Thursday, 10 August 2017
When everything is gone, and the future abandoned, what remains for us?
This is a story about Anna, abandoned in a world that has been ravaged by a virus which has killed all the grown ups. Left looking after her brother, scavenging for food, water and survival, she sets off on a journey desperately seeking someone that will have a cure.
It feels strange to say I enjoyed this novel which is so full of terrifying events and graphic descriptions of a world that is rotting but I did. Anna is quite an extraordinary book; a dystopian novel set in the not too far future in a world without grown ups.
The opening rips the reader out the security of their armchair and throws them headlong into a scene that is more terrifying than any horror film I have seen. The imagery and chilling atmosphere is highly effective and despite the horror, it is compelling reading and stunning writing. We are pulled into a mysterious setting of "crackling neon lights", dimly lit corridors and bodies strewn in unnatural positions indicating painful, reluctant deaths.
We then move forward four years and meet Anna, our young protagonist, and to an equally frightening scene as she is chased by a dog. It's a bit relentless but the detailed description means the story is very easy to visualise. The reader uses the clues, hints and reactions of Anna to try and determine what is happening to her and what kind of society she is having to operate within. There are plenty of ominous statements like "Cold things had disappeared with the Grown-ups" and a huge sense of foreboding and hopelessness.
The story is told through Anna's point of view but I did find the flashbacks to Anna's moments with her mother just before she died powerful and poignant. The extracts from her mother's notebook with instructions telling the children how they can try to survive once she is dead were particularly moving. The writing itself for these sections was very practical and yet evoked a sense of desperation. They reflected the full impact of the outbreak of the virus on the world. Anna clings to these pages like a Bible, a litany and the only way she has of connecting with her mother. It's heartbreaking to think of a mother's last words to her children being about how to 'live in the dark' and her knowledge that she was deserting them to a world that was crumbling around them is conveyed well.
Once Anna has set off on her journey the pace picks up and with more characters, more drama, more interaction and more dangerous situations emerging; the novel becomes more action driven. Essentially though, for me this book was about the characters. I was fascinated by Anna's mother and was liked how her presence, influence and own back story was weaved in and out of the present moment. All the key characters were well crafted and easy to picture and hear speaking.
The high quality prose is sustained throughout the whole book. It is always lyrical and full of captivating imagery despite the bleak, dystopian setting. There is a often a weighty sense of silence and darkness and it is quite an oppressive read in places. But Ammaniti's polished, accomplished writing is exquisite and always eloquent. I enjoyed this novel. It was a challenging read but a rewarding one.
Anna was published by Canongate on 3rd August 2017
A retired couple, Gerry and Stella Gilmore, fly from their home in Scotland to Amsterdam for a long weekend. A holiday to refresh the senses, to do some sightseeing and generally to take stock of what remains of their lives. Their relationship seems safe, easy, familiar – but over the course of the four days we discover the deep uncertainties which exist between them.
MacLaverty is a fantastic writer who is able to capture the human condition and the internal struggles of a person with a deft and accomplished hand. His writing is exquisite and eloquent, lyrical and memorable. It is understated yet full of resonance and the simple thoughts, observations and comments by the characters actually are powerful and moving. His observations about the interactions between people capture each nuance, the things unsaid or the things which trigger a thought process and each is caught and handled with a subtle and deft touch. I especially enjoyed his dialogue between Gerry and Stella and often reread their short, candid responses to each other that reflected a lifetime together, a lifetime of routine, living so closely together and love.
There isn't much I want to say about this novel - not because there isn't anything to say, quite the contrary, but this is novel that is slow, subtle, mesmerising and to be savoured. It takes place over four days as Gerry and Stella take a break in Amsterdam and at first recounts the minutia of their days but gradually, through a variety of incidents that occur while they are exploring the city, set them both individually on a journey of self analysis. More and more is revealed about the complexities of their marriage. More and more is revealed about them, their aspirations, regrets, fears and how they are haunted by past events or past expectations.
Midwinter Break is not for readers looking for a plot twist, a shocking reveal or a sentimental journey. It is for readers that like a story that seems like a simple retelling of a trip away but actually raises emotional, thought provoking questions for the characters and actually tells a story that is much more profound than it first appears. It is for lovers of language, effortless prose, well structured, elegant characterisation and for those who like to dawdle, consider and feel.
