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Being Mortal

Surprisingly reassuring on a grim subject

I’m not sure how I’m going to convince you to read this book. Most of you will, understandably, want to look the other way. There are details about dying in Being Mortal by Atul Gawande that will make you shudder and stories about elderly people’s lives that will make you want to cry. But, for me, this book was an eye-opener and surprisingly reassuring, despite it’s grim subject matter. Gawande is an Indian/American surgeon, health-care researcher, a Harvard professor, author, journalist, in short: a brilliant man whose books on health care issues regularly climb to the top of non-fiction bestseller lists.

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Lost on Me by Veronica Raimo

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Lost on Me

Laughs, lies and neurotic parenting

Longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2024, Lost on Me by Veronica Raimo is a funny, fearless and gleefully bizarre work of Italian autofiction, chronicling one woman’s journey to authorhood. Told by Vero, now in her forties, it’s the story of her childhood in Rome and subsequent years spent trying to escape the clutches of a dysfunctional family. In a confessional outpouring that ranges from her struggles with constipation to what looks a lot like emotional abuse from her highly-strung mother, Vero’s tale is written in a self-proclaimed style of ambiguity.

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Western Lane by Chetna Maroo

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Western Lane

A debut novelist of brilliant promise

Longlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2024, and appearing on last year’s Booker shortlist, Western Lane by Chetna Maroo is a spare, tender novel of grief and loss, told from the viewpoint of bereaved 11-year-old Gopi in her unique search for resilience through the game of squash. Following the untimely death of her mother, Gopi’s struggling father has launched his three daughters into an intense regime at Western Lane sports centre. Here, on the squash court, Gopi will find space to breathe and contemplate a world of adult silences and the challenges of adolescence in a cross-cultural family.

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The Long-Winded Lady by Maeve Brennan

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The Long-Winded Lady

A captivating and stylish peek at bygone New York

An unearthed gem for lovers of the Big Apple, The Long-Winded Lady by Maeve Brennan is a gloriously evocative collection of vignettes of New York life between 1954 and 1981. Originally written for The New Yorker as a series of observational pieces, Brennan captures the city in a state of  flux, reporting from street scenes, hotel lobbies, and more often than not, the window table of an elegant bar. From here, as a wry and solitary observer and unashamed eavesdropper, Brennan gives us the lowdown on a city where it’s never too early to order a martini.

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Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

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Inheritance

Finding your genes

At the age of 54, author Dani Shapiro discovers that her father is not the man who raised her. The Ancestry.com genealogy test results show that not only is she fathered by someone else, but she also has a lot less Jewish DNA than she thought. Having been raised in an orthodox Jewish family, this raises all kinds of questions about identity and belonging. I was enthralled by Shapiro’s detective work as I joined her emotional rollercoaster to find out why, how and who. Inheritance by Dani Shapiro is a human story which raises some compelling ethical dilemmas and is well worth your time.

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Christ on a Bike by Orla Owen

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Christ on a Bike

A twisty psychological tale of envy, materialism and neurosis

Seemingly set to wear the generation rent label into middle age, Cerys is stuck on the London treadmill of extortionate rents and squishing on the Central Line every morning for the pleasure of working a 50-hour week. Her uptight sister, Seren, believes Cerys is doomed to an impoverished old age due to sheer imprudence. Everything changes one drizzly day in Wales, when an act of kindness on Cerys’ part results in her inheriting a fabulous coastal property and a generous income for life. There is, of course, a grimly clever catch, and Christ on a Bike by Orla Owen presents a twisty psychological tale of envy, materialism and neurosis.

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The Pledge by Freidrich Dürrenmatt

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The Pledge

An eerie crime novel with a twist

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, The Pledge by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, a Swiss dramatist and novelist, is a crime novel with a twist designed to challenge the formulaic (according to Dürrenmatt) nature of the genre.

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The Gallopers by Jon Ransom

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The Gallopers

Atmospheric tale of secrets and loss in 1950’s England

From the beginning, 19-year-old Eli tells us that he’s something other than he appears to be. Young and gay in Norfolk, 1953, this austere, post-war decade demands a conformity and obedience that threatens to stifle his dreams. In mourning for his dead mother, Eliza, who was lost to the infamous North Sea flood, Eli lives with his mentally fragile aunt in a hostile community, whose members are prone to anonymously lobbing stones through their windows. In The Gallopers by Jon Ransom, torturous secrets are uncovered through the prism of Eli’s relationships with workmate, Shane Wright, and Jimmy Smart, a charismatic showman from a travelling fair.

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