We have a constantly shifting collection of new and second-hand books in stock. Pop into the shop or give us a call to see what we have in and to order. Below are our choices for this month.
July Book Choices
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
A title calculated to raise eyebrows and to generate conversations which should have started long since. The author is a campaigner and award-winning journalist. In this, her first book, she documents ongoing instances of structural racism in UK society, including certain areas (e.g. the feminist movement) where popular wisdom has been to say “problem solved”. This is a finely argued polemic which deserves to be widely read by anybody who has a stake in our country’s future: in other words, everybody.
Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World by Nell Stevens
Is this a novel? Or a novel about writing a novel? Or a travel book about a novelist? Nell Stevens went to the Falkland Islands to write a novel-and she came back with Bleaker House, a crazed collage which is occasionally about the Falklands, now and then about a novel, but remains throughout an engaging, and witty sequence of digressions.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
This is the most eagerly awaited follow-up novel in years, and it doesn’t disappoint. Once again Arundhati Roy revivifies notions of magic realism by enlisting them as the delivery system for a passionately-held set of political positions, starting from the disputed territory of Kashmir before going to embrace India and the world at large. Just as in her non-fiction, Roy here again forces the Western reader to modify their own imagined India against the real-life contradictions of the Subcontinent.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
African American steam punk? Sold. (It isn’t really steam punk – I just like using the word). One of America’s wisest and most daring writers has here found a way of breaking through the constraints of realism, by injecting a bold dash of fantasy. A novel about the truly bad old days, the days of a different past, and the bitter days in which America now finds itself. People will still be reading and talking about this book for years to come.
June Book Choices
Queer City by Peter Ackroyd
We love Peter Ackroyd. Here the mighty biographer of London develops a previously little known aspect of the city: its queer history. As erudite and witty as always, Ackroyd is also at this most personal here. He’ll probably have a new book out by the time we next update the website.
Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon
Fanon’s The Wretched Earth is one of our regular bestsellers. This book, written ten years earlier, is at last available in a new English edition. It now seems amazing that nobody before Fanon had thought to consider colonialism in the light of psychoanalytic theory. The sadness is that his insights are still needed now that colonialism is over (and if you believe that…!)
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Behind the otiose catch-all term “millennial” is a new generation of people wrestling with problems that are anything but new: sex, literature, politics, etc. What is new is t he uniquely toxic culture we’ve bestowed on this generation. Fortunately, language remains the ideal weapon against the dark ages – step forward, Sally Rooney. This début novel is sharp, subversive, funny and painful by turns. One to watch!
The Orange Grove by Larry Tremblay
Larry Tremblay is a DUDE. He’s Canadian. He’s got a doctorate in theatre. He has studied kathakali in India. And he writes plays, poetry and novels. The titular Orange Grove is an Edenic idyll from which twin brothers Ahmed and Aziz are brutally cast out by an act of violent terror. This masterly novel asks whether art can adequately represent suffering; Tremblay is exactly the right artist to be taking on such a question.
May Book Choices
I Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin
This book, published to coincide with the award-winning documentary, combines archive film stills with selections from James Baldwin’s essays. These penetrating and ruthless observations are, unfortunately, just as timely now as when they were first written. See the film as well – be provoked!
The Correspondence by J.D.Daniels
Can civilization save us from ourselves? That is the question J. D. Daniels asks in his first book, a series of six letters written during dark nights of the soul. Working from his own highly varied experience—as a janitor, a night watchman, an adjunct professor, a drunk, an exterminator, a dutiful son—he considers how far books and learning and psychoanalysis can get us, and how much we’re stuck in the mud.
‘Questions that occurred to me as I read this brilliant, baffling book: What the hell is this? Who the hell is this? Is this poetry?’ – Tom Bissell
The Débutante and Other Stories by Leonora Carrington
Artist and writer Leonora Carrington was one freaky lady, as is amply demonstrated in this complete edition of her short stories. Talking hyenas, skeletons on holiday, Mexico, alchemy, the whole lot packed into 150 pages.
Written throughout her life from her early years in Surrealist Paris to her late period in Dirty War-era Mexico City, the world is by turns subversive, funny, sly, wise and disarming. Go on, give yourself a perverse treat with these.
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Poor old men! All over the world, women are discovering a new ability to inflict terrible pain- even death on chaps, just by flicking their fingers. But is this such a good thing? Don’t all answer at once. Naomi Alderman pulls no punches, as always. This is not so much a dystopia as a sistopia, and that isn’t even a word.
April Book Choices
The Clown Egg Register by Luke Stephenson & Helen Champion
A book the world was crying out for! There exists a register where clowns paint their unique make-up onto eggs. And here are the photos to prove it. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll run away gibbering in fear.
Insomniac City by Bill Hayes
Here is a truly lovely memoir by writer and photographer Bill Hayes, chronicling the years of his relationship with Oliver Sacks. A picture emerges of two utterly different people making a wonderful match. The third protagonist here is New York City, shown in all its glory in Hayes’s pictures.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Sanders
Once there was a great (if flawed) Republican president of America. In 1862, Abraham Lincoln’s eleven-year old son Willie died of typhoid. This exceptional novel, the first by a truly gifted writer of short stories, takes us into the first phase of Willie’s afterlife and a father’s grief. Novel of the year.
Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel – in its form and voice – completely unlike anything you have read before. It is also, in the end, an exploration of the deeper meaning and possibilities of life, written as only George Saunders can: with humor, pathos, and grace.
Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Hot on the heels of We Should All Be Feminists comes Adichie’s new book. A few years ago, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received a letter from a dear friend from childhood, asking her how to raise her baby girl as a feminist. Dear Ijeawele is Adichie’s letter of response.
Here are fifteen invaluable suggestions–compelling, direct, wryly funny, and perceptive–for how to empower a daughter to become a strong, independent woman. From encouraging her to choose a helicopter, and not only a doll, as a toy if she so desires; having open conversations with her about clothes, makeup, and sexuality; debunking the myth that women are somehow biologically arranged to be in the kitchen making dinner, and that men can “allow” women to have full careers, Dear Ijeawele goes right to the heart of sexual politics in the twenty-first century. It will start a new and urgently needed conversation about what it really means to be a woman today.
March Book Choices
Aliens: Science Asks: Is There Anyone Out There?
“Scully you’re not gonna believe this”…. The ALIENS invasion is coming …
It’s the biggest question we’ve ever faced, one that has fascinated generations of humans: do aliens exist? If they did, what would they look like? How would they think? And what would it mean for us if we found them?
