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Lincoln in the Bardo – Man Booker Prize Winner 2017

Party down at the cemetery

Well, here’s something utterly different. A book with a cacophony of 166 different voices portraying the Bardo (a temporary state in between death and re-birth in the Buddhist faith) of President Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son Willie. It’s an unusually structured and challenging book, and a moving portrayal of death and grief (and you’ll never walk through a cemetery at night in quite the same way).
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4321

The Great American Novel, but not as you know it

4321 is a novel about Archie Ferguson, American grandson of a Jewish immigrant. Born in 1958 to hard-working parents, he grows up, negotiates adolescence, plays baseball, gets to know his extended family, lives through the major events of the 20th century. So far, so predictable. But because this is Paul Auster, there is a twist: this is not one linear narrative; it is four stories, four lives in one. Same boy, four different childhoods, four different paths. Remarkably broad in scope yet fantastically rich and detailed, this is Paul Auster’s post-modern version of The Great American Novel.

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Autumn

The first post-Brexit novel

Scottish novelist Ali Smith published this Man Booker Prize short-listed novel set in the autumn of 2016, in the very same year and season that it explores. Its punch and originality comes not only from Smith’s playful, poetic and non-linear writing style but also from its contemporaneous nature. Autumn is a novel that examines the here and now as Smith tries to make some sense out of a badly fractured post-Brexit Britain.

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Cassandra at the Wedding

An intense psychological drama

Cassandra and Judith Edwards are identical twins. Both brilliant and beautiful; one happily engaged to be married, the other severely depressed. This 1960s psychological drama is an intense read that will bring you into the psyche of both protagonists and show the devastating effects of depression not only on the depressed, but also those around. Brace yourself for something much darker and a great deal more profound than the title suggests.

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Kazuo Ishiguro – Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2017

Great pick this year by the Nobel committee. Author of The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro wins the highest accolade of all, and, unlike last year’s winner Bob Dylan, is excited about it! ‘Flabbergastingly flattering’ was his comment to the press. Of his eight novels, The Remains of the Day, which has become a modern classic, is probably the most enduring. Never Let Me Go, also made a profound impression on me when I read it years ago. I was less keen on his latest novel The Buried Giant, which came out in 2015 and is reviewed here. I would start with Remains of the Day if I were new to Ishiguro. And there are always the filmed versions of that and Never Let Me Go, both worth your while.

The Guardian on Kazuo Ishiguro

 

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Cannery Row

A little book to make you happy

I’ve just been through one of the longest good book ‘droughts’ in my reading career. In the end I decided to reach for a classic, sometimes the only way out, and grabbed hold of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. It’s a short book that is more like a portrait of a community than a linear narrative, but within it are sublime little stories, descriptions of people, places and atmosphere that only an old hand like Steinbeck can conjure up.

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