Five Things To Read This...


... March/April


Some suggestions of what's new and noteworthy this season.

we the animalsWe the Animals by Justin Torres (Granta).

This powerful and poetic debut depicts - with remarkable freshness - scenes from the life of three wild sons, the offspring of a poor mixed-race family in upstate New York. Torres’s short novel explores passion, violence, mystery and tenderness within the rackety household where the unity of the children is splintered by the specialness of one of them. Some books develop a unique language or stylistic rhythm to create their own world. This, memorably, is one of them.

division of the lightA Division of the Light by Christopher Burns (Quercus).

Cool and confident, Burns’ sixth novel plunges into a surprising relationship between two strangers as swiftly as the click of a camera shutter. Greg Pharaoh is a photographer. Alice Fell is a robbery victim. Thrown together, they embark on a relationship driven initially by jousting conversations. This psychologically searching story is marked by sensuality and detachment until riven by a thunderclap. An enigmatic novel that transports the reader somewhere unexpected.

lifeboatThe Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan (Virago).

If hell is other people, imagine being shipwrecked in a lifeboat with thirty-eight assorted folk in the cold waters of the Atlantic in 1913. This is the plight of Grace Sachs after the ship taking her to New York catches fire. Grace’s account of the terrible days spent starving in the boat, delivered with probing insight, are her testimony in the subsequent murder trial. Rogan’s striking debut enlarges an intense yet simple survivors’ scenario into something of mythic proportions.

Five Things To Read This...


... January/February


Some suggestions of what's new and noteworthy this season.





by Julianna Baggott (Headline)

The Road meets George Orwell and Heath Robinson in the chunky, film-optioned first volume of a trilogy set in America after the Detonations which left an elite living inside a well-provided Dome and the damaged remainder outside in the Rubble Fields and Meltlands. Pressia Belze, barely sixteen and on the run from totalitarian forces, is destined to meet Partridge, a Pure who has escaped from the Dome, both fugitives haunted by memories of a pre-apocalypse past. This novel ticks several contemporary boxes – crossover; dystopian; steampunk – and offers pacey, strongly visual entertainment for those with the stamina. 

rintintinRIN TIN TIN

by Susan Orlean (Atlantic)

The celebrated author of The Orchid Thief returns with a nostalgic wallow for readers old enough to remember iconic US TV shows of the 1950s like ‘Davy Crockett’, and an affecting man-meets- dog-meets international stardom story for everyone else, starting on the animal- populated battlefields of World War I. This highly readable assembly of anecdote, observation and dog-ography, spans entertainment, Hitler’s policy on animal cruelty, canine cemeteries and a good deal more. An appealing curiosity. 




So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman (Century) An engrossing, multi-perspective suspense story set in small-town USA.

Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart (Maclehose) The fine Canadian writer returns with an intricately composed story of family legacies.

Shelter by Francie Greenslade (Virago) Another Canadian tale, this time a coming-of-age debut following the survival of two sisters after their mother’s disappearance. 

Five Things To Read This...


... November/December


Some suggestions of what's new and noteworthy this season.




The Thread 

by Victoria Hislop (Headline)


The Thread

There’s no mistaking Hislop’s writing, a combination of uncomplicated, passionate storytelling and the interlinking of significant episodes of European history. Her third novel sees her returning toGreece, specifically to the city ofThessaloniki where, through catastrophe, ethnic discrimination and war, she traces the huge, often tragic sweep of the twentieth century. It’s also a family saga, driven by the love story between a refugee girl and the rebel son of autocratic merchant. Solidly entertaining fare with some memorable set pieces.



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by Gabriel Chevallier (Serpent’s Tail)



The literature of World War I is augmented by an exceptional rediscovery this November, when this French classic by the author of jovial bestseller Clochemerle sees its first translation into English. The furious anti-war message of Fear, published in 1930, led to it being withdrawn before World War II. Chevallier’s indictment of war, jingoism and infectious stupidity deserves to be widely read. Drawing on the author’s own experiences in the trenches, the novel follows the experiences of Jean Dartemont whose scathing opinions of the politicians and generals are matched for force by on-the-ground depictions of the chaos, physical demands, privations and hellish suffering of the battlefield. A literary punch to the solar plexus.



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northwest cornerNorthwest Corner by John Burnham Schwartz (Constable).

