Laura and Kit witness a rape whilst at an eclipse festival in Cornwall.They call the police and are called as witnesses in support of the survivor, Beth Taylor. So begins a nightmare that sees their lives turned upside down and their trust in one another destroyed.
Kelly deploys the classic unreliable narrator technique to great effect here and I never really knew who was being honest or accurate. She steadily reveals crucial details and doesn’t give too much away until right at the close. It’s a very atmospheric novel too, with a growing and claustrophobic sense of the past closing in on the present, and an ever present undercurrent of latent violence. Laura’s pregnancy and high levels of anxiousness, coupled with Kit’s obsession with chasing eclipses moments all add to the mood.
Clever, never cliched and deeply compelling, this is Broadchurch in book form (and in fact she has written a best selling novel inspired by that TV series). Perfect for the beach and whiling away sunny days.
Sixteen year old Nomi is about to leave school and “already anticipating failure”. Her favourite quote is “Life being what it is, one dreams of revenge” and she wonders if it’s possible to donate her body to science before she’s actually dead.
She lives with her father, Ray, in a small Mennonite town called East Village. Her mother, Trudie, and older sister, Tash, left town a while back. One day Nomi finds her mum’s passport and wishes she hadn’t – the “Obscenely, heartbreakingly hopeful” story she has told herself involves Trudie travelling the world, having adventures.
Growing up Tash and Nomi are allowed to “listen to the names of dead people being read out in a terrifying monotone” but not “the Beatles singing all we need is love”. Ray spends a lot of time at the local dump “where he could organize abandoned dreams and wrecked things into families, in a way, that stayed together.” He and his daughter communicate mostly by writing notes to one another. He is “stuck in the middle of a story with no good ending”. She is smart, rebellious and will never leave him behind. The complicated kindness that gives the book its name might set them both free but will it make them happier?
This came highly recommended so I was looking forward to reading it. It’s a sweet, simple, poignant and funny coming of age novel and Toews has won various awards – presumably in large part because the way she’s depicted life in East Village is incredibly authentic. But truth be known I was rather disappointed. Despite all that’s going for it, A COMPLICATED KINDNESS left me feeling something was missing or lacking. There was so much potential and yet it didn’t really go anywhere other than the kind of dead end that’s East Village. Perhaps that was Toew’s intention, I don’t know, but whilst I wanted to finish her book, much like Nomi I was also very much looking forward to being out of there.
There’s nothing like a trilogy of crime novels to kick off the summer holidays and make lying on a beach in 30 degree heat even more appealing. When that trilogy features a broke, troubled and cantankerous army-veteran-turned-private-detective named Cormoran Strike, and is penned by JK Rowling writing under a pseudonym, things cannot get much better.
Each book deals with a different distinct case, giving Rowling the chance to employ her prodigious story telling skills and plenty of opportunity to skilfully and gradually develop her main characters. THE CUCKOO’S CALLING revolves around the suicide of a troubled but glamorous young model. THE SILKWORM is set in the literary world and soon sees a missing husband turn up as a the victim of a particularly grisly murder. CAREER OF EVIL is easily the darkest of the three, featuring as it does a serial killer obsessed with severing body parts.
Starring in them all is also Robin Ellacott, originally hired as a secretary and soon taking on the role of Strike’s side kick. Her relationship with him and with her jealous fiancee brings a lovely warm human element to the books, offsetting what is otherwise some quite grim content. Rowling has done herself proud in every way though and I devoured the whole series, loved Strike and was cheering for Robin from page one. Perfect holiday reads.
If you don’t fancy the books, the BBC has made THE CUCKOO CALLING into a TV series, starting August 26th and starring Tom Burke from The Three Musketeers and Holliday Grainger (random fact – she was in the same dance classes as my daughter when they were both small children!). I’ll be tuning in…..
Ruth Patchett is back. She’s 84 and living in the High Tower, one time love nest of her rival Mary Fisher who now haunts the tower. A senile Bobbo (whom Ruth plotted to send to prison in THE LIFE AND LOVES OF A SHE DEVIL) is ensconced in the uppermost Lantern Room and the rest of the tower complex is home to the staff and supporters of IGP, the Institute for Gender Parity, set up when Ruth realised the opportunities for pretty and plain girls would never be the same so decided to focus on goals such as closing the pay gap instead.
One of the residents is Valerie Valeria, young, ambitious and an altogether different kind of feminist from Ruth.Valerie’s plans for IGP include glossy catalogues, a bullet proof Mercedes and much spectacle and expense reuniting Ruth with her estranged children and a surprise grandson, Tyler.
This isn’t nearly as good as THE LIFE AND LOVES OF A SHE DEVIL, which I remember devouring when I first discovered it, but Weldon has written another funny and smart reflection on gender politics and how it affects our every day lives. Especially interesting is how she integrates new debates about gender and sexual identity – albeit not as thoroughly or as deeply as they deserve. Valerie persuades Ruth’s grandson Tyler to transition, a story line which affords plenty of opportunities to reflect on the impact of testosterone and oestrogen, but leads the she devil to some rather suspect conclusions. Other characters touch on the way feminism has evolved and the differences between various struggles for equality. Weldon’s satire is genuinely non discriminatory and she directs it with equal savagery at all, and especially at those who seek to use feminism to pursue their own goals. As one of the older women in the tower, Dr Simmins, remark at one point: “So whatever changed, except perhaps, these days, gender? There were nice people and nasty people and some of them were M and some of them were F: and a whole lot in between.” Despite these themes, Weldon’s wit and story telling powers mean there’s nothing worthy or overly earnest about what is a gutsy, gleeful if somewhat less radical novel than is predecessor, and one that builds beautifully to the most fitting of deaths for the ultimate she devil.
