Sunday, 6 January 2019

In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne

A gritty yet tender debut

“full of absent people stuck between bus stops and bookies”

Gunaratne vividly brings to life the relationship between a group of immigrant men in North London estate. Authentic voices add layers of truth to the back drop of anxiety, unrest and misguided loyalty.

A gritty yet tender debut 4⭐️

In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne published by Tinder Press, 304 pages

Monday, 31 December 2018

The Waiter by Matias Faldbakken

Agatha Christie meets Wes Anderson

‘ of the most important qualities for modern man, if that’s an actual concept, is mastering excess’

Oslo restaurant & grand Dame ‘The Hills’ becomes a microcosm in Faldbakken’s novel told through the eyes of the eponymous waiter. Chaos disturbs order with the arrival of a particularly enigmatic diner. 

Crisp linens & sharp rebuttals as Agatha Christie meets Wes Anderson 3⭐️ 🇳🇴

The Waiter by Matias Faldbakken (translated by Alice Menzies) published by Doubleday, 240 pages

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine

Breathtaking acuity and startling illustration

'In February, when my mind was unclouded enough to appraise everything, I decided we would return to California'

A collection of six powerful graphic novellas each with a new protagonist dealing with their own truths. Most memorable is 'Hortisculpture' about one guy's pursuit of his tree art. Most moving is 'Translated' about one woman's journey home to California from Japan.

Adrian Tomine writes with breathtaking acuity and startling illustration.

Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine published by Macmillian USA, 128 pages

Friday, 30 November 2018

'Little' by Edward Carey

Grotesque and woeful in places, tender in others

'There is nothing more honest than wax. Everyone knows it. It can't lie'

An imagined biography of penniless Swiss orphan Marie Grosholtz who goes on to found Tussaud's waxworks museum.Carey moulds a feminist icon in Marie who believes in her own talents against profound hurdles.

Grotesque and woeful in places, tender on others.

Little by Edward Carey published by Gallic Books, 192 pages

Thursday, 29 November 2018

69 by Ryu Murakami

Stylish and evocative roman a clef

A landmark 'roman a clef' from Ryu Murakami set in 1969 at a provincial high school far from Tokyo's counter culture scene.

Alain Delon films and Simon and Garfunkel songs fill the void until the students launch their own ideological revolution.

Murakami's prose is stylish and evocative of a time in Japan where new optimism clashed with conflicting traditional values.   

69 by Ryu Murakami published by Pushkin Press, 192 pages

Monday, 12 November 2018

The Lingering by SJI Holliday

The Lingering (Paperback)

You'll have nightmares about taking a bath

Early on in SJI Holliday’s new novel The Lingering an eerie and unsettling backdrop is established. Using classic thriller tropes; the remote county house, the secluded group of people and the sealed off set of rooms, Holliday sets up an alluring premise but is this suspense writing by numbers?

Holliday’s protaganists, ex-policeman Jack and Nurse Ali arrive at secluded Rosalind House to join a secretive sect who offer respite and relief from the outside world through meditation and positive thinking. Charismatic cult leader Smeaton is at the helm and long-term resident Angela agrees to show the new arrivals the ropes. Quite what led these people to each find themselves at Rosalind House only adds to the drama.

As we learn more about the site itself  the mystery thickens with Holliday throwing in a nearby village with suspicious locals, a tradition of witch-craft and folklore, and diary extracts from 1955 when the site was used as a psychiatric facility. 

The Lingering is well written with an expert eye for pace and plotting. Most successful is the structure which interrupts the narrative, told in turn from the perspectives of both Ali and Angela with the diary extracts from Dr Baldock which creates tension which builds up through its flashbacks to the old asylum. SJ Holliday sets out to achieve a lot in this creepy thriller with clear influences from Shirley Jackson to Agatha Christie but what it lacks in singularity it makes up for in combining recognisable elements to weave together a jolly good fireside yarn.

Beware, you’ll be having nightmares about taking a bath but some time.

The Lingering by SJI Holliday published by Orenda Books, 256 pages

Monday, 5 November 2018

The Shepherd's Hut by Tim Winton

The Shepherd's Hut (Hardback)

Violent at times and tender at other

This is Australia at its bleakest. A boy on the run, a priest with a past and blisteringly hot salt-flats as a back drop. Tim Winton writes about desperation, isolation, faith and identity. 

Violent at times and tender at others this is raw storytelling.

The Shepherd's Hut by Tim Winton published by Picador, 228 pages

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Another novel about a white man with problems? Think again

The cover of Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer prize winning novel Less includes a suited man in free fall surrounded by loose pages of a manuscript. It’s a desperate scene conjuring images of the financial crash, of heroes falling from their lofty podiums and of celebrities exposed as frauds but is this just another novel about a white man with problems?

