The Life Before Us by Émile Ajar is a heart-breaking story narrated by Momo, a ten year-old Arab immigrant to France. Momo, who lives in an orphanage run by ex-prostitute Madame Rosa, has seen things no ten-year old should see and is far too advanced for his age. Darkly comical and wonderfully poignant The Life Before Us deserves to join the ranks of rediscovered classics. Why no U.K. publisher has given its cover a face-lift and republished this wonderful novel is a mystery to me. Read full Review
... something funny
Meet Elias Rukla, teacher of Norwegian to a bunch of bored teenagers at Fagerborg Secondary School in Oslo. Elias is about to destroy 25 years of hard work and his reputation, publicly and humiliatingly, in front of the whole school. Why is Elias boiling over? Find out in this darkly funny, captivating deep dive into the psyche of a man who comes face to face with his entire existence.
Eleanor is a woman who has elevated living alone to an art form. Her days follow the same pattern week in week out – a dull office job, the Telegraph cryptic crossword, the Archers, a regular chat with ‘Mummy’, no friends…and two bottles of Tesco vodka to get through the weekend. She is clearly not fine at all, and the novel is an investigation into why she is not fine, and what happens when she deals with her terrible past and finally allows herself to thaw.
Meet English teacher James Darke, a 60-year old grumpy, selfish, snob, as cynical, judgemental and politically incorrect as they come. Darke has decided to close the world out – literally – starting by drawing the curtains in his house, filling in the mail slot in his door and cancelling his email account. There are no limits to what Darke will do in his quest to be left alone, and that includes pretending to be deaf so he won’t need to talk to people. There is, of course, a reason for Darke’s dark behaviour, which, as it’s slowly revealed, turns out to be far from funny. If you, like me, enjoy dark humour, the occasional unpleasant character and many-layered stories, this book is for you.
Yes, the Booker Prize winning The Sellout is a funny book, a book that makes you laugh (sometimes guiltily), a stinging satire devoid of political correctness that goes to the heart of America’s race relation problems. Sadly, it’s also a novel that somehow lacks direction; that appears to go nowhere, in which the author occasionally seems to revel in his own jokes. It’s packed with cultural references that I struggled to understand and I suspect I’m not the only one. For the last reason alone, it’s a puzzling choice as the first American winner of the British based Booker Prize since their rules were changed to include American books a few years ago.
I’m discovering I have a soft spot for Dave Eggers and his ingenious way of writing about modern life. I very much enjoyed The Circle (Eggers’ satire on our obsession with technology and connectivity) and A Hologram for The King, set in the ghostly King Abdullah Economic City in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert, is just as good. A delightful, light and funny read to pack on your holiday. Can’t wait for his new book Heroes of the Frontier which comes out in July!
Although first published in 1992, this English translation was only published 18 years later. It was worth the wait. Such a wonderfully translated piece, it zings and bounces with satisfying accuracy, which alone makes this book a ‘must read’. It centres primarily around an interview of the cantankerous and pernicious Nobel Laureate, Prétextat Tach, by the female journalist, Nina. After a slew of failed (male) attempts, Nina manages to match this obese and postulating intellectual in a war of thought and a battle of rhetoric. I found the philosophising duel of wits wonderfully unique, immensely clever, and absurdly humorous. Although I was a tad lukewarm about the ending, the first half is worth reading twice over and I would urge it on anyone looking for a light, funny, intelligent read.
Hygiene and the Assassin by Amelie Nothomb is published by Europa Editions and translated by Alison Anderson, 167 pages.
Viet Thanh Nguyen doesn’t shy away from the big issues in this Pulitzer Prize winning book about the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Rarely have American double standards, displacement, issues of identity and cultural imperialism made me laugh so much. The Sympathizer (the author’s first!) is not a novel without flaws but Nguyen’s excellent writing, original angle and biting satire make up for the shortcomings.
To be enjoyed by English, Brits and non-Brits alike. This amusing collection of observations is part humorous analysis of being English (listen to the shipping forecast, be self-deprecating/ironic/ apologetic); part practical advice (decipher: ‘AONB’, cockney, ‘tea’, ‘be disgusted, Tunbridge wells’, and ‘Lord Lucan’); travel guide (browse Charing Cross road, experience Glynebourne/ Coronation Street/Notting Hill Carnival) and endearingly, proudly English (recite/sing alternatingly Invictus/ Jerusalem/be eccentric). Makes a lovely little gift too.
102 English Things to Do by Alex Quick is published by Old Street Publishing, 226 pages.
It’s no secret that we are great fans of Alan Bennett’s work – from The History Boys and The Madness of King George to Smut and The Uncommon Reader. His absolute precision, his careful thought and trademark subversive humour make him irresistible irrespective of the format he chooses to write in.