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Darke

Tragedy as comedy

Meet English teacher James Darke, a 60-year old grumpy, selfish, snob, as cynical, judgemental and politically incorrect as they come. Darke has decided to close the world out – literally – starting by drawing the curtains in his house, filling in the mail slot in his door and cancelling his email account. There are no limits to what Darke will do in his quest to be left alone, and that includes pretending to be deaf so he won’t need to talk to people. There is, of course, a reason for Darke’s dark behaviour, which, as it’s slowly revealed, turns out to be far from funny. If you, like me, enjoy dark humour, the occasional unpleasant character and many-layered stories, this book is for you.

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A Gentleman in Moscow

A Tsarist Count surviving in revolutionary Russia

It’s 1922. We are in Moscow’s most distinguished hotel and one of its permanent guests, the unrepentant aristocrat Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, has just been sentenced to a life in exile inside the hotel ‘never to set foot outside of The Metropol again.’ So starts A Gentleman in Moscow, a novel that it’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with, a true, yes I will say it, feel good story. It’s not going to change your life, but Amor Towels’ book (also author of Rules of Civility) will entertain and delight with wonderfully crafted characters and enviably elegant writing.

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Grief Works

Compassionate and constructive on mourning

I confess to approaching this book with trepidation. Bereavement will happen to all of us, some more tragically than others, but it is still the kind of bad news that most people would rather not read about. In the event, I was wrong to worry. Renowned grief psychotherapist Julia Samuel has 25 years of experience and you can tell. It’s almost as if you can feel her presence in this book. She’s compassionate, interested and non-judgemental and writes about death and mourning with a comforting yet pragmatic voice. Read the Full Review

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Stay With Me

Not flawless but pretty impressive nonetheless

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.

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Lincoln in the Bardo

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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The End of Eddy

A punch of a book

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.

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The Sellout

Promising Booker Prize winner stalls

Yes, the Booker Prize winning The Sellout is a funny book, a book that makes you laugh (sometimes guiltily), a stinging satire devoid of political correctness that goes to the heart of America’s race relation problems. Sadly, it’s also a novel that somehow lacks direction; that appears to go nowhere, in which the author occasionally seems to revel in his own jokes. It’s packed with cultural references that I struggled to understand and I suspect I’m not the only one. For the last reason alone, it’s a puzzling choice as the first American winner of the British based Booker Prize since their rules were changed to include American books a few years ago.

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The Leopard

Sensual, sensuous and melancholic Italian classic

Ready to escape the grey, cold winter for a few hours? Try this sensual and sensuous Italian classic set in the 1860s amongst the arid hills, frescoed palazzos and turquoise seas of Sicily. It’s the story of the aristocratic Salina family’s decline, of ageing and mortality, of politics and passionate love all mixed up into a fabulous Italian literary feast.

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The Cazalet Chronicles: a five book series

Jane Austen meets Downton Abbey

I was inspired to pick up this set of books after hearing snatches of the Radio 4 adaptation this year, and reading reviews of Artemis Cooper’s new biography of the author, Elizabeth Jane Howard – about whom I knew little apart from the fact that she was unlucky enough to have been married to the old devil himself, Kingsley Amis. How glad I am that I did, particularly in the dying days of this particularly dismal year. The experience of reading the Cazalet series (The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion, Casting Off and All Change) is like stepping into a warm bath. Comforting, life-affirming, immersive – and you absolutely don’t want to pull the plug.

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