Category Archives: Books

Books I have been reading recently

Man Booker Longlist 2018/6

My shadow books first. The Melody by Jim Crace and The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton. Both writers that I discovered thanks to the Man Booker Prize.  Both such mellifluous titles, but both actually about menace.

CraceIn The Melody the principal character, Alfred Busi is a widower, in his prime he has been a renowned singer, songwriter. We meet him first as he is about to be significantly honoured by his town, an unnamed seaside town, with an Avenue of Fame: town worthies remembered, pedestalized and in bronze and Mister Al, is to be one of them.

But the might before his honouring ceremony, he had a damaging encounter with a feral creature that has got into his larder. His nights have often been disturbed by urban foxes and other creatures upsetting his bins and scavenging for food; but on this occasion he has been alerted by the tinkling of some Persian Bells, and goes down to investigate, but when he opens the larder door, something attacks him, scratching his face badly and biting his hand.

He calls for his sister-in-law, Terina to help him and she dismisses it as an animal, but he responds “a cat with dentures by the look of it”.

He does not call the police, and later on this incident is reported badly and inaccurately in the press. The town is alerted to the feral menace of possible “Neanderthals” hiding out in the bosk, the wild wooded area away from the sea at the back of the town.

This is a novel about change and “progress”. The first part is about changes in Alfred himself, partly brought on by the first attack, and then exacerbated by another more personal attack, and by a discovery which pulls away all his certainties. Two years a widower, there are bound to be alterations to the daily grind, or in the taking of pleasure but to become a victim in one’s own home is another order of magnitude, a disconcerting and destabilising event.

In the second part of the book, which follows some six or seven years later, the disruption seen in the first part has been completed.

I must first have come across Jim Crace in 2001, when he was listed for Being Dead, and I have gone back into his other novels.  One Quarantine, is the book I have given away most often.

Tim Winton, an Australian writer, I discovered through the Booker listings in The Riders. This must have been in about 1992, it is not his best I think, but I have read most of the others since, also going back through earlier novels. The Shepherd’s Hut though, is streets ahead of all of them. I cannot imagine why this is not on this year’s longlist, only that it was not presented for consideration.

WintonJaxie Clackton is the son of a butcher, his father is one of a dubious but successful breed of bully. Jaxie’s mother has died of cancer before the book opens, his childhood has been punctuated with good times, with his Auntie Marg and his cousins, and bad and worse times at home; his mother has been persistently bullied and beaten, but like so many battered wives, has stuck by her man. Now she is gone, Jaxie is the main punchbag.

After a particularly severe beating, when his eye is pretty nearly punched out, Jaxie goes off to hide out. A night or so later, he returns home but what he finds spooks him so badly that he hastily packs up a bag and makes a run for it.

Monkton, which is where is he is running from, is somewhere in Western Australia. (It may not even exist, I haven’t checked).  He heads into the bush, mostly mulga scrub and some tree cover where there are eucalyptus groves. He steers away from the roads and highways, though he can often hear the huge “roadtrains” passing.

He is in pretty dire straits when he discovers the prospector’s shack, where there is water but not a lot else. He has his father’s gun and some cartridges, lives rough for a while but cannot keep the kangaroo meat, as it goes off in the heat. But he realises he is not far from the salt lakes, so he goes off to get salt and finds more than he bargains for.

Jaxie thinks he is a lucky man, and by any definition this must be true, but luck is not always a two-way street, and those whom he meets are not always quite so fortunate.

This is a book full of quite brilliant descriptions: exquisite tenderness and love; the wilderness of Western Australia; survival; and also acute and devastating tension. Tim Winton writes beautifully.

I have camped out by those salt lakes, they are both wonderful and terrifying. Turning the mulga scrub into grassland for sheep permanently damaged the land. The salt lakes are a leprosy left by European settlers and rangers, some of them spread by a metre in diameter every year, the land is no longer good for cattle or sheep, which is why the eponymous hut is abandoned to its present incumbent when Jaxie gets there.

Unless you are completely turned off books by Australians, simply because I love them so much, this is a truly remarkable and astounding novel, which I cannot recommend too highly.

2018 BLL GunaratneBack to this year’s Man Booker longlist. An extraordinary debut novel by Guy Gunaratne, a BAME writer of considerable talent, who lives in London with a wife and two cats. Anyone who has two cats gets my vote.

