New York, a small frontier town on the tip of Manhattan Island, 1746. One rainy autumn night, a mysterious, handsome stranger, fresh off the long Atlantic crossing from England, turns up at a counting house on Golden Hill Street in Manhattan. The enigmatic young man has a suspicious yet compelling proposition. From his pocket, he produces what seems to be a promissory note for a thousand pounds that he wishes to cash. An enormous sum of money in 1746, this bill has the power to shake the whole local economy as well as the political establishment. And, amiable and charming though Smith is, he won’t explain who he is or where he comes from, let alone what he is planning to do in the colonies that requires so much money.
I devoured Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin and Alias Grace when they came out quite a few years ago, but somehow missed The Handmaid’s Tale. That was a mistake. Atwood’s dystopian, futuristic story about a totalitarian regime where women’s bodies are political currency has become a modern classic since it was published in 1985. Even more relevant now with religious and political extremism on the rise, The Handmaid’s Tale is about to come out as a TV-series. I suggest reading it first. It’s creepy, it’s dark and it’s a page-turner that will keep you reading long into the night.
As I’ve just discovered, it’s never too late to read this brilliant Booker Prize Winner from 2011. Before you see the film, just out in the cinema in the UK, read this marvel of a book about interpreting the past, suppressing memories and coming of age. It’s a book that will make you question your own past and wonder how differently others might perceive it.
A clever imagining of a world in which women (literally) have the power, this Baileys-shortlisted novel blends science fiction with dystopian global politics. Think The Hunger Games meets late Jeanette Winterson with a dash of Malory Blackman, this is a book your teenage daughter will love.
Yejide and Akin fall head over heals in love when they meet at university in Ife, Nigeria in the 1980s. Marriage follows soon thereafter as should babies, but none arrive. The humiliation of childlessness (particularly strong in Nigeria) propels Yejide, Akin and the tenacious mother-in-law to go to extreme lengths to fix it, jeopardising their mental health and relationship on the way. I was gripped by 26-year-old Adébáyò’s storytelling, despite her sometimes uneven writing. An easy, accessible novel that should garner many fans.
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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The historian Simon Sebag Montefiore is well known and highly respected for his award-winning non-fiction bestsellers such as Jerusalem, The Romanovs and Stalin. However, this gripping historical novel also proves his expertise as a writer of fiction. A quicker, slimmer read than many of his other works, it is just as involving and darkly exciting.
Wow! What a punch of a book. Eddy Belleguele grows up in a dirt-poor working class family in the north of France. Realising early on he’s gay, Eddy spends the rest of his youth trying to hide his sexual orientation from the macho, homophobic, misogynist and racist environment he’s born into. The End of Eddy is an extraordinary autobiographical novel of survival and courageousness and a truly magnificent book.
Unless I’ve completely missed it (?), it’s taken a while for the refugee crisis to trickle through in fiction. Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (to be published in the UK on 2nd March) will finally change that with the love story of Nadia and Saeed fleeing an unnamed war torn country (with an uncanny resemblance to Syria or Iraq). As much as I wanted to like this book – I’m a fan of Hamid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Raising Asia) and think this human catastrophe deserved literary attention – it left me with mixed feelings.
Lib Wright, a nurse trained by ‘Miss Nightingale’ is hired for a two-week position in the ‘dead centre’ of Ireland. A young girl has not eaten for 4 months, yet appears to be well. Her fanatically religious parents have proclaimed her to be a miracle, and pilgrims make their way to the cottage to worship the little saint-in-making. If you enjoyed Room, Emma Donoghue’s first book, then you might be put off by the very different subject matter she has chosen here. Don’t be. It is moving, lyrical, intense and surprising.