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Sue Kichenside
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One Night, Markovitch
One Night, Markovitch
by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Debut author puts the 'irk' in quirky., 30 Mar. 2015
This review is from: One Night, Markovitch (Paperback)
This is set in Mandate Palestine on the cusp of Israel's statehood. The plot is promising: a kind of '20 Brides for 20 Brothers', the brothers being a band of Irgun paramilitary fighters who are ordered across the sea to marry young Jewish women and thus provide them with an escape route from war-torn Europe. The story focuses of two of the men who are best friends and polar opposites. Despite an excellent translation by Sondra Silverston, the arch quirkiness of Ayelet Gundar-Goshen's writing becomes very wearing, very quickly.


Family Life
Family Life
by Akhil Sharma
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Folio winner proves less is more., 30 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Family Life (Hardcover)
This slender novel not only hits home - it has also hit a home run. Akhil Sharma's tragi-comedy has recently been awarded the Folio prize for excellence in writing. It has been fourteen years since Akhil Sharma's debut, An Obedient Father. The answer as to why it has taken so long for his second book to reach us is perhaps contained in its semi-autobiographical pages.

When Ajay's accountant father sends airline tickets for his wife and two sons to join him in America, their whole Delhi neighbourhood comes out to celebrate the family's good fortune. Ajay is eight and can't quite believe this is really happening. As many an immigrant experience story has shown, the Mishras' new life in 'the land of opportunity' is a challenging one for them to navigate. But it is a devastating accident that changes everything more fundamentally for the Mishra family - and for Sharma's readers.

This is a deeply moving, funny, tragic, absorbing and brave account with an engagingly honest narrator. The author compels the reader to examine some of life's darker questions by leaving much unsaid and demonstrates here that less really can be more. A novel of 'distilled complexity' and 'deceptive simplicity' said the Folio judges. I agree.


Red Notice: How I Became Putin's No. 1 Enemy
Red Notice: How I Became Putin's No. 1 Enemy
by Bill Browder
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.91

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Billion-dollar Bill., 27 Mar. 2015
In terrifically readable style, Bill Browder takes us from the communist background of his family (his grandfather led the American Communist Party and twice stood for president) through to his defiant determination to carve his own career path in capitalism. And carve it he did.

Identifying a timely opportunity to capitalise on Russia's opening up of the markets, 28-year old Browder doggedly pursued wealthy global investors whose input enabled him to form his own investment company, Hermitage Capital, a roller-coaster hedge fund that saw phenomenal profits as well as devastating losses.

No-one will be surprised to hear that Browder made some ruthless enemies along the way, eventually leading to his being barred from the country. This is the story of a man who wouldn't allow the sinister Russian machine to steamroller over him and of the collateral damage that was inflicted on his associates by a corrupt system. The message is clear: mess with Mother Russia at your peril.


Our Endless Numbered Days
Our Endless Numbered Days
Price: £9.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "I liked to think that they were messages written for me to find, in the middle of a forest on a piano that made no sound.", 24 Mar. 2015
Claire Fuller's debut novel tells the story of an 8-year old whose father, fearing the end-days are approaching, abducts her to live a feral existence in a remote forest in Germany. Her mother, a German concert pianist, had been away on tour when her husband and daughter disappear. She does not see Peggy again for nine years. The story is narrated by the daughter across two time frames, her harrowing existence in Germany and her return to London.

The writing is eloquent and touching, though perhaps the descriptive passages of trees, leaves and other related greenery could have done with a little judicious pruning. For me, the parts of the story set in 1985 when Peggy has returned home were by far the more interesting but these, I felt, were not given their due. This side of the story seemed somehow unresolved. Nevertheless, a far-from-flippant tale that commands attention. 3.5*


Mad Men and Bad Men: What Happened When British Politics Met Advertising
Mad Men and Bad Men: What Happened When British Politics Met Advertising
by Sam Delaney
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Party animals., 24 Mar. 2015
For anyone who is interested in politics or advertising, this eminently readable book will provide fascinating insight into these two worlds that perhaps have more in common than they would like to think. First and foremost, they both have to sell themselves. (As an agency boss once said: "My assets go down in the lift every night.")

