We’ve all seen her by now. The little girl with the long plaits and a yellow rain coat desperately trying to save the world. No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg is a collection of her speeches, from The World Economic Forum to The Houses of Parliament, from the European Parliament to the UN Climate Change Conference. It’s the clarity of her message and the simplicity of her form that makes Greta and her message so powerful. Read this little book of her speeches and be inspired to act.
I have a soft spot for anything Wild West (yes, I did watch a fair bit of The Little House on the Prairie as a kid), so when West by Carys Davies came along I wasn’t hard to convince. It’s the short story of widower Cy Bellman who sets out from Pennsylvania in 1815 to find rumoured gigantic beasts after reading about the discovery of ancient bones in a newspaper. Left behind, in the care of strict Aunt Julia, is his 10-year-old daughter Bess. Like many a mid-life crisis, this one doesn’t end well.
Two pages into The Porpoise by Mark Haddon (The Curious Incident Of the Dog in the Night Time) I was utterly hooked and only emerged bleary-eyed a day later after what felt like a roller-coaster ride. The book interweaves a contemporary story with one from antiquity, and whereas that might turn some of you off, it really shouldn’t. The Porpoise is first class, breakneck paced storytelling. A sort of literary Mission Impossible.
The Wall by John Lanchester is an eco-dystopian novel set in the near future, this is a dark and mesmerising vision of what happens when borders become walls, when the world is divided into ‘us’ and ‘others’, and when the young despise the old for what they allowed to happen on their watch.
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan is set in London in the 1980s, only these are not the 1980s we know, but rather a sort of Sliding Doors variant of the that time. Thatcher is in power but has lost, rather than won, the Falklands War. Computer genius Alan Turing, the breaker of the Enigma code, has not committed suicide, as he did in real life, but is alive and well. He has invented the world wide web, solved some unsolvable scientific conundrums and taken the world way past 2019 in terms of technological advances. McEwan, always with his finger on the pulse of the world we live in, has noble ambitions with this novel. Sadly, it just doesn’t work.
Set in a crumbling gothic mansion at the edge of a forest on the night of a glittering ball, a beautiful young woman is about to be murdered. Using established tropes from 1920s murder mysteries, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, winner of the Costa First Novel Award 2018, is a very modern take on the genre. It’s an intricately plotted, disorientating, dark and immersive read that will keep you guessing right until the end.
With a new exhibition on at the British Museum entitled ‘Edvard Munch: Love and Angst’, the English publication of So Much Longing In So Little Space: The Art of Edvard Munch by Karl Ove Knausgaard is timely. The book was written when Knausgaard was co-curating the exhibition ‘Mot Skogen’ (‘To the forest’) at the Munch Museum in Oslo in 2017, a task he took on despite acknowledging that ‘my only qualification was that I liked looking at paintings and often browsed through art books.’
Max Porter’s books are wonderfully strange things. They are novels, but occasionally seem to wander into the realm of poetry. The language is sparse, distilled down to the very essence of what he wants to communicate. The sentences twist and turn; literally, in this case. The first few pages of his new book were incomprehensible to me, but somehow Porter lures you in and doesn’t let you go. Lanny by Max Porter is set in a quintessential English village, where Lanny, an exceptionally creative, talented boy, his banker dad and author mum have just moved. But becoming part of this closed community is not a smooth ride. I’m not sure I liked Lanny as much as Porter’s first book, Grief is the Thing With Feathers, which I loved, but still think it’s a worthwhile read.
Writing can be therapeutic and for Emilie Pine, who has had her fair share of problems, it was the only way to deal with them. Notes of Self by Emilie Pine, were meant to remain just that, but then her partner found them lying around and convinced Pine to bring them to a publisher. The result is this strangely addictive little collection of essays. It’s a brave and brutally honest book dealing with the raw reality of Pine’s father’s alcoholism, her struggles conceiving and her teenage rebellion. Sounds depressing? You bet, but there’s also something hopeful and optimistic about these stories which teach us something about human resilience.
In a faraway country torn apart by civil war, two men are paving a new road that will reunite the north and south. The job is dangerous, employees of large international companies are attractive targets for kidnappers, so the men are known by their code names Four and Nine. They are polar opposites as far as personality goes. Four is a risk-averse pedant, Nine a careless hedonist. The stage is set for chaos. I’ve always enjoyed the way Eggers throws characters into unchartered territories, a fertile ground for comedy, and here he does it again. The Parade by Dave Eggers is not his best book, but as a light, funny read it’s very enjoyable nonetheless. (The Parade will be published in the UK on 21st March.)