American Literature

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God Help the Child

Veneer from venerable Morrison

It’s rare these days that I wish a book were longer, but that’s what I did with Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s latest book God Help the Child (to be published on 23 April). For the wrong reasons, unfortunately. Morrison’s writing is beautiful, as always, but this novel about child abuse felt like a thin veneer of a story. One in which I constantly wanted to scratch the surface for more information.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

Still good after all these years

There’s something wonderfully innocent and warm about this 1950s classic, despite its dead serious subject matter of racism. Life is simple; the goodies are good, the baddies are bad. Fundamentally, the book is about tolerance, for the lonely, weirdo neighbour, for the sick, angry, old lady down the road and, of course, for blacks, otherwise ostracised by 1930s Alabamian white society. I read this book 20 years ago and found it a joy to re-read, although my older more cynical self did think it a bit sentimental at times.

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Dept. of Speculation

Snapshots of a marriage

Jenny Offill’s little gem of a book Dept. of Speculation was on The New York Times’ list of 10 best books of 2014, and with good reason. It’s an unusual novel, written in snapshots, in much the same fragmented way our memory works. It’s the sum of those memories that create the narrative of our past or, in this case, the story of a relationship. In Dept. of Speculation, Offill tells an age-old tale in a refreshingly new way and creates something truly different.

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Neverhome

An explosion of a novel

In Laird Hunt’s gripping novel Neverhome we meet Constance, aka Ash Thompson, who joins the American civil war disguised as a man. ‘I was strong and he was not, so it was me went to war to defend the Republic’, Ash says matter-of-factly referring to her mild mannered husband Bartholomew. And no, it’s not my spelling mistake in this opening sentence, it’s Ash’s. Ash is a simple farmwoman who dreams of finding the first lilac in spring. She’s also happens to be a take-no-prisoners sharp shooter. Ash joins the war out of a sense of duty, at least that’s what she tells us. Soon we see the contours of a troubled past in this very human portrayal of a tormented woman in a man’s world.

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The Signature of All Things

Great storytelling with humour and ambition

I never thought I’d get excited by a novel about botany, but The Signature of All Things proved me wrong. Firstly, Elizabeth Gilbert is an outstanding storyteller: funny, insightful and ambitious. Equally compelling is the novel’s unlikely heroine, Alma Whittaker, a multi-layered and unusual character and a woman with a brilliant scientific brain born in the wrong century.

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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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Claire of the Sea Light

Endearing novel set in Haiti, a beach read with soul

Claire of the Sea Light, recommended to me by my literary student niece a while ago, is a lovely, quiet, unassuming kind of book. It’s made up of a number of intertwining stories from the poor Haitian fisherman’s village of Ville Rose and is a novel about poverty, destiny, superstition and human relationships. A delightful story and a perfect beach read.

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The Son

Fancy a Western? Gripping family epic from Texas

An American Wild West family epic spanning five generations from the 1850s to present day, from cattle farming to oil bonanza via the American Civil War. This is a hard-core Western complete with scalp collecting natives, corrupt sheriffs and torture of various kinds. It’s not for the fainthearted, but a riveting read if you can stomach a bit of violence.

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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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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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