I read a proof copy of Scabby Queen by Kirstin Innes back in April, when it was originally due to be published, but its release date in the UK was pushed back to July due to the pandemic. It tells the story of Clio Campbell, a one-hit-wonder Scottish pop star and political activist who takes her own life just before she turns 51, some three decades after a brief period of fame as the singer of the anti-poll tax anthem ‘Rise Up’.
Clio’s suicide isn’t a spoiler as it is revealed right at the beginning of the book when her body is discovered by her friend Ruth. The story then jumps back and forth in time looking back at Clio’s life with each part retold by a selection of people who knew Clio from very different perspectives. The non-linear story is slightly confusing initially, but I really got into it by the second half as the glimpses of Clio’s life through the eyes of others gradually come together to reveal an affecting character portrait of someone who is very vulnerable in lots of ways behind the outspoken public facade. Continue reading
I have an ever-growing list of anticipated books due to be published in 2020. Here are the titles I am looking forward to reading the most. All publication dates where known are for the United Kingdom only.
In non-fiction, Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell is the Wellcome Book Prize-winning author’s second book after To Be a Machine. Due in April, it will explore how we get to grips with the future and the possible end of the world in an age of anxiety.
Also due in April, Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in an Age of Lies by The Secret Barrister promises to be an equally eye-opening account as his/her bestselling debut book of how the legal system really works, this time focusing on themes of ignorance, corruption and fake news. Continue reading
You 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
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
’Transcription’ is the latest stand-alone novel by Kate Atkinson in which eighteen-year-old Juliet Armstrong is recruited straight out of school by MI5 in 1940 not long after her mother has died. Initially given secretarial tasks as well as the roles usually left to women such as making the tea, she soon begins transcription work monitoring the conversations held in a flat in Pimlico between Fascist sympathisers and an undercover British agent named Godfrey Toby who poses as a member of the Gestapo. A decade later, she is working as a radio producer of children’s programmes at the BBC believing that her wartime activities now lie in the past. However, a chance encounter with Godfrey (also known as John Hazeldine), some threatening notes and a sense that she is being followed remind her that the world of espionage is not one easily left behind and there are some who want Juliet to know that her actions have had far-reaching consequences. Continue reading
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.
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
Although I’m not participating in the shadow panel this year, I have been thinking about possible contenders for this year’s Man Booker International Prize longlist which is due to be announced tomorrow. My predictions last year were very wide off the mark – maybe this year I will manage more than one…
I have read a handful of eligible titles in recent months but I have only reviewed a couple of them on my blog:
Women Who Blow on Knots by Ece Temelkuran (translated from the Turkish by Alexander Dawe) – this is a book which has garnered increasing attention. I’m less sure about its shortlist chances – the plotting is a bit all over the place – but its topical themes contrast strongly with what is still likely to be a longlist dominated by male authors.
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami (translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen) – short story collections are eligible as well as novels, although none have been longlisted so far. I enjoyed Murakami’s latest offering a lot and a place on the longlist would certainly help boost the profile of the Prize. Continue reading
Happy new year! Without further ado, here is a selection of 20 upcoming titles I will be looking out for in 2018 (publication dates where known apply to the UK):
Among non-fiction titles, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari will be out in August as the historian turns his attention to issues in the present day following the success of Sapiens and Homo Deus. I have a particular interest in non-fiction concerning healthcare and medicine and two books I will be looking out for are Shapeshifters: On Medicine and Human Change by Gavin Francis and Brainstorm: Detective Stories from the World of Neurology by Suzanne O’Sullivan. Elsewhere, Feel Free by Zadie Smith is a collection of the celebrated author’s essays on a variety of subjects due in February. Continue reading
I have read a lot of great books this year, some new and some not quite so new. Here are some of my favourites:
Among new fiction titles, The Nix by Nathan Hill and Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng were both memorable stand-outs. I also reread His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman ahead of the publication of La Belle Sauvage, the first part of the Book of Dust trilogy – a thrilling and imaginative story which did not disappoint. Solar Bones by Mike McCormack was an unexpected delight from this year’s Man Booker Prize longlist – beautifully written, gripping, funny and inventive. Continue reading
‘The Burning Girl’ by Claire Messud tells the story of Julia Robinson and her friendship with Cassie Burnes during their childhood growing up in the small Massachusetts town of Royston. After meeting at nursery, they are inseparable throughout school but looking back years later, Julia remembers the circumstances which led to them drifting apart. Continue reading
I only started blogging about my predictions for literary award longlists relatively recently. Three of my Man Booker Prize predictions last year made it on to the longlist of 13 titles, and two of them also made the final six, which I thought was a pretty good success rate considering the vast number of eligible books.
