Tag Archives: Fiction

Spring by Ali Smith and Supper Club by Lara Williams

Spring Ali SmithI haven’t read any of this year’s Booker Prize longlist yet, but I have read two of the novels shortlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize which recognises an alternative selection of eligible books chosen by the public, judges and book champions. ‘Spring’ by Ali Smith wouldn’t look out of place on this year’s official Booker Prize longlist which mostly consists of novels by established authors, although I have read that her novels are no longer submitted to literary awards for consideration. It is the third book in Smith’s quartet of seasonally themed novels following Autumn (which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2016) and Winter. Continue reading

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Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls

Sweet Sorrow David NichollsDavid Nicholls’ fifth novel ‘Sweet Sorrow’ is set during the summer of 1997. Charlie Lewis is waiting for his GCSE results, living with his depressed father and working at a petrol station. In a chance encounter on a bike ride, he becomes a member of the Full Fathom Five amateur theatre company and lands the role of Benvolio in ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Charlie falls for Fran Fisher, the girl playing Juliet, but just like Shakespeare’s famous play, there is plenty of foreshadowing that their happiness will not last long. Continue reading

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The Booker Prize 2019: Predictions, Possibilities and Preferences

The Booker Prize 2019The Booker Prize longlist (no longer sponsored by the Man Group) for 2019 is due to be announced on Wednesday 24th July which means it’s time for another game of what Julian Barnes once termed “posh bingo”. I’ve come up with a list of predictions in terms of what I think could be some strong possibilities alongside my own personal preferences, based on a few eligible books I have read in recent months as well as ones I haven’t. As ever, I have no idea which novels have actually been submitted for consideration.

Of the eligible books I have read, one of the most striking titles is Throw Me To The Wolves by Patrick McGuinness which is a literary crime novel loosely based on what happened to Christopher Jefferies when he was wrongly accused of murder and follows the 2011 shortlisting for McGuinness’s debut novel The Last Hundred Days. I would also like to see Little by Edward Carey on the longlist which is a fictionalised account of the early life of Madame Tussaud. Continue reading

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Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones & The Six Taylor Jenkins Reid‘Daisy Jones & The Six’ by Taylor Jenkins Reid charts the rise to fame of a fictional 1970s rock group based in California and the making of their seminal album ‘Aurora’. Billy Dunne formed The Six with his brother Graham and fellow band members, Eddie, Warren, Karen and Pete. Following the success of a collaboration with Daisy Jones, the solo artist and rising star officially joins the group. However, the dynamic between Billy and Daisy as two competing singer-songwriters soon becomes a fraught one when they embark on creating a hit record together. Continue reading

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The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

The Wife Meg WolitzerI watched the excellent film adaptation of ‘The Wife’ by Meg Wolitzer recently (currently available to stream on Netflix in the UK) and still had Glenn Close’s performance in mind when I read the book which was first published in 2003, so this week’s blog post is more of a joint review of both. Joan has been married to celebrated novelist Joe Castleman for forty years after meeting in the late 1950s. She was his student in a creative writing class at Smith College and they began an affair which ended his first marriage. In the present day, they are travelling to Scandinavia where Joe is due to receive a literary award – the Nobel Prize for Literature in the film, the fictional Helsinki Prize in the book, which is said to be slightly less important than the Nobel Prize for Literature but prestigious nonetheless. However, during the flight, Joan decides that enough is enough and plans to end their marriage after years of putting up with Joe’s philandering. Continue reading

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Throw Me to the Wolves by Patrick McGuinness

Throw Me to the Wolves Patrick McGuinnessI enjoyed Patrick McGuinness’s debut The Last Hundred Days which is an evocative portrait of the end of Ceausescu’s rule in Romania and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011. His second novel ‘Throw Me to the Wolves’ is inspired by the real events of the Joanna Yeates case in which her landlord, Christopher Jefferies, was arrested on suspicion of her murder in Bristol in December 2010. The retired English teacher was released without charge and the real killer was caught, but extensive press coverage at the time of his arrest had portrayed him as an eccentric loner with false suggestions by ex-pupils that he had behaved inappropriately. In ‘Throw Me to the Wolves’, the setting has been changed to Kent and the character based on Jefferies is Michael Wolphram, accused of the murder of his neighbour Zalie Dyer. Continue reading

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Disobedience by Naomi Alderman

