Amanda and Clay – a successful, liberal New York couple – are staying in a smart rental summer house in the Hamptons with their kids. When the phone and internet connections go down and a black couple, claiming to be the owners of the house, knock on the door asking for shelter, Amanda and Clay’s proclaimed tolerance is put to the test. Who is this couple? Can they be trusted? And why doesn’t the communications network function? Cyberattack? Terrorism? War? Nuclear accident? Catastrophe looms in Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, the most unsettling and frighteningly believable novel I’ve read in a long time.
I think we can all agree that 2020 hasn’t been the greatest year, but at least books, unlike theatre, cinema and exhibitions, have been available throughout. When you can’t go places, books can take you away. Here at Bookstoker we have been to a stormy Scottish loch, the poop deck of a 17th century tall ship, a senator’s mansion in Tennessee and the alehouses of 16th century Stratford-upon-Avon and many other places. As always, our annual Christmas list have fantastic fiction, interesting non-fiction, mind-bending poetry and loads of wonderful children’s books. So this year, more than ever, books really are the best gift. When you do buy them, please consider sacrificing the convenience and slightly lower prices of Amazon to make sure your local bookshop will still be there on the other side of Corona. Most local bookshops have good online or phone ordering systems now and if not Bookshop.org, an online bookshop supporting the local bookshop of your choice, is here to help.
In a row of cabins along a Scottish loch, families are trying to enjoy their summer holiday. It’s been bucketing down for several days and claustrophobia is setting in. Siblings are bickering, parents’ tempers flare. (Been there?) Bored, they observe each other through the ‘French doors’ of their cheaply built wooden cabins. Some venture out and some are sent out, mostly to relive the tension building inside. Summerwater by Sarah Moss, is a quietly unsettling little book that deals with family life, secrets and conflict, set in an ominous world, which I consumed in one sitting.
Feline Philosophy – Cats and the Meaning of Life by John Gray might sound like a whimsical self-help book but is actually a subtle, engrossing and revealing read about what it is to be human. People suggest that that there is no instruction manual to life, and you would be better served discovering Meaning (with a capital M) in the great works of literature. John Gray thinks there is no such thing as Meaning. An eminent author, he has spent his career trying to rubbish the idea that there is any “meaning” to life.
Finally! The wonderful French 1960s classic, The Life Before Us by Émile Ajar, is getting the attention it deserves. Italian screen goddess Sophia Loren is starring in The Life Ahead, a film based on the book, which is now available on Netflix (film review). It’s the story of an immigrant boy who lives in a Paris orphanage run by ex-prostitute Madame Rosa. This book will make you laugh and cry and is not only one of my all time favourite books, it’s also the most visited post on Bookstoker. You can find our review here. Hello, publishers out there, can you please re-publish this amazing book!
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson is a near impossible sell. With its dreadful cover (really??) and odd sounding storyline (twins who catch fire when they get agitated) my go-to-bookseller struggled to convince me. Luckily, I succumbed because this is an utterly surprising, funny and moving novel. It’s the story of the Lillian, an aimless loner, who’s hired by her glamorous friend Madison as nanny for her twin stepchildren. There’s a catch: the twins combust when they’re upset. If you find this plot implausible, you won’t be alone, but somehow Wilson succeeds in making it credible and what seems like a shallow novel turns into something much weightier.
The public has chosen Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of A Yellow Sun the best winner of 25 years of Women’s Prize for Fiction. This book is a magnificent read, a beautiful love story against the backdrop of the Biafran war, a terrible conflict I vividly remember from my childhood as totally incomprehensible…until I read this book. A truly amazing novel.
Read our review of Americanah, also by Adichie.