Here, Professor Jim Al-Khalili blasts off in search of answers. Featuring twenty pieces by top scientists and experts in the field including Martin Rees, Ian Stewart and Adam Rutherford, Aliens covers every aspect of the subject, from alien consciousness to the neuroscience behind alien abductions. And along the way he’ll cover science fiction, the probability of us finding extra-terrestrial life, and whether recently-discovered exoplanets might support life.
Engaging, authoritative and filled with scientific insights fresh from the far edges of the galaxy, Aliens is the perfect book for anyone who has ever looked up into into the starry sky and wondered: are we alone?
2084: The End of the World – Boualem Sansal
A tribute to George Orwell’s 1984 and a cry of protest against totalitarianism of all kinds, Sansal’s 2084 tells the story of a near future in which religious extremists have established an oppressive caliphate where autonomous thought is forbidden.
2084 is a cry of freedom, a call to rebellion, a gripping satirical novel of ideas, and an indictment of the religious fundamentalism that, with its hypocrisy and closed-mindedness, threatens our modern democracies and the ideals on which they are founded.
“Real events add pathos to a protest novel translated from the French by Alison Anderson that explores the cowardliness of and deception exercised by totalitarian leaders.” – The Guardian
Christodora – by Tim Murphy
In this vivid and compelling novel, Tim Murphy follows a diverse set of characters whose fates intertwine in an iconic building in Manhattan’s East Village, the Christodora.
Moving kaleidoscopically from the Tompkins Square Riots and attempts by activists to galvanize a true response to the AIDS epidemic, to the New York City of the future, Christodora recounts the heartbreak wrought by AIDS, illustrates the allure and destructive power of hard drugs, and brings to life the ever-changing city itself.
“There have been several whopping New York novels in the last couple of years, but none of them possesses Christodora’s generosity, its weathered and unflinching faith in what people can achieve – when, that is, they’re forced by circumstance to work together.” – Olivia Laing
The Last Summer – by Ricarda Huch
Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. To counter student unrest, the governor of St Petersburg closes the state university. Soon afterwards he arrives at his summer residence with his family and receives a death threat. His worried wife employs a young bodyguard, Lju, to protect her husband. Little does she know that Lju sides with the students – and the students are plotting an assassination.
A psychological thriller by the pioneering German writer Ricarda Huch. A novel of letters from the last century – but one with an astonishingly modern feel. Now for the first time in English.
February Book Choices
Island People by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro
This vast and ambitious history helpfully distinguishes between two very different notions of the Caribbean: the exotic version imagined from the outside, and the richer and more complex reality. Ten years of work have gone into this book – time well spent!
“Joshua Jelly-Schapiro’s elegant travel book delves deep into the region’s brutal history and unique allure” – The Guardian
You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleema
A savage, bitterly funny début novel from America, this is much more than just a thriller. It’s written from inside the struggle of Western women to escape the fantasy role created for them by the media – and when the writing is as sharp as this, the outcome of that struggle is not in doubt.
“You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine” is a powerful allegory of our civilization’s many maladies, artfully and elegantly articulated, by one of the young wise women of our generation. – NY Times
It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
Try to imagine what it would be like if America was taken over by a vain, outlandish, fear-mongering demagogue…That would be really awful, wouldn’t it? It’s the plot of this novel, which was published in 1935.
Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo
An unlikely band of companions leave rural Nigeria in search of a new life. The megacity of Lagos is wildly polymorphus arena in which Onuzo’s characters play out timeless conflicts: loyalty against betrayal, disillusionment against religious conviction. Onuzo’s first novel The Spider King’s Daughter was published when she was just 21; this new novel confirms that she is one to watch.
January Book Choices
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This début novel from a genuinely global writer (born in Ghana and raised in America) takes on the history of slavery across two continents and several generations. Bold, ambitious, by turns bleak and generous, this is the work of a writer who is truly destined for even greater things.
“Homegoing,’ by Yaa Gyasi: A bold tale of slavery for a new ‘Roots’ generation” – The Washington Post
The Attention Merchants
by Tim Wu
American lawyer and journalist Tim Wu here expertly ties together the disparate threads
of print, social and other media, exposing our engagement with those media as the corporate theft of our attention. Sad! No, come back…
The Last Wolf & Herman
by László Krasznahorkai
Extinction is all about timing – here the killing of Spain’s last wild wolf is the pretext for two dense and beautiful meditations by a modern master. Of course the real extinction is always our own. I know, cheery isn’t it! A taster from one of the very greatest writers of our time.
“Krasznahorkai shows himself to be a writer of immense talent, capable of creating stories that are both unforgettably visceral and beautiful on the page.” – The Guardian
November 2016 Book Choices
Frantumaglia by Elena Ferrante
As we remain loyal to Elena Ferrante (and always shall do). We’ve chosen her latest offering as one of our November books: Frantumaglia invites readers into the author’s workshop. It offers a glimpse into the drawers of her writing desk, those drawers from which emerged her three early standalone novels and the four installments of My Brilliant Friend, known in English as the Neapolitan Quartet. Consisting of over 20 years of letters, essays, reflections, and interviews, it is a unique depiction of an author who embodies a consummate passion for writing.
“Frantumaglia [may be] her most experimental text yet, a massive prank on criticism and the media: all of it done to show us how badly we read what we read, how badly women writers are treated, and how badly the press operates.”
—Alexander Chee, New Republic
Guapa by Saleem Haddad
This is a bold and brilliant debut novel from the heart of the Middle East. Set over the course of twenty-four hours, Guapa follows Rasa, a gay man living in an unnamed Arab country, as he tries to carve out a life for himself in the midst of political and social upheaval.
Haddad has filled the book with references to various Arabic and English novels, alluding to seminal works that shaped his own identity. Echoes of James Baldwin’s ‘Giovanni’s Room’, Gore Vidal’s ‘City and the Pillar’, as well as the works of Abdella Taia, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Ernest Hemingway, Nihad Sirees, Shakespeare, Teju Cole, and Junot Diaz, (among others) are evident throughout. Haddad adds that paying close attention to “key works in Queer literature, Western literature and Arabic literature is a way to celebrate our shared humanity.” Quite so. This book was almost impossible to put down. Fast paced, passionate and above all human.
