Man Booker Prize 2018 Long List

man booker 2018

And here it is! This year’s Man Booker Prize longlist has been announced, and it has proved to be as unpredictable as ever! As I said I would be, I’m kicking myself for not including Warlight by Michael Ondaatje, and From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan appeared on so many iterations of my predictions list, but unfortunately not the final one!


Snap by Belinda Bauer (Bantam Press)

snap

SNAP DECISIONS CAN BE DANGEROUS…

On a stifling summer’s day, eleven-year-old Jack and his two sisters sit in their broken-down car, waiting for their mother to come back and rescue them. Jack’s in charge, she’d said. I won’t be long.

But she doesn’t come back. She never comes back. And life as the children know it is changed for ever.

Three years later, Jack is still in charge – of his sisters, of supporting them all, of making sure nobody knows they’re alone in the house, and – quite suddenly – of finding out the truth about what happened to his mother…


Milkman by Anna Burns (Faber & Faber)

milkman

In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes ‘interesting’. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous.

Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.


Sabrina by Nick Drnaso (Granta Books)

sabrina

WHERE IS SABRINA?

The answer is hidden on a videotape, a tape which is en route to several news outlets, and about to go viral.

A landmark graphic novel, already hailed as one of the most exciting and moving stories of recent years, Sabrina is a tale of modern mystery, anxiety, fringe paranoia and mainstream misinformation — a book that tells the story of those left behind in the wake of tragedy, has important things to say about how we live now, and possesses the rare power to leave readers pulverised.


Washington Black by Edi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail)

washington black

When two English brothers take the helm of a Barbados sugar plantation, Washington Black – an eleven year-old field slave – finds himself selected as personal servant to one of these men. The eccentric Christopher ‘Titch’ Wilde is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor and abolitionist, whose single-minded pursuit of the perfect aerial machine mystifies all around him.

Titch’s idealistic plans are soon shattered and Washington finds himself in mortal danger. They escape the island together, but then then Titch disappears and Washington must make his way alone, following the promise of freedom further than he ever dreamed possible.

From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy wastes of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness and mystery of life. Inspired by a true story, Washington Black is the extraordinary tale of a world destroyed and made whole again.


In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne (Tinder Press)

in our mad and furious city

For Selvon, Ardan and Yusuf, growing up under the towers of Stones Estate, summer means what it does anywhere: football, music, freedom. But now, after the killing of a British soldier, riots are spreading across the city, and nowhere is safe.

While the fury swirls around them, Selvon and Ardan remain focused on their own obsessions, girls and grime. Their friend Yusuf is caught up in a different tide, a wave of radicalism surging through his local mosque, threatening to carry his troubled brother, Irfan, with it.

Provocative, raw, poetic yet tender, IN OUR MAD AND FURIOUS CITY marks the arrival of a major new talent in fiction.


Everything Under by Daisy Johnson (Jonathan Cape)

everything under

Words are important to Gretel, always have been. As a child, she lived on a canal boat with her mother, and together they invented a language that was just their own. She hasn’t seen her mother since the age of sixteen, though – almost a lifetime ago – and those memories have faded. Now Gretel works as a lexicographer, updating dictionary entries, which suits her solitary nature.

A phone call from the hospital interrupts Gretel’s isolation and throws up questions from long ago. She begins to remember the private vocabulary of her childhood. She remembers other things, too: the wild years spent on the river; the strange, lonely boy who came to stay on the boat one winter; and the creature in the water – a canal thief? – swimming upstream, getting ever closer. In the end there will be nothing for Gretel to do but go back.

Daisy Johnson’s debut novel turns classical myth on its head and takes readers to a modern-day England unfamiliar to most. As daring as it is moving, Everything Under is a story of family and identity, of fate, language, love and belonging that leaves you unsettled and unstrung.


The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (Jonathan Cape)

the mars room

Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences, plus six years, at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility. Outside is the world from which she has been permanently severed: the San Francisco of her youth, changed almost beyond recognition. The Mars Room strip club where she once gave lap dances for a living. And her seven-year-old son, Jackson, now in the care of Romy’s estranged mother.

Inside is a new reality to adapt to: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive. The deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner details with humour and precision. Daily acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike. Allegiances formed over liquor brewed in socks, and stories shared through sewage pipes.

