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The Sympathizer

Bitingly satirical portrait of post-Vietnam America

Viet Thanh Nguyen doesn’t shy away from the big issues in this Pulitzer Prize winning book about the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Rarely have American double standards, displacement, issues of identity and cultural imperialism made me laugh so much. The Sympathizer (the author’s first!) is not a novel without flaws but Nguyen’s excellent writing, original angle and biting satire make up for the shortcomings.

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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 Tobacconist

A lukewarm follow-up to A Whole Life

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The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

Finding Grace in Unlikely Places

A light and enjoyable novel following 10 year old Grace Elizabeth through the neighbourhood’s secrets, enlightenment, an other revelations. Some nimble nuggets of insight into the prejudices and solidarity within a 70s suburban street while she perseveres on her ‘search for Jesus’. Flawed, but certainly cleverer than it seems at first glance.

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The Truth

Palin’s eco thriller examines the Meaning of Truth

The book’s epigraph is “Truth is a very complex thing.” Indeed it is and Michael Palin’s second novel tackles that question within the world of publishing and environmental causes. Given the title of the book (and the hint in the epigraph) it is hardly a spoiler to suggest that nothing is quite what it seems. Thus the stage is set for Michael Palin’s eco-thriller, which raises some relevant questions about the definition of truth, the price of truth, and the meaning of being “true to oneself”.

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The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

Hyped candyfloss for the brain. Is this the Damien Hirst of literature?

I first heard about this book at the Frankfurt Book Fair two years ago. It was one of those classic book fair stories where everyone is dying for some gossip; something extraordinary to tell the next person they meet. In October 2012, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair was exactly that book. It had a great story to match, a 28 year old, good-looking author (incidentally, not unlike the author in the book), an old publisher about to retire, stumbling over a goldmine. The novel was sold to 32 territories for extraordinary sums and has since gone on to sell more than two million copies. So far, so good…

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The Underground Railroad

American slavery with a twist – one of my best reads this year

At the beginning, The Underground Railroad feels like a typical American slave novel (think Beloved, The Polished Hoe, 12 Years a Slave and Roots) with horrifying details of physical and sexual abuse and a particularly evil plantation owner. Whitehead has a surprise in store for us, though, and that’s what makes this novel so original and intriguing.

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The Unfinished Palazzo – Life, Love and Art in Venice

Gloriously gossipy biography of one grand palazzo and three extraordinary women

Accompanying me over Christmas were three glorious women all of whom, at different points, called a grand palazzo in Venice their home. An eccentric, reclusive countess, a gold-digging seductress and an art-collecting heiress. The Unfinished Palazzo is a hugely entertaining biography which firmly sits in the ‘you-couldn’t-have-made-it-up’ category. If you’re looking to brighten up January, this will do!

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The Vegetarian

Weird and wonderful

‘Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way. To be frank, the first time I met her I wasn’t even attracted to her.’ Thus starts the most unusual book I’ve read in a while, and stranger it gets. The Vegetarian by South Korean author Han Kang, is the tragic story of Yeong-hye, told by her husband, the cold Mr Cheong, her brother-in-law, an unsuccessful, manipulative artist and her selfless sister, In-hye.

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The Wallcreeper

Zink's novel fails to float

Always on the lookout for something truly original, I was tempted by Nell Zink’s (just the name!) eccentric sounding book The Wallcreeper.

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