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Category: Books (page 1 of 3)

Arrowood

Arrowood Book Cover Arrowood
Laura McHugh
Arrow
2017
Paperback

One of those books that if you get the wrong impression about what sort of narrative it has, from the blurb and internet reviews, you may end up not enjoying it. I thought it was going to be a psychological mystery in the vein of Barbara Vine, especially as it is dominated by a house. Whilst it may be a relative of Vine's, it's a distant one. I would call this almost a mood piece, but even that gives the wrong impression because McHugh still uses the tropes of  psychological thrillers to a very rewarding effect. To describe it makes it sound less original than it is - a young woman, Arden, who may or may not be a reliable narrator, returns to her family home, having lived a life haunted by the disappearance of her infant twin sisters when she herself was a young child.  Reliability or lack of it, always a good bet for a mystery, lies deeper in this book than most. Arden is writing a thesis on nostalgia and this book continually undermines notions of history and memory. Both the house and the Mississippi river dominate the book in unexpected ways.  There are hints of the supernatural too. McHugh also undermines cliches of the mystery, like a visit to a fortune teller, in immensely satisfying ways. Rarely have I found such satisfaction in the final chapters of a mystery as in this book; McHugh reveals layers which continue to mirror and enhance her themes, whilst staying firmly in an utterly believable narrative. It left me  moved and reflective, lingering on in me as my favourite books usually do.

Waiting For The Last Bus

Waiting For The Last Bus Book Cover Waiting For The Last Bus
Richard Holloway
Canongate
2018
Hardback

I picked up this book (partly because of its beautiful cover I admit) because I read Holloway's Doubts and Loves some year's back.  I found him a writer of profound compassion, with an ever-questioning mind and much wisdom.  He has journeyed from Christian fundamentalism, through the Church as Establishment, to the age of 84 as " a doubting priest" who writes and broadcasts.  I've been dealing with deaths of family and friends and knew I needed this book.  He writes from a Christian perspective but he is steeped in knowledge of many religions as well as science and his beloved literature.  Again and again he turns to quoting poets to describe the human condition.  To put it simply this short book is about us "denying" death because we have lost the rituals surrounding it that religion gave us.  But more than that it is a book about how to live at peace with ourselves, and how we can do that at the very end of our lives.  in so doing we help ourselves and those around us. He believes that we are resurrected through remembrance in the hearts and minds of those who know and love us, and writes much about the various ways we can create remembrance.  It is not a sad book, it does not depress  the spirit; it gives out hope and love. When Holloway himself dies, the world will lose an extraordinary mind.  But he will live on in the grace and wisdom of his beautiful writings.

The Word Is Murder

The Word Is Murder Book Cover The Word Is Murder
Anthony Horowitz
Arrow
2018
Paperback

Although this is a novel, it is a rather dazzling refraction of fact into fiction. Horowitz with his ingenious mind is playing with the idea of how a writer turns their life experiences and influences via inspiration (for want of a better word) into a narrative - a novel.  It is a very entertaining crime novel, with the twist in its concept that the storyteller is Horowitz himself.  Written like a memoir the narrative references his life ("fact") as "Horowitz" meets an ex-detective, now consultant to the police, who is investigating a murder and asks "Horowitz" to write about him and the case ("fiction").  The case itself without this extra dimension is clever enough, but although I guessed the murderer fairly early on, "guessed" is the operative word as I had no idea of the unravellings that followed.  And the ex-policeman Hawthorne is a  classic creation, it has to be said.  This could easily be a book too clever for its own good but for the fact that Horowitz is a master writer.  Superficially it is huge fun but you can also take it as an investigation of the writer's mind.

I listened to the wonderful Rory Kinnear (whom I've just seen as Macbeth on stage) reading it, and he does so adding even more entertainment value.

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Waterstones bestsellers

My three personal picks:

The Word Is Murder – Horowitz

The Sparsholt Affair – Hollinghurst

Why We Sleep – Walker

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WATERSTONES Books of the Month

There’s one called Time Travelling With A Hamster.  Just saying, J, just saying….