Romy sees the future stretch out ahead of her in a long, unwavering line – until news from outside brings a ferocious urgency to her existence, challenging her to escape her own destiny and culminating in a climax of almost unbearable intensity. Through Romy – and through a cast of astonishing characters populating The Mars Room – Rachel Kushner presents not just a bold and unsentimental panorama of life on the margins of contemporary America, but an excoriating attack on the prison-industrial complex.


The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh (Hamish Hamilton)

the water cure

Imagine a world very close to our own: where women are not safe in their bodies, where desperate measures are required to raise a daughter. This is the story of Grace, Lia and Sky, kept apart from the world for their own good and taught the terrible things that every woman must learn about love. And it is the story of the men who come to find them – three strangers washed up by the sea, their gazes hungry and insistent, trailing desire and destruction in their wake.

The Water Cure is a fever dream, a blazing vision of suffering, sisterhood and transformation.


Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (Jonathan Cape)

warlight

In a narrative as mysterious as memory itself – at once both shadowed and luminous – Warlight is a vivid, thrilling novel of violence and love, intrigue and desire. It is 1945, and London is still reeling from the Blitz and years of war. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel, are apparently abandoned by their parents, left in the care of an enigmatic figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and grow both more convinced and less concerned as they get to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women with a shared history, all of whom seem determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all he didn’t know or understand in that time, and it is this journey – through reality, recollection, and imagination – that is told in this magnificent novel.


The Overstory by Richard Powers (William Heinemann)

the overstory

The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. An Air Force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These four, and five other strangers – each summoned in different ways by trees – are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest.

There is a world alongside ours – vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.


The Long Take by Robin Robertson (Picador)

the long take

A noir narrative written with the intensity and power of poetry, The Long Take is one of the most remarkable – and unclassifiable – books of recent years.

Walker is a D-Day veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder; he can’t return home to rural Nova Scotia, and looks instead to the city for freedom, anonymity and repair. As he moves from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco we witness a crucial period of fracture in American history, one that also allowed film noir to flourish. The Dream had gone sour but – as those dark, classic movies made clear – the country needed outsiders to study and dramatise its new anxieties.

While Walker tries to piece his life together, America is beginning to come apart: deeply paranoid, doubting its own certainties, riven by social and racial division, spiralling corruption and the collapse of the inner cities. The Long Take is about a good man, brutalised by war, haunted by violence and apparently doomed to return to it – yet resolved to find kindness again, in the world and in himself.

Watching beauty and disintegration through the lens of the film camera and the eye of the poet, Robin Robertson’s The Long Take is a work of thrilling originality.


Normal People by Sally Rooney (Faber & Faber)

normal people

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. When they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, a connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years.

This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person’s life – a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us – blazingly – about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege. Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney’s second novel breathes fiction with new life.


From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan (Doubleday)

from a low and quiet sea

Farouk’s country has been torn apart by war.

Lampy’s heart has been laid waste by Chloe.

John’s past torments him as he nears his end.

The refugee. The dreamer. The penitent. From war-torn Syria to small-town Ireland, three men, scarred by all they have loved and lost, are searching for some version of home. Each is drawn towards a powerful reckoning, one that will bring them together in the most unexpected of ways.

I’ve read From a Low and Quiet Sea, and really enjoyed it – you can see my review here.


And there you have it! What do you think? Is there anything you think is missing from the list?

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Blog Tour: Now You See Her by Heidi Perks

now you see her

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Now You See Her by Heidi Perks today.  I absolutely loved this novel, and was desperate to find out what was going on!

Charlotte is looking after her best friend’s daughter the day she disappears.  She thought the little girl was playing with her own children.  She swears she only took her eyes off them for a second.

Now, Charlotte must do the unthinkable: tell her best friend Harriet that her only child is missing.  The child she was meant to be watching.

Devastated, Harriet can no longer bear to see Charlotte.  No one could expect her to trust her friend again.

Only now she needs to. Because two weeks later Harriet and Charlotte are both being questioned separately by the police.  And secrets are about to surface.

Someone is hiding the truth about what really happened to Alice.

