What We're Reading

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Neil

2000ft Above Worry Level, by Eamonn Marra (VUP 2020)

An excellent, sad and funny episodic novel, set in a vivid Wellington, about a young man drifting through life, trying to do better and usually failing. It's full of excruciating set pieces, mortifying glimpses into a difficult life in a difficult world at a difficult time. The language is precise and flows easily, there are no wasted words, and you will never look at a wart in the same way again..

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Neil

This Is Happiness, by Niall Williams (Bloomsbury 2019)

This is another astounding novel which restored my faith in the power of the novel to move and amaze the reader. A coming of age novel, set in a small, remote Irish village in probably the early 1970s. Noe arrives in Faha to stay with his grandparents at the same time as the long awaited arrival of 'the electricity'. An older man. Christy, arrives to work on the laying of cables, and shares a room with Noe. His past, and why he is really in the village, drive the plot through many digressions, romance, drinking and family strife, all related in a wry and ironic prose.

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Neil

Apeirogon, by Colum McCann (Bloomsbury 2020)

What an achievement Apeirogon is! 450 pages, arranged in 1000 'chapters' of a few lines to a few pages in length, counting up to 500, then back down to 1. Based on the lives of two real people - one Israeli, the other Palestinian, drawn together by a tragedy in common - both lost daughters in acts of terror. It's a very difficult novel to even describe, as it pushes the boundaries of the form.

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Neil

Agency, by William Gibson (Penguin 2020)

Agency follows Gibson's earlier The Peripheral, in which the uber-wealthy from 100-odd years into the future entertain themselves with computer generated pre-histories, which nonetheless seem (and are?) very real to those inhabiting them. Agency begins in 2017 San Francisco, in an alternative past, with Clinton in the White House and Britain still in the EU. But nuclear war is imminent, so those in the future use high-tech tools to try to stop it.

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Neil

Here We Are, by Graham Swift (Scribner 2020)

Through his long career - his first book was published in 1980 - Swift has progressed from being somewhat experimental, to being a subtle chronicler of human emotion. He reminds me slightly of Anita Brookner these days. This latest book is no exception. It's set in relatively unpromising territory - the 1950s theatrical entertainment scene in Brighton, where a love triangle plays out between a brilliant young magician, his girlfriend assistant, and the compere who holds their act together.

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Neil

How Did We Get Into This Mess, by George Monbiot (Verso 2016)

George Monbiot is an uncompromising writer, a Guardian columnist and author of a number of books on corporate and political behaviour, especially its impact on the natural world. This book is a collection of his journalism from the last 10 or so years arranged around loose themes. While very critical of the current consensus, Monbiot is clear-sighted and reasonable, and offers practical solutions. He is always provocative and controversial, and very readable. A powerful, inspiring book.