In OUR MAD and FURIOUS CITY, the title of Gunaratne’s novel (deliberately written here more or less exactly as it appears on the book jacket) we find ourselves in Neasdon. Not a name to conjure with, honestly. In the novel, it sounds as dreary, messed up and conflicted as its name. We are kicking around with a group of young boys, they have mostly been around each other since primary or secondary school, though perhaps their attendance has not been 100%. They are all of them either BAME or mixed; the novel is bookended by an unidentified voice, but one who clearly knows the group, but may not be part of it.

The characters appear, each in their own section. Part 1 is called Mongrel, the chapters are Estate, Square, Ends. Here, we meet in this order: Selvon, Caroline, Ardan, Yusuf and Nelson. These characters are not all the same generation so the reader needs to pay attention because relationships will be revealed later that make a difference to how we view each boy. Sections 2 and 3 are Brother and Blood.

I do not think I would have picked this book off the shelf; the book jacket is quite threatening even without the title! But I am glad to have read it. The writing is original, visceral and fully-fledged. For a debut novel, even though Gunaratne has written short stories, this is an accomplished masterpiece. The city gets up and whacks you in the face; and has affected its young inhabitants in ways that it is hard to grasp, from its leafier suburbs.

This is a book that I would be glad to see on the shortlist, though I do not see it as an outright winner, so far.


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Man Booker Longlist 2018/5

While I was surprised and hesitant about the inclusion of a poem in the longlist, having read The Long Take I do understand why it was included. There is no doubt that is has a narrative, it also has quite a few pieces that are absolutely prose and even the poetry can read like prose. [My husband would have derided it as “chopped up prose”] I remain extremely doubtful whether poetry ought to qualify, but am heartily glad this book arrived on the longlist as I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

2018 BLL PoemRobin Robertson is a well know poet, he has already published five volumes of poems and has received many honours. Since I haven’t read anything by him before (almost certainly my loss) I cannot say whether narrative poetry is his usual genre. Never mind, The Long Take is a narrative.

Walker is a Second World War veteran, of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, a Canadian regiment – my sister-in-law claims that the Stuarts founded Nova Scotia, a family myth that I haven’t pursued, she may even possibly be right, but I warmed immediately to this man.

We meet him first in New York, recently de-mobbed. It is 1946 and he feels too befouled by his wartime experiences to go back to Lake Ainslie and his home and family. The title of the book comes from the cinema.  A year or so has passed and it is now 1948, Walker moves to Los Angeles, he is a press reporter and has been asked to write up some movie reviews. He chooses Deadly is the Female (a good choice) and the film make him think.  The poem expresses it thus:

He thought about it all night. That long take

inside the getaway car: one shot that lasted three minutes easy

and was just real life. Right there.

Later on Walker meets the director, Joseph H Lewis,  and talks about this one long shot and gets to hear how it was accomplished and why the title of the film was changed to Gun Crazy.

This short passage too may show you how the poem can be seen as “chopped up prose”, though I am not really rubbishing poetry written like this. Above, I have written it out exactly as it appears in the book; but you could equally have read it in a prose novel as: “He thought about it all night. That long take inside the getaway car: one shot that lasted three minutes easy and was just real life. Right there.” And you would not necessarily have thought, that sentence simply doesn’t work.

The actual prose pieces are mostly in italics, these are Walker’s flashbacks, partly to his pre-war life in Canada and his girlfriend, and nature: the lake, otters, trees and colour and then his war. The flashbacks are part of his PTSD, which is part of his not now going home, he is simply not a fit person to pick up his old life, from what he has seen and, more importantly, what he has done. Here are two pieces, separated by about 40 pages which demonstrate the state he is in mentally. [This describes his D-Day experience]:

It was all about timing. Waiting to jump from the scramble net down the side of the merchant ship to the LCA below. Trying to find the rhythm of it: the swell of the water, the boats colliding. Your best chance was just before the landing craft slammed against the ship’s hull. Mistiming the jump meant drowning or crushing. You got it right. Picked yourself up. The steel deck slippery with vomit.

Forty pages on, his mind swings back to this day

The rating with the bilge bucket is swilling off the puke, and what is left of McPherson who hadn’t timed it right, his jump from the nets to this landing craft below.

There are also occasions, within the poem, that Walker loses his grip, and this loss of control accelerates towards the end as Los Angeles itself is pulled to pieces by the demands of the automobile barons and the CRA (the very corrupt planning office); making highways and destroying public transport and ghettoising many areas of the expanding city.

