Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn was shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction and won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award in 2021 – two of my favourite literary prizes. Flyn explores 13 places where humans used to live but have now left for good. While most of the locations were hastily evacuated due to environmental disasters or war, the case of urban decline in Detroit is more about being gradually left behind. Flyn is very good at explaining concepts in laypersons terms and engages with the climate change issues sensitively. While there are undoubtedly consequences for humans and non-humans alike, she also shows how ecologically resilient these sites are with an ability to recover or adapt, simply by being left alone from human occupation. Overall, this is an excellent book which is very well-written and provides plenty to think about.
We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman is a debut novel about Ash and Edi who have been friends since childhood for over 40 years. Edi has ovarian cancer and moves from New York to a hospice in Massachusetts close to where Ash lives. Ash adapts to life centred around palliative care including getting to know the other residents, hunting for a lost recipe for Sicilian lemon polenta pound cake and processing various emotions as the inevitable conclusion approaches. I wouldn’t describe ‘We All Want Impossible Things’ as “riotously funny” like some of the other reviews, but it is a warm and life-affirming novel with light flashes of humour. Many thanks to Random House for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is a crime fiction novel with a unique story within a story structure. The first half consists of the manuscript of a murder mystery written by Alan Conway, bestselling author of the popular Atticus Pünd detective series, which is set in an English manor house in the 1950s when housekeeper Mary Elizabeth Blakiston is found dead shortly followed by the owner of the house Sir Magnus Pye. After 200 pages, Conway’s publisher, Susan Ryeland, realises that the final chapter is missing and when Conway unexpectedly passes away, she uncovers another mystery which is hidden within the manuscript’s pages. It’s a celebration of murder mystery novels which offers something genuinely original while paying homage to the familiar formats, devices and red herrings often found in Golden Age of Detective Fiction novels by Agatha Christie and her contemporaries. ‘Magpie Murders’ will please crime fiction aficionados as well as being an excellent gateway to the genre for those less familiar with what Horowitz is pastiching here. I am looking forward to reading the next Susan Ryeland book ‘Moonflower Murders’.
Undoctored by Adam Kay is the former junior doctor’s latest memoir following his hugely successful diaries detailing his experiences working in an obstetrics and gynaecology hospital department in This Is Going to Hurt and Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas. In his latest book, Kay reflects on why medicine ultimately wasn’t the right career for him with flashbacks to his time as a medical student as well as an account of what happened after he quit medicine for good in 2010 including coming out to his family, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, disordered eating, sexual assault and working out how he was going to make a living out of comedy writing. Kay is upfront about using humour as a coping mechanism while making some serious points about the selection and teaching methods used in medical schools and the impact this can have on those working in the profession. ‘Undoctored’ is darker and more personal than ‘This Is Going To Hurt’, but while Kay’s experiences are harrowing, the gallows humour is deployed very effectively.
4 responses to “Books I Read in February 2023”
I loved the Flyn and Kay and just finished the Newman last night! My sister is in training to be a hospice nurse so I’m going to recommend it to her.
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These all sound good. I think I would enjoy Undoctored very much.
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Islands of Abandonment was riveting. She took a lot of risk in going into some places though. I heard a good interview with her on BBC Radio when she said there were many other parts of the world that she had wanted to visit (such as the border area between north and south korea) but it was impossible to gain access.
I guess that’s not too surprising! It’s a very good book, and I’m glad it’s getting lots of recognition.
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