Autumn by Ali Smith
Ali Smith’s prodigious work-rate shows no sign of abating, and thank goodness for that. This novel presents us with a snapshot of a country emerging from a politically divisive summer…you get the idea. Set just after the EU referendum, the first post-Brexit novel is
a poignant and subtle exploration of the way we experience time. Fortunately this portentous theme is leavened by Ali Smith’s trademark caustic wit and wild imagination.
“Autumn is a beautiful, poignant symphony of memories, dreams and transient realities; the “endless sad fragility” of mortal lives.” – The Guardian
The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry
Everybody’s favourite transgressive ceramicist now turns his attention to the thorny question of what it is to be….a MAN. Be amused – be challenged – be thrown (that’s a pottery reference there).
“A breeze of a read, makes you see our male-manufactured world a little differently… Grayson Perry has written the very book I wanted to write”
– Matt Haig
“GRAYSON PERRY FOR KING AND QUEEN OF ENGLAND. Imagine how BRILLIANT our country would look if he was.” – Caitlin Moran
October 2016 Book Choices
Some Rain Must Fall by Karl Ove Knausgaard
He’s back! Here is the fifth and penultimate instalment of…what? One man’s relentless, excoriating examination of his own personal abyss, that’s what. I know right? Sold! This sequence is one of the boldest and most challenging writing enterprises in recent years. I should also mention that the author is lovely and tall.
The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
Two of modern age’s most righteous dudes get together and make a very generous effort to knock some sense into the rest of us lesser mortals. Read this and you can begin to cultivate a permanent feeling of joy even when things get tough out there.
“This sparkling, wise, and immediately useful gift to readers from two remarkable spiritual masters offers hope that joy is possible for everyone even in the most difficult circumstances, and describes a clear path for attaining it.”
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
A new novel from Ann Patchett is always a welcome pleasure. Here she digs into the contradictions, compromises and complications of family life, in a story which also questions the relation between truth and the process of writing fiction. Have you noticed that many novels are now looking at the way our ideas about privacy and boundaries have changed? I think I might have tweeted you about it.
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen is, of course, The Boss. That is all. Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. As confirmed here, in his own words. If he ever pops in to the shop, we’ll make him a cup of tea. And I don’t extend that gesture to just anybody.
This highly anticipated memoir is as rich in anecdote as it is in anguish. From shameful behaviour to life in therapy, the musician lays out his search for meaning.
Measures of Expatriation by Vahni Capildeo
This collection is the worthy winner of the Forward Prize 2016. A staggering torrent of rich and wild words it is, too. Vahni Capildeo is a poet of Trinidadian heritage – here she makes language itself into the arena where conflicts of history and personal identity are played out, explored and (of course) never really finished. Capildeo has for a long time been ‘one to watch’; here she seals her status as a major poet.
September 2016 Book Choices
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
This is Atwood’s fifteenth novel- well, her sixteenth. But the fifteenth isn’t published until 2114. Complicated. This is a typically adventurous slice of speculative fiction: a married couple embark on an experiment which involves trading their own privacy for a more stable life. A Faustian tale which should appeal to fans of Dave Eggers’s “The Circle”.
Nutshell by Ian McEwan
Trudy has betrayed her husband, John. She’s still in the marital home – a dilapidated, priceless London townhouse – but not with John. Instead, she’s with his brother, the profoundly banal Claude, and the two of them have a plan. But there is a witness to their plot: the inquisitive, nine-month-old resident of Trudy’s womb.
“Basically it’s Hamlet, but the central character is a foetus in the womb.” You can get away with this sort of pitch if you’re Ian McEwan. One of this country’s finest novelists is on peak form with this arch, dark entertainment.
Play All: A Bingewatcher’s Notebook by Clive James
Who better than Clive James to chart the changes in our viewing habits? James returns to the TV criticism with which he made his name in the 70s and 80s, but does so in a way which reflects the new landscape: a world in which it makes sense to watch the whole of Breaking Bad in one go. James is as bracing and witty as ever. Long may he continue.
Breach by Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes
The authors of this urgent and topical book were commissioned to go to the refugee camps of Calais, where they recorded testimony from refugees, volunteers and concerned locals.
The end product is this collection of eight searing short stories. A book for our troubled times.
“By giving the voiceless of our time their voices back, voices vibrant with humour, truth, and knowledge, Breach serves everyone, greedy or lost or both, with a fresh dollop of humanity. I’d even say hope.” – The Guardian
August 2016 book choices
If I’m Scared We Can’t Win by Emily Berry, Anne Carson, and Sophie Collins
The Penguin Modern Poets are succinct guides to the richness and diversity of contemporary poetry. Every volume brings together representative selections from the work of three poets now writing, allowing the curious reader and the seasoned lover of poetry to encounter the most exciting voices of our moment.
“. . . And I was grown up, with your face on,
heating spice after spice to smoke out the smell of books, to burn
the taste buds off this bitten tongue, avoid ever speaking of you.”
– Emily Berry, ‘Her Inheritance’
“If you are not the free person you want to be you must find a place to tell the truth about that. To tell how things go for you.”
– Anne Carson, ‘Candor’
“I had a moment there
among the balustrades
and once that moment had expired
from a moment to a life”
– Sophie Collins, ‘Dear No. 24601’
Pinpoint by Greg Milner
Over the last fifty years, humanity has developed an extraordinary global utility which is omnipresent, universal, and available to all: the Global Positioning System (GPS). A network of twenty-four satellites and their monitoring stations on Earth, it makes possible almost all modern technology, from the smartphone in your pocket to the Mars rover. Neither the internet nor the cloud would work without it. And it is changing us in profound ways we’ve yet to come to terms with. Pinpoint tells the remarkable story of GPS, from its conceptual origins as a bomb guidance system to its present status as one of the most important technologies in the world. Yet while GPS has brought us breathtakingly accurate methods of timekeeping, navigation, and earthquake tracking, our overwhelming reliance on it is having unexpected consequences on our culture, and on ourselves. GPS is reshaping our thinking about privacy and surveillance, and brings with it the growing danger of GPS terrorism. Deeply researched, inventive and with fascinating insights into the way we think about our place in the world, Pinpoint reveals the way that the technologies we design to help us can end up shaping our lives.
Negroland by Margo Jefferson
The daughter of a successful paediatrician and a fashionable socialite, Margo Jefferson spent her childhood among Chicago’s black elite. She calls this society ‘Negroland’: ‘a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty’. With privilege came expectation. Reckoning with the strictures and demands of Negroland at crucial historical moments – the civil rights movement, the dawn of feminism, the fallacy of post-racial America – Jefferson brilliantly charts the twists and turns of a life informed by psychological and moral contradictions.