While working for the Press, Walker requests permission to write up the homeless, jobless situation in Los Angeles and San Francisco. So the poem is full of characters in bars and cafes. Here is the section in which he describes his colleagues: [This is a pretty long piece, for which I make no apology – I want people to go out and get this book to read]:

He’s got to know more people at the Press

who’d been there as long as the boss, and all from out east like him:

Templeton from Iowa’s an okay guy,

well-bred, sense of humour, smart,

and May Wood from Boston, the face of the paper.

Some said she’s a dyke, but he didn’t think so

and he liked her anyway – liked to make her laugh.

The rest were harder going.

The compositors and proof-readers

looked up at him with eyes of ruminants: carefully,

without movement. If something required scrutiny

there was a slow, elaborate shift of the shoulders. The stare.

Rennert and Sherwood were his team, in their cheap suits,

three-day shirts and stained ties,

keeping his straight on the city:

the organized crime, the stoolies, bent cops and politicians,

the ninety-six clubs, hash joints, card rooms, cathouses.

They knew the city from Griffith Park to the harbour at San Pedro,

from Pasadena to Malibu, Point Dume.

They smoked full-time, traded girls like baseball cards,

wore their hats tipped back,

had a bad word to say about everyone, told stories

even they didn’t believe.

And then there was Pike:

holding up the stacks of manuscript pages

and tapping them down on the desk to align them,

patting them straight at the tope and the sides.

There is more about all these people, especially Pike who is a snake and about the bums that he interviews, there is domesticity in his own life, illness and death, violent sometimes; but in his deeper being there is darkness and regret.

The book ends in Los Angeles in 1953. Robertson has covered pretty much everything that has happened, the Korean War, the HUAC, MacCarthy, elections and all sorts. Walker fumbles through it all, bowed down by memory and loss.

I have not got a shadow book for this post. I want you to read this book. I hope it makes it to the shortlist.

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Man Booker Longlist 2018/4

2018 BLL BurnsMilkman by Anna Burns: I had heard and read a lot about Milkman before actually reading the book, and nothing that I had heard or read prepared me for how dense it was. It is a first person narrative, set in an unnamed town, fully of unnamed but identified people.

The time is clearly Northern Ireland in the 1970s, the place maybe Belfast, but if so it is not entirely recognisable, there is no mention of the docks or the sea, for example. The narrator belongs to a fairly large family: ma, da (deceased), first brother, second brother (deceased), third brother and fourth brother (run away over the border); there are also sisters and first-brother-in-law and third brother-in-law and the “wee ones”, three younger sisters.  There are neighbours, the maybe-boyfriend, Somebody McSomebody (not the boyfriend), the milkman and Milkman.

It is a narrative that begins at the end and circles back to the same ending. There is violence, suspicion, betrayal, death (violent and accidental). There are those “over the water” who are in this city: the soldiers and others; there are those on the side of those “over the water” like the police. Then there are the informers and the renouncers – both sides have these, both “our side of the road” and those on “the other side of the road”. And there is a great deal of menace and rumour and gossip.

There is one shocking episode that is scarcely credible, but must be true, I fear. Partly because it would be hard to make it up and partly because if you did, there would be an outcry and a lawsuit pending. It concerns the killing of all the dogs and runs from page 93 through to page 100, it involves the British soldiers killing all the dogs because they barked and gave away their positions, then having killed all bar one, they left them with their throats cut in “the entry”, presumably one of the safe roads into the “our side”.

The narrator explains, digests, digresses, thinks and reads while she walks, generally novels written before the nineteenth century. She is aloof but also considered; she thinks a lot about being a maybe-girlfriend and whether or not she wants to join coupledom; her maybe-boyfriend has the same thoughts but until now they have never coincided at the same moment, so it hangs in there unresolved.

Then there is a rumour that she is going with Milkman; she isn’t, although she has met him – or rather he has sidled into her life in a less than straightforward manner. He draws up beside her in his van, but she will not get in; he runs beside her in the park and makes threatening remarks about maybe-boyfriend and then he “runs into her” after a French lesson, but she thinks he must have been waiting for her unseen. He upsets her, she half knows what he wants but is repulsed. He is a known renouncer, a known terrorist and he is married (she thinks). He appears to know a great deal about her, her family, her habits and her maybe-boyfriend.

The writing is dense in the sense that the paragraphs are immensely long, they represent her thinking and her way of relating this to an imaginary friend (the reader probably); it is not precisely stream-of-consciousness because it is also actually narrative, without it we could not possibly know what was going on. There are six chapters but there could equally be ten or five, the breaks come slightly arbitrarily though generally starting with encounters with Milkman or post-Milkman encounters when she is trying to ingest what has happened.