Sam Delaney treats us to some rather wonderful anecdotes and demonstrates the strained relationships that have always existed between political parties and their advertising agencies: the clash of egos, the creative challenges, the fact that both politics and advertising are inexact sciences where the proof of advertising's ability to influence elections is well nigh impossible to verify.

How timely to read this in the run-up to the 2015 general election!


The Faithful Couple
The Faithful Couple
by A. D. Miller
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You boys.", 20 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Faithful Couple (Hardcover)
Two young Englishmen, Adam and Neil, meet on a rough-and-ready holiday in California in the early 90s. Adam is good looking, from a comfortably off background, confident and comfortable in his skin. Neil less so in all departments. An incident occurs during a group trip to the Yosemite National Park that has lasting consequences for their relationship. It forms a schism much like the park's famous 'Siamese-twin' sequoias - 'The Faithful Couple'. It's an obvious metaphor perhaps but their bromance is nevertheless very well drawn.

Miller conveys the ambivalence of their relationship - its interdependence, its resentments, its rivalry, its betrayals, its love - in terms that are in no way homoerotic, yet the bond is real enough. This male friendship, set against the ebb and flow of London's financial fortunes, is one the reader can believe in.

The writing has an unpretentious precision that gives it a faintly unsettling edge: "When Neil thought of the randomness of it, all the reasons it could have been extinguished, not just the primordial grievance but neglect or drift or routine jealousy, his friendship with Adam was like a whim of evolution, a platypus or an anteater, so precious and unlikely. Even now, even these last few years, there was no one he trusted or needed so much." As one of the female characters refers to them, over the years and with varying degrees of affection, "You boys". Highly recommended. 4.5*


Mr and Mrs Disraeli: A Strange Romance
Mr and Mrs Disraeli: A Strange Romance
by Daisy Hay
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.00

3.0 out of 5 stars The Dizzy wife., 18 Mar. 2015
Mary Anne, daughter of a sailor, widow and twelve years' Disraeli's senior made an odd choice for a rising politician's wife. Ah, but she had money. Whatever the motives for the marriage, it suited both of them and it stood the test of time. Mary Anne was unfailingly supportive of 'her Dizzy' who stood up for his wife when society hostesses and Tory bigwigs made fun of her overblown attire and garrulous chatter which sometimes shocked.

Daisy Hay has clearly done an admirable amount of research, quoting extensively from letters (Mary Anne kept every scrap of paper that was ever written to her) but I found this rather a dry read. It perks up at about the halfway point when Mary Anne and Dizzy marry and it becomes increasingly interesting as Disraeli's political star rises.

With Dizzy's shameless schmoozing and Mary Anne's heartfelt sincerity, they eventually managed to overcome the queen's initial distaste (marital devotion was something Queen Victoria could identify with and heartily approved of). The rest of the country followed suit, taking Mary Anne to their hearts. This is an informative read and genuinely touching at the end. However, I was surprised that a book about two such sparkling characters didn't itself sparkle a little more. 3.5*


A Death in the Family: My Struggle Book 1 (Knausgaard)
A Death in the Family: My Struggle Book 1 (Knausgaard)
by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

3.0 out of 5 stars I write, therefore I am., 16 Mar. 2015
This is the first of Karl Ove Knausgaard's six-volume masterwork, 'My Struggle', a journal-style reflection on the minutiae of his life at various ages and stages. Some say it's compelling. Others that it's boring in the extreme. Coming late to the party, I am in two minds whether I'm pleased to have made it or not.

I puzzle at the need to go into such minute detail, for instance he might say words to the effect: 'I went upstairs and went into my bedroom which was the third door on the right' or 'I lit my cigarette with my brother's green, semi-transparent lighter'. Who gains from such a level of elaboration? What does it matter? But it is Knausgaard's book, his to write as he pleases. And there's no doubting his success; he has almost rock-star status in Norway and good luck to him.