Harry is a high end drug dealer, in partnership with her lifelong friend and back-watcher Leon. One night she meets and falls for Becky, a dancer, who also waits tables in the family cafe and gives massages to strangers in hotel rooms. She notices Pete in the family cafe because he’s reading a book written by Becky’s estranged father. The two get talking then get together. Pete is Harry’s half brother but none of them realise the connection until Harry throws a surprise party for Pete. A surprise party at which Harry also discovers she knows Becky’s drug dealing uncles – and not in a good way.
THE BRICKS THAT BUILT THE HOUSES explodes into being as Leon, Harry and Becky are fleeing London with a suitcase full of money. The opening prose is pure poetry and it only gets better and better. This book is gritty, funny, sexy and like nothing you’ve ever read before. Tempest has created characters that are so real it hurts sometimes. They are linked not just by the story she’s woven but by being variously abandoned and ambitious, and the bricks of their lives, from childhood upwards, are carefully laid and cemented together, generation on generation.
Tempest has captured London too, “cocksure, alert to danger, charming”, in particular parts of my south east corner where “The road is strewn with picked clean rib bones, and the faint smell of boozy piss mixes with the sweet rot of skunk smoke.” But she’s been clever enough not to let the city take centre stage, with a story and a pace that’s irrepressible.
A book about the bass line, THE BRICKS THAT BUILT THE HOUSES thrums with truth, from lines like “People are killing for Gods again. Money is killing us all.” to the way Tempest steadily unpicks the relationship women have with their bodies and their sexuality. It’s a book with purpose but never feels worthy. A book that’s incredibly daring but never tries too hard.
Tempest is a poet, a rapper and spoken word performer. She gives us phrases like “Harry’s voice is a broken window, letting the rain in.” and “She swallowed her doubt, but the hook stuck in the flesh of her mouth, pulling her upwards, away from him.” At times the words on the page feel like song lyrics, so I wasn’t surprised to learn after reading it that THE BRICKS THAT BUILT THE HOUSES is a companion piece to her Mercury Music Prize shortlisted debut album EVERYBODY DOWN. It certainly made me sing. It made me want to fling open windows too and read passages to passers by, at the same time as wanting to hunker down and greedily savour every word in the peace of my own company. Extraordinary.
So since I lasted posted, there has been a general election, and the aftermath, and then I had to go to New York for work, so I’ve not managed to blog about all the books I’ve read. Rather than do a proper catch up, I’m going to cheat a bit and cover them all in this one post, with just a few lines about each.
INTO THE WATER by Paula Hawkins: in the village of Beckford there’s a long history of women drowning themselves or being drowned. When a local teenager and her best friend’s mum both end up dead within months of one another and seemingly drowned, the police investigation unearths all kinds of mysteries about the past and secrets about the present. Not bad but not brilliant either.
THE THIRST by Joe Nesbo: what can I say? I love Harry Hole books and this one is just as good as all the others. Perfect reading for a stressful election campaign when very little holds my attention.
THE HATE YOU GIVE by Angie Thomas: Easily the best thing I’ve read during this period of time. A teenage girl and her best friend are pulled over by the police. The advice drummed into them since they could walk – “Keep your hands visible. No sudden moves. Only speak when spoken to” – doesn’t keep them safe and she witnesses him being shot by a police officer. This is the story of her community’s reaction and her decision to speak out and fight for justice.
THE BALTIMORE BOYS by Joel Dicker: I was looking forward to this as I really enjoyed THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HARRY QUEBERT AFFAIR. It’s not a patch on that though Dicker definitely knows how to tell a story. Three best friends and a girl they all love. Two are caught up in a tragedy, the details of which aren’t revealed until close to the end, and the third writes this book to ensure they are not forgotten by history, whilst at the same time rekindling his relationship with the girl that divided them.
THE HEART GOES LAST by Margaret Atwood: as usual, Atwood’s searing analysis of modern day life is spot on. Here she has created a world in which people choose to enter a closed community called Positron, dreamt up by some bright spark to make prisons and the prison population generate a profit. Two of the newest residents, Charmaine and Stan, sign up for life but soon discover that perfection is not all it’s cracked up to be. Wickedly funny and deeply disturbing.
EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN by Chris Cleave: “The first problem of was was that no one was any good at it yet”. Mary wants to teach the children left behind in London. She falls in love with Tom, who has chosen to stay behind whilst his flatmate Alistair signs up. Desperately sad, incredibly moving and utterly gripping. Almost on a par with the glorious Kate Atkinson’s LIFE AFTER LIFE and A GOD IN RUINS for the way it captures the enormity and the smallness of the Second World War.