As with many thrillers, Now You See Her uses a dual time line approach, although the unusual thing here is at the before is only 13 days earlier than the now.  Despite the proximity, the two narratives feel worlds apart, as the reader sees the day Alice went missing and the immediate aftermath, as well as the current storyline which opens with Charlotte being questioned by the police.  From the very opening scene in the police station, I was hooked on this story!  I desperately wanted to know what had happened to Alice, but also why Charlotte was still being questioned 13 days later.  It’s a gripping tale, and I loved the twist that turned all of my assumptions on their head – this was one where I definitely did not see what was coming.

As well as the dual timeline, the story is also told from two points of view, and I loved the contrast in Charlotte and Harriet’s characters.  Harriet seems so wary and even a little timid, and it’s clear that she doesn’t have many friends other than Charlotte.  She seems overly protective of Alice and has never spent a night away from her, even though Alice is four years old.  Despite her best intentions, she seems destined to become the smothering kind of mother that she promised herself she wouldn’t be.  By contrast, Charlotte comes across as one of those effortlessly glamourous mums who just seem to manage and take everything in their stride, until Alice goes missing, that is.  It seems as though there’s little to connect these two, other than their children, and I loved the exploration of their friendship through the story, looking to see what made them close.

There is a third character who is worthy of note here, and that is Brian, Harriet’s husband.  From the beginning, I wasn’t sure what to make of him.  His initial reaction of anger was completely understandable in the circumstances, but it was clear that there was something not quite right about the narrative from the Harriet / Brian household, and I wasn’t initially sure which of them I should trust.  It does soon become clearer what’s going on, however, and this is one of those stories where I wanted a happy outcome, but wasn’t entirely sure that I was going to get it.  I won’t spoil that for you though – you’ll have to read it to find out if it turns out well or not 😉

Now You See Her is an absolutely gripping domestic thriller.  Brilliantly written and with a fantastic twist, I fully expect this to be a poolside favourite over the summer holiday season.

Now You See Her is available now as an eBook, and will be published on 26 July in hardback.  Many thanks to Rachel Kennedy and the publisher, Cornerstone (Penguin Random House) for the early copy.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Make sure you check out the other wonderful bloggers taking part in the tour:

Now You See Her Blog Tour Banner

2018 Man Booker Prize Longlist Prediction

man booker 2018

On 24 July, the longlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize will be announced.  I love to make a prediction for the novels that will appear on the longlist, even though I’ve had mixed results historically, guessing 5 of the 13 last year, but 0 the year before!

Below you can see my “predictions” for this year, some of which are simply novels I’d like to see on the longlist, as well as titles that I think will be included.  As always, there are many others that I could have included, most notably Warlight by Michael Ondaatje who has just won the Golden Man Booker Prize, and Winter by Ali Smith, who seems to be giving Beryl Bainbridge a run for her money in Booker terms.


The Only Story by Julian Barnes

the only story

Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question.

First love has lifelong consequences, but Paul doesn’t know anything about that at nineteen. At nineteen, he’s proud of the fact his relationship flies in the face of social convention.

As he grows older, the demands placed on Paul by love become far greater than he could possibly have foreseen.

Tender and wise, The Only Story is a deeply moving novel by one of fiction’s greatest mappers of the human heart.


The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

the immortalists

It’s 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York’s Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. The four Gold children, too young for what they’re about to hear, sneak out to learn their fortunes.

Such prophecies could be dismissed as trickery and nonsense, yet the Golds bury theirs deep. Over the years that follow they attempt to ignore, embrace, cheat and defy the ‘knowledge’ given to them that day – but it will shape the course of their lives forever.


A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

a ladder to the sky

A psychological drama of cat and mouse, A Ladder to the Sky shows how easy it is to achieve the world if you are prepared to sacrifice your soul.

If you look hard enough, you can find stories pretty much anywhere. They don’t even have to be your own. Or so would-be writer Maurice Swift decides very early on in his career.

A chance encounter in a Berlin hotel with celebrated novelist Erich Ackermann gives him an opportunity to ingratiate himself with someone more powerful than him. For Erich is lonely, and he has a story to tell. Whether or not he should do so is another matter entirely.

Once Maurice has made his name, he sets off in pursuit of other people’s stories. He doesn’t care where he finds them – or to whom they belong – as long as they help him rise to the top.

Stories will make him famous but they will also make him beg, borrow and steal. They may even make him do worse.


