Reviews

Indelicacy by Amina Cain

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Indelicacy

Not lacking in delicacy

Although a short read, Indelicacy by Amina Cain is a delightful, thought provoking novella about socioeconomic amelioration, the complexities of marriage, and female agency. Following main character Vitória who, longing for the economic and temporal freedom to write, climbs (and falls down) the hierarchical ladder from gallery cleaner to kept wife to independent singleton. Indelicacy celebrates the arts and female friendship above the apparent ‘need’ for a woman to produce, commit to and maintain a marriage.

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Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford

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Light Perpetual

Stories of lives not lived

It’s London 1944 and a German bomb is about to hit a Woolworths shop where five young children are shopping with their mums. The first chapter of Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford describes, in harrowing detail, the moment of impact. What would have happened to those five kids if they hadn’t turned to ‘dust’? This is what Spufford want us to imagine in Light Perpetual, a gripping tribute to lives not lived.

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And All the Trumpets by Donald Smith

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And All the Trumpets

A Call to Resilience

I was born in Britain in the mid-nineties; as such, I am fortunate enough to know very little of war and her brutish seams. Instead, I see explosions on television and sleep safely in my bed with only the rumbling Northern Line to stir me. And All the Trumpets by Donald Smith is enlightening, troubling and overwhelmingly humbling. The autobiography recounts Smith’s years as a Japanese prisoner of war. It is a story of almost incomprehensible suffering; daily torture, rampant disease and total psychological discombobulation come to define Smith’s lived experience in a story too far-fetched for fiction.

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The Offing by Benjamin Myers

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The Offing

A treasure for quiet times

I first noticed The Offing by Benjamin Myers while on a day trip to Bath. It was eight days later when a copy fell through the letterbox of my north London flat; only, I hadn’t ordered it. It took a little investigation to identify the sender as my companion to the heritage city. Books have meaning beyond their contents; stories remind us of times in our lives and the people who have enlivened them. Myers’ The Offing tells the heart-warming story of sixteen-year- old Robert Appleyard and his unlikely friendship with a mysterious elderly lady. In this sense, it is a tale of companionship; and for me, the wonderful serendipity of correlation between the novel’s sentiment and the means by which it arrived on my shelf.

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Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

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Our Man in Havana

Perfect mindless entertainment

Some Caribbean sun, a few daiquiris, a bit of spying and some good laughs make Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene the perfect Covid-January read. With a far-fetched plot – British Havana based vacuum clean salesman, Jim Wormold, is recruited as a spy for MI6 – it delivers some much-needed distraction. Wormold has been brutally dumped by his Cuban wife and is left to raise their 16-year-old daughter Milly by himself. Keeping glamorous Milly content is expensive and when Mr Hawthorne from the Foreign Office arrives from England, he makes Wormold an offer he can’t afford to refuse.

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Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

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Shuggie Bain

This year's first must read

2020 Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart is the most empathic and convincing portrayal of an alcoholic I’ve read. It’s the 1980s and Agnes Bain and her three children live in utter misery in the most deprived area of Glasgow. Shug, Agnes philandering husband, has moved on. Soon the older children start looking for the exit too until it’s only Shuggie and Agnes left. It’s the indestructible love between the two of them that carries this touching novel. This year’s first must read.

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A Promised Land by Barak Obama

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A Promised Land

Confessions of a Statesman

It’s an annual event now. October comes, and with it the “memoirs” of a politician unceremoniously chucked out of office in the past decade. First we had Nick Clegg, whose Politics: Between the Extremes didn’t much change prospects for Britain remaining in the EU, but attracted the attention of Silicon Valley. Gordon Brown’s largely turgid memoirs reminded us all of why he had trouble communicating with the public. David Cameron’s exhaustive For the Record took up nearly 700 pages before he could bring himself to write about the referendum. A Promised Land by Barack Obama does not depart from these efforts in its mission, but it is refreshing in its style.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Engrossing and intense modern classic

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera is a powerful tour of the emotional realities of late-20th century Czech history. Centered on the story of the young couple Tereza and Tomas, the novel explores the themes of infidelity and meaning-making against the backdrop of the Prague Spring period of 1968. Although intellectual in tone, the novel is entirely readable, thought-provoking, and remains a vibrant lens on history as well.

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Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

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Leave the World Behind

Apocalypse in the Hamptons

Amanda and Clay – a successful, liberal New York couple – are staying in a smart rental summer house in the Hamptons with their kids. When the phone and internet connections go down and a black couple, claiming to be the owners of the house, knock on the door asking for shelter, Amanda and Clay’s proclaimed tolerance is put to the test. Who is this couple? Can they be trusted? And why doesn’t the communications network function? Cyberattack? Terrorism? War? Nuclear accident? Catastrophe looms in Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, the most unsettling and frighteningly believable novel I’ve read in a long time.

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Summerwater by Sarah Moss

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Summerwater

A tense, atmospheric read

In a row of cabins along a Scottish loch, families are trying to enjoy their summer holiday. It’s been bucketing down for several days and claustrophobia is setting in. Siblings are bickering, parents’ tempers flare. (Been there?) Bored, they observe each other through the ‘French doors’ of their cheaply built wooden cabins. Some venture out and some are sent out, mostly to relive the tension building inside. Summerwater by Sarah Moss, is a quietly unsettling little book that deals with family life, secrets and conflict, set in an ominous world, which I consumed in one sitting.

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