Certainly the writing captures explicitly the tension which must have prevailed everywhere in Northern Ireland at the time; the local rules which if broken could end in tar and feathers, knee-capping, beating or death; the kangaroo courts held in out of the way sheds or hutments; the curfew; the suspicion of neighbours, of “the others”; the surveillance. It must have been nearly intolerable and then to add to the mix the innuendo, the rumour and the gossip. This is all there on every page, so that you must stop and take a breather.

Then finally there is a beautiful love story which lifts the whole tenor of the novel into another plane; wonderfully and delightfully revealed in the last chapter. Sheer joy and relief!

Do I think this will make it to the shortlist? The answer is yes.

My shadow book is an out-and-out love story; a debut novel by Anne Youngson.

YoungsonMeet Me at the Museum is an epistolary novel.  Initially Tina Hopgood writes to a Professor Glob, the finder of the Tollund Man but he is no longer there, being as it were 104 had he still been around. But the Curator of the Silkeborg Museum writes back and there develops over a period of about a year and a bit, an intense friendship.

In tone it is not unlike 84, Charing Cross Road, an epistolary memoir.  Helen Hanff wrote to a bookseller in London at this address and over time they created a warm and rewarding relationship, though they were never to meet, as Frank Doel died before Helen Hanff ever came to Britain, their correspondence lasted over several decades.

This novel is more intense, as the letters go back and forth by email attachment.

It also reminds me a lot of Neil MacGregor’s History of the World in 100 Objects, because Anders Larsen, the curator (who is fictional) writes quite a lot in his letters about the Tollund Man and the artefacts that are found that relate to his time.

Tina Hopgood describes her life on an East Anglian farm and he describes his life as a curator and widower. Their letters gradually draw out more detail and become more intimate and then right at the crux Tina has to make a serious decision.

Will their relationship on paper survive, and will she go to meet him at the Museum?

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Man Booker Longlist 2018/3

This time an American. I am unconvinced about the inclusion of American writers in the Man Booker Prize, I think it was a bad idea but accept that it is irreversible. You cannot allow a group in for a few years, then exclude them again when they win all the prizes. Which is what has happened.

2018 BLL KushnerThat said, Rachel Kushner has written a crackingly good novel, one that anyone might want to read. The Mars Room is set in an American woman’s correctional facility with a main character, Romy Hall, who is in for two life sentences.  We meet other inmates, some on death row whose lives intersect with hers simply because they are in the same serious, life-denying circumstances.

The same routine, the same people, the same food, the same problems. It is hard to imagine what is meant by “correctional” in these places. Those on death row sew sandbags – to be filled by male prisoners in other “correctional facilities”; those less threatening, but serious criminals – murderers, grievous bodily harmers and the like –  can get on to the workshop programme where they are trained in carpentry – to make the furniture for the courtrooms of the United States judiciary: the witness box, the bench, the judges’ chairs – some irony there?

Then there is the educational programme, once a week, for basic numeracy and literacy. Romy joins the class of G Hauser, who starts with some easy to answer questions that amount to adding three plus eight, or two plus five. Romy is having none of it; finally he gets the point and begins to send her interesting books via Amazon – after a first mis-step sending her To Kill a Mocking Bird, I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing and one other, all of which she read when she read thirteen!

Throughout the book we learn about the background to Romy’s situation, what she did before – she was a lap-dancer in the eponymous club – The Mars Room – a sleazy, San Franciscan low-life club. And what she did to end up in this prison. We learn about her son Jackson, living with his grandmother and what happens when that goes wrong.

This is not alone about women, for we also meet a rough, crooked cop who has been sold up the water by one of the death row women, and is now in his own hell: a men’s prison. Stuck there hoping that no one will discover his career option – but Blanche LaFrance has other ideas and our friend G Hauser is persuaded to post a letter for her, with near fatal results.

As an eye-opener it is not without its surprises, but the brutality and the sheer unpleasantness is not easy; especially for the trans-gender inmates. One in particular that moves from the male prison where Doc the cop is, to the female prison – where ‘they’ are not made welcome.

TylerMy shadow book is also by an American, a writer that you will be familiar with because I have read everything she has ever written. Anne Tyler‘s new title is Clock Dance.

It starts with a young woman, Willa Drake, selling candies to make money for her school orchestra trip; it jumps quickly to her college years and to her first marriage. She has two sons Sam and Ian, they appear as late teenagers and then we jump further on to her second marriage.

