Fiction

Fleishman is in trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

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Fleishman is in Trouble

One to make you howl with laughter

Toby Fleishman is divorcing. He’s had enough of his absent, high-flying talent agent wife, Rachel, who never seems to be satisfied with his job as a doctor, their flat in Manhattan or indeed have time for their two kids. He’s fed up. In his new-found freedom he’s going through a sort of sexual renaissance. New York, it appears, is full of middle-aged horny women who will do anything to get laid by someone like Toby, or, actually, just anyone. Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner has descriptions of the befuddling world of online dating that had me, literally, screaming with laughter. But there’s more to this book than clever comedy and the turn to a more serious tone is both its strength and weakness.

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Girl by Edna O'Brien

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Girl

A powerful lesson in resilience

The assault on young women as an act of war is nothing new as the epigraph from Euripides’ The Trojan Women reminds us in Girl by Edna O’Brien. After a year of research including first-hand testimonies from survivors, O’ Brien brings this forcefully into the present as we confront the imagined traumatic fall-out from a schoolgirl’s kidnap and rape by Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2014. In Girl, Edna O’Brien has produced a work that sharply distils language into a reduced and banal form, journalistic in its savage editing and brutal in its delivery. Language is manipulated to transmit emotion, to reveal how men use it to assert power and how trauma denies it space.

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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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The Song of Achilles

A heart-breaking, lyrical tale of soul-binding male love

Madeleine Miller is the much-praised author of the recently published and hugely successful Circe, which we at Bookstoker loved. In my view, Miller’s debut novel, The Song of Achilles, first published in 2012 and the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction that year, is even better. This spellbinding novel is a must-read for anyone who loved Circe, The Silence of the Girls , has an interest in the Greek myths or is simply looking for an addictively good read.

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Will and Testament by Vigdis Hjorth

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Will and Testament

‘Endurance is the first duty of all living beings.’

After Knausgaard’s My Struggle series of books, Norwegian readers thought we were used to the dramatic repercussions brought on by the thinly veiled autobiographical novel. Then, in 2016, Will and Testament by Vigdis Hjorth’s  detonated like a bomb. Critics claimed to find many similarities between real people and the characters portrayed in the novel, too many for there to be a coincidence. It was clear: Vigdis Hjorth was writing about her own life and her own family. This led to much debate and even sparked a new genre – the ‘revenge-novel’ – when Hjorth’s sister wrote a novel of her own about what it was like to be made into a character in her sister’s book.

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The Cockroach by Ian McEwan

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The Cockroach

Vermin at the Houses of Parliament

Laughter is the best medicine and for those of you who can’t stand Boris Johnson or Brexit, The Cockroach by Ian McEwan should make you feel a tiny bit better, at least for a fleeting moment. The rest of you might as well stop reading now. The premise is genius: a Kafkaesque metamorphosis in reverse. A cockroach wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and fellow cabinet members, many of whom also used to live under the floorboards of the Houses of Parliament, are seeking to get an absurd economic plan called reversalism, a reversal of all money flows, through the House of Commons. It won’t change your life – or political point of view – McEwan’s political satire, but it will make you snigger. Predictably, The Guardian loved this novella, The Telegraph didn’t. I found it quite funny.

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The Past by Tessa Hadley

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The Past

A lyrical rumination on family, set in a childhood summerhouse

The story of a childhood summer home in the verdant Somerset countryside from one of England’s foremost contemporary novelists, The Past by Tessa Hadley is a breathtaking exploration of human interiority and interconnectedness. It is the account of four adult siblings, some with spouses and children and some notably without, and their last summer in the cottage as they decide whether or not to sell it.

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The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

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The Testaments

Book of the year or not?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably aware that The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, was published a few weeks ago. The dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale was a game-changer when it came out in 1985, painting a terrifying picture of a totalitarian society in which women had been reduced to birthing machines. The arrival of Trump and religious extremism propelled the book back on the best-seller lists and inspired Atwood to write a sequel. Any follow-up to a brilliantly conceived, ground-breaking creation is a tall order and as much as I found this book an interesting, page-turner (always the case with Atwood, in my opinion), it also feels like a slightly paler version of The Handmaid’s Tale.

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The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas

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The Birds

A compassionate portrait of a struggling everyman

None other than Karl Ove Knausgaard, Norway’s greatest literary export since Ibsen, has provided the endorsement quote on the reissued English edition of The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas, stating that it is ‘the best Norwegian novel ever.’ Vesaas (1897-1970) is still considered one of the country’s most important writers, and is now deservedly being published in English as part of Penguin Modern Classics. (PS never mind the hipster on the cover. I’m certain this is not how Vesaas envisioned Mattis). Read full Review

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

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10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

A beautiful and campaigning novel short-listed for the Booker Prize 2019

Tequila Leila, a Turkish prostitute in her 40s, lies murdered in a rubbish bin. Her brain, for the first ten minutes and thirty-eight seconds after her death is still working – remembering, sensing, calling up memories and sensations from her life. 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak tells not just the story of one woman’s life through these disjointed recollections but conjures a beautiful but unsettling portrait of Istanbul and its shifting population.

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Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls

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Sweet Sorrow

Touching and funny portrait of first love by the author of One Day

Disaffected teenager Charlie Lewis is finessed into joining a summer holiday drama camp by a girl he meets by chance. She is beautiful, clever and well-read; he can’t act, has zero ambition and is only there because he fancies her. Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls is a pitch-perfect, delicately choreographed love story that will make you laugh and cry and wish you were young again – and then be glad you’re not.

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