Buzz: Follow up to the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning The Underground Railroad.
Light vs Dark, Good vs Evil, Hope vs Despair. It’s rare to meet such absolutes in modern fiction, but The Nickel Boys deals in extremes. It opens with two contrasting images. A little boy gets the “best gift of his life on Christmas day 1962.” A record that never leaves the turntable, gaining scratches, pops and crackles as marks of devotion: Martin Luther King at Zion Hill. An innocent young Elwood Curtis listens with love, and he internalises the optimism and idealism, the grit and stoicism: "Throw us in jail and we will still love you… But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double vict...
There is a lot wrong with The Binding. For all the luscious language, not much happens in the first third. It’s mainly the painstaking building of a skillset that’s never used, which feels a tad wasteful. And it commits a book sin I normally find unforgivable — it teases. It feels like hundreds of pages of circling and nudging and side-stepping the truth before we finally get to it.
Because the magical concept at the core of the novel is that people can tell their traumatic memories to a book binder and the stories are stored in the book, not their minds. Like a gothic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And it’s narrated from the point of view of Emmet, who, it gradually becomes clear, has some crucial missing memories too. So the secret staying hidden does make sense, while frustrating.
But despite all its flaws, The Binding is a love story so pure that by the end I wanted to shout...
The face of Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman was all over the internet in Spring 2019, mixed up in a college admissions bribery scandal. Huffman’s part was small - an SAT exam - but the wider case was a rabbit’s warren. It’s alleged bribes were paid to entrance administrators. That psychologists intentionally misdiagnosed rich kids with learning disabilities, so they got longer to do exams. It’s even claimed the faces of hopeful students were photoshopped onto athletes’ bodies to get them the top college places reserved for sports stars.
This is as uncomfortable a read as it is compelling; whether in the stifling heat of the Jamaican plantation or the damp, grimy cells of a Georgian London prison cell, the setting feels right for the people and deeds endured in Frannie Langton’s life.
A slave since birth, a teenaged Frannie is forced to become a lab assistant to her owner’s dark experiments as he tries to prove the origin of racial difference. He uses his slaves as non-consenting lab rats, and his investigations go more than skin deep. When he takes Frannie with him to England, she ends up in the home of another scientist, and his charming and sympathetic wife, Marguerite. Frannie’s fortunes seem improved, but the couple end up dead, and we meet Frannie when she is on trial for their murder. The book’s narrative takes us back through her history as she tries to remember what happened the night they died.
The stark, brooding beauty of Skye looms over The Story Keeper, setting the tone for an atmospheric and dark tale, where the line between reality and superstition is tantalisingly blurred.
In 1857 Audrey Hart arrives on the island; ostensibly to help collect the folk and fairy tales of the highland communities, but also to escape a story of her own and learn more about her mother, who died long ago on the island. But soon after she arrives, she discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach.
The pages keep on turning, as all the wonderful, historical detail is wrapped up in a clever and satisfying whodunnit. But my favourite aspect of the book was discovering, alongside Audrey, the tales and superstitions that form the background of so much of our culture. Mazzola references the real-life contemporaries to the fictional Audrey; the Brothers Grimm. The twisted tales uncovered in ...
Buzz: Follow up to the international bestseller The Book Thief.
Review: There is a very literal bridge at the centre of Bridge of Clay. It’s lovingly hand built and inspired by the Roman wonder Pont Du Gard — the UNESCO heritage aqueduct that spans a humble river in the South of France. That bridge has three tiers of carefully crafted archways, each building on the other, and gradually jigsawing together. Pont du Gard's hefty stone blocks hold together through friction alone, without the use of mortar.
I think it’s fair to say there’s lot in the literary structure of Bridge of Clay, that — probably both intentionally and unintentionally — mirror the structure of its famous Roman inspiration. You arch through the story, dipping your toes in here and there. Key events are hinted at, and circled around, long before they’re revealed, and many things are overstated or understated as they’re fed...
Such a neat concept for this book: an alien invasion has never been so subtle and insidious!
Samantha’s scumbag boyfriend, Edward, is injured in a car crash and seems to die before making a miraculous recovery. It turns out a weird new virus has something to do with it, and lots of other men are coming back too, albeit changed.
The book twists quite a few notions on their heads, starting with the image of the girlfriend at a hospital bed guilty that she wished her boyfriend dead not too long ago. Then we see Sam knowing things aren’t right when Edward is way too nice. Still Life poses lots of interesting questions, and I especially enjoyed how the characters cling to what they’re familiar with, even when they know deep down the familiar is masking a creepy and disturbing threat.
There’s also a love triangle and plenty of surprises. It’s gripping and accessible with a subtly dry tone, and th...
Buzz: The book was fought over in a seven-way publishing auction.
Review: I can’t remember seeing a more perfect cover for a book in a while. Everything you need to know about The Water Cure is there. The obscure water hiding all manner of unknowable things. The girl vulnerable, head lifted, neck exposed. The fleshiness, with the female body at the centre of everything. The unanswered questions. The spare and stark simplicity of it.
This is a book of atmosphere, rather than action. It reminds me a lot of Deborah Levy’s wonderful Hot Milk. The writing is similarly poetic, and it blisters with all the same drowsy heat and psychological instability. Added to that is an atmosphere of stagnation and decay. Things that have been still too long. “The tomatoes, nearer the house, have taken on a life of their own. Their fruit falls and attracts stinging insects. A jam of dirt, overblown globs and s...
Jesmyn Ward is highly decorated. At a recent reading, the roll call of her awards felt like they’d fill the full hour; that day's shortlisting for The Women’s Prize for Fiction was tagged to the end of an already weighty list.
But this Mississippi author was once rejected by book agents who thought her literary stories of impoverished black lives in America’s Deep South would fail to resonate. Instead, she’s not only articulated the struggles and personalities of those previously stripped of a voice, but found something universal in all of them.
Before the Black Lives Matter movement took hold, Ward had already published her memoir, The Men We Reaped. It told the story of five friends and relatives, including her brother — all young, black and male, all lost to accidents, murder or suicide.
Now, she’s releasing more non-fiction, The Fire This Time, an edited collection of writing about race...
I went through quite a journey with this book. To start with, I was tempted to just stop reading it. I found the characters unbearably irritating and the situations they were in banal. It follows three women, Tara — a single mum, TV producer, Cam — a feminist lifestyle blogger, and Stella — processing the death of her mum and twin sister to cancer. Some people might love this, but I personally enjoy characters a bit further from everyday life.
Just as I was about to concede this wasn’t for me, I hit the incident that gets the plot rolling, and I was reluctantly hooked. I was swept up, but a little resentful about it. By the time I got to the end, however, I had to admit I was impressed. You have to wade through a lot of seemingly nice characters judging others for how judgemental they are, before their character arcs finally deliver them a bit of self-awareness; but in the end it's a clev...