I review the majority of the books I read. However, mostly due to lack of time, I don’t blog about all of them. Here are my thoughts about nine other books I read in 2014 but didn’t review earlier in the year.
Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley and Family Life by Akhil Sharma are both short and quietly affecting novels. ‘Clever Girl’ is more of a collection of connected short stories about Stella’s life from growing up in Bristol in the 1960s to her relationships as an adult. ‘Family Life’ tells the story of Ajay who leaves India and moves to the United States with his family when he is eight years old and the impact of his brother’s accident. ‘Family Life’ is definitely a worthy nominee for the 2015 Folio Prize longlist revealed last week.
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2007, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid is an intriguing and thought-provoking story about a young Pakistani man who is telling an American stranger in a cafe in Lahore why he has abandoned the United States. Hamid handles a controversial subject with real control and I much preferred ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ to ‘The Gathering’ by Anne Enright which won the Booker Prize that year.
I read The Night Guest by Fiona Macfarlane shortly after reading ‘Elizabeth is Missing‘ by Emma Healey last summer. They are both excellent debut novels narrated by a character with dementia. However, ‘The Night Guest’ was very different from Healey’s novel in that the boundaries between reality and Ruth’s perception of events are completely blurred and become just as disorientating for the reader as they are for Ruth. ‘The Night Guest’ is a more challenging read than ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ and offers an alternative perspective to a similar subject matter.
‘The Execution of Noa P. Singleton’ by Elizabeth L. Silver tells the story of a young woman who is in prison facing the death penalty for a double murder when the mother of one of her victims asks her to appeal for clemency. It’s a pacy read and a very interesting premise in a setting which is rarely explored in fiction. However, I wasn’t truly gripped by the story and I don’t think the author’s portrayal of Noa’s twisted character was entirely convincing.
& Sons by David Gilbert is an ambitious novel which tells the story of A. N. Dyer, a highly successful author who has acquired a J. D. Salinger type of notoriety for his critically acclaimed novel ‘Ampersand’. Narrated by Philip Topping, the story opens at the funeral of his father, Charles, who was a close friend of Dyer’s. The novel focuses on Dyer’s relationship with his three sons, reformed drug addict Richard, documentary-maker Jamie and teenager Andy. Gilbert is a highly skilled author who writes very fine prose and the first two-thirds of the novel were very compelling. However, I found the final section much less so. It felt a bit as though Gilbert had run out of steam, most probably due to a few too many subplots.
The Deaths by Mark Lawson is very similar to ‘The Casual Vacancy‘ by J. K. Rowling with its sharp satire of middle England in the midst of the recent financial crisis. Lawson’s entertaining observations are witty and the characters are all pleasingly unlikeable. However, it is a state-of-the-nation novel set in a very specific time period and I think it will seem very dated in a few years’ time.
A bestseller in Germany, Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes sees Adolf Hitler come back to life in 2011. Despite trying to convince modern German citizens that he really is the Fuhrer, most believe he is a method actor and quickly becomes a hit on YouTube. As you might expect, Hitler is appalled by most of what he sees in modern Germany including cookery shows on television, but is fascinated by the Internet, particularly Wikipedia. Those who enjoyed the quirky humour of ‘The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’ would probably appreciate ‘Look Who’s Back’. For me, the strong first half and weaker second half meant this was a book which I felt would have worked better as a short story or novella.
At first glance, the concept of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North is similar to ‘Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson in which the main character lives the same life over and over again. However, while Ursula only has a vague sense of déjà vu in ‘Life After Life’, Harry August remembers everything that happened in his previous lives and also communicates with other “kalachakras” who have the same power. North explores this concept creatively but the structure didn’t quite work for me and made it more difficult for the story to hold my attention. I seem to be in the minority though as most readers loved it!
Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?