Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka is a novel told from the perspective of the women linked to Ansel Packer, a serial killer on death row in Texas counting down the hours to his execution by lethal injection. As well as the four victims he killed, the perspectives of other women in his life are explored, including his mother, his ex-wife’s sister and the detective who caught him. ‘Notes on an Execution’ straddles both literary and crime fiction, posing reflective questions about the justice system while still ramping up the tension both in the present-day storyline with the clock ticking down to Ansel’s execution and in the flashbacks such as when his mother attempts to escape an abusive relationship. Overall, this is a unique suspense novel with a skilfully handled plot structure.
I’m Sorry You Feel That Way by Rebecca Wait will inevitably draw comparisons with Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason due to the central theme of women and mental illness told with dry humour as well as the current book cover trend of women in their twenties literally unable to face the world. The novel opens with a family funeral, a very bold and effective set piece introducing siblings Alice, Hanna and Michael and the dysfunction at the heart of their family. The plot then shifts back in time to explore the roots of neuroticism and social awkwardness of their mother, Celia, whose sister suffered from schizophrenia. Celia’s interactions with her fellow students at university and her colleagues are particularly well-drawn. Her discomfort in friendships and relationships influences her children in different ways and it eventually becomes clear why twin sisters Alice and Hanna haven’t spoken for a few years. ‘I’m Sorry You Feel That Way’ is a nuanced and understated novel with brilliantly developed characters.
Haven’t You Heard?: Gossip, Power, and How Politics Really Works by Marie Le Conte is about the role gossip plays in British politics. The central thesis is that information is power, and can be just as effective and influential through informal networks rather than necessarily coming directly from those at the centre of government. It explores the myriad of ways in which politicians, special advisers, government whips and journalists interact with each other, from cosy chats in private members clubs and tea rooms in the House of Commons to leaky WhatsApp groups. Published in 2018, it hasn’t dated too badly due to its focus on the methods of gossip rather than specific events (apart from Brexit, of course). Le Conte is a political journalist with excellent contacts and a dry sense of humour and her engaging book will probably appeal the most to those already familiar with the eccentricities of life in the Westminster bubble.
You’ve Got Red on You by Clark Collis is a deep dive into the making of the 2004 romantic-zombie-comedy film ‘Shaun of the Dead’, covering everything from how director Edgar Wright met lead actor Simon Pegg, the numerous cinematic influences on the film, the casting and production processes and how ‘Shaun of the Dead’ eventually became a word-of-mouth success on both sides of the Atlantic. Not only is ‘Shaun of the Dead’ an endlessly quotable and rewatchable film, there is also an interesting story here about how this relatively low-budget British film was made and distributed at a time when zombie films were completely out of fashion. Despite the success of Wright and Pegg’s cult comedy TV series ‘Spaced’ on Channel 4, the path to getting ‘Shaun of the Dead’ off the ground wasn’t an easy one and extensive interviews with Wright, Pegg and numerous others shed light on how the industry works. ’You’ve Got Red on You’ is a highly entertaining behind the scenes look at of one of the best-loved films of the 2000s.