This is a book that offers an intelligent fictionalised response to the refugee crisis by distilling the unimaginable scale and horror of a worldwide problem to the personal stories of a few people, played out in today’s Berlin. Full of generosity and humanity, it manages to be wide‐ranging and universal and yet astonishingly simple.
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.
‘The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.’ The chilling opening line of this hugely hyped thriller about a killer nanny leaves you in no doubt about its horrific ending. And this horrible premise certainly doesn’t make for an easy read. Touted as the next Gone Girl, the first of Leila Slimani’s novels to be translated into English and winner of the prestigious French literary prize, The Prix Goncourt, does Lullaby (American title – The Perfect Nanny) deserve the hype?
Do yourself a favour. Take a moment out from whatever you have to do (now is the perfect time, as we approach the Christmas rush at work, school and home) and read this little book. It’s written by Erling Kagge, a publisher, writer and the first person to reach the North Pole, South Pole and climb Mount Everest. Kagge knows a thing or two about silence, having spent 50 days alone on his trek to the South Pole.
Our narrator, François Seurel, is the bookish son of a schoolmaster, residing in a provincial French village in the 1890s. Passive and impressionable, he yearns for adventure, but will never be the architect of his own life. When the charismatic adventurer, Augustin Meaulnes, comes to board at his home, Seurel’s life is changed irrevocably. A French classic, often described as the greatest novel of adolescence in European literature, The Lost Estate deserves to be more widely read on this side of the Channel.
Wow! What a punch of a book. Eddy Belleguele grows up in a dirt-poor working class family in the north of France. Realising early on he’s gay, Eddy spends the rest of his youth trying to hide his sexual orientation from the macho, homophobic, misogynist and racist environment he’s born into. The End of Eddy is an extraordinary autobiographical novel of survival and courageousness and a truly magnificent book.
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.
Ready to escape the grey, cold winter for a few hours? Try this sensual and sensuous Italian classic set in the 1860s amongst the arid hills, frescoed palazzos and turquoise seas of Sicily. It’s the story of the aristocratic Salina family’s decline, of ageing and mortality, of politics and passionate love all mixed up into a fabulous Italian literary feast.
A heavenly combination of one of my favourite authors writing about one of my favourite cities: Javier Marías’ little essay on Venice. For reasons unknown (a failed love affair?), Marías spent a great deal of time in Venice in the 1980s. His reflections on how history and geography have shaped Venice and Venetians are captivating. ‘Venetians see life from “the view point of eternity” ‘, not surprising perhaps when you grow up in place that’s hardly changed for 500 years? The decay, the dark back alleys, the smells, the sense of doom, the colours of the water (‘blood red, yellow, white’ by day, ‘like ink’ by night) combined with dazzling beauty, Marías perfectly evokes the city’s atmosphere and hands you a delicious sliver of Venice.
Venice, An Interior is translated by Margaret Juul Costa and published by Hamish Hamilton, 64 pages.