The Past by Tessa Hadley
Four siblings meet up in their grandparents’ old house for three long, hot summer weeks. But under the idyllic surface lie shattering tensions.
Roland has come with his new wife, and his sisters don’t like her. Fran has brought her children, who soon uncover an ugly secret in a ruined cottage in the woods. Alice has invited Kasim, an outsider, who makes plans to seduce Roland’s teenage daughter. And Harriet, the eldest, finds her quiet self-possession ripped apart when passion erupts unexpectedly.
Over the course of the holiday, a familiar way of life falls apart forever.
‘Exquisite’ The Times
‘Magnificent’ Sunday Times
July 2016 book choices
The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss
Adam is a stay-at-home dad who is also working on a history of the bombing and rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral. He is a good man and he is happy. But one day, he receives a call from his daughter’s school to inform him that, for no apparent reason, fifteen-year-old Miriam has collapsed and stopped breathing. In that moment, he is plunged into a world of waiting, agonising, not knowing. The story of his life and the lives of his family are rewritten and re-told around this shocking central event, around a body that has inexplicably failed. In this exceptionally courageous and unflinching novel of contemporary life Sarah Moss goes where most of us wouldn’t dare to look, and the result is riveting – unbearably sad, but also miraculously funny and ultimately hopeful. The Tidal Zone explores parental love, overwhelming fear, illness and recovery. It is about clever teenagers and the challenges of marriage. It is about the NHS, academia, sex and gender in the twenty-first century, the work-life juggle, and the politics of packing lunches and loading dishwashers. It confirms Sarah Moss as a unique voice in modern fiction and a writer of luminous intelligence.
Beatlebone by Kevin Barry
He will spend three days alone on his island. That is all that he asks . . . John is so many miles from love now and home. This is the story of his strangest trip.
John owns a tiny island off the west coast of Ireland. Maybe it is there that he can at last outrun the shadows of his past.
The tale of a wild journey into the world and a wild journey within, Beatlebone is a mystery box of a novel. It’s a portrait of an artist at a time of creative strife. It is most of all a sad and beautiful comedy from one of the most gifted stylists now at work.
The Muse by Jessie Burton
On a hot July day in 1967, Odelle Bastien climbs the stone steps of the Skelton gallery in London, knowing that her life is about to change forever. Having struggled to find her place in the city since she arrived from Trinidad five years ago, she has been offered a job as a typist under the tutelage of the glamorous and enigmatic Marjorie Quick. But though Quick takes Odelle into her confidence, and unlocks a potential she didn’t know she had, she remains a mystery – no more so than when a lost masterpiece with a secret history is delivered to the gallery.
The truth about the painting lies in 1936 and a large house in rural Spain, where Olive Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art dealer, is harbouring ambitions of her own. Into this fragile paradise come artist and revolutionary Isaac Robles and his half-sister Teresa, who immediately insinuate themselves into the Schloss family, with explosive and devastating consequences . . .
Seductive, exhilarating and suspenseful, The Muse is an unforgettable novel about aspiration and identity, love and obsession, authenticity and deception – a masterpiece from Jessie Burton, the million-copy bestselling author of The Miniaturist.
Her Father’s Daughter by Marie Sizun
A little girl lives happily with her mother in war-torn Paris. She has never met her father, a prisoner of war in Germany. But then he returns and her mother switches her devotion to her husband. The girl realizes that she must win over her father to recover her position in the family. She confides a secret that will change their lives.
Why Peirene chose to publish this book: ‘This is a poetic story about a girl’s love for her father. Told from the girl’s perspective, but with the clarity of an adult’s mind, we experience her desire to be noticed by the first man in her life. A rare examination of the bonds and boundaries between father and daughter.’ Meike Ziervogel, Publisher
June 2016 Book Choices
Sergio Y. by Alexandre Vidal Porto
A startling and inspirational work of transgender fiction by a leading figure in Brazil’s “New Urban” fiction movement.
Armando is one of the most renowned therapists in São Paulo. One of his patients, a 17-year-old boy by the name of Sergio, abruptly interrupts his course of therapy after a trip to New York. Sergio’s cursory explanation to Armando is that he has finally found his own path to happiness and must pursue it.
For years, without any further news of Sergio, Armando wonders what happened to his patient. He subsequently learns that Sergio is living a happy life in New York and that he is now a woman, Sandra. Not long after this startling discovery, however, Armando is shocked to read about Sandra’s unexpected death. In an attempt to discover the truth about Sergio and Sandra’s life, Armando starts investigating on his own.
Sergio Y. is a unique and moving story about gender, identity, and the search for happiness.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
‘One of the most memorable historical novels of the past decade’ – Sunday Times
‘The Essex Serpent is a novel to relish: a work of great intelligence and charm, by a hugelytalented author’ – Sarah Waters
London 1893. When Cora Seaborne’s husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness: her marriage was not a happy one, and she never suited the role of society wife. Accompanied by her son Francis – a curious, obsessive boy – she leaves town for Essex, where she hopes fresh air and open space will provide the refuge they need.
When they take lodgings in Colchester, rumours reach them from further up the estuary that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, is immediately enthralled, convinced that what the local people think is a magical beast may be a previously undiscovered species. As she sets out on its trail, she is introduced to William Ransome, Aldwinter’s vicar.
Like Cora, Will is deeply suspicious of the rumours, but he thinks they are founded on moral panic, a flight from real faith. As he tries to calm his parishioners, he and Cora strike up an intense relationship, and although they agree on absolutely nothing, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart, eventually changing each other’s lives in ways entirely unexpected.
Fen by Daisy Johnson
Daisy Johnson’s Fen is a liminal land. Real people live their lives here. They wrestle with familiar instincts, with sex and desire, with everyday routine. But the wild is always close at hand, ready to erupt. This is a place where animals and people commingle and fuse, where curious metamorphoses take place, where myth and dark magic still linger. So here a teenager may starve herself into the shape of an eel. A house might fall in love with a girl. A woman might give birth to a – well what?
English folklore and a contemporary eye, sexual honesty and combustible invention – in Fen, these elements have come together to create a singular, startling piece of modern fiction.
