Bookclub Reads

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All the Light We Cannot See

A New York Times bestseller and winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

I loved this compelling, ambitious novel for several reasons: for Anthony Doerr’s ability to look afresh at this well-trodden period in history (World War II); for his ingenious plot and for his haunting, compelling prose and beautiful imagery. But mostly I loved it because it reminded me of the light and grace we are all capable of embodying. Doerr convinces the reader of the innate good in humanity, even at the most cruel and desolate of times.

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To celebrate International Women’s Day 2016: Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman by Stefan Zweig

Passion guised as compassion

A treat for you on Women’s Day!  Austrian author Stefan Zweig  (The Post Office Girl, Beware of Pity and many novellas) was once the world’s most translated author. No wonder. This steaming hot novella about a woman and her whirlwind 24 hour affair with a much younger man is absolutely spellbinding, even more so when you know it was written by a man and almost 90 years ago!

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Mister Pip

A wonderfully intense, gem of a book

Set against the backdrop of the civil war that took place on the Papua New Guinea copper-rich pacific island of Bougainville during the early 1990s, Mister Pip is named after the protagonist of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. Indeed, Dickens’ plot shapes the entire novel. Written by New Zealand author Lloyd Jones, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2007 and won the Commonwealth Prize in the same year and rightly so as I found it a lyrical, beguiling read.

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Mend the Living (The Heart)

A question of life and death

I was left speechless by this astounding novel, the story of a young man’s death and the dilemmas around organ donation. It reads like a thriller and had me pinned to the chair. Maylis de Kerangal fast-paced prose is intense and unusual, and, admittedly, took a few pages getting used to, but once you find the rhythm of her writing you’ll be unable to stop. An absolute must-read!

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The Prophets of Eternal Fjord

Compulsively readable novel about arctic hell hole

If you’re at all disgusted by bodily fluids, don’t even think about reading this book. If you’re not, prepare yourself for a firework of a novel by a master storyteller set in a part of the world which I’m willing to bet you’ve never read anything about before. Kim Leine’s novel The Prophets of Eternal Fjord, set in Greenland during Danish colonial rule, won the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2013 and is finally out in English.

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Innocence

Wry humour and clumsy innocence

There’s something seductive about Fitzgerald’s writing, it’s so gentle and light that it almost seems effortless. It’s not, of course, and that’s the genius of it. No wonder Fitzgerald has become a writer’s writer, with hoards of author fans. If you enjoy a well-written book, I suspect you will like her novels too. Be warned, though, Innocence, like her other books, is not action packed, but rather a funny, contemplative story where a lot more goes on than meets the eye.

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The Door

Housekeeper from hell?

Over Christmas I’ve been enjoying this very unusual and utterly absorbing (thinly veiled, true) story about a Hungarian writer (the narrator and Magda Szabó herself) and her housekeeper Emerence. It’s a novel about a precarious relationship, mutual respect (and some disrespect), balance of power and the secrets of a remarkable life, all under the magnifying glass.

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A Whole Life

A gentle lesson in living

An absolutely perfect little story about Austrian ‘mountain goat’ Andreas Egger, a salt-of-the-earth type of character whose quiet, lonely alpine village life turns out surprisingly satisfactory. His contentedness is of the old-fashioned kind, derived from a closeness to nature, work and acceptance of one’s destiny. A lesson in living and a heart-warming (but far from syrupy!) read which fans of John Williams’ Stoner will love.

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The Blue Flower

Historical fiction at it's best. A modern classic.

The Blue Flower is based on the true-life love story between the 18th century German philosopher and poet Georg Philipp Friedrich (Fritz) Freiherr von Hardenberg and a young girl, Sophie von Kühn. Sounds dreary? No, it’s not, actually! It’s a great book, thanks to Penelope Fitzgerald’s light, funny and authentic writing. No wonder her horde of fans include Jonathan Franzen, Allan Hollinghurst, Julian Barnes, James Wood…I could go on and on…who all hail this as a modern classic.

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Purity

Uneven Franzen

It’s here! Genius declared ‘Great American Novelist’ Jonathan Franzen’s much anticipated new book Purity. In terms of compulsively readable, contemporary fiction with depth and humour, his last book Freedom was up there amongst the very best for me. Perhaps my expectations were too high, perhaps Purity is not as good as his two previous best-sellers The Corrections and Freedom, or perhaps you will disagree with me, but despite moments of brilliance, I found Purity to be an uneven book, oscillating between Franzen-esque genius and rushed, flat, even – dare I say it – boring writing.

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