French Exit by Patrick deWitt

french exit

Frances Price – tart widow, possessive mother and Upper East Side force of nature – is in dire straits, beset by scandal. Her adult son Malcolm is no help, mired in a permanent state of arrested development. And then there’s their cat, who Frances believes houses the spirit of her late husband, an infamously immoral lawyer whose gruesome tabloid death rendered them social outcasts.

To put their troubles behind them, the trio cut their losses and head for the exit. Their beloved Paris becomes the backdrop for a giddy drive to self-destruction, helped along by a cast of singularly curious characters: a bashful private investigator, an aimless psychic and Mme. Reynard, friendly American expat and aggressive houseguest.

Brimming with pathos, warmth and wit, French Exit is a one-of-a-kind tragedy of manners, a riotous send-up of high society and a moving story of mothers and sons.


Manhatten Beach by Jennifer Egan

manhatten beachThe long-awaited novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit from the Goon SquadManhattan Beach opens in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles.

Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that had always belonged to men. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. She is the sole provider for her mother, a farm girl who had a brief and glamorous career as a Ziegfield folly, and her lovely, severely disabled sister. At a night club, she chances to meet Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished, and she begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have been murdered.

Mesmerizing, hauntingly beautiful, with the pace and atmosphere of a noir thriller and a wealth of detail about organized crime, the merchant marine and the clash of classes in New York, Egan’s first historical novel is a masterpiece, a deft, startling, intimate exploration of a transformative moment in the lives of women and men, America and the world. Manhattan Beach is a magnificent novel by one of the greatest writers of our time.


Sight by Jessie Greengrass

sight

In Jessie Greengrass’ superb debut novel, our unnamed narrator recounts her progress to motherhood, while remembering the death of her own mother ten years before, and the childhood summers she spent with her psychoanalyst grandmother.

Woven among these personal recollections are significant events in medical history: Wilhelm Röntgen’s discovery of the X-ray; Sigmund Freud’s development of psychoanalysis and the work that he did with his daughter, Anna; and the origins of modern surgery and the anatomy of pregnant bodies.

Sight is a novel about being a parent and a child: what it is like to bring a person in to the world, and what it is to let one go. Exquisitely written and fiercely intelligent, it is an incisive exploration of how we see others, and how we might know ourselves.


Orchid & the Wasp by Caoilinn Hughes

orchid and the waspA dazzlingly original debut set in Dublin, London and New York, exploring the ethical underbelly of contemporary society through the coming-of-age of an utterly singular heroine: Gael Foess

Orchid & the Wasp brings to life the charged, compulsive voice of Gael Foess – daughter of a self-interested investment banker and a once-formidable orchestral conductor, and sister to a vulnerable younger brother – as she strives to build a life raft in the midst of economic and familial collapse. Moving by wits alone, Gael cuts a swathe through the leather-lined, coke-dusted social clubs of London, the New York gallery scene and birth-throes of the Occupy movement.

Written in heart-stoppingly vivid prose, Orchid & the Wasp is a modern-day Bildungsroman that chews through sexuality, class and contemporary politics and crackles with joyful fury and anarchic gall. It examines how we can fail our loved ones by what we want for them; what makes for a good life; what we are owed and what we must earn; and how events in our lives can turn us into people we never intended to be. A first novel of astonishing talent, Orchid & the Wasp announces Caoilinn Hughes as one of the most exciting literary writers working today.


There There by Tommy Orange

there there

Jacquie Red Feather and her sister Opal grew up together, relying on each other during their unsettled childhood. As adults they were driven apart, but Jacquie is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind. That’s why she is there.

Dene is there because he has been collecting stories to honour his uncle’s death. Edwin is looking for his true father. Opal came to watch her boy Orvil dance. All of them are connected by bonds they may not yet understand.

All of them are there for the cultural celebration that is the Big Oakland Powwow.

But Tony Loneman is also there. And Tony has come to the Powwow with darker intentions.


The Overstory by Richard Powers

the overstory

An Air Force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These four, and five other strangers–each summoned in different ways by trees–are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest.

In his twelfth novel, National Book Award winner Richard Powers delivers a sweeping, impassioned novel of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of–and paean to–the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond, exploring the essential conflict on this planet: the one taking place between humans and nonhumans. There is a world alongside ours–vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

The Overstory is a book for all readers who despair of humanity’s self-imposed separation from the rest of creation and who hope for the transformative, regenerating possibility of a homecoming. If the trees of this earth could speak, what would they tell us? “Listen. There’s something you need to hear.”


