What We're Reading

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Neil

White Houses, by Amy Bloom (Granta 2018)

A fictionalised look at true events US in the 1930s, through the eyes of Lorena Hickok, a straight-talking journalist from South Dakota, this fascinating novel is full of White House intrigue. Hickok, known as Hick, apparently had a passionate relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt, the idealistic First Lady and wife of Franklin Roosevelt. It's unclear if the actual relationship was ever physical, although it's clear from their many letters that it was passionate, but Amy Bloom imagines it as being physical, which would have been controversial in the 1930s.

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Neil

Another Planet, by Tracey Thorn (Canongate March 2019)

Tracey Thorn still has the diaries that she kept from the 1970s, growing up a bored and cynical teenager in London's suburbia. She later became a famous and successful musician as half of the duo Everything But The Girl. This wise, nostalgic memoir is structured from those diaries as Thorn takes us beyond the banal entries like 'Took dog for a walk and did loads more exercises' to what life was like as a teenager, rebelling against acquisitive parents, becoming interested in boys and punk music and trying to figure what kind of person you want to be.

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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.