Free Love by Tessa Hadley

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Free Love

One woman’s search for self in 1960’s London

It’s 1967, and while London is swinging, the home counties are abstaining. There’s certainly no Bohemian aura around suburban housewife, Phyllis Fischer. Forty and fragrant, Phyllis enjoys an elegant life of propriety, her days revolving around her family and social circle. Her complacency is set to be shattered when an intoxicating secret kiss ignites a desire for sexual and intellectual freedom. But at what price? Free Love by Tessa Hadley is a magnificently astute portrayal of family upheaval and compromise, set in an English decade itself in flux.

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The Antarctica of Love by Sara Stridsberg

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The Antarctica of Love

Giving the victim a face

There are voices we don’t hear from often enough in literature. Shuggie, the young son of an alcoholic in Shuggie Bain, is one example; Kristina, or Inni, in The Antarctica of Love by Sara Stridsberg, another. A drug addict and prostitute about to be murdered in the most gruesome way imaginable, invisible to society until, for a fleeting moment, she grabs the public’s attention as a victim of a horrific crime. Inni, talks to us from the afterlife, taking us through the day of the crime and how she got there. It’s a tough read this book, mainly because of the graphic violence but perhaps even more because it holds up a mirror to ourselves and our society’s failure to see people like Inni. Shell shockingly good.

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Putin’s Russia

Curious about Putin and what is going on in Russia? Bill Browder’s Red Notice gives one man’s insight into Putin’s Russia, a fascinating and frightening real-life thriller that will give any spy fiction author a run for their money. Read our full review here.

The Madness of Grief by Ricard Coles

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The Madness of Grief

An illuminating and moving memoir of bereavement

Briefly an 80’s pop star before becoming a vicar and beloved broadcaster, the Reverend Richard Coles was often teasingly referred to by his late partner, David, as ‘a borderline national trinket.’ It’s a rueful irony that this book has likely propelled him from trinket to treasure, for The Madness of Grief by Richard Coles is an eloquent, incredibly affecting, and often beautiful account of David’s death. Providing solace for similarly bereaved readers, this poignant memoir is also a testament to abiding love.

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The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

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The Friend

Lyrical on mourning and dogs

A female English professor and writer loses her best friend and sometimes lover to suicide. A few days later she’s asked to take over the care of his dog, an enormous Great Dane. No small ask as the writer lives in a tiny flat in a Manhattan building where dogs are prohibited. This is the plot of the otherwise plotless but strangely mesmerising The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, a story about love, loss and being an artist, which, had my flight not been over, I would have read in one sitting.

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Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

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Crossroads

Reassuringly familiar

In Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen we’re back in familiar Franzen-territory: the dissection of an all American family. After his more expansive (geographically and thematically) and, in my opinion, less successful Purity, Crossroads feels reassuringly familiar. This is both a blessing, he does it extremely well, but also begs the question: is Franzen a one-trick pony?

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Consent by Annabel Lyon

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Consent

Elegant psychological page-turner

Long-listed for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021, Consent by Annabel Lyon is a dark and twisty tale. At a time when public debate around the principle of consent has often centred on the sexual, the novel’s slightly lurid cover misleads. Lyon is actually intent on exploring the broader meaning of the word, in a cleverly interwoven story of two sets of sisters. In each case, one sister is incapacitated and the remaining sibling compelled to care for her. What appears to be an affecting domestic drama accelerates into a shocking and suspenseful reckoning with guilt and grief.

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Small Things Like These by Clarie Keegan

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Small Things Like These

A tender story with a dark backdrop

Set in 1985 in an Irish seaside town, Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan feels like it might as well have been set in 1885. We meet protagonist Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, as he delivers goods to his freezing clients in the run up to Christmas. Poor but happily married with five bright daughters, Furlong takes nothing for granted. Bill was born outside wedlock and owes his relatively harmonious upbringing to the kindness and acceptance of his mother’s employer. Up at the abbey, not everyone has had the same luck.

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