All posts by Jo

2017 Man Booker Prize Shortlist Prediction

booker logo 2017

Following on from my relatively successful attempt at guessing the titles to feature on this year’s Man Booker Prize Longlist (did I mention that I guessed 5 of the 13 titles correctly?!), here is my best guess at the titles that will make it to the shortlist.

I’ve compiled this list without actually having read any of the longlisted titles, but I have now made sufficient space in my reading schedule that I am planning to read all of the shortlisted titles ahead of the winner being announced on 17 October.  That’s the plan, at least!

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

days without end

After signing up for the US army in the 1850s, 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. But when a young Indian girl crosses their path, Thomas and John must decide on the best way of life for them all in the face of dangerous odds.

Published by: Faber & Faber

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

exit west

An extraordinary story of love and hope from the bestselling, Man Booker-shortlisted author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Nadia and Saeed are two ordinary young people, attempting to do an extraordinary thing – to fall in love – in a world turned upside down. Theirs will be a love story but also a story about how we live now and how we might live tomorrow, of a world in crisis and two human beings travelling through it.

Civil war has come to the city which Nadia and Saeed call home. Before long they will need to leave their motherland behind – when the streets are no longer useable and the unknown is safer than the known. They will join the great outpouring of people fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world . . .

Published by: Hamish Hamilton

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

reservoir 13

Midwinter in the early years of this century. A teenage girl on holiday has gone missing in the hills at the heart of England. The villagers are called up to join the search, fanning out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on their usually quiet home.

Meanwhile, there is work that must still be done: cows milked, fences repaired, stone cut, pints poured, beds made, sermons written, a pantomime rehearsed.

The search for the missing girl goes on, but so does everyday life. As it must.

As the seasons unfold there are those who leave the village and those who are pulled back; those who come together or break apart. There are births and deaths; secrets kept and exposed; livelihoods made and lost; small kindnesses and unanticipated betrayals.

Bats hang in the eaves of the church and herons stand sentry in the river; fieldfares flock in the hawthorn trees and badgers and foxes prowl deep in the woods – mating and fighting, hunting and dying.

An extraordinary novel of cumulative power and grace, Reservoir 13 explores the rhythms of the natural world and the repeated human gift for violence, unfolding over thirteen years as the aftershocks of a stranger’s tragedy refuse to subside.

Published by: 4th Estate

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

lincoln in the bardo

The extraordinary first novel by the bestselling, Folio Prize-winning, National Book Award-shortlisted George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven-year-old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War

The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm – called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo – and as ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate, and stony tendrils creep towards the boy, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Unfolding over a single night, Lincoln in the Bardo is written with George Saunders’ inimitable humour, pathos and grace. Here he invents an exhilarating new form, and is confirmed as one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Deploying a theatrical, kaleidoscopic panoply of voices – living and dead, historical and fictional – Lincoln in the Bardo poses a timeless question: how do we live and love when we know that everything we hold dear must end?

Published by: Bloomsbury

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

swing time

Two brown girls dream of being dancers – but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, black bodies and black music, what it means to belong, what it means to be free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten either.

Bursting with energy, rhythm and movement, Swing Time is Zadie Smith’s most ambitious novel yet. It is a story about music and identity, race and class, those who follow the dance and those who lead it . . .

Published by: Hamish Hamilton

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

the underground railroad

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.

Published by: Fleet

So that’s my prediction for the shortlist, which will be announced on 13 September.  Are there any titles that you’d like to see on the shortlist?


American War by Omar El Akkad

american war

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, that unmanned drones fill the sky. And when her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she quickly begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious functionary, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. Telling her story is her nephew, Benjamin Chestnut, born during war – part of the Miraculous Generation – now an old man confronting the dark secret of his past, his family’s role in the conflict and, in particular, that of his aunt, a woman who saved his life while destroying untold others.

I have to admit that I initially found this book a little difficult to get into.  It’s split into four main sections featuring Sarat at different ages – initially at six, and then eleven, before moving onto to her adult life.  For the first section, there is a certain amount of scene-setting, before the death of Sarat’s father and the move to the refugee camp, which for me was when the story really began to pick up.  I think it helps that we see Sarat at age eleven, where she is starting to develop more personality than is evident in the first section, but also that there is more happening in the story at this stage.

Between each chapter, Benjamin – Sarat’s nephew and the narrator – inserts excerpts from official documents and reports.  These documents and reports range from books, reports and official, redacted documents, and are generally quite short.  Regular readers of the blog will know that I love the inclusion of these kinds of documents in a novel, and American War was no exception.  For me, these documents help to set the scene, from providing background as to how the Civil War began as well as giving insight into the world in which it’s set – not just America, but also the wider world and what’s happening there.

