017

The Fear Index by Robert Harris

 

 

Meet Alex Hoffmann: among the secretive inner circle of the ultra-rich, he is something of a legend.

Based in Geneva, he has developed a revolutionary system that has the power to manipulate financial markets. Generating billions of dollars, it is a system that thrives on panic – and feeds on fear.

And then, in the early hours of one morning, while he lies asleep, a sinister intruder breaches the elaborate security of his lakeside home.

So begins a waking nightmare of paranoia and violence as Hoffmann attempts – with increasing desperation – to discover who is trying to destroy him – before it’s too late …

It’s not one of his best but nevertheless Harris delivers a gripping and pacy thriller. Not really sure how accurate the portrayal of financial market operations is but felt realistic enough to me.





Fusty, musty, dusty

1 07 2017

The Dust that Falls from Dreams by Louis de Bernieres

 

In the brief golden years of King Edward VII’s reign, Rosie McCosh and her three very different sisters are growing up in an eccentric household in Kent, with their neighbours the Pitt boys on one side and the Pendennis boys on the other. But their days of childhood adventure are shadowed by the approach of war that will engulf them on the cusp of adulthood.

When the boys end up scattered along the Western Front, Rosie faces the challenges of life for those left behind. Confused by her love for two young men – one an infantry soldier and one a flying ace – she has to navigate her way through extraordinary times. Can she, and her sisters, build new lives out of the opportunities and devastations that follow the Great War?

There are some brilliant passages and some outstanding characters. There is some really evocative wartime recreation, emotional highs and lows but really could have done with a strong editorial hand. Just a bit flabby and overlong but nevertheless worth a read.





Human Racing

18 06 2017

The Humans by Matt Haig

 

After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where Professor Andrew Martin is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, he is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confound him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he’s a dog.

What could possibly make someone change their mind about the human race. . . ?

A really clever, inventive and witty tale told from the perspective of an alien sent to earth to carry out a very particular task. An easy and entertaining read which nevertheless manages to cover some of the big issues about what it really means to be human.

 

 

 





Selling out fast

10 06 2017

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

 

 

A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game.

Born in Dickens on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, the narrator of The Sellout spent his childhood as the subject in his father’s racially charged psychological studies. He is told that his father’s work will lead to a memoir that will solve their financial woes. But when his father is killed in a drive-by shooting, he discovers there never was a memoir. All that’s left is a bill for a drive-through funeral.

What’s more, Dickens has literally been wiped off the map to save California from further embarrassment. Fuelled by despair, the narrator sets out to right this wrong with the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.

An unusual Booker winner perhaps. It’s funny, brutal and pretty shocking at times. Reminiscent of Joseph Heller it is genuinely dark and challenging satire which takes on the big current and historical issues of racism in the USA in the most extraordinary way.

 

four stars





Magnetic field

20 05 2017

The Field of the Cloth of Gold by Magnus Mills

 

‘The field looks completely wrong now,’ she announced, one blustery afternoon. ‘It’s all gone out of balance’

The Great Field lies in the bend of a broad, meandering river. Bounded on three sides by water, on the fourth side it dwindles gradually into wilderness. A handful of tents are scattered far and wide across its immensity. Their flags flutter in the warm breeze, rich with the promise of halcyon days.

But more and more people are setting up camp in the lush pastures and with each new arrival life becomes a little more complicated. And when a large and disciplined group arrive from across the river emotions run so high that even a surplus of milk pudding can’t soothe ruffled feathers. Change is coming; change that threatens the delicate balance of power in the Great Field.

 

Strange, surreal, dark and deadpan, this is absolutely pitch perfect and a classic Magnus Mills work. It might be allegorical but then again it might not be. Peculiarly outstanding in many strange parts.

four stars





Golden years

13 05 2017

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

 

One rainy evening in November, a handsome young stranger fresh off the boat pitches up at a counting-house door in Golden Hill Street: this is Mr Smith, amiable, charming, yet strangely determined to keep suspicion simmering. For in his pocket, he has what seems to be an order for a thousand pounds, a huge amount, and he won’t explain why, or where he comes from, or what he can be planning to do in the colonies that requires so much money.

Should the New York merchants trust him? Should they risk their credit and refuse to pay? Should they befriend him, seduce him, arrest him; maybe even kill him?

Set a generation before the American Revolution, it paints an irresistible picture of a New York provokingly different from its later self: but subtly shadowed by the great city to come, and already entirely a place where a young man with a fast tongue can invent himself afresh, fall in love – and find a world of trouble.

Hugely impressive debut this. Set in mid-18th century New York it is full of rich period detail and lots of plot twists and turns. A real rollercoaster ride which remains compelling right to the very end. Recommended.

 

four stars








%d bloggers like this: