Here are seventeen books we recommend you read this year!
1. The Humans by Matt Haig
This book is about an alien’s trip to earth, but it’s also about what it means to be human. It’s funny and uplifting and it explains the difficulties and the joys of being alive.
2. Slade House by David Mitchell
This is a clever ghost story about a paranormal house. You never know whether you can trust what you’re reading.
The second book in my Booker Prize Reading Challenge is The Sellout by Paul Beatty. This book is set in ‘Dickens’, a farmland area just outside of Los Angeles. A man is recalling his childhood of growing up under a very peculiar father who carries out experiments on him and the wonderfully colourful people that he knows.
The only problem is that he is going to embark on something which is so profoundly against popular culture and society that he is not just going to be a sellout but the ridicule and laughing stock of America.
I cannot give away too much about this book but it is at times hysterically funny – I’ve had quite a few laugh out loud moments on the tube home. It leads me to think that Beatty could have had a career as a stand-up comic and his political monologues are very prescient, almost Doug Stanhope. The characters are really well drawn, also very very funny but people who you could sympathise with, especially the main character. The problem with this book (in my opinion) is that it doesn’t quite grab your attention the whole way through.
I think it is a very original piece of work and it’s probably the funniest book that I have read.
A considerably older woman (Eileen) is looking back on her life to when she was a 24 year old. Living in ‘X-ville’ with her drunken and disturbed father and without a Mum she has a very restricted life of a job she really can’t stand, people who she doesn’t really want to work with. The odd crush on the security guard keeps her going. That is until a new colleague, Rebecca turns up and breathes new life into her. Their friendship leads to an even darker place and Eileen has some radical decisions to make.
This is a deeply unsettling book but it was so compelling that I could not put it down. The microcosm of Eileen’s young life is fascinating and her inner world is fuelled by awkwardness, self-loathing and flights of fantasy. You cannot help but cringe in parts, but that’s down to Moshfegh’s brilliant writing. I am not going to spoil the ending but it is seismic. Think of works by Patricia Highsmith and Donna Tartt and you are getting close.
So thus far it is my favourite on the shortlist as it feels like a complete novel – it is chilling, diabolical and her descriptions of the landscape make you feel as if you are living inside it. Brilliant.
It is 1991 in Canada and a young girl and her mother who are originally from China welcome into their home a family friend who has just fled Tiananmen Square and martial brutality of the army. The young woman begins to relate a series of stories to the young girl and a bond is formed almost instantly between them. The book takes us back to before the Cultural Revolution where two sisters carve out their own lives and families who later come to diverge and interplay on one another. As the rule of Mao Zedong and his dominance deepens across China it has varying consequences for all they are and who they love.
This is a grandly epic novel and it feels as if its written by someone who has spent years on it – it deserves to have been shortlisted. Each character in the story is perfectly drawn and the way that it starts out as a series of stories begin to coalesce into the history of a family. One reviewer mentioned that they were ordinary but as 3 of the main characters are superlative musicians and composers I would disagree!
There are 2 criticisms that I would level at it. Firstly, the later scenes in Tiananmen Square are very rushed and it did not feel as authentically written or matter as much as the earlier histories which the family occupied. Secondly, at nearly 500 pages it was not a large book but it could have had 50 pages edited out of it.
Overall, it’s a very affecting piece of work and is a powerful reminder about how one person’s or governments blind control can turn us into different people in order to survive. But what will survival actually turn out to be and what remains for those who have been left behind?
One of the best things about working in a library is chatting to our customers about books and authors. An even better thing is finding out which authors we mutually admire and adore.
One of these authors is Patrick Leigh Fermor. He was a young man of 17 when he decided to walk, in 1933, from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople . He later wrote what was to be become a trilogy of those wanderings, A Time of Gifts (published 1977), Between the Woods and the Water (published 1986) but the third instalment wasn’t published.
Patrick would go on to have many adventures, including one particularly audacious episode. During World War II he and his band of brothers on the island of Crete kidnapped a German General, Kriepe, and they blagged their way through 30 different checkpoints and escaped to Egypt. This would not have been successful had it not been for Patrick’s convincing impression of a German officer and his total belief in this daring enterprise. This was turned into a film, starring Dirk Bogart, called Ill Met By Moonlight.
I could say a thousand things about why this author is so inspiring, but apart from his thirst for knowledge, places and language he loved people above all else, their culture, heritage, habits and traditions. That was why he was such a compelling story teller and a great raconteur.
Patrick died last year at the age of 96. I was gutted not to have met my hero and I feared that the remaining part of his journey had died with him. So I was delighted when one of our readers popped in last week to tell me that the third part of the trilogy will be published next year! Entitled The Broken Road, this will cover the remaining part of his journey.
His biography was published last week, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper. This is already getting rave reviews so put a reservation on it before anyone else does!