American War is set some 60 years from now, and yet is scarily relevant to today.  Refugee camps, climate change, unmanned drones, foreign powers involving themselves in the politics of other nations – doesn’t it all sound like what you hear on the news on an almost daily basis?  And of course there is Sarat’s recruitment into events by the mysterious functionary mentioned in the synopsis.  Her cause might be different, but it all sounded very much like the radicalisation that we hear so much about today.

Omar El Akkad has worked as a journalist, covering, amongst other events, the war in Afghanistan, the Arab Spring revolution, and the military trials at Guantánamo Bay, and it’s easy to see elements of his journalistic work and the events he’s covered in the novel, which comes across as incredibly authentic.  This is a realistic and often horrifying portrayal of war, and the atrocities that are committed by both sides as part of such conflict.  That’s not to say that American War is sensationalist in anyway, however – the detail is sufficient to remove any doubt as to what’s happening but without being excessive.

For me, this novel felt like something of a warning.  I’ve mentioned that the novel is set some 60 years in the future – it opens in 2075 – and it’s a set in a world that is recognisable, yet not identical to our own.  Geographically speaking, climate change has begun to take its toll, with coastal regions of America now submerged, and the southern states suffering through increasingly higher temperatures.  It’s a bleak world, and one that is all too plausible for my liking.

American War was published on 7 September by Picador.  Many thanks to Emma Finnigan and the publisher for the review copy.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

This Week in Books – 06-09-17

TWIB - logo

This Week in Books is a feature hosted by Lipsy at Lipsyy Lost and Found that allows bloggers to share:

  • What they’ve recently finished reading
  • What they are currently reading
  • What they are planning to read next

I’ve recently finished reading American War by Omar El Akkad, which I really enjoyed – my review will be up soon!

american war

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, that unmanned drones fill the sky. And when her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she quickly begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious functionary, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war.

Telling her story is her nephew, Benjamin Chestnut, born during war – part of the Miraculous Generation – now an old man confronting the dark secret of his past, his family’s role in the conflict and, in particular, that of his aunt, a woman who saved his life while destroying untold others.

My current read is Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford.  I’ve only just started it, but I’m enjoying it so far.

love and other consolation prizes

1909, Seattle. At the World’s Fair a half-Chinese boy called Ernest Young is raffled off as a prize. He ends up working in a brothel in Seattle’s famed Red Light District and falls in love with Maisie, the daughter of a flamboyant madam, and Fahn, a karayuki-san, a Japanese maid sold into servitude.

On the eve of the new World’s Fair in 1962, Ernest looks back on the past, the memories he made with his beloved wife while his daughter, a reporter, begins to unravel their tragic past.

My next read will be The Fourteenth Letter by Claire Evans.  I absolutely love the synopsis, and I can’t wait to start this one!

the fourteenth letter

A mysterious keepsake, a murdered bride, a legacy of secrets…

One balmy June evening in 1881, Phoebe Stanbury stands before the guests at her engagement party: this is her moment, when she will join the renowned Raycraft family and ascend to polite society.

As she takes her fiancé’s hand, a stranger holding a knife steps forward and ends the poor girl’s life. Amid the chaos, he turns to her aristocratic groom and mouths: ‘I promised I would save you.’

The following morning, just a few miles away, timid young legal clerk William Lamb meets a reclusive client. He finds the old man terrified and in desperate need of aid: William must keep safe a small casket of yellowing papers, and deliver an enigmatic message: The Finder knows.

And that’s my week in books!  What are you reading this week?  Please do let me know!

Mini Reviews of Recent Reads – Part II

As promised, here is part II of my mini reviews of my holiday reads.

Don’t Let Go by Michel Bussi

don't let go

In an idyllic resort on the island of La Réunion, Liane Bellion and her husband Martial are enjoying the perfect moment with their 6-year-old daughter. Turquoise skies, blue sea, palm trees, a warm breeze.

Then Liane disappears. She went up to her hotel room between 3 and 4pm and never came back. Her husband, worried, had gone to the room along with the concierge – the room was empty but there was blood everywhere. Despite his protestations of innocence, the police view Martial as their prime suspect. He was the only other person who went to the hotel room between 3 and 4pm according to the staff of the hotel.

Then he disappears along with his daughter. With Martial as prime suspect, helicopters scan the island, racial tensions surface, and more corpses are found. Is he really his wife’s killer? And if he isn’t, why does he appear to be so guilty?

