Bookclub Reads

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

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Let the Great World Spin

On edge in New York City

In August 1974, a tightrope walker crossed between the World Trade Center towers as police and pedestrians watched incredulously from below. It’s the starting point for Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, a novel which follows the lives of different New Yorkers, all living on the edge one way or another. Their lives intersect in unexpected ways that day in August, weaving together destinies and showing how we’re all connected. It’s as much a novel about New York as it is about New Yorkers and a moving love letter to a city which was just emerging from the trauma of the 9/11 terror attacks when McCann wrote it.

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The Librarianist by Patrick deWitt

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The Librarianist

Our misshapen and imperfect stories

Bob Comet is an unassuming retired librarian in his eighth decade, belying his surname with a distinctly sedate life. With no family or friends to speak of, Bob connects with the world through reading about it and taking long walks through his community. Plodding into an old age that is not, we’re assured, unhappy, Bob is unprepared for the life-changing turn of events waiting for him at his local senior citizens centre. In The Librarianist by Patrick deWitt, a quietly bookish man re-evaluates his life in the light of momentous revelation, aided by a cast of curious and colourful characters.

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Lord Jim at Home by Dinah Brooke

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Lord Jim at Home

Unmistakably English horrors

Upon its original publication in 1973, Lord Jim at Home by Dinah Brooke was described by one reviewer as ‘squalid and startling’, adjectives that immediately render it irresistible, and also prove to be true in a singularly impressive way. It tells the life story of Giles Trenchard, a very particular type of Englishman. Ostensibly the product of a privileged interwar upbringing of chauffeurs, nannies, and public school, Giles’ life to date has been blighted by a cast of grotesques and persistent emotional abuse. Stepping into adulthood with a damaged spirit and a wavering moral compass, it’s only a matter of time before calamity strikes.

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Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck

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Kairos

Fatal Attraction

A coincidental meeting on an East Berlin bus changes the life of 19 year-old Katharina forever. Across the steamy bus, she catches the eye of Hans, a married author and journalist 34 years her senior. They start an intense clandestine affair, but as passion turns to obsession, the relationship descends into something dark and unescapable. In Karios by Jenny Erpenbeck, one of Germany’s literary superstars, their psychological drama is played out in parallel with the political drama of the fall of the Berlin wall.

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Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

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Out Stealing Horses

Beautiful Norwegian novel of memory and acceptance

Approaching his twilight years, Trond Sander has fulfilled a lifelong yearning for rural solitude; a small house in the farthest reaches of eastern Norway, with a dog and the radio for companionship. The 21st century is hovering into view but Trond has no plans for Millennium celebration, instead anticipating a mellow, boozy evening in front of the fire. His new resolve to inhabit only the present moment is upended by the shocking appearance of a character from Trond’s past. In Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, a reckoning is long overdue with the psychic wounds and repercussions of childhood tragedy and loss.

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Being Mortal

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 by Atul Gawande 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. Gawande is an Indian/American surgeon, health-care researcher, a Harvard professor, author, journalist, in short: a brilliant man whose books on health care issues regularly climb to the top of non-fiction bestseller lists.

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Western Lane by Chetna Maroo

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Western Lane

A debut novelist of brilliant promise

Longlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2024, and appearing on last year’s Booker shortlist, Western Lane by Chetna Maroo is a spare, tender novel of grief and loss, told from the viewpoint of bereaved 11-year-old Gopi in her unique search for resilience through the game of squash. Following the untimely death of her mother, Gopi’s struggling father has launched his three daughters into an intense regime at Western Lane sports centre. Here, on the squash court, Gopi will find space to breathe and contemplate a world of adult silences and the challenges of adolescence in a cross-cultural family.

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The Long-Winded Lady by Maeve Brennan

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The Long-Winded Lady

A captivating and stylish peek at bygone New York

An unearthed gem for lovers of the Big Apple, The Long-Winded Lady by Maeve Brennan is a gloriously evocative collection of vignettes of New York life between 1954 and 1981. Originally written for The New Yorker as a series of observational pieces, Brennan captures the city in a state of  flux, reporting from street scenes, hotel lobbies, and more often than not, the window table of an elegant bar. From here, as a wry and solitary observer and unashamed eavesdropper, Brennan gives us the lowdown on a city where it’s never too early to order a martini.

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Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

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Inheritance

Finding your genes

At the age of 54, author Dani Shapiro discovers that her father is not the man who raised her. The Ancestry.com genealogy test results show that not only is she fathered by someone else, but she also has a lot less Jewish DNA than she thought. Having been raised in an orthodox Jewish family, this raises all kinds of questions about identity and belonging. I was enthralled by Shapiro’s detective work as I joined her emotional rollercoaster to find out why, how and who. Inheritance by Dani Shapiro is a human story which raises some compelling ethical dilemmas and is well worth your time.

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The Gallopers by Jon Ransom

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The Gallopers

Atmospheric tale of secrets and loss in 1950’s England

From the beginning, 19-year-old Eli tells us that he’s something other than he appears to be. Young and gay in Norfolk, 1953, this austere, post-war decade demands a conformity and obedience that threatens to stifle his dreams. In mourning for his dead mother, Eliza, who was lost to the infamous North Sea flood, Eli lives with his mentally fragile aunt in a hostile community, whose members are prone to anonymously lobbing stones through their windows. In The Gallopers by Jon Ransom, torturous secrets are uncovered through the prism of Eli’s relationships with workmate, Shane Wright, and Jimmy Smart, a charismatic showman from a travelling fair.

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