The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan
This region, the true centre of the earth, is obscure to many in the English-speaking world. Yet this is where civilization itself began, where the world’s great religions were born and took root. The Silk Roads were no exotic series of connections, but networks that linked continents and oceans together. Along them flowed ideas, goods, disease and death. This was where empires were won – and where they were lost. As a new era emerges, the patterns of exchange are mirroring those that have criss-crossed Asia for millennia. The Silk Roads are rising again.
A major reassessment of world history, The Silk Roads is an important account of the forces that have shaped the global economy and the political renaissance in the re-emerging east.
May 2016 Book Choices
What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell
Sofia’s National Palace of Culture, looking for sex. Among the stalls of a public bathroom he encounters Mitko, a charismatic young hustler. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, and their trysts grow increasingly intimate and unnerving as the enigma of this young man becomes inseparable from that of his homeland, Bulgaria, a country with a difficult past and an uncertain future. Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You is a stunning debut about an American expat struggling with his own complicated inheritance while navigating a foreign culture. Lyrical and intense, it tells the story of a man caught between longing and resentment, unable to separate desire from danger, and faced with the impossibility of understanding those he most longs to know.
Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane
SHORTLISTED FOR THE SAMUEL JOHNSON PRIZE 2015
Words are grained into our landscapes, and landscapes are grained into our words. Landmarks is about the power of language to shape our sense of place. It is a field guide to the literature of nature, and a glossary containing thousands of remarkable words used in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales to describe land, nature and weather.
Travelling from Cumbria to the Cairngorms, and exploring the landscapes of Roger Deakin, J. A. Baker, Nan Shepherd and others, Robert Macfarlane shows that language, well used, is a keen way of knowing landscape, and a vital means of coming to love it.
What is not yours is not yours by Helen Oyeyemi
The stories collected in What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours are linked by more than the exquisitely winding prose of their creator: Helen Oyeyemi’s ensemble cast of characters slip from the pages of their own stories only to surface in another.
The reader is invited into a world of lost libraries and locked gardens, of marshlands where the drowned dead live and a city where all the clocks have stopped; students hone their skills at puppet school, the Homely Wench Society commits a guerrilla book-swap, and lovers exchange books and roses on St Jordi’s Day.
It is a collection of towering imagination, marked by baroque beauty and a deep sensuousness.
The Penguin Book of English Song
The Penguin Book of English Song anthologizes the work of 100 English poets who have inspired a host of different composers (some English, some not) to write vocal music. Each of the chapters, arranged chronologically from Chaucer to Auden, opens with a precis of the poet’s life, work and, often, approach to music. Richard Stokes’s notes and commentaries constantly illuminate the language and themes of the poems and their settings in unexpected ways. An awareness of how Ben Jonson based his famous poem ‘Drinke to me, onely, with thine eyes’ on a Greek original, for example, increases our enjoyment of both the poem and the traditional song; knowledge of Thomas Hardy’s relationships with women deepens our appreciation of songs by Ireland, Finzi, Britten and others; Charles Dibdin’s ‘Tom Bowling’, played each year at the Last Night of the Proms, takes on a deeper resonance when we know that it was written after the death of his brother Tom, a sea captain struck by lightning in the Indian Ocean.
April 2016 Book Choices
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
An intrepid voyage out to the frontiers of the latest thinking about love, language, and family.
A timely and genre-bending memoir that offers fresh and fierce reflections on motherhood, desire, identity and feminism.
At the centre of The Argonauts is the love story between Maggie Nelson and the artist Harry Dodge, who is fluidly gendered. As Nelson undergoes the transformations of pregnancy, she explores the challenges and complexities of mothering and queer family making.
This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World by Jerry Brotton
In 1570, when it became clear she would never be gathered into the Catholic fold, Elizabeth I was excommunicated by the Pope. On the principle that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’, this marked the beginning of an extraordinary English alignment with the Muslim powers who were fighting Catholic Spain in the Mediterranean, and of cultural, economic and political exchanges with the Islamic world of a depth not again experienced until the modern age. England signed treaties with the Ottoman Porte, received ambassadors from the kings of Morocco and shipped munitions to Marrakesh. By the late 1580s hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Elizabethan merchants, diplomats, sailors, artisans and privateers were plying their trade from Morocco to Persia.
This Orient Isle shows that England’s relations with the Muslim world were far more extensive, and often more amicable, than we have appreciated, and that their influence was felt across the political, commercial and domestic landscape of Elizabethan England. It is a startlingly unfamiliar picture of part of our national and international history.
1971: Never A Dull Moment: Rock’s Golden Year by David Hepworth
The Sixties ended a year late – on New Year’s Eve 1970, when Paul McCartney initiated proceedings to wind up The Beatles. Music would never be the same again.
The next day would see the dawning of a new era. 1971 saw the release of more monumental albums than any year before or since and the establishment of a pantheon of stars to dominate the next forty years – Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Marvin Gaye, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Rod Stewart, the solo Beatles and more.
January that year fired the gun on an unrepeatable surge of creativity, technological innovation, blissful ignorance, naked ambition and outrageous good fortune. By December rock had exploded into the mainstream.
How did it happen? This book tells you how. It’s the story of 1971, rock’s golden year.
The Verandah Poems by Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze
The Verandah Poems is both a departure and a return for Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, who left her village in Jamaica to become an internationally renowned Dub poet and storyteller. This is a book of coming home and coming to terms, of contemplation rather than contention – of mellow, musing, edgy poems drawn from the life and lives around her. Illustrated with photographs by Tehron Royes, it is Breeze’s first new collection since Third World Girl: Selected Poems (2011), has a foreword by Kei Miller, and is published on her 60th birthday
February 2016 Book Choices
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.
When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?
Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.
Empire of Things by Frank Trentmann
How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First
What we consume has become the defining feature of our lives: our economies live or die by spending, we are treated more as consumers than workers, and even public services are presented to us as products in a supermarket. In this monumental study, acclaimed historian Frank Trentmann unfolds the extraordinary history that has shaped our material world, from late Ming China, Renaissance Italy and the British empire to the present. Astonishingly wide-ranging and richly detailed, Empire of Things explores how we have come to live with so much more, how this changed the course of history, and the global challenges we face as a result.
Stop the Clocks by Joan Bakewell
Thoughts on What I Leave Behind
Joan Bakewell has led a varied, sometimes breathless life: she has been a teacher, copywriter, studio manager, broadcaster, journalist, the government’s Voice of Older People and chair of the theatre company Shared Experience. She has written four radio plays, two novels and an autobiography - The Centre of The Bed. Now in her 80s, she is still broadcasting. Though it may look as though she is now part of the establishment – a Dame, President of Birkbeck College, a Member of the House of Lords as Baroness Bakewell of Stockport – she’s anything but and remains outspoken and courageous. In Stop the Clocks, she muses on all she has lived through, how the world has changed and considers the things and values she will be leaving behind.
