The subtitle of Gavin Francis’ travel memoir would be a reasonably concise answer to the question: “What comes to mind when you think of Antarctica?”. While ice and emperor penguins are the more obvious responses to be expected from those who have never been there, it is the silence of such a remote landscape which Francis dwells on in his account of the fourteen months he spent as the base-camp doctor at the British Antarctic Survey’s Halley research station on the Caird Coast. What becomes clear from reading ‘Empire Antarctica’ is that claustrophobia and isolation are also major factors, although that would have made a much less satisfying book title. Continue reading
‘The Noise of Time’ by Julian Barnes is a fictional account of the life of Dmitri Shostakovich, one of the most famous Russian composers of the twentieth century. The novel focuses on three key points in his life at twelve-year intervals. In the first part, Shostakovich is waiting by a lift shaft expecting the secret police to take him away and interrogate him at The Big House during the height of the purges in 1936. In the second part, he travels to the United States to deliver a speech on behalf of the Soviet Union in 1948. In the final part set in 1960, he is asked to become a party member under Khrushchev. Continue reading
Shortlisted for both the Man Booker Prize and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction last year, ‘A Spool of Blue Thread’ by Anne Tyler tells the story of three generations of the Whitshank family during the twentieth century. The novel focuses on Red and Abby Whitshank and their four grown up children: the black sheep of the family Denny, daughters Jeannie and Amanda and adopted son Stem. Meanwhile, the story of how Red’s parents Junior and Linnie Mae met and married in the 1930s forms another significant thread of the family saga. Continue reading
Shortly after ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage‘ was published in 2014, it was announced that Haruki Murakami’s first two novellas ‘Hear the Wind Sing’ and ‘Pinball, 1973’ would be retranslated and reissued in English. Originally published in Japan in 1979 and 1980 respectively, the English translations by Alfred Birnbaum have long been out of print. Despite Murakami’s cult status followed by increasing commercial success across the world and with rare copies of the original translations selling for hundreds of pounds on eBay, it’s surprising that the novellas haven’t been reissued sooner. Last year, new translations by Ted Goossen were finally made available in one volume under the shortened title ‘Wind/Pinball’. Continue reading
One of my very early blog posts in May 2012 was a book review of Room by Emma Donoghue which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2010. Last month, I attended a preview screening at The Hospital Club in central London of the new film adaptation directed by Lenny Abrahamson with a screenplay written by Donoghue herself. Starring Brie Larson as Ma and Jacob Tremblay as her son Jack, ‘Room’ has already received widespread critical acclaim including four Academy Award nominations earlier today and has dominated film festivals around the world. It had a limited release last October in the United States and will open in cinemas across the UK tomorrow on Friday 15th January 2016.
‘Beside Myself’ is Ann Morgan’s debut novel which tells the story of identical twin sisters Helen and Ellie. One day, at the age of six, they decide to play a game where they swap places for a day to fool their mother. However, troublesome Ellie enjoys taking on the role of bright and popular Helen so much that she refuses to swap back despite the real Helen’s protestations. While their true identities remain hidden, several family secrets begin to be uncovered. Continue reading
As well as all the books I missed in 2015 and want to catch up on, there are lots of new books to look forward to in 2016. Here is a selection I will be keeping my eye out for this year:
I‘m looking forward to reading The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes, an author who can always be relied upon to write about something completely different every time he publishes a new book. His latest novel, his first since The Sense of an Ending which won the Man Booker Prize in 2011, is based on the life of Dmitri Shostakovich.
The Muse by Jessie Burton will be out in the summer. I thought The Miniaturist was an enjoyable piece of historical literary fiction but a bit on the light side whereas her second novel looks like it’s going to be more ambitious in terms of content. Set in 1930s Spain and 1960s London, it tells the story of a painting which connects a Caribbean migrant and a bohemian artist.
This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell will be published in May. I’ve enjoyed all of her novels, particularly The Hand That First Held Mine and I’m looking forward to her seventh novel about an American professor living in Ireland who has a secret which threatens to destroy his idyllic life in the countryside.
‘After Me Comes the Flood’ is a 50p charity shop bargain I haven’t read yet but I’m hoping to read both that as well as The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry this year. Her second novel is set in Victorian London and Essex and tells the story of a unique relationship between a widow and a vicar. Continue reading