Bookclub Reads

Free Love by Tessa Hadley

Review by

Free Love

One woman’s search for self in 1960’s London

It’s 1967, and while London is swinging, the home counties are abstaining. There’s certainly no Bohemian aura around suburban housewife, Phyllis Fischer. Forty and fragrant, Phyllis enjoys an elegant life of propriety, her days revolving around her family and social circle. Her complacency is set to be shattered when an intoxicating secret kiss ignites a desire for sexual and intellectual freedom. But at what price? Free Love by Tessa Hadley is a magnificently astute portrayal of family upheaval and compromise, set in an English decade itself in flux.

Read full Review

The Antarctica of Love by Sara Stridsberg

Review by

The Antarctica of Love

Giving the victim a face

There are voices we don’t hear from often enough in literature. Shuggie, the young son of an alcoholic in Shuggie Bain, is one example; Kristina, or Inni, in The Antarctica of Love by Sara Stridsberg, another. A drug addict and prostitute about to be murdered in the most gruesome way imaginable, invisible to society until, for a fleeting moment, she grabs the public’s attention as a victim of a horrific crime. Inni, talks to us from the afterlife, taking us through the day of the crime and how she got there. It’s a tough read this book, mainly because of the graphic violence but perhaps even more because it holds up a mirror to ourselves and our society’s failure to see people like Inni. Shell shockingly good.

Read full Review

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

Review by

The Friend

Lyrical on mourning and dogs

A female English professor and writer loses her best friend and sometimes lover to suicide. A few days later she’s asked to take over the care of his dog, an enormous Great Dane. No small ask as the writer lives in a tiny flat in a Manhattan building where dogs are prohibited. This is the plot of the otherwise plotless but strangely mesmerising The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, a story about love, loss and being an artist, which, had my flight not been over, I would have read in one sitting.

Read full Review

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Review by

Crossroads

Reassuringly familiar

In Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen we’re back in familiar Franzen-territory: the dissection of an all American family. After his more expansive (geographically and thematically) and, in my opinion, less successful Purity, Crossroads feels reassuringly familiar. This is both a blessing, he does it extremely well, but also begs the question: is Franzen a one-trick pony?

Read full Review

Consent by Annabel Lyon

Review by

Consent

Elegant psychological page-turner

Long-listed for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021, Consent by Annabel Lyon is a dark and twisty tale. At a time when public debate around the principle of consent has often centred on the sexual, the novel’s slightly lurid cover misleads. Lyon is actually intent on exploring the broader meaning of the word, in a cleverly interwoven story of two sets of sisters. In each case, one sister is incapacitated and the remaining sibling compelled to care for her. What appears to be an affecting domestic drama accelerates into a shocking and suspenseful reckoning with guilt and grief.

Read full Review

The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura

Review by

The Woman in the Purple Skirt

Enigmatic Japanese tale of lonely obsession

Winner of the prestigious Akutagawa literary prize, The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura is currently cresting the wave of novels by en vogue female Japanese writers. Set in an unnamed city in Japan, it tells the story of a narrator who refers to herself as the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan. Leading an isolated life, her only diversion appears to be a fascination with a neighbourhood local, the aforementioned Woman in the Purple Skirt. What initially appears to the reader as no more than an odd girl crush, becomes much darker, as our becardiganed storyteller decides to play puppet master with Purple Skirt’s life.

Read full Review

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Review by

Cloud Cuckoo Land

When everything is lost, it is our stories that survive

Like many others, I absolutely the bestselling All The Light We Cannot See, so I was excited to read a new novel by the same author was out. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr, is a complex and ambitious novel of epic proportions. It contains multiple storylines and timelines that span many centuries. At first, I found this constant jumping between stories and worlds distracted me from the beauty of Doerr’s prose. I found myself preferring one storyline to another and felt irritated when I was forced out of one world and into another. I started racing through the sections I didn’t like so much in order to join my favourites again.

Read full Review

Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennett

Review by

Checkout 19

‘The pages you read bring you to life.’

A curious and exhilarating affair, Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennett is my stand-out read of the year to date. In this extraordinary novel, Bennett takes the voice of an unnamed female narrator, leading the reader on a stream of consciousness trip from her school days to the present. The twist is that her life is viewed through the prism of the books she’s read and how they have informed her as a woman, a reader and ultimately a writer. It’s intense as hell but the reward is a read touched with brilliance and originality.

Read full Review

Matrix by Lauren Groff

Review by

Matrix

The Original Girl Power

At seventeen, Marie is kicked out of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine’s court in France and exiled to a godforsaken abbey in the English countryside. Deemed too ugly to marry, Marie, an orphaned ‘bastard’ with royal blood, is stowed away for life. There’s far more to Marie than meets the eye, however, and soon enough, she has turned the poverty-stricken abbey into a powerhouse. The question is: how does Eleanor feel about that?  And, anyway, are women really meant to achieve this much? If a story about nuns in a 12th century abbey sounds dull to you, think again; Matrix by Lauren Groff is an absolutely riveting read.

Read full Review

Last Summer in the City by Gianfranco Calligarich

Review by

Last Summer in the City

Cinematic novel captures the essence of Rome’s glamour years

Leo Gazzara is hovering on the brink of both turning thirty and plunging into an existential crisis. Keen to avoid respectability, his days are spent avoiding hard work, his nights indulging in the hedonistic thrills of city life. Originally published in 1970, Last Summer in the City by Gianfranco Calligarich is an Italian cult classic. Here translated into English for the first time, it captures those heady days when Rome was the capital of glamour. A boozy, smoky and  intoxicating novel, it tells the story of the year Leo’s dolce vita turned sour.

Read full Review