Less is part travelogue and part literary fiction concerning protagonist Arthur Less. Less is an erudite but second-rate writer who comes out of a long relationship with a celebrated poet and decides to travel as a means to work out what to do next with his life. Accepting invitations to literary festivals across the globe Less builds an itinerary of self-discovery knowingly designed to suit a gay man approaching the unknown territory of 50 years of age.

The novel is structured by the destinations on Less's global events calendar including France, Morocco, India and Japan to name a few. At each stop Less comes to terms with another anxiety whilst he plays out his journey of self-reflection. Yes, he’s self-obsessed and yes he’s self-serving but just when the story is about to descend into another middle aged white guy wallowing in his problems Andrew Sean Greer injects sharp wit and self-deprecating humour to make this as much an ode to middle aged masculinity as it is a modern gay self-help book.

In a particularly meta moment Less reflects on the glory of winning the Pultizer, ‘Pull it sir’, prize which Andrew Sean Greer went on to win for his own novel. Less himself would no doubt have approved. 

Arthur Less is a brilliant every-gay-man for a new generation who not only want to read the novel but want to follow his travels on Instagram. 

Less by Andres Sean Greer published by Lee Boudreaux Books

The Long Take by Robin Robertson

Silver screen tropes and movie icons

Long form prose poetry meets classic Hollywood noir in this Chandler inspired piece about a hack reporter on the rain drenched streets of LA and San Francisco. Robertson's prose is lushly cinematic as it plays with silver screen tropes and movie icons. 

The Long Take by Robin Robertson published by Picador Poetry, 256 pages

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People (Hardback)

'Boy meets girl' disrupted in a modern romance

Sally Rooney’s Man Booker nominated novel is a modern romance set largely in Dublin but beginning near Sligo with two teenagers, Connell and Marianne. The two get to know one another as Connell’s mum works as a cleaner in the mansion where Marianne lives with her distant mother and abusive brother. The pair form a secret relationship bound together by the discovery of sex.

Connell is smart, perceptive and firmly a part of the in-crowd whilst Marianne exists awkwardly on the fringes. The pair hardly acknowledge one another at school let alone admit to their relationship.

Later the pair both move to Trinity College in Dublin to study. Though Marianne is his constant, their relationship becomes increasingly on and off again as they navigate a new and uncertain social scene. This is where Rooney’s writing is at its most poignant capturing the everyday insecurities and self-doubt that many experience. For Connell the uncertainty of modern love is more pronounced as he struggles to fit in with the college social scene and finds relationships, with anyone other than Marianne, empty and wanting.

Amongst the many salient themes that Sally Rooney raises in the novel are mental health and social mobility but most successfully she captures Connell’s coming of age from determined and confident teenager in Sligo to hesitant and insecure student at Trinity College. In this respect the novel is as much bildungsroman as literary fiction.

Normal People is an effortless read in which the boy meets girl trope is disrupted for a world in which the boundaries of friendship and romance are blurred.

Normal People by Sally Rooney published by Faber and Faber, 288 pages

Monday, 22 October 2018

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman (Paperback)

A clever novella that Challenges age and gender stereotypes

Along with ubiquitous vending machines, brightly lit convenience stores are a staple of Japanese urban landscapes. From snacks and drinks to umbrellas and crisp white shirts the likes of Hudson, Family Mart and 7 Eleven are always on hand to get you through the working day or to get you out of a fix.

Despite their functional esteem, working in a convenience store is not regarded as a viable or aspirational career. Consequently, employees are a transient bunch with a tenure of months rather than years. Convenience Store Woman is about an employee, Keiko, who bucks the trend by devoting years in service to her community. But is Keiko's loyal servitude masking something about her own life?

The key theme in the novel is around the value placed on service roles in Japan versus white collar career positions. Even her own family urge her to get a 'proper' job suggesting that she has needed therapy since a childhood incident that that left a black mark by her name.

Keiko wonders what life would be life if she does conform to the lifestyle expected of her. In an attempt to take control of her own life Keiko begins a relationship with Shiraha, a fellow convenience store worker, whom she agrees to live with but ultimately she struggles to resist the role of servitude that she is so proud to hold. At one point, having given up work, she finds herself rearranging products on the shelves to improve their appeal.

In Convenience Store Woman Sayaka Murata successfully flips the status on the ever-present sound of "Irasshaimase" which is what, in fact, keeps mega-cities like Tokyo working. This a clever novella that challenges gender and age stereotypes whilst shining a light on a society coming to terms with its own problems with over-work.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata and translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori published by Portobello Books, 176 pages