Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart follows on from Stuart’s outstanding Booker Prize winning debut Shuggie Bain. Although the setting is very much the same – Glaswegian tenements, dysfunctional families, absent fathers and alcoholic mothers – the story feels different enough to engage even those who’ve read Shuggie Bain. A burgeoning love between Mungo and fellow loner James is at the core of this book, the moving tenderness of their relationship in stark contrast to the rough realities on the street and at home. In true Stuart style, characters and places rise from the page but I felt some of the pace and immediacy of his debut was missing in this book. Still a good read, but not the mind-blower that was Shuggie Bain. Read full Review
The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant is an unjustly neglected American gem. A deliciously peculiar novel, comic and melancholic in equal parts, it takes us to a down-at-heel New York at the turn of the 1950’s and the dreary life of daydreamer and rent collector, Norman Moonbloom. Norman’s days are spent chasing rent from hapless tenants, whilst attempting to dodge their numerous demands, complaints, and often riotous domestic dramas. Too sensitive for the world of the mercenary slumlord, he will undergo a quiet epiphany against a disintegrating backdrop of leaking taps and treacherous wiring.
When 34-year-old Fuyuko Irie catches a glimpse of herself in a shop window, the drab and defeated figure she sees reflects her shrunken spirit. The only thing that sparks joy in this sad young woman’s heart is the luminosity of Tokyo at night, its dazzling lights a bitter irony when she considers how the monotony of life has extinguished any glimmer of brightness within herself. In All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami, we join Fuyuko as she reaches crisis point and a chance encounter shows her the potential for change.
In 1804, when William Wordsworth was wandering lonely as a cloud across the Lake District, he couldn’t have envisaged how his work, along with a merry handful of nineteenth-century artists and writers, would shape public perception of this beautiful landscape for centuries to come. In The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks, we’re given an alternative vision. This beguiling book describes Rebanks life as a sheep farmer. In it he reveals a traditional world, often out of step with modern Britain, and a unique perspective of his beloved Lake District and the invisible, hardworking families who sustain it. Read full Review
A cantankerous Parkinson’s sufferer is the unlikely heroine of International Booker Prize short-listed novella Elena Knows by Claudia Pineiro. Elena is crippled by Parkinson but that doesn’t stop her from travelling across Buenos Aires to find out if her daughter Rita’s death was murder or suicide. Elena Knows is not a murder mystery, rather, it’s a story about determination, ageing, religious hypocrisy, illness and most of all, women’s bodies. I’ve rarely read a more convincing portrayal of debilitating illness which in this book becomes the very symbol of who controls women’s bodies.
Death follows Joe Gunner wherever he goes. He knows this because the whale told him so. Washed up on a Norfolk beach on ‘a halo of dirty blood,’ its terrible majesty conveys a personal message. Joe must return to his childhood fishing community, where fisherman and ex-lover, Tim Fysh, still lives and memories wait to be dredged from the shifting tidal waters. A stunning debut, The Whale Tattoo by Jon Ransom gives us a vivid portrait of queer, working class life, in a community riven by repressive conformity and familial trauma.
After lying around my house for several years, I finally decided to read perennial bestseller Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall, and what a serendipitous time to pick it up. The very first page dives into the Russia-Ukraine relationship which the author predicted would end in conflict (the book was first published in 2015 and updated in 2019). Marshall explains how mountains, rivers, ports and climate play major roles in shaping economic prosperity and political power in this accessible and surprisingly enjoyable introduction to the dry sounding topic of geopolitics.
On a mission to ‘inform, educate and entertain’ the nation since 1922, this year marks the centenary of the BBC, a British institution both beloved and beleaguered. In the wonderful 1980 novel, Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald, we join the corporation during the intense years of the Second World War, where nightly bombing requires the staff to bed down in the concert hall and the canteen possesses only one communal teaspoon, tied to the till with string. Despite the Blitz-induced discombobulation, when the nation gathers round the radio at 9pm each evening, the Beeb is there for them.
All’s not well in the Ghorami family, although not even its own members are fully aware of that. Yasmin, daughter of Bengali immigrants is a trainee doctor to the immense pride of her self-made GP father. Her mother, Anisah, is the perfect Indian housewife, endlessly cooking fragrant dish upon fragrant dish. Arif, Yasmin’s younger brother, is the only one showing the cracks as he struggles to find out what to do with his life. When Yasmin starts planning her upcoming marriage to fellow junior doctor Joe, darker secrets emerge. Love Marriage by Monica Ali is her first book in 15 years. Will this one be a match for her 2003 mega best-seller Brick Lane?
Longlisted for The Women’s Prize 2022, This One Sky Day by Leone Ross is a wondrous affair, brimful of light and life. Set on the imaginary Caribbean archipelago of Popisho, a place where magic is perpetually afoot, it follows a momentous day in the life of its inhabitants. Unrest lurks in many forms, including meteorological, as the stories of a silver-fingered healer and ex-addict chef entwine in a magical realist novel of love and grief, dosed with a spike of political satire.