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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once in a while I come across a book that I simply cannot stop reading; that I walk around with while I cook or brush my teeth and keep reading late into the night. The North Water is such a book. An absolutely riveting read, an unputdownable book. The novel, set in 1859, tells the story of 27-year-old surgeon Patrick Sumner, who joins an ill-fated whaling expedition to the Artic. It’s an extraordinarily violent and brutal book, so if you mind graphic sex and violence, don’t even think about reading it. If you don’t, you’re in for a nail-biting thriller, which will keep you on your toes to the very last page.
Twenty years after winning the Booker Prize for her debut novel The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy is back with a new novel. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness weaves together many stories, but at its core is the story of Tilo and her three suitors: Musa, Naga and Biplab and the violent history of Kashmir and India. My feelings about this book oscillated between wild enthusiasm, slight confusion and occasional boredom. Roy’s undisputable skills as a writer kept me going, but I’m not sure I’d call it a flawless comeback.
Eleanor is a woman who has elevated living alone to an art form. Her days follow the same pattern week in week out – a dull office job, the Telegraph cryptic crossword, the Archers, a regular chat with ‘Mummy’, no friends…and two bottles of Tesco vodka to get through the weekend. She is clearly not fine at all, and the novel is an investigation into why she is not fine, and what happens when she deals with her terrible past and finally allows herself to thaw.
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.
Imagine you’re out in a small dinghy fishing with your best friend. While you bob around, watch the stars and wait for the big catch, you swap stories about fishing, extreme weather, stunning nature, anecdotes about island life, fascinating facts about life in the oceans, art, poetry and much more. That’s what Shark Drunk is like. I loved this meditative gem of a book which will teach you things I’m willing to bet you didn’t know and leave you pining for a life in the slow lane. I’ve been fortunate enough to interview Morten Strøksnes, see what the author says about his book here.