First published in 1962, Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck captures a momentous period in the writer’s life. Ageing, ailing, and concerned that he has lost touch with the American spirit, Steinbeck invites us on a road trip. Complete with customised camper van and a poodle named Charley, we motor thousands of miles under wide skies, in search of the essence of modern America. From his love affair with Montana, to misgivings about Texas, Steinbeck considers the ways that his country has changed since his wandering youth. In this gem of a travelogue, we’re in the finest of company.
Briefly A Delicious Life by Nell Stevens is an intoxicating debut novel, blessed with a brilliantly inspired storyline. Set in a Mallorcan former monastery in 1838, it tells the story of Blanca, the ghost of a teenage girl. Habit has kept her haunting its environs for centuries, measuring her days in the tiniest increments, ‘A pomegranate seed, nudged in the path of a sparrow. A spider scaling a pane of glass.’ This three-hundred plus years interlude is interrupted the day George Sand and Frédéric Chopin come to stay. Smitten by their creative, free-thinking ways, Blanca finds herself falling in love. Read full Review
Michael Miller lives a comfortable East Coast life as a retired diplomat. One day, a padded envelope arrives which will rip open a part of his past he’d rather forget. As a young man, Michael was a paper pusher at the American embassy during the final days of the Vietnam War. Ostensibly a benign role which became less so as he fell under the spell of hawkish CIA analyst Ignatius Donovan. Spies in Canaan by David Park, follows on from his exquisite Travelling in a Strange Land, and, again, Park creates a complete and gripping fictional universe within a mere 200 pages.
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A distinctly European novel, the award-winning Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov combines philosophy and satire with a fascinating premise. Enigmatic therapist, Gaustine, opens a pioneering dementia clinic in Zurich, wherein each floor recreates a different decade, allowing patients to find peace and comfort in their own temporal sanctuary. As the business gains in reputation, even healthy clients begin flocking to this clinic of the past, desirous of escaping their dysfunctional present. In Gospodinov’s emblematic take on 20th century Europe, Gaustine’s experiment morphs into something dangerous as he notes ‘…when you have no future, you vote for the past.’
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Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart follows on from Stuart’s outstanding Booker Prize winning debut Shuggie Bain. Although the setting is very much the same – Glaswegian tenements, dysfunctional families, absent fathers and alcoholic mothers – the story feels different enough to engage even those who’ve read Shuggie Bain. A burgeoning love between Mungo and fellow loner James is at the core of this book, the moving tenderness of their relationship in stark contrast to the rough realities on the street and at home. In true Stuart style, characters and places rise from the page but I felt some of the pace and immediacy of his debut was missing in this book. Still a good read, but not the mind-blower that was Shuggie Bain. Read full Review
The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant is an unjustly neglected American gem. A deliciously peculiar novel, comic and melancholic in equal parts, it takes us to a down-at-heel New York at the turn of the 1950’s and the dreary life of daydreamer and rent collector, Norman Moonbloom. Norman’s days are spent chasing rent from hapless tenants, whilst attempting to dodge their numerous demands, complaints, and often riotous domestic dramas. Too sensitive for the world of the mercenary slumlord, he will undergo a quiet epiphany against a disintegrating backdrop of leaking taps and treacherous wiring.