I Still Dream by James Smythe

i still dream

17-year-old Laura Bow has invented a rudimentary artificial intelligence, and named it Organon. At first it’s intended to be a sounding-board for her teenage frustrations, a surrogate best friend; but as she grows older, Organon grows with her.

As the world becomes a very different place, technology changes the way we live, love and die; massive corporations develop rival intelligences to Laura’s, ones without safety barriers or morals; and Laura is forced to decide whether to share her creation with the world. If it falls into the wrong hands, she knows, its power could be abused. But what if Organon is the only thing that can stop humanity from hurting itself irreparably?

I STILL DREAM is a powerful tale of love, loss and hope; a frightening, heartbreakingly human look at who we are now – and who we can be, if we only allow ourselves.


The Book of Chocolate Saints by Jeet Thayil

the book of chocolate saints

Francis Newton Xavier has lived a wild existence of excess in pursuit of his uncompromising aesthetic vision. His paintings and poems – which embody the flamboyant and decadent jeu d’esprit of his heroes like Baudelaire – have forged his reputation, which is to be celebrated at a new show in Delhi.

Approaching middle age in a body ravaged by hard-living, Xavier leaves Manhattan following the 9/11 attacks with his young girlfriend – and his journey home to India becomes a delirious voyage into the past. From his formative years with an infamous school offin de siècle Bombay poets – as documented by his biographer, Diswas, in these pages – Xavier must move forward into an uncertain future of salvation or damnation.

His story results in The Book of Chocolate Saints: an epic novel of contemporary Indian life that probes the mysterious margins where art bleeds into the occult, and celebrates the artist’s life itself as a final monument. It is Jeet Thayil’s spiritual, passionate, and demented masterpiece.


Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

sing, unburied, singAn intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds.

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first century America.


Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

red clocks

FIVE WOMEN. ONE QUESTION: What is a woman for?

In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.

Red Clocks is at once a riveting drama whose mysteries unfold with magnetic energy, and a shattering novel of ideas. With the verve of Naomi Alderman’s The Power and the prescient brilliance of The Handmaid’s Tale, Leni Zumas’ incredible new novel is fierce, fearless and frighteningly plausible.


And that’s my prediction for this year’s “Booker Dozen”!  What do you think?  Are there any titles you’re hoping to see longlisted this year?

The Things We Thought We Knew by Mahsuda Snaith

The Things We Thought We Knew - eBook Cover

Today sees the new eBook launch of The Things We Thought We Knew by Mahsuda Snaith, with the paperback publication to follow on 9 August.  I was lucky enough enough the take part in the blog tour for the original publication of this novel last year, and I’m sharing my review again to celebrate the new launch and that lovely new cover!

Ravine and Marianne were best friends. They practised handstands together, raced slugs, and looked up at the stars and imagined their own constellations. And then, one day, Marianne disappeared.

Ten years later, Ravine lies in a bed in her mother’s council flat, plagued by chronic pain syndrome, writing down the things she remembers. As her words fill page after page, she begins to understand that the only way to conquer her pain is to confront the horrors of her past.

The Things We Thought We Knew is set in the present day with flashbacks to Ravine’s childhood as she writes down what she remembers from ten years earlier.  For me, the flashbacks were the best part of the novel.  I loved hearing about the antics that Ravine, Marianne, and Marianne’s brother, Jonathan, got up to, and found much that was familiar about it from my own childhood.  Both Ravine and Marianne came from single-parent households, but while Ravine’s “Amma” (the Bengali word for mother) was ever present, Marianne’s mother was often drunk if she was there at all, and didn’t seem to take care of her children the way you might hope.

It’s clear from the beginning that something significant happened, and that since then, Ravine has lived with chronic pain syndrome, unable to do much of what the most of us take for granted, and that she has not seen or heard from Marianne since.  The reveal as to what happens comes quite late on in the novel, and, to me, wasn’t entirely surprising.  That said, this is definitely a book in which the journey is as important as the destination, and I don’t think that it’s meant to come as a big shock to the reader.

The Things We Thought We Knew is a coming of age story, and to me is one of the more relatable examples of this type of novel.  Snaith has managed the difficult trick of creating characters that are the completely see them on the street everyday kind of normal that you don’t always find in novels.  These are real people, with real troubles, and there are tears and tantrums and laughter and forgiveness and the whole spectrum of human emotions presented here.