Birth Marks

Birth Marks Book Cover Birth Marks
Hannah Wolfe 1
Sarah Dunant
Simon and Schuster
1992

I've read all but one of Sarah Dunant's novels set in Renaissance Italy, but I knew she had started her published writings with crime.  Three of them feature P.I. Hannah Wolfe. Being written in 1992, it is unnerving to read a book where no one has a mobile phone, and so solving an investigation is so very different from today, a mere 25 years on.  It's in the style of Chandler with a struggling, lonesome private investigator, full of sardonic quips and cynical views of life, but also a single woman aware of her place in society and in the eyes of other people - both men and women. This gives the book a nice edge without it feeling as if it is dealing with "issues".  The plot is speedy but filled with sadness as well as mystery. It's interesting to see a well established author at the beginning of their career, especially as her recent books have such different settings, though they still concern women swimming against the expected tide.  If you want a short, thoughtful crime page-turner this fits the bill, though as it is out of print in UK, I read it as a gift from someone who loves second-hand bookshops.

The Chalk Man

The Chalk Man Book Cover The Chalk Man
C J Tudor
Penguin
2018
Hardback

I suspect this book will get a lot of fuss when the paperback comes out later this year, and I will not be surprised if a film comes along at some point later (which personally I would avoid if it does). Having said that, it deserves to have a runaway success.  Without question this is a way-cut-above-the-rest novel.  I was disappointed with the opening: yet another description of a dead girl, and not long after a stupendously grisly depiction of an accident. However what makes this book stand out, is its subversion of expectations that continue to remain credible, pushing on the narrative and delving into the characters' minds.  One narrator is split in two by telling the story as a child and as an adult.  It continually confounded me, but its revelations (maybe too strong a word) are subtle but vice-like gripping.  It is a real web of a book and if the author is the spider in the middle, I got caught and eaten alive at the end.  Brilliantly written.

- I must add here that I listened to the audio book read by the mesmeric Andrew Scott and by Asa Butterfield who also does a fine job.  (And if you do listen to it, you just have to accept the fact that despite the doubling younger/older but same character narrator of the book, in the audio version Butterfield is English and Scott is Irish - it matters not)

The Travelling Cat Chronicles

The Travelling Cat Chronicles Book Cover The Travelling Cat Chronicles
Hiro Arikawa
Penguin
2017

This is a gentle and very moving account of one man's road trip around the friends from his past.  The objective of his journey is to find someone to look after his cat.  Gradually tiny layers are peeled away as we learn about him through these meetings and flashbacks into his past where the friendships began.  Added to this the voice of his cat is mixed into the narrative, and if you are not a cat lover, don't let this put you off.  The device is not cute but another way of quietly revealing what lies beneath the surface of this man's life.  It is utterly beautiful. The author prefers to show rather than tell, allowing the reader to construct the jigsaw puzzle-like nature of the narrative.  It being a road trip, the landscape and places of Japan play  a very important part in the proceedings.  The descriptions are vivid. The book is  sad but life affirming, and often very funny.  It slowly got under my skin and entered my heart.

The Dark Circle

The Dark Circle Book Cover The Dark Circle
Linda Grant
Virago
2016
Paperback

A novel that beautifully captures the voices of a range of people from different classes, many Londoners,  who find themselves consigned to a countryside sanatorium for tuberculosis sufferers.  The now forgotten cruelties of TB and its treatment come alive in this book set in post-War Britain. It is also a shrewdly observed fictional slice of social history, firmly based in a very real past that shows us how our lives have (been) developed to the present day.  The story is shot through with humour and unsentimental reticence which makes it all the more engaging. The limitations of its settings are actually its strength as the writing draws the reader into the lives of the patients and the medical staff.  Linda Grant delivers the best combination of a storyteller revealing the human heart through a vivid tapestry of social, political and medical histories.

Waterstones Promotion

Waterstones – buy here!

I am way behind on my book reviewing here, but I can recommend Sarah Millican’s How To Be Champion in this promotion which I am reading on and off, as it is a dip-into book.  I find her a very, very funny stand up comedian, and this book opens out her stand-up character (which very much seems to be”her”) onto wider and more serious issues in her life, and life in a broader context.  It’s making me laugh a lot, and it’s making me think which is an appealing mixture.

Actually you can’t do better than the audio version of her reading it herself:

How To Be Champion – audio