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Dept. of Speculation

Snapshots of a marriage

Jenny Offill’s little gem of a book Dept. of Speculation was on The New York Times’ list of 10 best books of 2014, and with good reason. It’s an unusual novel, written in snapshots, in much the same fragmented way our memory works. It’s the sum of those memories that create the narrative of our past or, in this case, the story of a relationship. In Dept. of Speculation, Offill tells an age-old tale in a refreshingly new way and creates something truly different.

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The Buried Giant

An ogre too far?

It’s been a decade since Kazuo Ishiguro’s sinister, sci-fi-esque Never Let Me Go, a novel I really liked. In The Buried Giant Ishiguro yet again embarks on a genre bending project. This time it’s fantasy. We’re in 6th century post-Roman Britain and a mist has descended on the landscape and peoples’ minds, obscuring memories of recent wars. Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple go on a journey to find their son and stumbles over dragons, ogres, knights and monks as well as recollections of a violent past. Despite the beautiful, atmospheric writing and profound message, I found The Buried Giant hard work. Will this only be the case for fantasy-sceptics like me?

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Neverhome

An explosion of a novel

In Laird Hunt’s gripping novel Neverhome we meet Constance, aka Ash Thompson, who joins the American civil war disguised as a man. ‘I was strong and he was not, so it was me went to war to defend the Republic’, Ash says matter-of-factly referring to her mild mannered husband Bartholomew. And no, it’s not my spelling mistake in this opening sentence, it’s Ash’s. Ash is a simple farmwoman who dreams of finding the first lilac in spring. She’s also happens to be a take-no-prisoners sharp shooter. Ash joins the war out of a sense of duty, at least that’s what she tells us. Soon we see the contours of a troubled past in this very human portrayal of a tormented woman in a man’s world.

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The Story of a New Name

Lenu and Lila grow up - the addiction continues...

The second of Ferrante’s four addictive books about close friends Lenu and Lila in 1950s Naples continues where she left off in My Brilliant Friend, with Lila’s disastrous marriage to Stefano Carracci at the tender age of sixteen.

 

 

SPOILER ALERT – if you think you might like to read these books, make sure you start with the review of the first, My Brilliant Friend, elsewhere on this blog.

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The House of Ulloa

Unmissable Spanish classic

I cannot recommend this Spanish classic highly enough. The House of Ulloa is funny, clever, progressive and colourful, written by the feisty and daring Emilia Prado Bazán in 1886 and, luckily, reissued in English recently. We meet the gentle, devout chaplain Julián who’s been asked by Don Manuel, a prominent noble, to clean up the sinful House of Ulloa, the country estate of his unruly nephew, Don Pedro. This hilarious meeting of polar opposites takes place amidst magnificently described Galician landscapes and decrepit aristocratic homes.

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Being Mortal

Surprisingly reassuring on a grim subject

I’m not sure how I’m going to convince you to read this book. Most of you will, understandably, want to look the other way. There are details about dying in Being Mortal by Atul Gawande that will make you shudder and stories about elderly people’s lives that will make you want to cry. But, for me, this book was an eye-opener and surprisingly reassuring, despite it’s grim subject matter. Gawande is an Indian/American surgeon, health-care researcher, a Harvard professor, author, journalist, in short: a brilliant man whose books on health care issues regularly climb to the top of non-fiction bestseller lists.

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My Brilliant Friend

A vibrant and violent coming-of-age story from a mysterious author

What better way to kick off 2015 than with an excellent book by a mysterious writer? Italian author Elena Ferrante, whose real identity nobody knows, creates a perfect microcosm of childhood and adolescence in her book My Brilliant Friend, the first in a quartet. It’s a vibrant and violent coming-of-age story and a portrait of an intense friendship between two girls.

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Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery

Engrossing insight into the life of a brain surgeon

I have been completely enthralled by neurosurgeon Henry Marsh’s bestselling book Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery. Brain surgeons are awe-inspiring, almost God-like people with razor sharp minds and nerves of steel, and Marsh is one of the very best. In this book he gives a fascinating insight into his job and with moving candour describes the triumphs as well as the disasters. You’ll never think about your brain in quite the same way… Read full Review

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The Bone Clocks

Fast-paced, inventive Mitchell spins out of this world

As you’re aware, I’m a big David Mitchell fan and I know many of you out there like him too. I’ve just finished his latest book, The Bone Clocks, and I’m left with mixed feelings. The book has moments of pure Mitchellesque brilliance: fast-paced dialogue, inventive characters and addictive plots. The first four parts (there are six) were compulsive reading; the last two might delight sci-fi lovers, but sadly didn’t quite work for me.

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How To Be A Woman

Women (and men!) out there!! You have GOT to read this one!

I have no idea how I missed this book when it first came out in 2011. Thankfully, a friend suggested I read it and what a hoot! I have been snorting, screaming, squealing with laughter, while my children have been watching me with increasing concern. How To Be A Woman is part memoir, part modern feminist manifesto, written by British journalist and TV presenter Caitlin Moran and the funniest and smartest book I have read in a long time.

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