With the risk of insulting my Nordic compatriots or appearing defensive to everyone else, I have reviewed Michael Booth’s The Almost Nearly Perfect People: the Truth About the Nordic Miracle. Like Booth, I have been pleasantly surprised by all the recent media attention on the Nordic region, but I too have sometimes wondered about its universal praise. As we all know, nowhere or no one is perfect, and that, sadly, goes for the Nordic countries and their populations too. Michael Booth, a Copenhagen based Brit married to a Dane, had enough of the one-sided coverage and set out to discover the whole truth. With British humour at its best, Booth dissects the ‘Nordic Miracle’ and discovers that all’s not well. The Almost Nearly Perfect People is a well-researched book, enviably elegantly written, at times deadly serious, at others side-splittingly funny.
Wow, what a novel! Rarely have I read such an emotionally charged, foreboding book. A truly gripping tale, seething with rage. The Woman Upstairs is the story of single, 42 year-old Nora Eldridge, ‘the quiet woman at the end of the third-floor hallway’, a kind, dutiful primary school teacher who has put aside her artistic ambitions to care for her sick elderly parents. A woman who, in her own words, obediently eats all the greens while the ice cream for dessert slowly melts away. Enter the Lebanese-Italian Shahid family. The family of Nora’s dreams: Reza the beautiful, charming child, Skandar the handsome, intelligent husband and Sirena the glamorous, successful artist wife…
The recently established Folio Prize published their first shortlist last week. The £40,000 prize which aims to ‘to celebrate the best fiction of our time, regardless of form or genre, and to bring it to the attention of as many readers as possible’ is the first book prize to be open to all English language fiction from around the world. The Folio Prize was set up on the back of the dismal 2011 Booker Prize which was deemed too low-brow by the literary community.
Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, a collection of vignettes based on his 25 years as a psychoanalyst, is an unlikely bestseller. Even so, it has been steadily climbing bestseller lists, both in the U.K. and in America, since its publication. Remarkable for a short, non-fiction book on such a narrow topic. Why such a bestseller? There is something completely unpretentious, yet caring and sympathetic about Grosz, his patients and their conversations.
Do you prefer to bring ‘light’ reading on your holiday or are you one of those who sees it as a chance to dig into some more heavy going titles? I oscillate between the two, so I’ll suggest a bit of both.
In a not so distant future, Mae Holland secures the dream job with technology giant The Circle, a hybrid between Google, Apple and Facebook. The Circle has revolutionised the world and taken connectivity to a whole new absurd level with endless streams of emails, Facebook posts, like requests, invitations, surveys and tweets. Eggers’ highly readable and very amusing book The Circle paints an utterly nightmarish vision of the future, one that feels eerily near in time.
Many of you will remember a highly controversial article on parenting style in The Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago written by Chinese American Amy Chua. You know, the one whose children have never been allowed a playdate, a sleepover or to get any grade less than an A; who practise their instruments three hours a day and are perfect on all quantifiable dimensions.
A well-deserved Costa Book of the Year winner! The Shock of the Fall is a heart-warming, funny, wise and convincing portrayal of a young boy’s descent into mental illness, from an author who’s seen it all in his job as a mental health nurse. ‘I should say that I am not a nice person. Sometimes I try to be, but often I’m not.’ The opening line of The Shock of the Fall, sets the stage for the sad tale of Matthew, a nineteen year-old, pot smoking school drop-out with severe psychological problems, looking back at his childhood. A sort of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time for mental illness, with a slightly more adult tone.
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.