Madeleine Miller is the much-praised author of the recently published and hugely successful Circe, which we at Bookstoker loved. In my view, Miller’s debut novel, The Song of Achilles, first published in 2012 and the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction that year, is even better. This spellbinding novel is a must-read for anyone who loved Circe, The Silence of the Girls , has an interest in the Greek myths or is simply looking for an addictively good read.
I’m very excited to announce that Johanne has joined us as a reviewer. Johanne has just started her Masters Degree at the University of East Anglia where she’s focusing on biography and creative non-fiction. She brings a younger voice to Bookstoker and through her passion for translated literature she’ll surely introduce us to books we otherwise wouldn’t have found. Johanne has quietly written some reviews for us already. Have a look. A Stranger at My Table, So Much Longing in So Little Space: The Art of Edward Munch, The Birds, Unquiet and Will and Testament. Welcome Johanne!
After Knausgaard’s My Struggle series of books, Norwegian readers thought we were used to the dramatic repercussions brought on by the thinly veiled autobiographical novel. Then, in 2016, Will and Testament by Vigdis Hjorth’s detonated like a bomb. Critics claimed to find many similarities between real people and the characters portrayed in the novel, too many for there to be a coincidence. It was clear: Vigdis Hjorth was writing about her own life and her own family. This led to much debate and even sparked a new genre – the ‘revenge-novel’ – when Hjorth’s sister wrote a novel of her own about what it was like to be made into a character in her sister’s book.
Laughter is the best medicine and for those of you who can’t stand Boris Johnson or Brexit, The Cockroach by Ian McEwan should make you feel a tiny bit better, at least for a fleeting moment. The rest of you might as well stop reading now. The premise is genius: a Kafkaesque metamorphosis in reverse. A cockroach wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and fellow cabinet members, many of whom also used to live under the floorboards of the Houses of Parliament, are seeking to get an absurd economic plan called reversalism, a reversal of all money flows, through the House of Commons. It won’t change your life – or political point of view – McEwan’s political satire, but it will make you snigger. Predictably, The Guardian loved this novella, The Telegraph didn’t. I found it quite funny.
The story of a childhood summer home in the verdant Somerset countryside from one of England’s foremost contemporary novelists, The Past by Tessa Hadley is a breathtaking exploration of human interiority and interconnectedness. It is the account of four adult siblings, some with spouses and children and some notably without, and their last summer in the cottage as they decide whether or not to sell it.
It’s the season for literary prizes and hot on the heels of the Nobel Prize for Literature comes this year’s Booker Prize. Unusually, and in breach of their own rules, the committee decided to split the prize between Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments and Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during those discussions.
I’m an ardent admirer of Atwood (see reviews of Alias Grace, The Handmaid’s Tale) but I’m not convinced The Testaments is amongst her best books. Sure, it’s a timely novel touching upon momentous issues such as totalitarianism, religious extremism and feminism, but the literary aspects of this book are by no means perfect. Atwood has won before, 19 years ago, for the The Blind Assassin.
Bernadine Evaristo is the first black woman to win the Booker (high time!) for Girl, Woman, Other, 12 intertwining stories about black women’s lives. It sounds like an energetic, different book and we’re reading it as I write. Watch this space!
You’d think that the Nobel Prize Committee for Literature would play it safe this time around after having been suspended last year due to a sexual misconduct scandal, but no. The 2019 prize has been awarded to Peter Handke, an Austrian playwright, author and translator with a long track record of winning literary prizes. Unfortunately, Handke has also been an outspoken supporter of Serbian nationalism and, amongst other things, spoke at the funeral of Slobodan Milošević. In this day and age, the timing of awarding the prize to Handke seems particularly misjudged. No matter his skills as an author. Why they didn’t chose someone else amongst the numerous talented living authors is mind-boggling.
Poor Olga Tokarczuk, whose win for the 2018 prize (awarded this year because of said scandal) risks being drowned in the controversy around Handke’s prize, is the one we should focus on perhaps. Her novel Flights, which won the International Man Booker Prize last year, seems like a good place to start.
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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably aware that The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, was published a few weeks ago. The dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale was a game-changer when it came out in 1985, painting a terrifying picture of a totalitarian society in which women had been reduced to birthing machines. The arrival of Trump and religious extremism propelled the book back on the best-seller lists and inspired Atwood to write a sequel. Any follow-up to a brilliantly conceived, ground-breaking creation is a tall order and as much as I found this book an interesting, page-turner (always the case with Atwood, in my opinion), it also feels like a slightly paler version of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Few things could hold me off from starting Margaret Atwood’s latest book, but The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig actually has. Zweig, an Austrian Jew whose wonderful novellas (The Royal Game, Amok, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Twenty-four Hours in the Life of a Woman) many of you will know, was the world’s most popular author in the 1920s and 30s, until Hitler banned his books. The World of Yesterday is his autobiography, finished two days before his and his second wife’s joint suicide. It’s a lament for a lost world, a love letter to creativity and artists and an eloquent analysis of events that led up to both the first and the second world wars. The parallels with aspects of our own turbulent times are hard to ignore. Highly recommended.