Whilst the novel is told from Ravine’s perspective, it’s her mother that I liked best.  Referred to only as Amma throughout, I loved her determination to be herself and to not adhere to traditional customs, particularly those that say a woman should act in a certain way.  She’s vibrant and sassy and independent, and whilst she plays a relatively minor role in the novel, she adds a lot of warmth to it.

The Things We Thought We Knew is an incredibly well written debut, and to me the voices of the young Ravine and Marianna reminded me a little of Grace and Tilly in Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble with Goats and Sheep.  I can’t wait to see how Snaith follows this up.

Dunbar by Edward St Aubyn

dunbar

Dunbar is the third book I’ve read from the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, in which eight authors were invited to reimagine a Shakespeare play of their choosing.  I loved Tracy Chevalier’s take on Othello in New Boy, as well as Hag-Seed in which Margaret Atwood gave The Tempest a new lease of life.

Dunbar is the first that I’ve read with absolutely no prior knowledge of the play upon which it’s based, however, and before reading Dunbar I couldn’t have told you a single thing about King Lear beyond its ultimately tragic nature.  Whilst I was a little daunted by this and unsure as to whether I’d “get it” without knowing something about the play from which it takes its inspiration, I was relieved to find that Dunbar does work as a standalone novel with no prior knowledge needed to enjoy it, although I do wonder at the subtleties I might have missed within its pages.

Henry Dunbar, the all-powerful head of a global media corporation, is a man who is used to getting what he wants, and so the refusal of Florence, his youngest daughter, to become involved in the family business leaves him seething, and he reacts vindictively, cutting her and her children out of his will and leaving everything to his two older daughters, Megan and Abby.  Whilst Florence accepts this (thereby robbing Henry of the satisfaction of any sort of reaction), Megan and Abby decide that they want more, and stage a coup to take Henry out of the picture, removing him to a small nursing home in the Lake District.

As Megan and Abby manoeuvre the board towards a vote of no confidence in Henry, which would remove him from the company permanently, Henry escapes from the nursing home, and now Florence has to find him before Megan and Abby do.

Dunbar is filled with a cast of largely unlikeable characters.  Megan and Abby are selfish and almost Machiavellian in their betrayal of their father, although it seemed to me that it was a case of the apple not falling far from the tree.  To become the head of a global corporation takes some degree of ruthlessness, I think, and he’s showed his own malicious nature in his treatment of Florence, however much he regrets it once Megan and Abby have started to remove him from power.  I did feel some sympathy towards Henry, however, although this was perhaps driven by a desire for the lesser of two evils to emerge victorious.

I thought that the characters of Megan and Abby were perhaps a little over-exaggerated, so much so that I struggled to take them seriously at times.  They seemed quite one-dimensional and I didn’t get much of a sense of a personality from either of them.  I also wasn’t sure of their motives for seeking to displace their father, other than their obvious greed, and I would have a like a little more exploration of why they were going to such lengths to take over their father’s business.

Henry’s escape from Meadowmeade allows him time to reflect upon past transgressions, and in particular his treatment of Florence, and I enjoyed the change in his world view as he comes to appreciate the strength of character it would take to be honest and to tell him that she has no interest in his legacy.  To say that I enjoyed the scenes where Henry is lost on the moors isn’t quite right, but I thought that setting him adrift from everything to allow him to reflect upon his life in this way was brilliantly done, and I did hope that Florence would find him first to allow him his chance at redemption.

At approximately 210 pages, Dunbar is a short novel, and the pace is relatively slow as Henry, with varying degrees of lucidity, has time to think about what’s he done and how he’s got to where he is now.  I did have a couple of unanswered questions by the end of the novel, and I didn’t (in my naivety of the original play) expect it to end quite as it did, although I wasn’t expecting a happy ending, given the nature of the play.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

This Week in Books – 18-07-18

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

The last book I finished reading was Dunbar by Edward St Aubyn, which is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project.

dunbar

Henry Dunbar, the once all-powerful head of a global media corporation, is not having a good day.  In his dotage he handed over care of the corporation to his two eldest daughters, Abby and Megan.  But relations quickly soured, leaving him to doubt the wisdom of past decisions.