I had really high hopes for this novel, having loved After the Crash and Black Water Lilies, and whilst I enjoyed it, I have to admit that it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, and I liked it, but I had had a couple of issues with the novel.

The good points.  The plot has all the twists and turns that I’ve come to expect from Bussi, and if I guessed elements of where it was going, I didn’t see the whole picture until the big reveal.  I’ve not been to La Réunion, so I don’t know how accurate a portrayal it is, but it does sound lovely.  And, Captain Aja Purvi was a great character.

But.  Throughout the novel, many of the women are treated as little more than objects to be groped and ogled at, and whilst the inclusion of the odd incident isn’t necessarily an issue (it does happen, after all), to have to read about it repeatedly does get a little tiresome.  In addition, the plot requires the suspension of disbelief, as it’s rather implausible at times.  I also had some issues with the relationship between Martial and his daughter, Sopha, which seemed a little off.

Not for me, this one, although I’d be willing to read additional novels by Bussi, on the strength of the first two.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

the loney

“If it had another name, I never knew, but the locals called it the Loney – that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest.

It was impossible to truly know the place. It changed with each influx and retreat, and the neap tides would reveal the skeletons of those who thought they could escape its insidious currents. No one ever went near the water. No one apart from us, that is.

I suppose I always knew that what happened there wouldn’t stay hidden for ever, no matter how much I wanted it to. No matter how hard I tried to forget….”

The Loney is book that has had quite mixed reviews.  Having read it, I can see why it doesn’t appeal to everyone, although I absolutely loved it.

The narrator, who we know only be his surname, Smith, or by his nickname, Tonto, tells the story of what happened at the Loney whilst he was a child on the last of the many Easter vacations he spent there with his family, the local vicar, and other members of their congregation.  This book does contain a lot of detail of Catholic rites, although it’s done in such a way that even an atheist like myself didn’t feel overwhelmed by this.

This isn’t a fast-paced novel with something happening on every page.  But, if there’s nothing overtly happening, I always had the feeling that something was about to happen, and I thought that Hurley’s writing effortlessly maintained the sense of unease with which he imbued the novel from early on.  Obviously, it wouldn’t be much a novel if nothing happened at all, but it does take a while, and I did suspect where it was going from the hints earlier on.  That said, I still found the ending to be quite shocking, even though I was expecting it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and whilst I can see that it may not be to everyone’s taste, I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a gothic tale.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Method by Shannon Kirk

the method

Imagine a helpless, pregnant 16-year-old who’s just been yanked from the serenity of her home and shoved into a dirty van. Kidnapped. Alone. Terrified.

Now forget her …

Picture instead a pregnant, 16-year-old, manipulative prodigy. She is shoved into a dirty van and, from the first moment of her kidnapping, feels a calm desire for two things: to save her unborn son and to exact merciless revenge.

She is methodical, calculating, scientific in her plotting. A clinical sociopath? Leaving nothing to chance, secure in her timing and practice, she waits for the perfect moment to strike. The Method is what happens when the victim is just as cold as the captors.

The agents trying to find a kidnapped girl have their own frustrations and desires wrapped into this chilling drama. In the twists of intersecting stories, one is left to ponder. Who is the victim? Who is the aggressor?

I’m not sure that a book about a kidnapped, heavily pregnant teenager should be fun, but that is the word that springs to mind to describe this one.  Told from the perspective of a unique protagonist, we see how this exceptionally intelligent and gifted young woman is able to scientifically assess her situation and the “assets” that she has available to her, and to form a plan to escape her captivity.

Despite her meticulous planning, there are plenty of knuckle-biting moments when you’re not sure whether she will be ok, and I found this to be an incredibly quick read as I was desperate to know whether her planned worked and she was able to escape, what the federal agents working the case found, and whether she was also able to take her revenge on those that abducted her.

A brilliant twist on the kidnap thriller.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Mini Reviews of Recent Reads – Part I

I recently had a week away in Italy.  Whilst some of my holidays are about lazing around by the pool reading, this trip was more about going out and doing *stuff*, but I did still manage to factor in some reading time!

I’ve separated the mini-reviews of my holiday reads into two posts, and I’ll be posting part II tomorrow.

Little Deaths by Emma Flint

little deaths

It’s the summer of 1965, and the streets of Queens, New York shimmer in a heatwave. One July morning, Ruth Malone wakes to find a bedroom window wide open and her two young children missing. After a desperate search, the police make a horrifying discovery.

