August 13, 2020

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a readable reminder of the refugee lives being lived all around us, although it’s perhaps not as powerful as it might have been.

The book gently tells the story of Nuri Ibrahim and his wife Afra as they journey from Syria to the UK, focussing on the psychological as well as physical trauma they are subject to.

I love the insights into life at the camps along the way, as well as the brief, tragic glimpses of how beautiful pre-war Syria must have been. I also appreciate that it neither idolises its protagonist nor goes too heavy on fictional hardships. That said, it has a dreamy, disconnected feel that meant I drifted through the narrative without any of it really affecting me. 

Definitely for those who want to peep through their fingers at the refugee crisis, rather than look at it full on. But, perhaps, that is all that we need to nudge us into engaging with the r...

June 17, 2020

I don’t read much crime fiction, so I may be mistaken, but I don’t think this refreshing French award-winner follows the typical pattern.

Patience Portefeux is a 53 yr-old police translator tasked with deciphering the phone messages of north African drug gangs. But her elderly mum is in a home. It’s expensive. And she realises the information she gleans from the wire taps could help her set up her own lucrative drug trade.

I found The Godmother off-putting to start with, as the tone is a bit arrogant, brusque and pretentious, but as I got to know the main character I realised that she was the pretentious one, and the narrative was just wonderfully immersed in this unusual character. As soon as that clicked, the tone felt fresh and interesting, as did the main character’s moral outlook and the impact of her personal history.

A palate-cleansing read and a gripping crime narrative.

July 18, 2019

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.

April 5, 2019

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.

It’s psychological...

May 25, 2018

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...

January 11, 2018

Buzz: I keep hearing about this book on social media. Lale's real life story has also been covered by the BBC and The Guardian.

I’m not sure you can ever read too many real-life perspectives of Auschwitz. I can imagine being sucked in; trying to absorb more and more, jigsaw together a picture from the infinite, varied, individual experiences. Like the need to pick up every single audio telephone in the Imperial War Museum’s Holocaust exhibition, (which is entirely worth doing.) For this reason alone, this book is unmissable.

It’s a readable, sensitive, morally complicated and engrossing story. Lale Sokolov volunteers to go to Auschwitz, in the hope of saving his family. He is naturally optimistic and determined to survive, any way he can, and secures himself the job of Tetovierer, or Tattooist. It is a (relatively) privileged position and allows him extra rations, a room of his own and a c...

January 11, 2018

Buzz: Praised by George Saunders and Kamila Shamsie. Vogue's debut novelist to watch 2018.

There are moments when Peach is stunningly realistic; the raw sensations capture a pure essence of trauma. But this is far from a realistic book. To read and enjoy it you need to be prepared to embrace the bizarre, the surreal and the downright ridiculous.

It’s a book of impressions, and language. The first line tells you, inescapably, that we’re setting aside convention. “Thick stick sticky sticking wet ragged wool winding round the wounds...” This novella is dense with alliteration, assonance, repetition and rhythm, and it shifts and slips around.

The best way to explain it is with examples, so here’s another: “The blotches blind me. I walk blind by Green’s side. Blind side. Blindsided. and I close my eyes seeing as I can’t see anyway. The orange blotches pin themselves to the inside of my eyelids....

June 29, 2017

This is a love story, with believable time travel - so it’s already onto a winner. And it’s not just romantic love, but also mother/daughter and sister/sister love that seeps through the pages. It starts with Luna processing her mother’s suicide. Her mother has left video messages, explaining a traumatic event in her youth, and how she could never escape it. When Luna finds she can go back in time, she tries to change to past to save her mother.

It’s a sweet, engrossing, page-turner, and I was completely sucked in. Beautifully written and based on a wonderfully sad premise. I loved the action and the romance and the sisters, as well as the deft way Coleman dealt with the ramifications of time travel. But I felt the dark heart of Luna’s predicament could have been explored more. The tagline reads: “Luna is about to do everything she can to save her mother's life. Even if it means sacrific...

June 15, 2017

Buzz: Man Booker Prize 2017 longlisted. 

Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize winning debut The God Of Small Things was sensuous, atmospheric, emotionally powerful book. India’s caste system was the motivator of the plot, and a backdrop of Keralan Communism bled through it. The book was saturated with politics, but it mainly served to inspire, sustain and contextualise the story - while at the heart of it were the troubled twins and their tragic mother.

20 years later, here comes The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Fans of Small Things will no doubt flock to read Roy’s latest offering, perhaps looking to experience, once again, the heady emotional high of her debut. This time, though, India’s politics is at the heart of the book, and the characters’ stories merely the thin blanket that wraps it. But it’s a very finely woven blanket and the book’s political heart is fascinating, enlightening and reve...

May 4, 2017

I raced through this book. It has a fabulous premise: scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one other person, making them your perfect love match. And, of course, there’s a website that will find your match for a fee.

The narrative follows five different characters as the meet their match. Some of the characters I related to more than others, and it has the effect of a series of connected short stories. Full of twists and turns, and funny as well as exciting. A little over-dramatic for my tastes, but completely enjoyable.

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