Stop the Clocks is a book of musings, a look back at what she was given by her family, at the times in which she grew up – ranging from the minutiae of life such as the knowledge of how to darn and how to make a bed properly with hospital corners, to the bigger lessons of politics, of lovers, of betrayal. She talks of the present, of her family, of friends and literature – and talks too of what she will leave behind. This is a thoughtful, moving and spirited book as only could be expected from this extraordinary woman.
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Romans have long since departed, and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But at least the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased.
The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years. They expect to face many hazards – some strange and other-worldly – but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for one another.
Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge and war.
January & New Year 2016 Book choices
Han Kang’s Human Acts
Gwangju, South Korea, 1980. In the wake of a viciously suppressed student uprising, a boy searches for his friend’s corpse, a consciousness searches for its abandoned body, and a brutalised country searches for a voice. In a sequence of interconnected chapters the victims and the bereaved encounter censorship, denial, forgiveness and the echoing agony of the original trauma. Human Acts is a universal book, utterly modern and profoundly timeless.
Already a controversial bestseller and award-winning book in Korea, it confirms Han Kang as a writer of immense importance.
Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible: Adventures In Modern Russia
Longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award 2015
A journey into the glittering, surreal heart of 21st century Russia: into the lives of Hells Angels convinced they are messiahs, professional killers with the souls of artists, bohemian theatre directors turned Kremlin puppet-masters, supermodel sects, post-modern dictators and oligarch revolutionaries.
This is a world erupting with new money and new power, changing so fast it breaks all sense of reality, where life is seen as a whirling, glamorous masquerade where identities can be switched and all values are changeable. It is home to a new form of authoritarianism, far subtler than 20th century strains, and which is rapidly expanding to challenge the global order.
An extraordinary book – one which is as powerful and entertaining as it is troubling – Nothing is True and Everything is Possible offers a wild ride into this political and ethical vacuum.
Caroline Moorehead’s Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees
A new edition of this seminal book, now with a new introduction by the author on the current crisis
How can society cope with the diaspora of the twenty-first century?
Is there a difference between ‘good’ asylum seekers and ‘bad’ economic migrants?
What happens to those whose applications are turned down?
Caroline Moorehead has visited war zones, camps and prisons from Guinea and Afghanistan to Australia and Italy. She has interviewed emigration officials and members of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees while investigating the fates of the millions of people currently displaced from their homes. Human Cargo is both a remarkable exploration into the current crisis and a celebration of the courage of ordinary people.
Sarah Howe’s Loop of Jade
WINNER OF THE SUNDAY TIMES/PFD YOUNG WRITER AWARD 2015
SHORTLISTED FOR THE T.S ELIOT PRIZE 2015
SHORTLISTED FOR THE FORWARD PRIZE FOR BEST FIRST COLLECTION 2015
There is a Chinese proverb that says: ‘It is more profitable to raise geese than daughters.’ But geese, like daughters, know the obligation to return home. In her exquisite first collection, Sarah Howe explores a dual heritage, journeying back to Hong Kong in search of her roots.
With extraordinary range and power, the poems build into a meditation on hybridity, intermarriage and love – what meaning we find in the world, in art, and in each other. Crossing the bounds of time, race and language, this is an enthralling exploration of self and place, of migration and inheritance, and introduces an unmistakable new voice in British poetry.
Kate Atkinson’s A God In Ruins
SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2015 COSTA NOVEL AWARD
A God in Ruins relates the life of Teddy Todd – would-be poet, heroic World War II bomber pilot, husband, father, and grandfather – as he navigates the perils and progress of the 20th century. For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge will be to face living in a future he never expected to have.
This gripping, often deliriously funny yet emotionally devastating book looks at war – that great fall of Man from grace – and the effect it has, not only on those who live through it, but on the lives of the subsequent generations. It is also about the infinite magic of fiction. Those who loved the bestselling Life After Life will recognise Teddy as Ursula Todd’s adored younger brother – but for those who have not read it, A God in Ruins stands fully on its own. Few will dispute that it proves once again that Kate Atkinson is one of the most exceptional novelists of our age.
November 2015 Book Choices
Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire
‘The best book we’ve done on the Book Club this year’ – Simon Mayo Radio 2 Book Club
‘A novel of head-snapping ambition and heart-stopping power’ – Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
‘Love The Wire? Then read this’ – GQ
‘Extraordinary…dazzling… a sprawling, generous, warm-hearted epic of 1970s New York’ – Observer
‘You’re soon zipping through Hallberg’s vividly realised New York like a child discovering Hogwarts for the first time’ – The Times
‘The kind of exuberant, zeitgeisty novel, like The Bonfire of the Vanities or The Goldfinch, that you’ll either love, hate or pretend to have read’ – Vogue
‘The hype is justified: this is the year’s must-read book’ – Shortlist
It’s New Year’s Eve, 1976, and New York is a city on the edge. As midnight approaches, a blizzard sets in – and amidst the fireworks, an unmistakable sound rings out across Central Park. Gunshots. Two of them.
The search for the shooter will bring together a rich cast of New Yorkers. From the reluctant heirs to one of the city’s greatest fortunes, to a couple of Long Island kids drawn to the punk scene downtown. From the newly arrived and enchanted, to those so sick of the city they want to burn it to the ground. All these lives are connected to one another – and to the life that still clings to that body in the park. Whether they know it or not, they are bound up in the same story – a story where history and revolution, love and art, crime and conspiracy are all packed into a single shell, ready to explode.
Then, on July 13th, 1977, the lights go out in New York City.
Ruth Rendell’s Dark Corners
Ruth Rendell’s final novel.
When Carl sells a packet of slimming pills to his close friend, Stacey, inadvertently causing her death, he sets in train a sequence of catastrophic events which begins with subterfuge, extends to lies, and culminates in murder.
In Rendell’s dark and atmospheric tale of psychological suspense, we encounter mistaken identity, kidnap, blackmail, and a cast of characters who are so real that we come to know them better than we know ourselves.
Infused with her distinctive blend of wry humour, acute observation and deep humanity, this is Rendell at her most memorable and best.
Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling
Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to celebrate the green and kindly island that had become his adopted country. The hilarious book that resulted, Notes from a Small Island, was taken to the nation’s heart and became the bestselling travel book ever, and was also voted in a BBC poll the book that best represents Britain.Now, to mark the twentieth anniversary of that modern classic, Bryson makes a brand-new journey round Britain to see what has changed.
Following (but not too closely) a route he dubs the Bryson Line, from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, by way of places that many people never get to at all, Bryson sets out to rediscover the wondrously beautiful, magnificently eccentric, endearingly unique country that he thought he knew but doesn’t altogether recognize any more. Yet, despite Britain’s occasional failings and more or less eternal bewilderments, Bill Bryson is still pleased to call our rainy island home. And not just because of the cream teas, a noble history, and an extra day off at Christmas.
Once again, with his matchless homing instinct for the funniest and quirkiest, his unerring eye for the idiotic, the endearing, the ridiculous and the scandalous, Bryson gives us an acute and perceptive insight into all that is best and worst about Britain today.
Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome matters. Its history of empire, conquest, cruelty and excess is something against which we still judge ourselves. Its myths and stories – from Romulus and Remus to the Rape of Lucretia – still strike a chord with us. And its debates about citizenship, security and the rights of the individual still influence our own debates on civil liberty today.
SPQR is a new look at Roman history from one of the world’s foremost classicists. It explores not only how Rome grew from an insignificant village in central Italy to a power that controlled territory from Spain to Syria, but also how the Romans thought about themselves and their achievements, and why they are still important to us.
Covering 1,000 years of history, and casting fresh light on the basics of Roman culture from slavery to running water, as well as exploring democracy, migration, religious controversy, social mobility and exploitation in the larger context of the empire, this is a definitive history of ancient Rome.
SPQR is the Romans’ own abbreviation for their state: Senatus Populusque Romanus, ‘the Senate and People of Rome’.
September 2015 Choices
Terry Pratchett The Shepherd’s Crown
THE FINAL DISCWORLD NOVEL
A SHIVERING OF WORLDS
Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength.
This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and new, a blurring of edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad.
As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land.
There will be a reckoning . . .
Meike Ziervogel Kauthar
Lydia, a woman in her early thirties, lives in London. She lacks a purpose and loses herself in a string of affairs. When she meets Rabia, a convert to Islam, the Moslem rituals and the Arabic language offer her a new beginning. Lydia becomes Kauthar. She falls in love with Rafiq, an Iraqi-born doctor, and her life seems complete. But the terrorist attacks of 9/11 tests their relationship. While Kauthar becomes increasingly fundamental in her beliefs, Rafiq returns to war-torn Baghdad to work in a hospital. Kauthar follows her husband – and the consequences are terrifying. Kauthar charts the life of a white British woman who converts to Islam. The story explores the reasons why and analyses the psychological factors that lead her to distort and misuse her religious faith. Ultimately, Kauthar is a novel about how longing for love can result in violent delusion.
Chris Drury & Kay Syrad Exchange
Food is fundamental to life. The way we produce it is the most pressing issue of our times. In recent years, several family-run farms in the downlands of West Dorset have decided to radically change their approach to working the land. When the artist Chris Drury and poet-novelist Kay Syrad began collaborating with this group of farmers in the villages of Godmanstone and Sydling St Nicholas, they began to discover why these changes were being made and what they might mean for the local communities – and all of us – who depend on the farmed landscape for food.Chris Drury’s artwork and Kay Syrad’s prose-poetry combine here to form a sensitive and authentic portrait of a group of men and women whose lives are shaped by the land. It is a rich exploration of work, soil and the sustainability of their farming practice. With its focus on a very particular landscape, the book reveals to us the creativity and resilience of organic farming, and shows just how much we all need to value the complexities of food production and our future relationship with the land.
Michael Peppiatt Francis Bacon In Your Blood: A Memoir
It is a story I have been wanting to write for a long time, telling it as it really was before that whole world that I shared with Francis vanishes…
Michael Peppiatt met Francis Bacon in June 1963 in Soho’s French House to request an interview for a student magazine he was editing. Bacon invited him to lunch, and over oysters and Chablis they began a friendship and a no-holds-barred conversation that would continue until Bacon’s death thirty years later.
Fascinated by the artist’s brilliance and charisma, Peppiatt accompanied him on his nightly round of prodigious drinking from grand hotel to louche club and casino, seeing all aspects of Bacon’s ‘gilded gutter life’ and meeting everybody around him, from Lucian Freud and Sonia Orwell to East End thugs; from predatory homosexuals to Andy Warhol and the Duke of Devonshire. He also frequently discussed painting with Bacon in his studio, where only the artist’s closest friends were ever admitted.
The Soho photographer, John Deakin, who introduced the young student to the famous artist, called Peppiatt ‘Bacon’s Boswell’. Despite the chaos Bacon created around him Peppiatt managed to record scores of their conversations ranging over every aspect of life and art, love and death, the revelatory and hilarious as well as the poignantly tragic. Gradually Bacon became a kind of father figure for Peppiatt, and the two men’s lives grew closely intertwined.
In this intimate and deliberately indiscreet account, Bacon is shown close-up, grand and petty, tender and treacherous by turn, and often quite unlike the myth that has grown up around him. This is a speaking portrait, a living likeness, of the defining artist of our times.
July 2015 Choices
Benjamin Johncock The Last Pilot
Set against the backdrop of one of the most emotionally charged periods in American history, Benjamin Johncock’s fantastic debut novel begins in the bone-dry Mojave Desert during the late 1940s, where US Air Force test pilots are racing to break the sound barrier. Among the exalted few is Jim Harrison: dedicated to his wife, Grace, and their baby daughter.
By the 1960s, the space race is underway and Harrison and his colleagues are offered a place in history as the world s first astronauts. But when his young family is thrown into crisis, Jim is faced with a decision that will affect the course of the rest of his life whether to accept his ticket to the moon and at what cost.
Bridget Christie A Book For Her
A Book For Her details Christie’s twelve years of anonymous toil in the bowels of stand-up comedy and the sudden epiphany that made her, unbelievably, one of the most critically acclaimed British stand-up comedians this decade, drawing together the threads that link a smelly smell in the women’s studies section to the global feminist struggle.
Find out how nice Peter Stringfellow’s fish tastes, how yoghurt advertising perpetuates rape myths, and how Emily Bronte used a special ladies’ pen to write Wuthering Heights.
