The historian Simon Sebag Montefiore is well known and highly respected for his award-winning non-fiction bestsellers such as Jerusalem, The Romanovs and Stalin. However, this gripping historical novel also proves his expertise as a writer of fiction. A quicker, slimmer read than many of his other works, it is just as involving and darkly exciting.
I have to confess to not being a big consumer (or fan) of crime fiction (perhaps I just haven’t read enough good ones), but this intense and eerie little book got the better of me. Written in the 1950s by Swiss dramatist and novelist Friedrich Dürrenmatt, The Pledge is a crime novel with a twist designed to challenge the formulaic (according to Dürrenmatt) nature of the genre.
Praised by the likes of Stephen King and sporting one of the best covers I’ve seen for ages, this award-winning book has all the ingredients for a creepy, atmospheric, wintry read. A desolate stretch of English coastline, a gloomy old house, apocalyptic weather, evangelical practices, pagan rites, and a cast of eccentric characters. The story follows events one Easter in the 1970s as a group of evangelical Catholics take a mute boy to be ‘cured’ at a holy shrine. The writing is evocative and Michael Hurley certainly knows his Catechism, with biblical quotes lending a reassuring authority to the narrative. He sets up a series of intriguing mysteries – why did Father Bernard lose his faith? How did the old lady regain her sight? What happened to the baby? What are the dodgy men up to? Why does the younger brother feel the need to record what happened before it is too late? The themes are worth exploring too: witchcraft/nature vs scripture/civilisation; the innocence or otherwise of childhood vs the so-called wisdom of adulthood.
Disappointingly, the book meanders around these themes and never quite knows where it is going; the Gothic tropes, so crammed in the narrative, can hardly breathe; there are too many balls in the air; too many loose ends left untied and – worst of all – the final long-awaited denouement is unconvincing and baffling. The main mystery is why this book ever won the Costa Book of the Year.
The Loney is published by John Murray, 368 pages.
Novels don’t come more English than this: boys at boarding school, stately homes, social class, unspoken rules. Leo Colston, our narrator, looks back at his 12-year-old self during the summer of 1900, a summer that would shatter his naivety and change his life. A great English classic and an ominous, intense, coming-of-age novel. Highly recommended!
I’ll admit right at the beginning of this review that I think this is one of the best historical novels I have ever read. And I’m deeply envious of anyone who hasn’t yet discovered it. You have an enormous treat in store. I first read this epic novel in one long sitting from cover to cover in my early twenties and I’ve returned to it many times over the years, discovering something new on every fresh reading.
A modern thriller with a proper appreciation for the noir of the 1940s, The Reflection is a mind-bender that trips you back and forth through a monochrome kaleidoscope of existence and mental disorder. Caught in a web of confusion, a psychiatrist stumbles from one incident to the next, amidst the twist and turns of mistaken identity and questioning his own sanity. Leaves you guessing until the last (a clue! no…a red herring! no… a clue…!!), and distinctly baffled long after.
A treat for you on Women’s Day! Austrian author Stefan Zweig (The Post Office Girl, Beware of Pity and many novellas) was once the world’s most translated author. No wonder. This steaming hot novella about a woman and her whirlwind 24 hour affair with a much younger man is absolutely spellbinding, even more so when you know it was written by a man and almost 90 years ago!