Noting Ruth’s perfectly made-up face and provocative clothing, the empty liquor bottles and love letters that litter her apartment, the detectives leap to convenient conclusions, fuelled by neighbourhood gossip and speculation. Sent to cover the case on his first major assignment, tabloid reporter Pete Wonicke at first can’t help but do the same. But the longer he spends watching Ruth, the more he learns about the darker workings of the police and the press. Soon, Pete begins to doubt everything he thought he knew.

Ruth Malone is enthralling, challenging and secretive – is she really capable of murder?

Haunting, intoxicating and heart-poundingly suspenseful, Little Deaths is a gripping novel about love, morality and obsession, exploring the capacity for good and evil within us all.

I was absolutely delighted to win a copy of Little Deaths recently – it’s a novel that I’ve had my eye on since its publication earlier this year, and I’m pleased to say that I really enjoyed it.

Ruth is an absolutely fascinating character.  Adamant from the beginning that she did not harm her children, she also seems strangely reluctant to defend herself, trusting that justice will serve and the real culprit will eventually be found.  This, combined with her unwillingness to show any form of emotion in front of anyone – police, neighbours, family – means that she is perceived as being unaffected by the disappearance of her two children.  The reader has more insight, although Flint cleverly leaves it open as to whether she might have responsible.

Ruth is never seen without make up and immaculate, if occasionally provocative, dress, and these factors also lead to speculation that she feels that she is better off without her children.  She is judged harshly by both men and women, and is seen as something of a scarlet woman, out to get her claws into any man she can.  You can see how this becomes something of a self-fulfilling cycle – she is judged harshly, and so has to put on a mask (both physical, in the form of her make up, but also to mask her emotions), which then leads to further speculation and gossip.

It’s clear that the police officer in charge of the case, Devlin, is against her from the very beginning.  Again, I felt that his character, whilst secondary, was brilliantly portrayed.  As the reader, I was sympathetic towards Ruth, and yet some of the evidence presented by Devlin does suggest that there’s more to the case than meets the eye, and more than Ruth is sharing with the reader.

This is a wonderfully clever novel, with brilliantly realised characters who come across as being all too human, with everything that entails.  Highly recommended.

Many thanks to Emma Flint for the copy of Little Deaths which I won in a Twitter giveaway.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Fourth Monkey by J. D. Barker

the fourth monkey

Se7en meets The Silence of the Lambs in this dark and twisting novel from the author Jeffery Deaver called, “A talented writer with a delightfully devious mind.”

For over five years, the Four Monkey Killer has terrorized the residents of Chicago. When his body is found, the police quickly realize he was on his way to deliver one final message, one which proves he has taken another victim who may still be alive.

As the lead investigator on the 4MK task force, Detective Sam Porter knows even in death, the killer is far from finished. When he discovers a personal diary in the jacket pocket of the body, Porter finds himself caught up in the mind of a psychopath, unraveling a twisted history in hopes of finding one last girl, all while struggling with personal demons of his own.

With only a handful of clues, the elusive killer’s identity remains a mystery. Time is running out and the Four Monkey Killer taunts from beyond the grave in this masterfully written fast-paced thriller.

The Fourth Monkey is another book that I won recently in a giveaway from Zuky @

I won’t go in to the plot too much, as I’d hate to give away any spoilers of the novel, but this is a dark and twisty thriller that alternates between the investigation into the killer following his death as well as the race against time to find his latest victim, and the diary found on his body.  I found both parts of the story (which come together nicely by the end of the novel) to be equally thrilling, albeit quite different to each other in tone.  The investigation moves at a fast pace, given the need to find the latest victim before it’s too late, whilst the diary is a little slower, yet giving an insight into the mind of the serial killer and exploring how he came to be what he is.

I loved Barker’s characterisation, and Sam Porter, our lead detective, in particular, who has been hunting this serial killer since the very first case some five years ago.  It struck me as a little unusual to have a slightly older detective on the case, rather than some hotshot fresh out of the academy, and I really enjoyed this aspect of the novel.  Additionally, the banter between those involved in the case is brilliant – I loved the camaraderie between them, and there are some witty one-liners in this novel.

I have to admit that I did anticipate some of the twists that this novel took, although it’s still a thrilling ride, and a surprisingly quick read to say that it’s some 400+ pages long.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab

this savage song

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m a big fan of Schwab’s work, and whilst I didn’t enjoy this novel quite as much as her others (I’m not sure she will ever surpass her Darker Shade of Magic trilogy!), it’s still a fantastic read.