If you’re interested in comedy and feminism, then this is definitely the book for you.
Ian McMillan Neither Nowt Nor Summat: In Search of the Meaning of Yorkshire
If there were such a thing as a professional Yorkshireman, Ian McMillan would be it. He’s regularly consulted as a home-grown expert, and southerners comment archly on his ‘fruity Yorkshire brogue’. But he has been keeping a secret. His dad was from Lanarkshire, Scotland, making him, as he puts it, only ‘half tyke’. So Ian is worried; is he Yorkshire enough?
To try to understand what this means Ian embarks on a journey around the county, starting in the village has lived in his entire life. With contributions from the Cudworth Probus Club, a kazoo playing train guard, Mad Geoff the barber and four Saddleworth council workers looking for a mattress, Ian tries to discover what lies at the heart of Britain’s most distinct county and its people, as well as finding out whether the Yorkshire Pudding is worthy of becoming a UNESCO Intangible Heritage Site, if Harrogate is really, really, in Yorkshire and, of course, who knocks up the knocker up?
June 2015 CHOICES
Jenny Erpenbeck The End of Days
Winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2015
‘We are born and we die – but many things could happen in between. Which life do we end up living?’
From one of the most daring voices in European fiction, this is a story of the twentieth century traced through the various possible lives of one woman. She is a baby who barely survives beyond her first breath, and suffocates in the cradle. Or perhaps not? She lives to become as an adult and dies beloved. Or dies betrayed. Or perhaps not? Her memory is honoured. Or she is forgotten by everyone. Moving from a small Galician town at the turn of the century, through pre-war Vienna and Stalin’s Moscow to present-day Berlin, Jenny Erpenbeck homes in on the moments when life follows a particular branch and ‘fate’ suddenly emerges from the sly interplay between history, character and pure chance.
Fully alive with ambition and ideas, The End of Days is a novel that pulls apart the threads of destiny and allows us to see the present and the past anew.
Leslie Jamison The Empathy Exams
The subjects of this stylish and audacious collection of essays range from an assault in Nicaragua to a Morgellons meeting; from Frida Kahlo’s plaster casts to a gangland tour of LA. Jamison is interested in how we tell stories about injury and pain, and the limits that circumstances, bodies and identity put on the act of describing.
‘A work of tremendous pleasure and tremendous pain. Leslie Jamison is so intelligent, so compassionate, and so fiercely, prodigiously brave. This is the essay at its creative, philosophical best’ – Eleanor Catton, author of The Luminaries.
Rachel Holmes Eleanor Marx: A Life
Unrestrained by convention, lion-hearted and free, Eleanor Marx (1855-98) was an exceptional woman. Hers was the first English translation of Flaubert’s Mme Bovary. She pioneered the theatre of Henrik Ibsen. She was the first woman to lead the British dock workers’ and gas workers’ trades unions. For years she worked tirelessly for her father, Karl Marx, as personal secretary and researcher. Later she edited many of his key political works, and laid the foundations for his biography. But foremost among her achievements was her pioneering feminism. For her, sexual equality was a necessary precondition for a just society.
Drawing strength from her family and their wide circle, including Friedrich Engels and Wilhelm Liebknecht, Eleanor Marx set out into the world to make a difference – her favourite motto: ‘Go ahead!’ With her closest friends – among them, Olive Schreiner, Havelock Ellis, George Bernard Shaw, Will Thorne and William Morris – she was at the epicentre of British socialism. She was also the only Marx to claim her Jewishness. But her life contained a deep sadness: she loved a faithless and dishonest man, the academic, actor and would-be playwright Edward Aveling. Yet despite the unhappiness he brought her, Eleanor Marx never wavered in her political life, ceaselessly campaigning and organising until her untimely end, which – with its letters, legacies, secrets and hidden paternity – reads in part like a novel by Wilkie Collins, and in part like the modern tragedy it was.
Rachel Holmes has gone back to original sources to tell the story of the woman who did more than any other to transform British politics in the nineteenth century, who was unafraid to live her contradictions.
May 2015 Choices
Kate Atkinson A God in Ruins
Kate Atkinson’s dazzling Life After Life, one of the top selling adult books of 2014, explored the possibility of infinite chances, as Ursula Todd lived through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. In A God in Ruins, Atkinson turns her focus on Ursula’s beloved younger brother Teddy – would-be poet, RAF bomber pilot, husband and father – as he navigates the perils and progress of the 20th century. For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge will be to face living in a future he never expected to have.
Anne Enright The Green Road
A darkly glinting novel set on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, The Green Road is a story of fracture and family, selfishness and compassion – a book about the gaps in the human heart and how we learn to fill them.
The children of Rosaleen Madigan leave the west of Ireland for lives they never could have imagined in Dublin, New York and various third-world towns. In her early old age their difficult, wonderful mother announces that she’s decided to sell the house and divide the proceeds. Her adult children come back for a last Christmas, with the feeling that their childhoods are being erased, their personal history bought and sold.
Anne Enright is addicted to the truth of things. Sentence by sentence, there are few writers alive who can invest the language with such torque and gleam, such wit and longing – who can write dialogue that speaks itself aloud, who can show us the million splinters of her characters’ lives then pull them back up together again, into a perfect glass.
Oliver Sacks On the Move
When Oliver Sacks was twelve years old, a perceptive schoolmaster wrote in his report: ‘Sacks will go far, if he does not go too far’. It is now abundantly clear that Sacks has never stopped going. From its opening pages on his youthful obsession with motorcycles and speed, On the Move is infused with his restless energy. As he recounts his experiences as a young neurologist in the early 1960s, first in California and then in New York, where he discovered a long-forgotten illness in the back wards of a chronic hospital, as well as with a group of patients who would define his life, it becomes clear that Sacks’s earnest desire for engagement has occasioned unexpected encounters and travels – sending him through bars and alleys, over oceans, and across continents.
With unbridled honesty and humour, Sacks shows us that the same energy that drives his physical passions – bodybuilding, weightlifting, and swimming – also drives his cerebral passions. He writes about his love affairs, both romantic and intellectual, his guilt over leaving his family to come to America, his bond with his schizophrenic brother, and the writers and scientists – Thom Gunn, A. R. Luria, W. H. Auden, Gerald M. Edelman, Francis Crick – who influenced him.
On the Move is the story of a brilliantly unconventional physician and writer – and of the man who has illuminated the many ways that the brain makes us human.
April 2015 choices