If this author’s name rings a bell, it might be because of a book – and film – called Reservation Road which garnered terrific reviews some years ago. Now Schwartz has revisited his characters and their emotional baggage some twelve years after the drama of the first novel but new readers need not fear starting here. The new book stands on its own, tracing an act of violence that ripples into the lives of a circle of characters which Schwartz inhabits with bravura empathy. Compassionate and optimistic. 

snowchildThe Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Headlne).

A quick mention, since it was published in February, for this impressive debut set in Alaska in the 1920s where a homesteading couple, scratching subsistence from the cold earth, are transfixed by an elfin child who wanders in and out of their life, transforming it as if by magic. A melancholic, crystalline tale which, despite its knowing reference to fairytale, ends in an achingly humane place.

origin of violenceThe Origin of Violence by Fabrice Humbert (Serpent’s Tail).

And here’s another February title, winner of some major French prizes, that’s worth squeezing in – a somber tale of personal discovery that begins with a trip to Buchenwald Concentration Camp where the sighting of a photograph leads to horrendous discoveries in the life of a French teacher. Like Nemirovsky’s writing, this compelling, sober work casts a long shadow over the French dimension of World War II.



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my policemanMY POLICEMAN

by Bethan Roberts (Chatto & Windus)

Building on the success of The Pools (nb46), this quietly incisive writer returns with her third novel, a delicately drawn, decidedly English and occasionally comic tale set in Brighton in the 1950s. Flavours of ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ and Joe Orton permeate the unhappy story of a ménage à trois inspired partly by EM Forster’s relationship with Bob Buckingham and his wife. Roberts, has a light, effortless- seeming narrative style yet reaches tragic depths in her period account of repression and self-delusion. Deceptively easy reading with a long afterburn. 



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by Chris Womersley (Quercus)

Winner of the Australia Book Industry Awards Literary Fiction Book of the Year as well as the Indie Award for Best Novel, Womersley’s latest links the horrors of World War I’s battlefields to an unsolved crime in the outback through the return of a reviled son, presumed dead, who will be befriended by a feral child. This period literary thriller, with its dark, compelling, atmospheric writing and strong themes of atonement, is a book to read in a single sitting. 

the foundlingTHE FOUNDLING

by Agnes Desarthe (Portobello)

Mysteries of several kinds are explored and some of them resolved in this quirky, increasingly compelling French novel about Jerome, a divorced rural estate agent. Opening with a family tragedy, it expands through curious characters and peculiar plot turns. A love affair begins, a lifelong mystery is explored and a possible murder surprisingly solved. Nothing is predictable, much is surprising in this intriguing, odd little book which won the Prix Renaudot. 

A Dancer in Wartime

by Gillian Lynne (Chatto & Windus)


a dancer in wartime

Despite a tragic opening, the renowned choreographer’s (Cats etc) memoir of her childhood in the 1940s is an engaging nostalgia-fest mixing innate talent with memories of wartimeEngland. It’s littered with reminiscences of Lilley & Skinner’s shoe shop; tea at Lyons Corner House; evacuation;Anderson shelters; and ENSA. And among the scholarships and schooldays and first indications of stardom, there are working encounters with figures like Moira Shearer, Noel Coward and Margot Fonteyn. An evocative seasonal indulgence.



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The Interrogative Mood

by Padgett Powell (Serpent’s Tail).


the interrogative mood

Will every review of this novel be written in the form of questions ? Is it the only way to discuss a book composed entirely of enquiries ? What will reading groups make of it ? Will the formal structure be too much ? Or is it imaginable that book groups might have fun with its cleverness and originality ?



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7 Ways to Kill a Cat

by Matias Nespolo (Harvill Secker)


7 ways to kill a cat

If the UK’s blazing summer has left readers more curious about the lives of the dispossessed, then this striking debut might offer a glimmer of insight. Although plastered with expletives and bad behaviour of all kinds, including an illustration of one of the 7 Ways to Kill a Cat, it’s a punchily immediate piece of writing set in an Argentinian barrio, tracking the downward spiral of a sympathetic kid, Gringo, who is distracted on his unpromising trajectory by a copy of Moby Dick. Nespolo is one of Granta’s best young Spanish-language novelists. As grittily contemporary as they come.


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