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.)
...something short (but good!)
Our nameless narrator’s husband has just announced he is leaving her. Adrift with a three-year old daughter she attempts to rebuild a life, but 1970s Japan is an unforgiving place for divorced women and shame, sadness and responsibility weigh heavily on her. Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima is a strange little book; its quietly powerful, sparse language perfectly captures despair and isolation in the wake of separation.
What really happened in the 1938 meeting when Hitler told the Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg to roll over or be rolled over? Or during the dinner at 10 Downing Street where Foreign Minister Ribbentropp waxed lyrical about macaroons while watching Chamberlain receive the news that Germany had invaded Austria? In The Order of the Day by Eric Vulliard, the author has pieced together the facts, filled in the gaps and created a fascinating and frightening account of a sleepwalk into disaster.
A respected clansman – the strongest, fiercest and proudest – Okonkwo is the very symbol of masculinity and power in his Nigerian clan. Enter the British colonialists, waving their God and Queen and, within a few years, both Okonkwo and his Igbo village Umoufia are crushed. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, published in 1959, was the first account of colonialism from the perspective of the colonised. It was written in English and widely published in the West and is an arresting portrayal of the destruction of an indigenous community.
A short novel that delivers a big punch, Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss takes an unusual premise – a students’ archaeological trip – to expose the seam of violence underpinning our modern lives, and to draw chilling parallels between ancient worlds and our own. The disturbing prologue in which an iron age girl is sacrificed in front of her family and friends sets the tone for this unsettling novel which raises themes of gender equality, nationalism, misogyny and domestic violence.
While a snow storm rages, Tom sets off from Belfast by car to collect his sick son at Sunderland University. All flights are cancelled and driving is perilous, but Tom doesn’t have a choice, his son needs help. On his journey through the deserted, snow covered landscape, he reflects on some uncomfortable truths about his family and parenting. Travelling in a Strange Land by David Park, one of Ireland’s most prominent contemporary writers, is a tender, atmospheric read which I highly recommend.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is a rare book. Imminently readable, absurd, laugh-out-loud funny, yet profound. And it’s the winner of the Akutagawa Prize, Japan’s most prestigious literary award. As a child Keiko, our heroine, is different. Unnervingly so. Particularly in a society where conformity is the ideal. ‘Normal’ is what everyone is striving for and when Keiko starts to work in a convenience store, ‘normal’ seems within reach. But being ‘normal’ eventually involves marrying and having children, which she’s not even remotely interested in. As pressure mounts, Keiko needs to find a solution.
Charlotte by David Foenkinos is a novel based on the true story of artist Charlotte Salomon, a German Jew growing up in Berlin in the late 1930s. From a family ravaged by mental illness and suicides, Charlotte grows up in the shadow of death and depression but also with a huge creative talent. David Foenkinos’ all consuming passion for his subject matter shines through in this intense little book which, as its first page will tell you, ends in tragedy.
Many of you will have read D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and even those who haven’t might be familiar with the controversy around the book. The story, written in 1928, is about an adulterous relationship between an upper-class woman and a gamekeeper. The description of sex was so raunchy that the book wasn’t even published.
Edward and Florence are about to consummate their marriage, Edward has been waiting for this moment since he first laid eyes on her, Florence has been dreading it. Few authors can slow down time to a snail’s pace and still make gripping writing quite like Ian McEwan. His several pages long description of a disastrous kiss in On Chesil Beach will have you glued. Sexual mores of the early 1960s, class, failure of communication and deep love mix in a testing cocktail in McEwan’s book. Read it now, before it comes out as a film in May.