At this point, the turning point of the whole novel, she is summoned suddenly to Baltimore, and we are straightaway back in familiar Tyler territory. We feel the heat, the dust and the small bedraggled houses; the long streets with close knit communities and we meet over time all the neighbours, their quirky otherness.

This quixotic decision is regarded by her husband as unnecessary and ill-considered, but he goes with her anyway. Peter is dismissive of her good intentions, and fairly contemptuous of the people that she ends up with: Denise, who has been shot in the leg, her daughter Cheryl, who Willa has agreed to look after, and pretty much the whole caboodle. Eventually, when Denise is finally released from hospital, Peter goes home.

The clock dance of the title is described thus:

Later, crossing the upstairs hall with a basket of laundry, Willa glanced into Cheryl’s room to see what they were up to. Patty stood facing her, both arms extended from her sides, with Laurie and Cheryl directly behind her. All that showed of Laurie and Cheryl were their own arms, extended too so that Patty seemed to possess six arms, all six moving in stiff, stop-start arcs in time to the clicking sounds that Willa could hear now punctuating the music. “It’s the clock dance!” Cheryl shouted, briefly peeking out from the tail end.

Willa stays on, and on…

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Man Booker Longlist 2018/2

Three characters in search of their parents. In Daisy Johnson‘s novel it is a daughter searching for her mother (and much else); in Michael Ondaatje‘s novel it is a son, searching for his mother’s past (and his own identity) and in my shadow book, Call of the Curlew, it is an elderly woman looking back over her own past.

2018 BLL JohnsonEverything Under, the title of Daisy’s debut novel is rather misleading, one thinks of “under the sun”, but it is not so much that as under the water. Gretel is partly living with her mother from whom she has been severed for a long time. Gretel is a lexicographer and has been looking for her missing parent on and off, and her search has led her back emotionally to a period when the two of them lived in a boat on a river.

At some point, they are joined by a waif called Marcus. Gretel’s search leads her eventually to the adopted parents of the said waif, and to talk to Fiona, a savant, who has been responsible for the waif leaving the house.

But as with Greek tragedies like Oedipus, sometimes we don’t know who our parents are.

In a compact, lucid and compelling narrative, Daisy Johnson leads the reader through a labyrinthine tale, partly a meditation on the meaning of words, and partly a study of whether or not we escape our Fate or create it.

The book opens thus:

The places we are born come back. They disguise themselves as migraines, stomach aches, insomnia. They are the way we sometimes wake falling, fumbling for the bedside lamp, certain everything we’ve built has gone in the night. We become strangers to places we are born. They would not recognise us but we will always recognise them. They are marrow to us; they are bred into us. If we were turned inside out there would be maps cut into the wrong side of our skin. Just so we could find our way back. Except, cut wrong side into my skin are not canals and train tracks and a boat, but always: you.

2018 BLL OondatjeThe second book, Warlight by Michael Ondaatje also has waterways cut into the skin. Here in London 1945, two young children are suddenly abandoned by their parents, the father goes to the Far East as part of his job with Unilever; the mother, Rose stays on for a while carefully packing her trunk with items she is going to need when she joins her husband; they leave the two children, Rachel and Nathaniel with a friend, The Moth and a table full of strangers.

The novel is written from the viewpoint of a much older Nathaniel, trying after his mother’s death to piece together all the things that happened to separate them; his mother’s apparent deception, her clandestine goings on and her secret war.

This has caused his sister enormous pain, and in a moment of extreme stress she realises that she hates her mother and will no longer have anything to do with either of them, partly because at some point Nathaniel goes to live with Rose in her parents’ home in Suffolk.

The prose is lyrical and the story convoluted, but Ondaatje is rightly regarded as one of the finest novelists of our time. There is not a stray sentence in the whole book, every word from beginning to end is purposeful and full of meaning, even if it is only as the reader reaches the end of the book that the linchpin drops into the axle and the whole wheel turns full circle.

CurlewIn my shadow book, Elizabeth Brooks novel Cry of the Curlew, also a debut novel, we swing between December 2015 and December 1940. Virginia Wrathmell is eighty-five, all her life since she was quite young she has known deep down that one day she will have to atone for something she did when she was only a young girl.

On the day that the sign comes, in the form of a curlew’s skull, she is ready and sees at once what has to be done. As the year turns, she will fulfil her destiny. Only on the last day, just as she is prepared, something from the past comes back to skew her plans.

