What We're Reading

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Neil

Milkman, by Anna Burns (Faber 2018)

Milkman, as I'm sure you know, won the 2018 Man Booker Prize, and since then it has been widely reviewed and acclaimed, deservedly so. It's a genuinely original and fresh novel, like nothing I've ever read, that evokes Joyce but is a little more readable. It's set in an unnamed city, a bit like Belfast, during the 1970s, where to stand out is to be dangerous and in danger. It's a novel of gossip and hearsay, written in a unique stream of consciousness style, which takes a bit of getting used to, but by the end conventional fiction seems bland and colourless by comparison.

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Neil

The Wall, by John Lanchester (Faber, February 2019)

John Lanchester, award winning author of 4 novels, a memoir, and 2 books about economics, is a very versatile writer. This latest, quite short novel is no less impactful for its brevity and readability. It's set in what may be a very near future. Young people are required to spend 2 years patrolling the Wall, defending it agains mysterious Others. To say too much more would be to spoil the plot and scenario.

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Neil

Happiness, by Aminatta Forna (Bloomsbury 2018)

The acclaimed novelist's fourth novel tells of a chance encounter in London, between a Ghanaian psychiatrist and an American scientist. This encounter sets off a series of quite unexpected connections, in which disparate lives intertwine. This is a powerful and rich novel of character and relationships, revealing and celebrating the lives of London's migrant community, raising questions of society's values and the nature of happiness. A very enjoyable and profound novel.

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Neil

The Long Take, by Robin Robertson (Picador, 2018)

In this book length poem, Robin Robertson achieves that near-impossible feat - a noir narrative as compelling as a novel. In fact, it was shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize for fiction. It tells of the drifting struggle of Walker, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following D-Day, as he tries to piece his life together. He moves from Nova Scotia to New York, then on to Los Angeles and San Francisco, all cities whose collapse from corruption, paranoia and racism are brilliantly evoked. An outstandingly original work.

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Neil

Sabrina, by Nick Drnaso (Granta 2018)

I don't read a lot of graphic novels, but as this one was on the Booker Longlist I needed to find out what the fuss was about. It's quite an achievement, a very ambitious story, formally ingenious, beautifully written and sensitively drawn. It's a mystery of a girl who has disappeared, her depressed boyfriend, and his friend who he stays with while the disappearance is being investigated. But it's really about contemporary paranoia, misinformation, and the trauma of tragedy and violence in modern America. It's mighty powerful.

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Neil

Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje (Cape 2018)

Very much a return to form here, after 2 or 3 not-quite-there novels from one of my favourite novelists Michael Ondaatje. 12 years after the war, the narrator Nathaniel pieces together the events that took place when he was a young man. Unexpectedly abandoned by their parents, 14 year old Nathaniel and his sister are cared for by a series of enigmatic and mysterious characters, who are clearly up to something which he doesn't fully understand. Written with typical Ondaatje lyricism, the reader comes on events obliquely, and it does take some attention to put together the puzzle.