Midwinter Break was published by Vintage Digital on 3rd August 2017.
This story is based on a premise that will send a chill through any parent's bones. Your baby's wrist gets broken... how did it happen and who is to blame? There is plenty of tension and heartache in this novel as the pain, remorse and guilt felt by each parent, Richard and Sally, and Richard's teenage daughter from a previous marriage, gradually intensifies as the reader tries to work out who to believe and who to trust. It seems everyone could be culpable which not only makes for a dramatic storyline but also a narrative which constantly challenges the reader's judgements.
I enjoyed the concept and thought it was a brave and highly emotive topic to pick - definitely one of those "what if" scenarios which appeals to that rather vicarious nature we have as humans. I also enjoyed the fact that the novel looks at how people behave under immense pressure, how fragile a family unit can be and how people living under the same roof can actually be so out of touch with each other. There is a lot about the overwhelming love a parent has for their child and the impact of a new baby on a marriage - and a step child.
I thought Barnard captured Sally's exhaustion, her dilemmas and guilt about parenthood and her feeling of inadequacy in comparison to her husband's ex wife well and she was a character who was easy to feel sympathy for. I thought Martha's character (the step daughter) was also well depicted; caught on the cusp of adulthood trying to work out peer groups, popularity, love as well as negotiating the dangers of social media. However, I disliked Richard - I think this was the author's intention, as there didn't feel he had much to redeem himself with! But it is always good to have an emotional reaction to a character whether it was intended or not - this in itself shows the writer's skill and craft! It was good to have three characters to follow and the sub plots and different narratives were drawn together well to ensure a dramatic conclusion.
As this is an honest review I'm afraid I do have to be honest.... unfortunately for me, there were a few things that I felt were perhaps a bit cliched and might have been more interesting had they been left out, but that is only my opinion and I wouldn't want to deter anyone else from picking this book up.
I can see that Hush Little Baby will provoke interesting conversations over a cuppa, a bottle of wine and in a book club. It's a solid psychological thriller and a chilling example of domestic noir.
Hush Little Baby is published by Ebury Press on 10th August 2017.
From The Shadows is the perfect title for this new crime series as it is all about what lurks in the shadows and believe me, you won't be turning any lights off ever again once you've read this book - just as you will never get into bed again without checking underneath it first!
This book has some truly terrifying scenes in it! I loved the anonymous voice that was so deeply threatening and chilled me in the same way the TV series The Fall had with a character who lurks, follows, stalks, sneaks through your stuff, living in the shadows of your life and your home. Shudder. The author had evoked these scenes so effectively that it was like watching an 18 rated movie and the attention to detail meant it was impossible not to visualise what was happening or feel a tingle all down your spine every time this narrative voice intruded into the story.
But this is not just a murder mystery story, this is a legal thriller and White introduces us to his new protagonist Dan Grant, a defence lawyer. Dan Grant has inherited a case at the last minute and the reader realises very early on that Dan is a lawyer who will stop at nothing and he will follow the evidence to wherever it may lead him and whatever the risk. I don't read a lot of legal thrillers about lawyers and court cases so to me, this character felt refreshing and suitably maverick while still feeing believable. I liked him.
His investigator, Jayne is also an original character - she's not what you would expect, she is scruffy, downbeat and with a shocking backstory but she is full of grit and very committed to her work. They made a good pairing and from the outset White has established an intriguing plot, set of characters and raised plenty of questions to keep the reader turning the page.
This is a very readable, enjoyable legal thriller. There is a lot of information at the beginning and a lot of information about the murder, Jayne's past, Dan's colleagues, the defendant and a whole host of conflicting motives and evidence which the reader has to take on board but this also prepares the reader for the fast paced, gripping story that develops. For fans of this genre it will not disappoint!
From The Shadows is published by Bonnier Zaffre on 10th August 2017.
"If you want to discover Paris, it's better to sit on one of the city's benches. From there you can study several million people trying to find their place in life."
