What We're Reading

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Neil

Lanny, by Max Porter (Granta April 2019)

Lanny is like nothing else I've ever read, and it deserves the widest possible readership. It's an amazing piece of work. Lanny is an eccentric child, perhaps somewhat autistic, who both enchants and baffles his parents and neighbours in a small rural village in England. There is an encounter with a mythical figure, Dead Papa Toothwort, an ancient spirit, which changes everybody's lives. The story is told in a fabulous collage of characters, voices and words, constructing a parable for our times. Absolute genius, it will stay with you, haunt you for weeks.

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Neil

American Pastoral, by Philip Roth (Vintage 1997)

Incredibly, this is the first Philip Roth I've read - aside from Portnoy's Complaint as a naive teenager, which I failed to get. I'd always had this belief that he's 'difficult'. I think that had put me off. Anyway, I'm pleased I've now read this superb, epic novel, which is extremely readable, while also being subtle, profound and moving. It tells the story of a successful businessman, good-looking, and thriving in post-war America, until his daughter commits a violent act of political terrorism, which destroys his family.

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Neil

A Mistake, by Carl Shuker (VUP March 2019)

Carl Shuker, a former editor at the British Medical Journal, knows his medical procedures, and the politics of New Zealand's medical profession. In pared back, precise prose, he tells the story of a fearsome surgeon, Elizabeth Taylor, who makes an error during an operation, and the consequences of that error. The opening sequence, in the operating theatre, is on of the most agonisingly tense scenes I've ever read. The rest of the novel retains that tension.

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Neil

The Valley at the Centre of the World, by Malachi Tallack (Canongate 2018)

This is a debut novel from a powerful new voice. Malachi Tallack is the author of two non-fiction titles, both a fusion of nature writing, history and memoir. This novel explores similar territory. Set in Shetland, it tells a story of crofting in a remote valley, the families that make their living there, their struggles and relationships. It is an intense, powerfully moving novel, in which the island and its climate are an intrinsic character. I loved it.

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Neil

Island of Wings, by Karin Altenberg (Quercus 2011)

Island of Wings is a novel based on true events, set on the isolated island of St Kilda off the west coast of Scotland in the 1830s and 1840s. The novel focuses on the life of Lizzie MacKenzie, wife of the Reverend Neil MacKenzie, who was the priest on the small community from 1830 to 1844. He was responsible for modernising of the agricultural techniques on the island and the building of a new church, but the experiences of his wife are equally fascinating, as she struggles with privations, childbirth, language and social isolation.

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Neil

Any Ordinary Day, by Leigh Sales (Penguin Australia 2018)

An extraordinary book by the Australian journalist Leigh sales about what happens to people when they are struck by life-changing events, especially those that involve the intrusive glare of the media. She also condenses the latest research on the way the human mind processes grief, and finds courage where she expected to find broken lives.