A bit late in the year maybe to be doing this but I saw Marina’s recent blog post and liked her format so much I thought I’d give it a go myself. As she says, it’s much easier than the Six in Six tag that has been doing the rounds recently.
Best Book You’ve Read so Far
The stand out read is the novella Small Things Like These by the Irish author Claire Keegan. It’s the book I’ve recommended most this year. Keegan’s story is set against the background of the Magdalen laundries scandal in Ireland, when thousands of so-called “fallen” women and young girls were confined to institutions run by Roman Catholic church. Out of this Keegan weaves an unforgettable tale about one man’s courage when faced with evidence of how girls are treated in a nearby convent.
Keegan’s work has just won this year’s Orwell Prize for political fiction.
A close runner up is a book that I think deserves far more visibility. An Exquisite Sense Of What Is Beautiful by David Simons is a tale of an eminent British author who returns to Japan for the first time in more than 40 years. He’s in hiding from allegations by his ex wife but he’s also hoping to rekindle a youthful love affair that inspired his most famous work. Simons prose is a delight from start to finish.
New Release You Haven’t Read Yet but Want To
This is a hard one because there are always so many new books that catch my eye. Rising to the top however are new novels by three favourite authors: John Banville, Donal Ryan and Kate Atkinson.
The Singularities by John Banville is due out in October. The publishers describe it as a playful, multilayered novel of nostalgia, life and death, and quantum theory, which opens with the return of one of his most celebrated characters as he is released from prison.
Also due out in October is Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson which is set in the world of Soho nightclubs in 1929. What’s drawing me towards the book is the post war setting; portraying a world that is trying to move on from the horrors of war yet sees the scars of that conflict in their family and friends.
Due for release in August, is Donal Ryan’s The Queen Of Dirt Island, described thus by his publishers Penguin:
The Aylward women are mad about each other, but you wouldn’t always think it. You’d have to know them to know – in spite of what the neighbours might say about raised voices and dramatic scenes – that their house is a place of peace, filled with love, a refuge from the sadness and cruelty of the world.
Their story begins at an end and ends at a beginning. It’s a story of terrible betrayals and fierce loyalties, of isolation and togetherness, of transgression, forgiveness, desire, and love. About all the things family can be and all the things it sometimes isn’t.
Maybe my expectations were set too high for I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith. It’s appeared in so many “best books to read” type of lists I was expecting to read something remarkable. But this tale of the eccentric Mortmain family and their crumbling castle home proved tiresome.
Sacred Country by Rose Tremain was a surprise because I’d almost given up on reading Tremain’s fiction. I didn’t care for my two previous encounters: Restoration and Music and Silence and gave up on a third, The Road Home (though to be fair it might work better in print than in audio.) So I wasn’t enthused when the book club chose this earlier in the year. But it proved to be a witty, poignant tale of the hidden desires of life’s outsiders. I enjoyed it so much I’ve now bought another Tremain: The Gustav Sonata.
Favourite New Author
Trezza Azzopardi, an author of Welsh-Maltese descent has been on my radar for a while but I only got around to reading her debut novel The Hiding Place last month. Shortlisted for the Booker prize it’s a bleak saga of the experience of a family of immigrants who settle in one of the poorest areas of Cardiff. She’s written three more novels since: Remember Me (2004) , Winterton Blue (2007) and The Song House (2010) all of which I’m planning to read.
Book That Made You Cry
I can’t remember the last time I cried over a book (Black Beauty maybe??) but Heaven by Mieko Kawakami did ignite some powerful emotions. It features a friendship born out of adversity and sustained through mutual support as they face repeated ordeals at the hands of school bullies.
Book That Made You Happy
The Fortnight in September by R C Sherriff is a touchingly nostalgic tale of a very ordinary British family who head off to the seaside for their annual holiday. They’ve been visiting the same resort for years, always staying in the same guest house and always visiting the same favourite places. Nothing momentous happens yet by by the end we sense that change is in the wind.