Transit – Rachel Cusk

Transit - Rachel CuskThis is a fascinating book. The central character is never named: she is an author, divorced with two sons, and renovating a new home in London. Almost nothing else is revealed in the book. She listens carefully to conversations and sometimes asks cogent questions so we learn much about the speaker but nothing about the listener. Many conversations are wonderfully philosophical. The writing is elegant: “Amanda has a youthful appearance on which the patina of age was clumsily applied, as if rather than growing older, she had merely been carelessly handled like a crumpled photograph of a child.” There is also a wonderful description of authors attending a literary festival. This book (Giller short-listed) is much better than her previous book Outline (also a Giller finalist in 2015).

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The Tiger In The smoke – Margery Allingham

The Tiger In The smoke - Margery AllinghamThis is a wonderful book, written in 1952 describing events in London in 1949 so the dense toxic London fog is a prominent feature. The writing is fabulous with words like lugubrious (full of sadness or sorrow). Although this book is identified as a Mr Campion Mystery, there is little emphasis on the police. Instead the psychology of different individuals (criminal and non-criminal) is described in detail: what is goodness and what is evil. This is a totally fun read; thanks Amy*!

 

*Amy says: “Erin and I picked it up in one of those wee community library houses on the way to the Folk Festival – sheer luck that it was good!”

By Gaslight – Steven Price

By Gaslight - Steven PriceGenerally I read mostly contemporary fiction but the historical fiction presented in this book is fascinating and entertaining because of a vivid description of context: the American Civil War with violence and sickness and cruelty, and London in 1885 with orange-yellow fog and a trip into the sewers! The book describes an intricate cat-and-mouse conflict between two men over several decades: a master and mysterious thief and an obsessed detective (a Pinkerton). The back story unfolds in many flashbacks, the classic slow reveal of motives and actions. Very enjoyable.

Into The Water – Paula Hawkins

Into The Water - Paula HawkinsThe huge success of The Girl On The Train meant high expectations for Hawkins’ next book, and Into The Water delivers, in my opinion, another well written mystery/thriller. The setting is Northern England, a town with a drowning pool where too many women have drowned over many centuries, usually under mysterious circumstances. Many standard issues are present: lies and deceit and memories that are selective. The key relationship is between two estranged sisters – how did this estrangement begin and how did it evolve? The outcome, aka big reveal, is tantalizing and completely surprising. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

Nutshell – Ian McEwan

Nutshell - Ian McEwanFirst, a confession – my opinion on McEwan books runs hot and cold: there are great books (Atonement, Amsterdam, On Chesil Beach) but many are not so great, in my opinion. This new novel belongs firmly in the great category. First, there is a unique point-of-view; the narrator is an 8-month fetus. The description of his acquisition of consciousness is fantastic, and sage commentaries on placenta-filtered wines are provided. And then there is the great prose: “Long ago, many weeks ago, my neural groove closed upon itself to become my spine and my many million young neutrons, busy as silkworms, spun and wove from their trailing axons the gorgeous golden fabric of my first idea, a notion so simple that it partly eludes me now”. Exquisite writing.

The Dust That Falls From Dreams – Louis de Bernieres

The Dust That Falls From Dreams - Louis de BernieresDe Bernieres wrote the delightful Corelli’s Mandolin, and his latest book is also excellent. The setting is Britain in 1914. The horror of WWI, the mud and stink and brutal death, is described vividly. Also, very precise details of flying are detailed. But this is a book about relationships within the McCosh family, in particular the 4 sisters. At times, the book is a tender love story that also touches on grief and religion. The relationships are often complicated: a sister loves someone who does not love her in return, and vice versa. There is some wry humour, particularly the class-conscious matriarch Mrs. McCosh who should be played by Maggie Smith if this story is ever adapted for film or theatre. Overall, a very entertaining story.

The Little Red Chairs – Edna O’Brien

The Little Red Chairs - Edna O_Brien
An astonishing book: the seduction by an evil person, the desperate lives of the displaced and dispossessed. The title refers to a 2012 commemoration of the siege of Sarajevo: 11,514 red chairs were placed in rows, one for each person killed in the siege that lasted for almost 4 years. What is remarkable about this book is that it is an Irish woman, Fidelma, who is the central core to the story which takes place in Ireland and England. Thanks Mike, for this recommendation.