Disobedience Naomi AldermanI enjoyed Naomi Alderman’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction-winning feminist dystopian novel The Power and I have recently read her 2006 debut ‘Disobedience’ which won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award and Orange Award for New Writers. It tells the story of Ronit Krushka who grew up in a strict Orthodox Jewish community in Hendon in north London and now lives in New York working as a financial analyst having turned her back on her faith and family. She is due to attend a memorial service for her estranged father who was a respected rabbi and it appears that Ronit’s cousin, Dovid, is likely to be his successor. However, when she returns to London, she discovers that Dovid has married Esti, her childhood best friend and former lover.  Continue reading

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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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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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Wellcome Book Prize: Mind on Fire and Murmur

Mind on Fire Arnold Thomas FanningI am approaching the end of shadowing this year’s Wellcome Book Prize, and I have followed two books which explore gender as the central theme (The Trauma Cleaner and Amateur) with two books primarily concerned with mental health. ‘Mind on Fire: A Memoir of Madness and Recovery’ by Arnold Thomas Fanning is a memoir which outlines his experience of bipolar disorder in the late 1990s. Having first suffered from depression at the age of 20 following the death of his mother, he had a breakdown in his late twenties while living in Dublin after quitting his job to concentrate on writing in 1997. He was hospitalised several times and also spent time homeless in London amid periods of mania. The narrative has been pieced together from his own fragmented memories, medical records and interviews with those who were involved at the time. The opening section is a frank stream of consciousness told in the second person while the rest of the narrative is told primarily in the present tense. Continue reading

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The Wellcome Book Prize 2019 Shortlist

Wellcome Book Prize 2019 Shortlist

The Wellcome Book Prize shortlist was announced earlier this week and the six titles are:

Murmur by Will Eaves
Mind on Fire by Arnold Thomas Fanning
Heart by Sandeep Jauhar
The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
Amateur by Thomas Page McBee
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

From what we have read between us so far, the shadow panel has also come up with our own shortlist of seven titles (due to a tie on a couple), four of which overlap with the official shortlist:

Murmur by Will Eaves
This Really Isn’t About You by Jean Hannah Edelstein
Sight by Jessie Greengrass
Heart by Sandeep Jauhar
The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
Amateur by Thomas Page McBee
Educated by Tara Westover

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The Man Booker International Prize Longlist 2019

The Man Booker International Prize 2019

I’ve been a bit out of the loop with translated fiction in the last few months as non-fiction seems to have taken over my reading recently and I am currently shadowing the Wellcome Book Prize. However, the Man Booker International Prize longlist was announced this week (to be known as the International Booker Prize when the Man Group sponsorship ends this year). The 13 titles are:

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi (Oman), translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth
Love in the New Millennium by Can Xue (China), translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan
The Years by Annie Ernaux (France), translated from the French by Alison Strayer
At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yong (South Korea), translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell
Jokes for the Gunmen by Mazen Maarouf (Iceland and Palestine), translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright
Four Soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli (France), translated from the French by Sam Taylor
The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann (Germany), translated from the German by Jen Calleja
Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin (Argentina and Italy), translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
The Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg (Sweden), translated from the Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (Poland), translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Colombia), translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean
The Death of Murat Idrissi by Tommy Wieringa (Netherlands), translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett
The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán (Chile and Italy), translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes

Continue reading

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The Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2019

The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 Longlist

The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 longlist was announced earlier this week. The 16 nominated books are:

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Milkman by Anna Burns
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Ordinary People by Diana Evans
Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lilian Li
Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
Praise Songs for the Butterflies by Bernice L McFadden
Circe by Madeline Miller
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
Normal People by Sally Rooney Continue reading

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Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge Elizabeth StroutI really enjoyed watching the HBO TV mini-series adaptation of ‘Olive Kitteridge’ last year and have been keen to read the original book by Elizabeth Strout which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2009. It is a novel in the form of 13 linked short stories set in the coastal town of Crosby, Maine centred around the life of the eponymous character during late middle age after retiring from her job as a junior high school maths teacher. Her gregarious husband, Richard, is a pharmacist and her son, Christopher, is a podiatrist. However, there are long-standing tensions in the family with Olive seemingly unable to communicate affection towards those closest to her.  Continue reading

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The Wellcome Book Prize Longlist 2019

Wellcome Book Prize Longlist 2019
The 12 books longlisted for this year’s Wellcome Book Prize are:

