Old God's Time by Sebastian Barry

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Old God’s Time

Trauma, memory and radiant love

A novel of rich interiority, Old God’s Time by Sebastian Barry introduces us to the sedate life of Tom Kettle, a retired policeman dreaming away his days by the Irish Sea. His is the ‘little routine of a retired man,’ and the comfort of his beloved wicker chair, where he indulges in cigarillos and contemplation of his late wife, June, and their two children. When unwanted interruption comes in the form of two ex-colleagues and the reopening of a cold case, Tom is compelled to revisit the past, in Barry’s fine portrait of trauma, wavering memories, and radiant love.

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Silence by Shusaku Endo

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Stunning Japanese classic

Reading Silence by Shusaku Endo is one of those magical experiences in which you find yourself transported to a completely different time and place. In this case, to a 17th century Japan in the midst of its battle to eradicate Christianity. We follow two young, committed Jesuit priests on their clandestine journey from Portugal to an island off the coast of Japan. Their mission: to keep the Catholic faith alive and to find out what happened to a predecessor who is rumoured to have apostatised. Justly considered a Japanese classic, Silence raises questions around religious colonialism, clash of cultures, freedom of religion and the very core of faith itself while being an absolutely gripping read.

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Love Leda by Mark Hyatt

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Love Leda

An evocative and unforgettable tale of bygone gay London

Predating the decriminalisation of gay sex in 1967 and never before published, Love, Leda by Mark Hyatt is a lost gem of urban gay literature. By turns, audacious and affecting, Hyatt’s semi-autobiographical novel gives us a handful of days in the company of Leda, depressed narcissist and self-proclaimed ‘social bum’. Leda spends his days (and heady nights) searching for something beyond the greyness of an early 1960’s London that has yet to become groovy. A captivating read, it brilliantly chronicles an unapologetic adventurer and a bygone London.

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A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

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A Single Man

Re-engaging with life

Film fans will remember fashion designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut from a few years ago based on A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood. As aesthetically pleasing that film was, nothing compares to the real thing: the book itself. The story of recently bereaved George, a 58-year-old Santa Monica based Englishman, struggling to fill the gaping hole left by the sudden death of his gay partner Jim, is absolutely exquisite. Written in 1964 and hailed as the first truly gay novel, this beautifully written, tightly conceived novel about re-discovering happiness is a joy to read.

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Brutes by Dizz Tate

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One for the Netflix hit list

Aptly described as ‘Lynchian’, Brutes by Dizz Tate is a slice of dark-hearted, small-town Americana, centring on a brood of intense and voyeuristic teenagers. At the heart of the novel’s unfolding events in Falls Landing, Florida, their all-seeing eyes note fellow residents every move, in particular their girl-crush, Sammy, the kooky daughter of a local preacher. When Sammy suddenly goes missing, the friends follow the search proceedings with binoculars from their bedroom windows, their gaze torn between ‘the blue streaks of sirens,’ and the silent, still lake beyond. The monsters of Falls Landing are about to surface in Tate’s deliciously febrile debut novel.

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Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

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Things We Lost in the Fire

Stories to make your skin crawl

Short stories and I don’t always get along but Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez turned out to be an exception. All set in Enriquez’s native Argentina, the stories usually start out in pretty innocuous domestic settings only to veer into something far darker and more troubling. Often set in impoverished slums we encounter corrupt police officers, mysterious disappearances, human bones emerging from the ground, brutal murders, self-harm and apparitions of people long gone. There are some pretty gruesome details in these stories but thanks to Enriquez’s skills as a writer it doesn’t feel like gratuitous violence, but rather a portrait of a people and a country still living in the shadows of its bleak past.

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The Hero of This Book by Elizabeth McCracken

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The Hero of This Book

Grief, memories and blurred lines

One Sunday in summer, a bereaved American writer wanders the streets of London, finding echoes and shadows of her dead mother in a city beloved to them both. The writer is our narrator and the book is most definitely not a memoir. Her mother didn’t believe in memoirs about parents, and anyhow the book’s blurb is keen to tell us that it’s a novel. In The Hero of This Book by Elizabeth McCracken, the lines between fiction and biography are blurred in a cerebral, generous and absorbing read.

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Unforgettable classics

I have made a list (in no particular order) of seven books that come to mind every time I think of classics. Most of these I read a while ago and some of them I have read several times, but all of them are brilliant. There is a wide variety, from stories about love and betrayal to dark outposts and surreal transformations, from very long to very short. Take your pick and enjoy!

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