This year’s longlist is due to be announced on Thursday 27th July and I have once again been thinking about predictions in terms of likely possibilities and my personal preferences. I have read some brilliant books over the past year which I believe very much deserve to be recognised but I think other titles may have a better chance of being longlisted. Some of the possibilities are books I haven’t read yet and as ever, I also have no knowledge of which books have actually been submitted for consideration. Continue reading
Ottessa Moshfegh’s Man Booker Prize-shortlisted Eileen generated a very mixed reaction among readers last year. However, I was one of those who really enjoyed (if that’s the right word) her debut novel and I was intrigued by her new book ‘Homesick for Another World’, a collection of fourteen short stories which will be published this week in the UK. The tales in this collection range from ‘The Beach Boy’ about a middle-aged couple on an unnamed tropical island to ‘Bettering Myself’ from the perspective of an alcoholic maths teacher in a Catholic school to ‘Nothing Ever Happens Here’ in which an aspiring actor in Hollywood falls for his landlady. Continue reading
A new year means new books are coming! Here is a selection of books I will be looking out for which are due to be published in the United Kingdom in 2017:
The early months of the year tend to be when lots of debut novels are plugged heavily by publishers. The Nix by Nathan Hill has been a big success in the United States drawing comparisons with everyone from Jeffrey Eugenides to David Foster Wallace and is out this month in the UK. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is another high-profile debut due in May billed as a historical murder mystery while Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is the long-awaited first novel from the prolific short story writer and is a fictional re-imagining of events following the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie. Continue reading
I have read some excellent books in 2016 both new and not-quite-so-new. Here is a selection of my favourite reads of 2016:
My reading has been dominated by female authors more than ever this year. This isn’t something I deliberately set out to achieve but it is fantastic to see so many brilliant books written by women getting widespread attention. I highly recommend The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss and The Wonder by Emma Donoghue which could be possible contenders for next year’s Wellcome Book Prize awarded to a fiction or non-fiction book about health or medicine.
I really enjoyed The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry which is one of the most original historical novels I have read in a long time while other recent favourites with a more modern setting include Swing Time by Zadie Smith, the Brexit-themed Autumn by Ali Smith and This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell. Continue reading
Although Ian McEwan has tackled a vast range of subject matters in his literary fiction, many of his books fall into specific categories or share distinct themes. There are the early macabre works like ‘The Cement Garden’, the espionage stories such as ‘The Innocent’ or Sweet Tooth, the state-of-the-nation novels like ‘Saturday’ or The Children Act and then there are the books like ‘Nutshell’ which somehow fall into all of these categories. Nutshell’ is a unique interpretation of William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ from the point of view of an unnamed foetus who overhears a murder plot hatched by his mother Trudy and her lover Claude to kill John, who is Trudy’s husband and Claude’s brother, and cash in on the value of their marital home.
‘Autumn’ is the first of four books in a planned series of novels by Ali Smith named after the seasons and which focus on how we experience time. Set during the fallout of the Brexit referendum result in 2016, it follows the friendship between Elisabeth Demand, a thirty-two-year-old history of art lecturer and her eccentric 101-year-old former next-door neighbour Daniel Gluck who is spending his dying days in an assisted care facility. 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
‘The Tidal Zone’ by Sarah Moss tells the story of Adam Goldschmidt, a stay-at-home dad and part-time academic, married to overworked GP Emma. Their eldest daughter fifteen-year-old Miriam suddenly collapses on a school playing field and nearly dies after going into anaphylactic cardiac arrest. In the aftermath of the incident, the family must find a way to move on and return to some form of normality whilst coming to terms with the possibility that Miriam’s condition could be genetic and may happen again at any time. Continue reading
‘This Must Be The Place’ by Maggie O’Farrell tells the story of Daniel Sullivan, an American linguistics professor living in a remote farmhouse in Donegal with his reclusive ex-film star wife Claudette, their two children and Claudette’s son from a previous relationship. When Daniel learns that an ex-girlfriend died shortly after they split up in the 1980s, he sets out to discover what happened to her all those years ago, even if it risks destroying his struggling marriage. Continue reading
‘The Girls’ by Emma Cline has been one of the most eagerly anticipated debut novels of the year. Set in California in 1969, it is a semi-fictionalised account of a group of young women including fourteen-year-old Evie Boyd who fall under the spell of Russell Hadrick, a failed musician and Charles Manson-like cult leader. However, it is Evie’s awe towards Suzanne, one of Russell’s followers, which becomes the main focus of the story rather than her encounters with Russell himself. Continue reading