Out today, the 2019 Booker Prize short-list. A mix of well-known and not so well-known authors of different nationalities; British, American, Nigerian, British/Turkish, British/Indian and Canadian. Two literary superstars: Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie. Some names we have seen before: Elif Shafak and Chigozie Obioma. And two names that were new to us: Lucy Ellmann and Bernardine Evaristo.
Tequila Leila, a Turkish prostitute in her 40s, lies murdered in a rubbish bin. Her brain, for the first ten minutes and thirty-eight seconds after her death is still working – remembering, sensing, calling up memories and sensations from her life. 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak tells not just the story of one woman’s life through these disjointed recollections but conjures a beautiful but unsettling portrait of Istanbul and its shifting population.
Then, reading Client Earth by James Thornton and Martin Goodman might bring back a spring in your step. ClientEarth is a charitable law firm representing the interest of Earth and is made up by a group of clever lawyers who find creative ways of using the law to force governments and companies to abide by environmental legislation. Legislation is one thing, ClientEarth’s founder James Thornton reminds us, enforcement something else entirely. And you thought you didn’t like lawyers? Think again.
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It feels timely for Norwegian historian and biographer Ivo de Figueiredo’s postcolonial family chronicle to be published in English on the eve of Brexit. A Stranger at My Table by Ivo de Figueiredo is the author’s autobiographical account of a family history that spans two centuries and four continents, and the result is an ambitious amalgam; an exploration of a family ‘caught in the half-life of empires’, as well as a personal memoir detailing de Figueiredo’s turbulent relationship with his father Xavier.
Devouring Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, this summer’s most talked about book, has left a bad taste in my mouth. For eight years Taddeo followed the relationships of three American women – Maggie, Lina and Sloane – with the goal of uncovering ‘vital truths about women and desire’. Taddeo’s initial plan was to study a larger group of women but finding volunteers (the level of intimate details in this book would make the bravest of women shy away) proved tricky. That’s a shame as these three stories, captivating as they are (Taddeo is a superb storyteller), surely represent only a small sub-section of female sexual experience. So that begs the question: what is the point of this book?
Disaffected teenager Charlie Lewis is finessed into joining a summer holiday drama camp by a girl he meets by chance. She is beautiful, clever and well-read; he can’t act, has zero ambition and is only there because he fancies her. Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls is a pitch-perfect, delicately choreographed love story that will make you laugh and cry and wish you were young again – and then be glad you’re not.
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Celestial and Roy are two young black newlyweds, he an executive with a promising career ahead; she an up-and-coming folk artist. When something terrible happens they are torn apart for five years – their lives unravel and they question everything they thought they knew. I read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones as an e-book without having read the blurb (surprising for me but there you are) and I think this is the best and only way to read it. If you know what is going to happen – and almost every review will tell you – then the spoiler makes the whole book a bit pointless.
The Booker Prize long-list 2019 of 13 books was published yesterday and the question is, as always, where to start, if at all…We’ve reviewed a few of them and thought we’d share our views. The big unknown – although entirely unsurprising – entry is The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s much-anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, out in September. The Booker judges, bound by strict non-disclosure agreements, can’t say a word about what happens in the book, so we’ll have to take their word for it.