What We're Reading

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Neil

The Life To Come, by Michelle de Kretser (A&U 2017)

I have enjoyed Michelle de Kretser's previous novels - all of them sophisticated, intelligent, compelling and powerful. The Life To Come is is all of these things, but it's also a little frustrating. It could be described as a series of long, linked short stories, and is probably better read that way. Some of the more interesting characters appear only fleetingly, others reappear, and one, Pippa, is the only constant, significant character. This makes it a challenge for the reader, who invests empathy with a character, only for them to disappear for ever.

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Neil

Travelling In A Strange Land, by David Park (Bloomsbury May 2018)

There is a 2013 Tom Hardy movie called 'Locke', in which almost the entire movie is Tom Hardy driving from Birmingham to London, talking on the phone. This novel reminded me of that - the entire book is narrated by a character called Tom, driving through a snow-bound, treacherous landscape from Belfast to Sunderland, thinking about his life and family, their secrets and haunting memories. It's an almost unbearable read, written in spare, plain prose, every sentence resonates. It's quite short, about 160 pages, and could be read in a single sitting.

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Neil

The Golden Legend, by Nadeem Aslam (Faber, 2017)

A novel set in Pakistan about religious intolerance, violence and fear. The Golden Legend is a very powerful and moving novel, full of cruelty and darkness, but also has moments of transcendent beauty and inspiring courage. More pared back than his earlier books, it's no less arresting.

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Neil

Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury 2017)

A remarkable, fierce and extraordinarily moving novel, about a mixed race family in Mississippi, and the struggle with drugs, violence, racism, the legacy of slavery. It's a road novel, but an unusual one, with changing voices between the characters, and flashbacks to a darker past as narrated by the dead. A mighty powerful novel, especially towards the end.

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Neil

Strange Labyrinth, by Will Ashon (Granta 2017)

What a strange and brilliant book! The subtitle is 'Outlaws, Poets, Mystics, Murderers and a Coward in London's Great Forest', which is a bit of a mouthful. The forest referred to is Epping Forest, which is 24o hectares of ancient forest on the outskirts of London. Will Ashon owned and ran an underground record label in the UK for some time, and has a distinctive and very peculiar approach to life.

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Neil

All This By Chance, by Vincent O'Sullivan (VUP March 2018)

Following the lives of a number of closely linked characters across multiple generations, this is a moving novel about family secrets, the legacy of the Holocaust, and memory and its failings. Starting in 1947, in London, it moves forwards in time across different characters, and then moves back to 1938. It's a quite brilliant piece of writing; O'Sullivan's significant achievement is to manage a number of characters and time periods without confusing the reader. I think this is a landmark New Zealand novel, a classic in the making, and will win awards.