They say that violence begets violence, and so it proves to be the case in This Savage Song, in which violence begets not only violence, but savage monsters that manifest whenever a serious crime is committed.  I absolutely love this idea, and it’s one that I’ve not come across elsewhere.

As always, Schwab’s characterisation and world-building is second to none.  Kate and August, our two main protagonists, are very different to each other, and yet are thrown together and forced to go on the run following an assassination attempt.  Kate and August come from separate sides of the city, and are part of each side’s “ruling family”, and there’s something reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet about this aspect of them.  But, this book has no romance, which I loved.  It’s so unusual, but I think that it’s great to see that boys and girls can just be friends.  Not that August is any normal boy…

I did find the novel a little slow to start, and I think that it’s partly because it took me a little while to understand the world in which it’s set, although the pace does soon pick up.  I’m really looking forward to reading the second novel in the duology, Our Dark Duet.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Beat the Backlist Challenge Update


This is my first post in around ten days, as I’ve been on holiday!  Go on, admit it – you didn’t even notice that I wasn’t here, did you? 😀

This month I’ve managed to read two of my backlist titles from Novel Knight’s BTB Challenge, and it’s getting to the point now where I don’t think that I’ll be able to read all of my backlist before the end of the year. 😳

  • This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab – regular readers of my blog will know that I love Schwab’s novels, and this one was no exception
  • The Loney by Michael Andrew Hurley – I was a little sceptical about this one as it’s had quite mixed reviews, but I really liked it

I’ll be doing mini reviews of the books I read whilst I was away, including the two mentioned above, in the next few days.

TBR Watch

You won’t believe this but I DIDN’T BUY ANY BOOKS IN AUGUST! (And yes, that is worth shouting about!)  I received a few books to review, but haven’t purchased anything.  This won’t last, as I have Godsgrave on pre-order so I’ll be getting at least one book this month.  Because of this incredible restraint, by TBR is continuing it’s slow but steady downward trend:

TBR 1 Sep 17

Madness is Better than Defeat by Ned Beauman

madness is better...

Madness is Better than Defeat is one of the most difficult novels to write a review for that I’ve come across since starting Jo’s Book Blog.  Not because it’s bad book – I thoroughly enjoyed it – but because I haven’t a clue where to start.

In 1938, two rival expeditions set off for a lost Mayan temple in the jungles of Honduras, one intending to shoot a screwball comedy on location there, the other to disassemble the temple and ship it back to New York. A seemingly endless stalemate ensues, and twenty years later a rogue CIA agent sets out to exploit it as a geopolitical pawn – unaware that the temple is the locus of grander conspiracies than anyone could have imagined.

Showcasing the anarchic humour, boundless imagination and unparalleled prose of one of the finest writers of his generation, this is a masterful novel that teases, entertains and dazzles in equal measure.

To say that there’s a lot going on in Madness is Better than Defeat is something of an understatement.  CIA, conspiracies, Mayan temples and Gods, a Nazi, jungle survival, hallucinogenics, Hollywood, and an octopus1 to name but a few elements – this novel has plenty of seemingly unrelated threads, yet Beauman manages to bring them together to create one highly inventive novel that, whilst not entirely straightforward, manages not to be too confusing either.

Told from multiple perspectives and jumping around in time, the overarching story is that of Zonulet, a former CIA agent who is seeking evidence within the large information stores of the agency in Virginia to support his testimony.  The content of his testimony isn’t entirely clear at the beginning of the novel, although the reader is aware that it does in some way relate to the events at the temple, but there is more to it than that, some of which doesn’t become clear until much later in the novel.  I say that’s the overarching story, but there’s another layer to this.  There’s an idea posited early on as the Whelt rule (Whelt being the director of the film to be produced at the temple) which comes to take on greater significance as the novel progresses, and I suspect that, if one were to study it closely enough, Beauman’s novel also conforms to this rule.  It’s all a bit meta, but I’d love for this to be true, although I’d need to read it again to prove the point.

Anyone who has read Beauman’s previous novels will know that he likes to sneak Nazis into the plot is an extremely intelligent, talented, and often experimental author, and this latest novel is no exception.  And I love the humour that he injects into his writing – it’s not laugh out loud funny, but you’ll find clever witticisms in his work that give it a little something extra.

Madness is Better than Defeat will be published by Sceptre on 24 August.  Many thanks to Ruby Mitchell, Sceptre and BookBridgr for the review copy.

Rating: ★★★★☆

1 Ok – the octopus is only in one scene, and it’s quite early in the novel, but I’ll never look at one the same way again having read this.