Not all books are blessed with a brilliant opening line, but Lobster Life by Erik Fosnes Hansen certainly is. His first novel in ten years kicks off with the offhand remark: ‘They had got as far as the cakes when Herr Berge, the bank manager, suddenly slumped down at the table and started to die.’ They turn out to be the young boy Sedgwick and his grandparents, and although Fosnes Hansen’s wit is not as tinkling throughout as it is in that shiny first sentence, Sedgwick’s story turns out highly amusing nonetheless.
America’s excellent National Public Radio conducted a Best Ever Teen Fiction poll a few years ago and this list still stands in my opinion. Some fantastic books here for every teen age, taste and gender.
The organisers of the world famous Hay festival have been hard at work to make a virtual version this year. Starting Friday 22nd May a mind blowingly brilliant program of speakers on a wide range of topics will be available online. Free live events with over a hundred speakers on politics, the environment, science, history, cosmology, linguistics, ethics, pandemics (of course) and lots and lots of fiction. I don’t even know where to start! If you’ve never been able to make it to the festival, this is your chance.
Hay Festival Digital has an equally brilliant special program for schools which starts today. Tell your school about it or use it for your own home schooling (or simply as a babysittter).
The cynical, whiskey drinking, mac-wearing sleuth Philip Marlow is one of crime literature’s most enduring characters. Written in 1936, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler has stood the test of time despite a dash of homophobia and sexism which, today, seem so outlandish it just makes you laugh. The story involves the wealthy General Sternwood, his spoilt, unruly daughters Carmen and Vivian, and blackmail. Chandler was in a league of his own when it came to astute observations of people and places and it’s this that sets The Big Sleep apart from so many others in the genre.
Norway’s capital is perhaps not the most spectacular city in Europe, but it has seldom been more charming than in Echoes of the City by Lars Saabye Christensen, the first instalment in an ambitious trilogy tracing the lives of ordinary people in post-war Oslo. One of Norway’s most respected novelists, Saabye Christensen has managed the feat of attaining both critical acclaim and high sales.
I am writing the review of This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun eight weeks into the extraordinary lockdown we find ourselves stuck in. This remarkable, deeply unsettling novel, based on a true story, has reminded me of the incredible strength humans find in order to survive the darkest of situations. Strangely, although a harrowing and at times uncomfortable read, it has proved to be a perfect book for now. I hope you will feel the same.
Did you love Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming as much as I did? The Netflix documentary based on her book and life starts today, 6th of May, on Netflix. I’ll be watching! Here’s our review of her book.
I’m finding that bitesized, escapist fiction suits my concentration levels these days and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, perfectly fits the bill. The story of two mysterious sisters living with their ailing uncle in a grand, ivy-covered Vermont house is unsettling from the word go. We Have Always Lived in the Castle was Jackson’s – the American queen of ghost and horror stories – last and, many think, best novel.
Bookstoker Young Readers
Remember Sally Rooney’s dazzling, multi-prize-winning novel Normal People? The BBC and Hulu just released a TV-series based on the book and rave reviews are flooding in. You can find our review here. Watch the series or read the book or even both. Just don’t miss this gem of a love story! Here’s the trailer.