The book divides, chapter by chapter, between December 31 and New Year’s Day, from 2015 to 1940. It tells the story in an uncomplicated manner, with much natural loveliness in its descriptions of the house, Salt Winds and the marshland that sweeps away beyond the stone walls of the garden. This is both a modern story and a wartime story, the two things are inextricably linked, even though there is a long gap.

As in the Daisy Johnson novel, Virginia has been misled by something, and when she discovers the deception, she does something unforgiveable; the atonement for which she is about to accomplish.

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Man Booker Longlist 2018/1

2018 BLL picturesWhat to say? I have tried Sabrina. I cannot finish it, and will not. It is not so much that I don’t like graphic novels and don’t think they are literature, a graphic novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 which must be a benchmark of some sort.  Art Spiegelman‘s extraordinary, graphic description of his parent’s lives in Poland and later Auschwitz during the 1930s, MAUS was for me the first graphic novel I ever bought. The visceral impact was immense and moving. No, I do like graphic novels, just not this one. Nick Drnaso doesn’t do it for me, the drawing is ironic (I assume) since it is so bad, the story difficult to follow. The basic outline being that Sabrina has disappeared, her abandoned boyfriend moves in with a friend who mainly does night work, so moments together are limited, I cannot say more because I couldn’t bear to turn another page (many of which have no words at all – as is the nature of comic-strip books).

2018 BLL RyanI had better luck with From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan. What a gem!. 181 pages of spare, beautiful prose that lifts off the page like gold leaf, strong and fabulous. There are three characters: Farouk a refugee doctor who loses his family in a Mediterranean boat disaster, Lampy, who lives with his grandfather and his mother (a single parent) and John, a rich man whose past haunts him. They all end up in the same place, and the connections between them, such as they are, become clear.

The sections are written in short, but crafted sentences and the sequences are vivid and gripping. Farouk’s story could have been lifted from any daily newspaper, Lampy’s from anywhere. John’s story is mostly seen from the perspective of the past, though the reader might not realise this at the time. But the denouement is utterly brilliant and without parallel.

2018 BLL BauerFinally this week, I read Snap, the second controversial novel on the longlist. Belinda Bauer‘s crime novel. Belinda Bauer is undeniably a great writer, a page turner of a book this. Hard to put down and desperately convoluted. A crime spree of unusual and spectacular success brings a homicide detective, temporarily out of favour at the top, to help with a series of damaging break-ins. Marvel is not at all happy with this situation, nor with his new colleagues, Reynolds and Parrott; but he knows that he must succeed or he will be doomed to the backwaters for ever…it is the criminal that we focus on but that would be a spoiler, so I am not going there.

If this were not a post about the Man Booker Prize, then I would be unequivocal in my praise for this novel, the best summer read one could hope for. Suspenseful, cunning and surprising. But is it literature? Does it have the heft of a great novel, the layered meanings that are revealed on a second or third reading? No, and I rather doubt whether it would even stand a second reading, honestly. But then very few crime novels, especially if the reader has a good memory, would. Which, for me, rules it out of court in this context.

EdricMy shadow book, by a writer who richly deserves better attention, is Mercury Falling by Robert Edric. Britain in 1954 was a dismal place, austerity like you cannot imagine, rationing and endless rain; winter flooding has destroyed large areas of farmland and gangs of derelict men and boys from the Borstal are engaged in the clear up. The shadow of war hangs over everything and can be used to hide a multitude of things: failures mostly. Devlin is forced out by bailiffs, owing rent and drifting from one bad situation to another in a downward spiral of increasing crime, dragging with him his past baggage which catches up every now and then with chilling effect; so he moves on in the dim hope of escaping from his past. Unsuccessfully for the most part.

I have written at length about Edric’s books. The joy is that the characters in them live on in one’s mind, you wonder what happened next and you care! He writes about many different things, different times and different people but with a careful depth, so that you end each book immersed in its period. A lovely writer.

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Man Booker Prize Longlist 2018 Opening the post

Well, no one could complain that this is not an eclectic list. With two more yet to be published (August), we have a graphic novel and a long poem; we have five women so far and six men, of which three are American, one Canadian and two Irish, the rest British; we have the first crime novel.


Since I have not read a single one of them I can say no more at the moment. The two to come are: Sally Rooney Normal People and Esi Edugyan Washington Black, which makes two more women, one of them Ghanaian/Canadian.

Is this a cause for despair or delight – only reading will tell?

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