What We're Reading

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Neil

The Way of the World, by Nicolas Bouvier (Eland 2007, first published in 1963)

The Way of the World tells the story of two friends, the author and artist Thierry Vernet, drive in a Fiat Topolino from Geneva to the Khyber Pass in the 1950s. They had little money, and stopped off in towns along the way to teach, sell paintings, and play music to earn enough to continue. It's an epic journey, in the vein of Patrick Leigh Fermor, with vivid descriptions and illustrations of local people, landscapes and extreme weather, both hot and cold.

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Neil

The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene (Vintage 2019, first published 1951)

This is such a sad novel, a real classic, loosely based on an affair Graham Greene had in real life. The narrator is Maurice Bendrix, a rational but flawed and jealous man, a moderately successful novelist, who meets and starts an affair with a married woman, Sarah, during the Second World War. The main events in the novel are described 6 or so years later, when the affair has ended with significant impacts on both parties, and the novel also describes other tragic events that befall the characters.

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Neil

She's A Killer, by Kirsten McDougall (VUP October 2021)

This superbly inventive and clever thriller is set in near-future Wellington, with a climate crisis in play globally, and social and economic disruption in a New Zealand flooded with 'wealthugees'. The narrator is a genius slacker, who is anarchic and unreliable, but smart and well drawn. She behaves appallingly and hilariously, but the book isn't being played for laughs. It's deadly serious, tense, claustrophobic and exciting, and takes the reader places you won't expect. A brilliant and unsettling read, and too short at 400 pages.

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Neil

There There, by Tommy Orange (Vintage 2018)

Set mostly in Oakland, mostly amongst the urban Native American community, this powerful novel tells in alternating chapters the stories of a dozen or so disparate characters, who are destined to overlap in a tragic climax at the Bog Oakland Powwow. It's a darkly energetic novel, exhilarating and exciting as it drives the reader towards an inevitable, excruciating finale. The many characters are all convincingly drawn, and not regularly seen in American fiction. This is Orange's first novel, published when he was in his mid-thirties. He's one to watch, an exciting discovery.

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Neil

Mayflies, by Andrew O'Hagan (Faber 2020)

This novel has two distinct and very different parts, the first in the summer of 1986, two friends from a small Scottish town head to Manchester to attend a music festival featuring the big bands of the time: Jesus and Mary Chain, New Order, The Smiths, The Fall, Magazine. O'Hagan captures the energy and optimism of this group of young men, at the climax of their youth at a magical time in history. We then jump forward to 2017. Life is different now, overhung with the shadow of death.

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Neil

Lean Fall Stand, by Jon McGregor (4th Estate 2021)

Inventive as always, this new novel by Jon McGregor is also thrilling, hypnotic and meditative. It unpicks the ongoing ripples of a single event, as this author does so well. It's in three sections, as the title suggests. The first is set in Antarctica, in which a terrible storm hits a field research expedition, the ramifications of which are explored in the later two sections, back in Britain. It's incredibly moving and authentic, reminiscent of Ian McEwan's Saturday in its forensic detail of stroke and aphasia, and the work needed to recover.