Now imprisoned in a care home in the Lake District with only a demented alcoholic comedian as company, Dunbar starts planning his escape.  As he flees into the hills, his family is hot on his heels.  Who will find him first, his beloved youngest daughter, Florence, or the tigresses Abby and Megan, so keen to divest him of his estate?


My current read is Now You See Her by Heidi Perks which I’ve just started, but that is already off to a great start.

now you see her

Charlotte is looking after her best friend’s daughter the day she disappears.  She thought the little girl was playing with her own children.  She swears she only took her eyes off them for a second.

Now, Charlotte must do the unthinkable: tell her best friend Harriet that her only child is missing.  The child she was meant to be watching.

Devastated, Harriet can no longer bear to see Charlotte.  No one could expect her to trust her friend again.

Only now she needs to.  Because two weeks later Harriet and Charlotte are both being questioned separately by the police.  And secrets are about to surface.

Someone is hiding the truth about what really happened to Alice.


My next read will probably be The Killing of Butterfly Joe by Rhidian Brook.

the killing of butterfly joe

I killed Joe once, in a manner of speaking.  But not twice.  Not in the way you mean.’

Llew Jones wanted to see the States and write about the experience.  Then he met Joe Bosco, a butterfly salesman as charismatic as he is infuriating, and they were soon hurtling across 1980s America together, caught up in an adventure that got way, way out of control.  Now Llew is in jail, his friend is gone, and he has to give his side of the story if he’s ever going to get free…

Part existential road trip, part neo-gothic thriller, part morality tale, The Killing of Butterfly Joe by Rhidian Brook is a dazzling and propulsive novel full of characters you’ll never forget.  An epic story of friendship, desire, and participating in the Great American Dream – ‘the one that leads from rags to riches via pitches’ – whatever the consequences.


And that’s my week in books! What are you reading this week?  Let me know in the comments! 😎

A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay

a noise downstairs

A Noise Downstairs is my first Linwood Barclay novel, but it won’t be my last, as I absolutely loved this novel.

EVERY STEP…

Paul Davis forgets things – he gets confused, he has sudden panic attacks.  But he wasn’t always like this.

TAKES YOU CLOSER…

Eight months ago, Paul found two dead bodies in the back of a co-worker’s car.  He was attacked, left for dead, and has been slowly recovering ever since.  His wife tries her best but fears the worst…

TO THE TRUTH…

Therapy helps during the days, but at night he hears things – impossible things – that no one else can.  That nobody else believes.  Either he’s losing his mind – or someone wants him to think he is.

Just because he’s paranoid doesn’t mean it’s not happening…

I found A Noise Downstairs to be a little different to most thrillers, in the best possible way.  This is the story of Paul Davis, who is recovering from a brutal attack eight months earlier.  Whilst therapy has helped, he still experiences lapses of memory, and suffers from horrific nightmares.  His wife, Charlotte, suggests confronting the experience head on as a way of dealing with the attack, and Paul begins to research the crime his co-worker, Kenneth, committed and that Paul unwittingly stumbled into.

They are two puzzles main puzzles here, and I found both of them riveting.  Firstly, there is Kenneth’s attack on Paul and the two bodies he was disposing of (no spoiler here – it’s all in the prologue and the blurb).  And then there’s Paul’s experiences as he conducts his investigation.  I won’t go into the details of this, as it would be all too easy to move into spoiler territory, but things take quite a strange turn and Paul, having exhausted all other explanations, comes to a rather odd conclusion, and one not shared by those around him.  I found myself questioning Paul as a narrator, much as those around him begin to have doubts, and I loved trying to work out what was really going on.

Whilst I did puzzle out some elements of the novel, something happens about two thirds of the way in that completely knocked me for six.  THAT I did not see coming!  And, if some of my guesses were right, there were other elements that I missed completely, leading me to conclude (once again) that anything I figured out was more luck than judgement.  Either way, I absolutely loved this novel, and found it to be incredibly suspenseful.  The short chapters make it all too easy to read “just one more”, and I could have happily read this in a single sitting had real life not so rudely interrupted.  A Noise Downstairs is a brilliantly written character driven thriller, and I can’t recommend it enough.

A Noise Downstairs was published on 12 July by Orion.  Many thanks to Rebecca Gray for the review copy.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