Is the title ironic? I think it must be as there is no discernible struggle that one can make out. His father may have been withholding but he doesn't (thus far) appear to be an ogre. His mother may be wonderful but we never catch more than a brief glimpse of her. The author may have been a rebel in his youth but that's hardly remarkable. One thing is certain: Knausgaard's literary life is paramount and everything and everyone is subordinated to it. He has an ego the size of a Norwegian wood.

If the writer is solipsistic, the writing itself is mercifully plain and unvarnished. The translation appears to be excellent and it's hardly Don Bartlett's fault that there isn't a memorable sentence in the whole book. There are some perceptive insights though, particularly Knausgaard's thoughts on art, but there is no evidence to suggest he has anything remotely approaching a sense of humour. Finally, with regard to this particular edition: how nice to read a paperback with decent paper and a clear typeface. Vintage Books: respect.


A Spool of Blue Thread
A Spool of Blue Thread
by Anne Tyler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.91

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Et tu, Anne Tyler?, 10 Mar. 2015
This review is from: A Spool of Blue Thread (Hardcover)
Novelists these days seem to have ditched the linear narrative. So many plots today are served up in different time frames or with different narrators or with different apparently unrelated threads, it's almost as if the authors fear their stories won't be strong enough to withstand a straightforward story line. Or perhaps it is that they're subconsciously meeting the demands of an attention-diminished readership in this internet-distracted age. I never thought though that Anne Tyler - of all writers - would succumb to this technique but succumb she has in her latest novel, the (rather wonderfully named) A Spool of Blue Thread.

This is the story of an ordinary Baltimore family (as we've come to know, love and expect from Anne Tyler) and the difficulties that arise as the two steadfast parents, Red and Abby, exhibit worrying signs of aging. The three children and their families who live nearby do what they can to help; the fourth - the reliably unreliable Denny - drops in and out of their lives and concerns. Anne Tyler can usually convey her characters in a single sentence. Not so here; it takes a while to get a handle on them all. But in any event, the main character in this book is their beloved house - or more precisely, its spacious front porch where many of the family scenes are set.

At about the halfway point, Anne Tyler throws an upset into the story that plot-spoiling precludes me from telling but this is as nothing compared to the real curve ball: when she subsequently goes back in time to the Depression and the story of Red's parents. This extended flashback is jarring, and - quite frankly - tedious in the telling. To me, it is extraneous as it fails to illuminate the story proper and neither of the two antecedents has much to offer in the way of appeal. In fact, most of the characters here are a pretty disappointing shower - with the honourable exception of the house. I am a great fan of Anne Tyler's and feel almost that I'm personally letting her down by not having enjoyed this book more. I do hope it's not her last.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 27, 2015 1:56 PM GMT


Dear Reader (Pushkin Collection)
Dear Reader (Pushkin Collection)
by Paul Fournel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A must for anyone in the book biz., 9 Mar. 2015
Old-school Parisian publisher Robert Dubois has an air of world-weariness about him but it's delightfully tempered by an undimmed gleam in his eye. Although he's always been a prodigious reader of manuscripts - to the extent of using the teetering piles as pillows - even he is beginning to tire of them. Then one day, a young intern comes into his office and presents him with an e-reader. (The book title refers to this, not us.)

Not only does the device revolutionise his modus operandi but, more importantly, it turns Dubois into a subversive within his own company. The bean counters have had it their own way for far too long; new blood and a new way of looking at things, that's what he's after. It would seem that change is in the air elsewhere too. The restaurant where he wines and dines his authors is closing down. Where will he go for his melting lamb's brains now?

The writing and translation is admittedly a little bumpy in places but the end-notes explain all. (I would question how much the constraints of Oulipo add to the experience for the reader - but that is another issue.) Perhaps this wry little book should be re-read with the benefit of hindsight; certainly on first reading, its warm-hearted humour charmed me to the core. 4.5*


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