... something challenging

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Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End

Surprisingly reassuring on a grim subject

I’m not sure how I’m going to convince you to read this book. Most of you will, understandably, want to look the other way. There are details about dying in Being Mortal that will make you shudder and stories about elderly people’s lives that will make you want to cry. But, for me, this book was an eye-opener and surprisingly reassuring, despite it’s grim subject matter.

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The Bone Clocks

Fast-paced, inventive Mitchell spins out of this world

As you’re aware, I’m a big David Mitchell fan and I know many of you out there like him too. I’ve just finished his latest book, The Bone Clocks, and I’m left with mixed feelings. The book has moments of pure Mitchellesque brilliance: fast-paced dialogue, inventive characters and addictive plots. The first four parts (there are six) were compulsive reading; the last two might delight sci-fi lovers, but sadly didn’t quite work for me.

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Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

A bit pallid Murakami

Haruki Murakami is a rare creature: an author of literary fiction and hugely commercial, a Nobel Prize contender and a best seller. I was completely engrossed by his last book, 1Q84, a 1300 page, three volume magic realist ‘thriller’. Would his new novel Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage live up to my sky-high expectations? Not quite. It is a perfectly good book and if you are a long standing Murakami fan you would probably want to read it. If you are a Murakami virgin, I suggest you start with one of his other books, as I don’t think this is his best. Read full Review

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Unforgettable classics

I’ve made a list (in no particular order) of seven books that come to mind every time I think of classics. Most of these I read a while ago and some of them I have read several times, but all of them are brilliant. There is a wide variety, from stories about love and betrayal to dark outposts and surreal transformations, from very long to very short. Take your pick and enjoy!

 

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The Agony and the Ecstasy

Michelangelo up close and personal, the perfect travel companion for a trip to Italy

The Agony and the Ecstasy is a must read if you are travelling to Tuscany, Florence or Rome (your trip will be infinitely more interesting) or if you are remotely interested in art history or the Italian Renaissance. And even if you are none of the above, this is a worthwhile book. The Agony and the Ecstasy is the story of Michelangelo Buonarotti – Italian sculptor, painter, poet and architect – and a very enjoyable lesson in history. Read full Review

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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

If you read one book this year, let this be it

British author David Mitchell is one of my absolute favourite contemporary writers and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a superb novel. The writing is exquisite, the setting and historical background fascinating and the story riveting.  A must read. The story is set at the end of the 18th century on Dejima, a sandbank in the bay of Nagasaki, Japan. A Dutch trading post and for two hundred years Japan’s only point of contact with the outside world. Clerk Jacob de Zoet is sent to Dejima by the Dutch East Indies Company to address a serious case of corruption.

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The Infatuations

Cerebral murder mystery from Spain's literary heavy weight

Javier Marías is one of Spain’s most prominent writers. Regularly tipped as a candidate for the Nobel Prize, he is also a respected translator of important English language literature, a journalist and a publisher. A literary heavy weight, in other words. His latest book, The Infatuations is the first philosophical murder mystery I’ve come across. There are no nail-biting chases through dark forests, no mutilated bodies floating in the sea, the action is almost exclusively cerebral. Or, as Boyd Tonkin of The Independent newspaper called it: ‘A thinking person’s murder mystery.’

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A Death in the Family

To Knausgaard or not to Knausgaard?

I have been holding off writing about the Norwegian publishing phenomenon Karl Ove Knausgaard until the other day, when I picked up the first volume in English translation and realised how well it travels. The press are awash with, mostly raving, reviews of his autobiographical novels and interviews with the author. Zadie Smith has said she needed them ‘like crack’.  Should you read them?

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Stoner

Magnificently written 'word-of-mouth' bestseller

Stoner has become somewhat of a publishing sensation over the past eighteen months, topping bestseller list in Holland, France, Italy, Spain, Israel and, more recently, in the UK. Written by American John Williams in 1965, Stoner barely made a mark at the time. A few favourable reviews and 2000 copies sold was all there was to it. Somehow, miraculously, nearly 50 years later, the novel has been given a second lease of life, and is now a shining example of a ‘word-of-mouth’ bestseller.

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Crossing to Safety

Contemplative and exquisitely written

Another long forgotten but fabulous novel is Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner from 1987.  We meet two couples, Larry and Sally Morgan and Sid and Charity Lang, life-long loyal friends, soul mates, occasional competitors and mutual supporters. If you’re in the mood for a contemplative, tightly and exquisitely written novel, reach for Crossing to Safety.

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