Fiction

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A Death in the Family

To Knausgaard or not to Knausgaard?

I have been holding off writing about the Norwegian publishing phenomenon Karl Ove Knausgaard until the other day, when I picked up the first volume in English translation and realised how well it travels. The press are awash with, mostly raving, reviews of his autobiographical novels and interviews with the author. Zadie Smith has said she needed them ‘like crack’.  Should you read them?

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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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The Woman Upstairs

Mesmerising about obsession, betrayal and fury

Wow, what a novel! Rarely have I read such an emotionally charged, foreboding book. A truly gripping tale, seething with rage. The Woman Upstairs is the story of single, 42 year-old Nora Eldridge, ‘the quiet woman at the end of the third-floor hallway’, a kind, dutiful primary school teacher who has put aside her artistic ambitions to care for her sick elderly parents. A woman who, in her own words, obediently eats all the greens while the ice cream for dessert slowly melts away. Enter the Lebanese-Italian Shahid family. The family of Nora’s dreams: Reza the beautiful, charming child, Skandar the handsome, intelligent husband and Sirena the glamorous, successful artist wife…

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The Circle

Very entertaining satire on our obsession with the internet.

In a not so distant future, Mae Holland secures the dream job with technology giant The Circle, a hybrid between Google, Apple and Facebook. The Circle has revolutionised the world and taken connectivity to a whole new absurd level with endless streams of emails, Facebook posts, like requests, invitations, surveys and tweets. Eggers’ highly readable and very amusing book The Circle paints an utterly nightmarish vision of the future, one that feels eerily near in time.

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The Shock of the Fall

Warm, humourous and convincing portrayal of mental illness

A well-deserved Costa Book of the Year winner! The Shock of the Fall is a heart-warming, funny, wise and convincing portrayal of a young boy’s descent into mental illness, from an author with experience as a mental health nurse. ‘I should say that I am not a nice person. Sometimes I try to be, but often I’m not.’ The opening line of The Shock of the Fall, sets the stage for the tale of Matthew, a nineteen year-old, pot smoking school drop-out with severe psychological problems, looking back at his childhood.

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Mrs Bridge

Hilarious satire with a darker message

Over the past year or so I have stumbled upon two brilliant books, which, strangely enough, have a great deal in common. The first one, Mrs Bridge by Evan S. Connell, was featured on BBC Radio 4’s excellent programme Open Book. I read it in one gulp and it immediately joined my favourite-books list.

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Canada

Beautiful and disturbing

You need a bit of patience to get into this book, Ford’s slow paced writing takes some getting used to, but do persist, it is a brilliant read. Canada is a profoundly moving and disturbing story about growing-up, deceit and survival, written by one of the giants of American contemporary literature, the Pulitzer Prize winning Richard Ford. Read full Review

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Sum: Tales from the Afterlives

Mind-blowing and very funny, a must-read.

Ever wondered what afterlife might be like? Sum: Tales from the Afterlives by neuroscientist and writer David Eagleman offers forty different mind-blowing hypotheses, some of them nightmarish, some of them appealing, most of them hilarious and all of them thought provoking. Read full Review

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Americanah

Another gem from Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Orange Prize winning book Half of A Yellow Sun was a magnificent read, a beautiful love story against the backdrop of the Biafran war, a terrible conflict I vividly remember from my childhood as totally incomprehensible…until I read this book. A truly amazing novel. Adichie casts the net wider in Americanah which spans three continents: America, Africa and Europe. Our heroine Ifemelu grows up in Nigeria’s capital Lagos with a mother lost to religion and an unhappy, underachieving father.

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How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Refreshingly different, funny and heart-breaking

Once in a while you come across a refreshingly unusual book, a book so utterly different that it inspires you to see novels in a new light. With its gaudy dust jacket and brazen title, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is such a book, and it is an excellent one at that. I was a big fan of Moshin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and this book is, in my opinion, equally good. Read full Review