This is what Mancebo does, sits outside his shop watching the world everyday - "unconsciously registering everything that goes on in the street." Then one evening, in the wind and rain, a woman appears in the shop - in passages that reminded me of Rapunzel, Snow White and some disney / dahl mash up fairy tale - and asks him to spy on her husband. Why pay a detective when Mancebo sits opposite the building in which her husband frequents, watching everything that goes on? Why pay a detective when Mancebo would be the last person anyone would ever suspect of spying? He says yes. Why not?
Then there's Helena, sitting in a cafe and as a joke, or out of boredom, she finds herself engaging in a exchange with a strange man who is furtively seeking out someone for some kind of purpose that appears very mysterious. She doesn't really believe he'll fall for her claim that she is the person he has been sent to meet and it really starts out as a game to see how long she can play along with him but it's amazing how convincing she can be based on such a limited conversation! Before she knows it, she finds herself accompanying him to an office building, being given her own office space and paid money to forward emails that are all written in code.
I was intrigued by this set up, and I was taken with these characters and what was going on immediately! I enjoyed the gentle, humorous lilt of the author's writing as she described the characters, their internal thoughts, relationships and decisions. And I enjoyed the setting which was wonderfully evoked.
It is told in alternating points of view and alternating story lines which weave themselves together as the story line evolves. It did take me a while to acclimatise to the different voices as the narrative switches quite sharply but as one is in third person and one first, one male and one female, there is enough to differentiate the voices. After initially settling in to the story with Mancebo so easily perhaps I was a little jolted by the introduction of the second thread but with a little more perseverance and concentration, I was caught up in the story once more.
I think the thing I enjoyed the most though was the writing style. The prose is understated but simultaneously arresting and evocative, if that is possible! Rostland is able to convey the sights, smell, touch and sounds of the city, the characters, their environments, the situations they find themselves in with a deft hand and I found it a real treat to read such well crafted prose. There were a few lines that really stood out and really showed some nice observations about the characters.
Waiting for Monsieur Bellivier will be enjoyed by readers who enjoy literary fiction and is published by Orion on 10th August 2017.
So one day you pack your bag, get on a plane and go to New York. New York, new start. New York, new start. Say it enough and it might happen, but how easy is it to run away from your problems and grief and start somewhere new?
Not that easy, especially when you are Caitlin and you've never done anything like this before. But then she meets Jake and feels like suddenly there might be a reason to stay after all. He even wants to take her away to the Lake to meet his family. So why not? I mean, it does sound like something out of a horror movie but Caitlin tells him this and quizzes him on whether she is his final victim. He claims this is not the case in his quiet, withdrawn but seemingly harmless manner. .......
This isn't a horror movie and Caitlin isn't Jake's final victim - well, that's not strictly true..... but the fate awaiting Caitlin isn't anything like the fate she feared. It's a lot lot worse.
I enjoyed this story and I enjoyed Caitlin's character. She appears strong and savvy but actually is broken and vulnerable. She yearns for the peace, solace and space that the commune Jake has brought her to by the lake appears to offer. She is even willing to take part in some therapy and confront some of the issues that are haunting her night and day. But as the days continue, it becomes clear that actually Caitlin is not safe here and it is not going to be 'fine'.
The author has really exploited the idea of control, sleep, nightmares, waking dreams, fugues and psychosis here. I knew that I couldn't quite trust what was going on and I had suspicions about what might be going on but I was entranced by the spell binding power of the writing in the same way that the members of the commune are caught up in the power of their leaders. The use of flashback, memories and mantras to emphasise Caitlin's fragile state of mind, and her familiarity with mental health, are cleverly interwoven into the story so that the reader feels they are losing a grip on their sanity as much as Caitlin is.
This is a quick read, thankfully, as it is pretty intense and I think reading in one go meant I was really immersed in the mind of Caitlin. I thought this book raised a lot of questions about therapy, healing, what is real, what is perceived to be real and how we try to find ourselves when we are lost.
It's a menacing tale and the author has created a novel full of suspense, tension, with tautly controlled moments of anxiety, fear and threat. A chilling read and also a thought provoking one.
The Room by the Lake is published on 10th August 2017 by Head of Zeus.
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