Shortlisted for this year’s Desmond Elliott Prize awarded to debut novels published in the UK, ‘How to Be Human’ by Paula Cocozza tells the story of Mary Green, a woman in her thirties who has recently separated from her partner Mark. Now living alone after buying him out of their home in Hackney in east London, she becomes captivated by an urban fox who regularly visits her garden. Meanwhile, her next door neighbours, Michelle and Eric, regard her new visitor as a pest while Mark makes an unwelcome return into her life. Continue reading
On Sunday, I attended two Jewish Book Week events at Kings Place in London. The first was Adam Kay and Rachel Clarke in conversation with Daniel Glaser about their experiences as NHS junior doctors and the second was a discussion with novelists Francesca Segal and Amanda Craig chaired by Claire Armitstead.
‘This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor’ is based on Adam Kay’s experiences working in NHS hospitals from 2004 to 2010 specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology. It’s fair to say his book isn’t for the squeamish reader – the “degloving” incident is among the most memorable as is the Kinder Surprise story which Kay also read out loud to the audience. The title is apt – much of it is painfully funny while other parts are achingly sad and the ending in particular comes as an abrupt shock. Kay decided not to continue his medical career as a result of this tragic incident and it was the junior doctors’ strike years later in 2016 which compelled him to share his experiences. Kay and Clarke agreed that the term “junior doctor” is unhelpful – it implies someone in their early 20s straight out of medical school but it also applies to doctors on the verge of becoming consultants with multiple postgraduate qualifications and many years of experience. Continue reading
Set in eighteenth century Britain, ‘The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock’ by Imogen Hermes Gowar tells the story of Jonah Hancock, a middle-aged widower and respectable Deptford merchant who discovers that the captain of one of his ships has sold his vessel in exchange for a stuffed “mermaid”. Although initially horrified by this transaction, Mr Hancock is later persuaded to profit from the rare curiosity he has acquired and loans the mermaid to Mrs Chappell for display at her infamous high society parties and Soho brothel. Celebrated courtesan Angelica Neal is tasked with entertaining Mr Hancock which she sees as an irritating distraction at first. However, as the display becomes the talk of London, Angelica decides she wants a mermaid of her own and Mr Hancock does whatever it takes to find another one. Continue reading
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a preview screening of the film adaptation of ‘The Sense of an Ending’, based on Julian Barnes’s bestselling novella first published in 2011. The story follows Tony Webster, a divorced, middle-class, semi-retired man living in London where he runs a vintage camera shop. His memories of events in the past concerning his relationship with Veronica Ford at Bristol University and friendship with Adrian Finn in the 1960s and the tragic consequences which followed are somewhat different from how others remember them. When Tony receives a letter from a solicitor regarding a legacy left by Veronica’s late mother, he is forced to re-examine what actually happened so many years ago. Continue reading
‘Swing Time’ by Zadie Smith tells the story of two mixed-race girls, an unnamed narrator and her friendship with Tracey who grow up together on neighbouring council estates in north-west London in the 1980s. From Fred Astaire to Michael Jackson, music and dance dominate their lives but it is only Tracey who has the real talent to pursue a career as a dancer. The narrator goes to university and works as a personal assistant for mononymous international pop star Aimee who decides to set up a school for girls in west Africa. The story alternates between the past and present and even though the girls spend a considerable time apart in later years, Tracey’s influence can always be felt. Continue reading
I have been to a number of individual literary events in London over the last few years but until this weekend, I had never been to one of the many book festivals held in the capital each year. Now in its eighth year, Chiswick Book Festival in west London runs from Thursday 15th – Monday 19th September with talks from a wide variety of authors and other speakers. Armed with an all-day pass, I went to four events at St Michael and All Angels Church and the Tabard Theatre yesterday.
Longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize, ‘Serious Sweet’ by A. L. Kennedy is set over the course of twenty-four hours in London in 2014, following a day in the lives of 45-year-old recovering alcoholic Meg Williams and 59-year-old divorced senior civil servant Jon Sigurdsson. At first, the characters appear to lead seemingly separate lives but it is gradually revealed that their paths have already crossed before. The day revolves around the pair attempting to meet and whether they are able to move on from the traumatic events which have shaped their lives. Continue reading