Amanda and Clay – a successful, liberal New York couple – are staying in a smart rental summer house in the Hamptons with their kids. When the phone and internet connections go down and a black couple, Ruth and G.H., claiming to be the owners of the house, knock on the door asking for shelter, Amanda and Clay’s proclaimed tolerance is put to the test. Who is this couple? Can they be trusted? And why doesn’t the communications network function? Cyberattack? Terrorism? War? Nuclear accident? Catastrophe looms in Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, the most unsettling and frighteningly believable novel I’ve read in a long time.
The non-fiction book The Wager was one of my reading highlights this summer so when I heard of Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann I jumped on it. This time, Grann takes us to early 20th century Oklahoma, a state established to house the many displaced Native Americans. After being forcibly moved away from fertile land, the Osage tribe were assigned a rocky patch of no apparent value until, that is, oil in large quantities was discovered. The Osage became immensely rich – at the time they were the wealthiest people in the world – and lived comfortable lives. For a while.
If this summer hasn’t made you realise the urgency of the climate crisis, I’d recommend reading The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley-Robinson. A sci-fi eco-thriller which made it onto President Obama’s list of favourite reads, The Ministry for the Future is both a terrifying prediction of what the future will look like and hopeful tale of how we can avoid total extinction. I can empathise with the urge to look away but do read this book, your future depends on it.
Updating one of Charles Dickens’ iconic novels is a brave thing to do. In Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver we get squalor, poverty and destitution worthy of the master himself, set in modern day America during the opioid crisis. Damon Field aka Demon Copperhead’s story is one of resilience in a society where everything is stacked against someone like him; his mixed race, poverty, his mother’s addiction, the education system, the list goes on. The shocking realisation is how little things have changed since 1850, which is precisely Kingsolver’s point.
A novel, an autobiography, a memoir and a diary; four alternative truths. Pulitzer Prize winning Trust by Hernan Diaz is a riveting read, an experimental novels-within-a-novel which deals with the questions of truth, trust and American capitalism. Andrew Bevel is an American gazillionaire banker at the turn of the last century. Incensed by an unflattering roman a clef – which everyone recognises as based on his life – Bevel is keen to set the record straight and hires Ida Partenza as ghost writer for his own (carefully supervised) version of events. Ida, who has a few issues of authenticity herself, starts digging and discovers that all is not what it seems in the Bevel household.
A treat for those with a penchant for camp gothic drama, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane by Henry Farrell is the cult classic that spawned the legendary 1962 film. It chronicles the descent into madness of faded childhood vaudeville star, Baby Jane Hudson. Holed up in a crumbling mansion with her infinitely more famous actress sister, Blanche, the dysfunctional siblings’ tale is one of envy, unaddressed daddy issues, and monstrous villainy. Cinephiles will love how Farrell conjures the scenes that inspired the movie, and Bette Davis and Joan Crawford inevitably become the sisters in the reader’s mind’s eye.
The New York Review of Books Classics series is a marvellous creation, an eclectic mix of fabulously-jacketed titles, invariably accompanied by compelling intros. A recent serendipitous dip into the collection blessed us with A Way of Life Like Any Other by Darcy O’Brien, the story of a young boy in 1950’s Hollywood, his movie star parents and their sordid and absurd descent into has-been territory. Irresistibly described as ‘completely bananas’, we find out what happens after the glitter fades, in a bizarre coming-of-age novel that combines hilarity with a dash of vinegar.
The hottest play in London at the moment! If you can’t get hold of a ticket. The book will do just fine! Here’s our review. Enjoy.
When I was given a copy of this much-lauded, lengthy book at the beginning of the summer my heart sank slightly. I’d read so much hype about this challenging blockbuster novel that I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to read it. A close friend put me off further by declaring that she had given up half way through as she found it too gruelling and unrelenting. However, relaxing on holiday in sleepy Somerset, I braced myself and began what turned out to be an exhausting and harrowing yet profoundly moving novel.
Film fans will remember fashion designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut from a few years ago based on A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood. As aesthetically pleasing that film was, nothing compares to the real thing: the book itself. The story of recently bereaved George, a 58-year-old Santa Monica based Englishman, struggling to fill the gaping hole left by the sudden death of his gay partner Jim, is absolutely exquisite. Written in 1964 and hailed as the first truly gay novel, this beautifully written, tightly conceived novel about re-discovering happiness is a joy to read.
Revisiting novels can be a tortuous affair, sometimes bringing the painful realisation that we’ve outgrown favourite books and writers. Happily for me, The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell has provoked the opposite response. Maxwell’s nuanced and tender tale of male friendship remains a quiet triumph. Set in 1920’s Illinois, it charts the adolescence of pals Lymie Peters and Spud Latham, whose alliance hinges on Spud providing protection and social acceptance in exchange for Lymie’s devotion. In an era before male platonic love was considered questionable, their intense bond is fatally tested instead by misunderstandings, boyhood trauma, and the scarring silence of things left unsaid.