Amateur by Thomas Page McBee
Astroturf by Matthew Sperling
Educated by Tara Westover
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar
Mind on Fire by Arnold Thomas Fanning
Murmur by Will Eaves
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
Polio: The Odyssey of Eradication by Thomas Abraham
Sight by Jessie Greengrass
The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
This Really Isn’t About You by Jean Hannah Edelstein

Among the five fiction and seven non-fiction titles, the judges have noted that gender, identity and mental health have emerged as prominent themes this year. I will be shadowing the shortlist of six books which will be announced on 19th March with fellow book bloggers Rebecca, Annabel, Paul and Laura and we will also be covering the longlist between us over the next few weeks. Continue reading

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The Wellcome Book Prize 2019: Predictions

Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the longlist for the 2019 Wellcome Book Prize will be announced on Tuesday. The £30,000 prize is awarded to a work of fiction or non-fiction which engages with some aspect of healthcare or medicine published in the UK last year. It has become my favourite book award in the last couple of years and once again, I will be shadowing the shortlist of six books to be announced in March with Rebecca, Paul, Laura and Annabel and between us, we will also be covering the longlist of twelve books too.

Little Edward CareyI imagine that the majority of the books submitted for consideration are non-fiction titles (they usually dominate the shortlists at any rate) but there are a fair number of novels which could also be in the running, even though the thematic criteria is more subjective. An obvious contender among fiction titles is Sight by Jessie Greengrass about a woman who is pregnant with her second child and undertakes research into the history of psychoanalysis and X-rays. I have also read Little by Edward Carey which is a fictionalised account of the early life of Madame Tussaud who made wax models of body parts in Paris in the late 18th century before living in London. Continue reading

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My Most Anticipated Books of 2019

I have an ever-growing list of books I want to read which will be published in 2019, even though it is extremely unlikely I will get round to all of them in the next 12 months and more will inevitably distract me as the year goes on. Here is a selection of some I will be looking out for. All publication dates where known apply to the UK only and may be subject to change.

Spring Ali Smith

Among fiction titles, there are numerous sequels and instalments of series due in 2019. Spring by Ali Smith is the third book in the Scottish author’s seasons cycle following Autumn (2016) and Winter (2017) with Summer presumably following in 2020.

A part of me wonders if The Testaments by Margaret Atwood would ever have been written if the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale hadn’t been so successful. Set 15 years after the original book, the new volume won’t be based on the grim storylines of the second season broadcast last year, but it’s safe to assume that it won’t be a light and cheery read either. Continue reading

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My Books of the Year 2018

Is it possible not to have a good year for books? Thankfully, I don’t think this has happened to me yet, so here is a list of the books I enjoyed the most in 2018.

To Be A Machine Mark O’Connell

The Secret Barrister Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken

Strangers Drowning Larissa Macfarquhar

With the End in Mind Kathryn Mannix

 

 

 

 

I have read more non-fiction than ever this year, partly due to shadowing the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist in March and April which I hope to do again in 2019. To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell won the official prize and was also our shadow panel winner – it’s a fun, informative and pretty terrifying book about transhumanism. , Yet while transhumanists are trying to avoid death at all costs, With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix explores the practical side of dying and what a “good” death can look like from her work as a palliative care consultant and this was a stand-out title for me this year. Another book I would happily press into the hands of everyone I meet is The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken which is an eye-opening account of the inner workings of the criminal justice system in the United Kingdom. And Strangers Drowning by Larissa MacFarquhar is a book I am still thinking about regularly months after I finished it mostly because the stories of extreme do-gooders are actually more unsettling than uplifting in many cases.  Continue reading

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Property by Lionel Shriver and Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith

Property Lionel ShriverBy coincidence, I have recently read two collections of short fiction by two of my favourite authors which bring together stories united around specific themes. ‘Property’ is Lionel Shriver’s first collection of short stories which all address the title’s literal definition in relation to real estate and also in a more figurative sense as ownership and possession. Ten shorter pieces many of which have previously been published in magazines are bookended by two novellas ‘The Standing Chandelier’ about the dynamics of Weston Babansky’s 20+ year friendship with Jillian Frisk and her unusual choice of wedding gift when he marries his girlfriend Paige and ‘The Subletter’ written in 1999 about an American journalist living in Belfast during the Troubles who has territorial struggles of her own. Continue reading

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