The Capital by Robert Menasse

The Capital Robert MenasseI am sure there are many books of various genres currently being written about Britain leaving the European Union right now, but maybe not so many which satirise the complex bureaucracy of the EU itself. However, Robert Menasse’s novel addresses the latter topic, won the German Book Prize in 2017 and has now been translated into English by Jamie Bulloch. Set in Brussels where the headquarters of the main EU institutions are located, the Directorate-General for Culture has been tasked with organising a celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the European Commission. Martin Susman, the Austrian PA to ambitious Greek Cypriot Fenia Xenopoulou suggests putting Auschwitz survivors at the centre of the jubilee event. Meanwhile, the complexities of European agricultural policy, trade deals and the cost of pork exports to China cause headaches and petty power games galore and Inspector Brunfaut is investigating the death of an unnamed man in the Hotel Atlas. Oh, and a pig is running wild in the streets of Brussels too. Continue reading

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Saltwater by Jessica Andrews

Saltwater Jessica AndrewsYou would be forgiven for thinking that I had pretty much abandoned fiction based on my blog content over the past few months, but I have started reading more novels again recently. Some aspects of Jessica Andrews’ debut ‘Saltwater’ reminded me a lot of ‘Sight’ by Jessie Greengrass, particularly in its visceral imagery concerning changing bodies and an emerging sense of self. Based on Andrews’ life so far, it also appears that there is a strong element of autofiction in this coming-of-age story in which Lucy is finding her way in the world from growing up in Sunderland to her student years in London to inheriting a cottage in Donegal from her grandfather after she graduates from university.  Continue reading

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Airhead by Emily Maitlis

Airhead Emily MaitlisEmily Maitlis has been a journalist and broadcaster for over twenty years and is currently the lead presenter of the BBC’s Newsnight programme. Her first book ‘Airhead’ is a collection of her most significant and memorable TV interviews, with an explanation of the planning and thinking behind each one, as well as the build-up and aftermath off camera. Sometimes the interviews are carefully planned and structured in order to tease out the most telling response from the person being grilled. More often than not, though, the most effective and surprising ones are brought about by happy accident such as her encounter with Anthony Scaramucci. Coupled with the constant sense of unpredictability associated with live television (which is more cock-up than conspiracy, according to Maitlis), the subtitle “the imperfect art of making news” is certainly fitting. Continue reading

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The Ten Types of Human by Dexter Dias

The Ten Types of Human Dexter Dias‘The Ten Types of Human: Who We Are and Who We Can Be’ by Dexter Dias explores the best and worst of human behaviour – how and why people can be utterly selfless and also commit terrible atrocities. Dias is a human rights lawyer and part-time judge who was presented with a case in which a 15-year-old boy died in a young offender institution when three officers restrained him. ‘The Ten Types of Human’ is the result of years of research combining psychology, philosophy and the neuroscience of decision-making in which Dias seeks to explain the factors which led this to happen.

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The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The Library Book Susan Orlean‘The Library Book’ by Susan Orlean documents the devastating fire that raged for seven hours at Los Angeles Public Library in April 1986 and destroyed or damaged over one million books. Investigators quickly concluded that the fire was probably an arson attack but the cause has never been solved and the main suspect, Harry Peak, was arrested but never charged. Continue reading

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Can You Tolerate This? by Ashleigh Young

Rathbones Folio Prize Shortlist 2019

I am championing Ashleigh Young’s collection of essays ‘Can You Tolerate This?’ as part of the Rathbones Folio Prize blog tour today. The eight books on this year’s shortlist include four novels, a novella, two non-fiction books and a collection of poetry whittled down from a list of 80 works published in the UK in 2018 chosen by members of the Folio Academy.

Can You Tolerate This? Ashleigh Young‘Can You Tolerate This?’ is Young’s non-fiction debut (she is also a poet) and tackles a diverse range of subjects, mostly leaning towards her own personal experiences of growing up in Te Kuiti in New Zealand as well as a smattering of historical portraits and other topics too. The 20 essays in this collection include her experience of working as the manager at Katherine Mansfield’s birthplace (‘Katherine Would Approve’), Japanese recluses known as hikikomori (‘Sea of Trees’), 19th century French postal worker Ferdinand Cheval (‘Postie’) and her resentment towards a childhood pet (‘Black Dog Book’). However, the main recurring theme in her work is the body, from the short opening essay about a patient with two skeletons (‘Bones’) to musings on her own body hair (‘Wolf Man’) poor eyesight (‘Absolutely Flying’) and yoga and her eating disorder treatment (‘Bikram’s Knee’).  Continue reading

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XX by Angela Chadwick

XX Angela ChadwickThe opening paragraph of ‘XX’ by Angela Chadwick is as good as any to sum up the premise of her debut novel published last year: “After years of controversial research, scientists at Portsmouth University’s Centre for Reproductive Medicine have this morning announced plans to create IVF babies from two women. They’re pushing for a change to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act that will make it legal to fertilise an egg with genetic material from a second female.” Lesbian couple Rosie and Jules are quick to take up the opportunity to have a baby of their own through the means of a groundbreaking clinical trial, but a backlash from right-wing movements inevitably creates problems along the way. Continue reading

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