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cover127989-mediumThe Only Story by Julian Barnes
Publication date: 1st February 2018
Publisher: Random House UK

Synopsis: 

First love has lifelong consequences, but Paul doesn’t know anything about that at nineteen. At nineteen, he’s proud of the fact his relationship flies in the face of social convention.

As he grows older, the demands placed on Paul by love become far greater than he could possibly have foreseen.

Tender and wise, The Only Story is a deeply moving novel by one of fiction’s greatest mappers of the human heart.

My thoughts: 

1 star out of 5

I was very interested in the premise of the love story between the younger man and the older woman, as I thought it would be an interesting exploration of taboo, feeling and the transcending of social norms.

Sadly, the book was a dense ramble through the thoughts of a self-indulgent point of view character, with barely any action taking place on the page – much of the novel is description or second-hand relating of incidents through a thick veil of ‘I’m an unreliable narrator, don’t you know, and my memory is fallible’.

Every single page is a violation of the traditional ‘show, don’t tell’ rule of fiction. I understand that a well-written book and a talented author can break fictional traditions when done well, but this was not one of those times. It resulted in a boring novel which managed to render an entire character’s life dull and meaningless, when it was probably quite an eventful storyline underneath the thick stylising

I’m sure there are very intellectual undertones and meaningful reasons why Barnes made the stylistic decisions he did in writing this book, but if that’s the case I didn’t pick up on those reasons. For example, the narrative voice shifts from first person through second person and third person even through the point of view character is consistent throughout – and I couldn’t fathom why this was the case. It didn’t seem to have a meaningful reason except that Barnes wanted to show what a good writer he is.

On a sentence-by-sentence basis the book is well-written, but as a whole I didn’t enjoy it at all. At a certain point near the end, the narrator talks about someone being ‘bullied by reputation, truth should stand by itself, clear and unsupported’, and that’s how I feel about books, but not this one: a book should stand alone, aside from its author’s fame and renown as a good writer. Yet this one, sadly, does not.

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cover128941-mediumThe Queen of Bloody Everything, by  Joanna Nadin
Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Publication date: 8 February 2018

Synopsis: 

As Edie Jones lies in a bed on the fourteenth floor of a Cambridge hospital, her adult daughter Dido tells their story, starting with the day that changed everything.

That was the day when Dido – aged six years and twenty-seven days old – met the handsome Tom Trevelyan, his precocious sister, Harry, and their parents, Angela and David.

The day Dido fell in love with a family completely different from her own. Because the Trevelyans were exactly the kind of family Dido dreamed of.

Normal.

And Dido’s mother, Edie, doesn’t do normal. In fact, as Dido has learnt the hard way, normal is the one thing Edie can never be . . .

My thoughts: 

4 stars out of 5

‘The Queen of Bloody Everything’ is a riot to read. It’s the story of Dido and her teenage years with her unpredictable, wild mother. Growing up the chaotic household with her mum, Dido is enamoured with her middle-class, blessed neighbours: a family of four whose impeccable life is enviable and calm in equal measure, a direct contrast to Dido’s own. She quickly becomes best friends with their daughter and falls wildly in love with their son, and the novel follows Dido through childhood and her awkward teens and into the false starts and disasters of adulthood.

Dido is a likeable character and her escapades are thoroughly believable – it’s like reading a teenage diary in some scenes.

The novel was a little slow to start, but ultimately charming and very relate-able to anyone who’s been a teenager.

Book Review: ‘Home’

cover127441-mediumHome by Amanda Berriman
Publisher: Random House UK / Transworld
Publication date: 8th February 2018

Synopsis: 

Jesika is four and a half. She lives in a flat with her mother and baby brother and she knows a lot. She knows their flat is high up and the stairs are smelly. She knows she shouldn’t draw on the peeling wallpaper or touch the broken window. And she knows she loves her mummy and baby brother Toby.

She does not know that their landlord is threatening to evict them and that Toby’s cough is going to get much worse. Or that Paige, her new best friend, has a secret that will explode their world.

My thoughts: 

5 stars out of 5

I LOVED this book from beginning to end, and had to keep putting it down only to say ‘I LOVE this novel’ and then picking it up again to devour more pages. I haven’t enjoyed a book this much in months and months, and resented every moment when I couldn’t read it. I even snuck in a few pages at work while my computer was loading.

The story is told impeccably through the eyes of four year old Jeskia, who has the natural curiosity of a child her age, but also doesn’t understand the grown-ups’ world as much as she wants to. The most complex issues are depicted through her eyes, without compromising the integrity of her level of understanding for a moment. She’s the ultimate unreliable narrator, but the reader is never let down by the narrative method: we understand things that Jesika doesn’t, even though Jesika is the one telling the story. This is so skillful and excellently wrought by Berriman. Such fantastic writing, I can’t praise this book enough!

Readers who loved Kit de Waal’s ‘My Name is Leon’ and Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’ should read this immediately.

Highly recommended, 5/5 – read this book!

cover126770-mediumThe Endless Beach, by Jenny Colgan
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication date: 11 January 2018

Synopsis:

On the quayside next to the Endless Beach sits the Summer Seaside Kitchen. It’s a haven for tourists and locals alike, who all come to eat the freshest local produce on the island and catch up with the gossip. Flora, who runs the cafe, feels safe and content – unless she thinks too hard about her relationship with Joel, her gorgeous but emotionally (and physically) distant boyfriend.

While Flora is in turmoil about her relationship. her best friend Lorna is pining after the local doctor. Saif came to the island as a refugee, having lost all of his family. But he’s about to get some shocking news which will change everything for him.

As cold winter nights shift to long summer days, can Flora find her happy-ever-after with Joel?

My thoughts: 

4 stars out of 5

‘The Endless Beach’ is a sequel to a previous Jenny Colgan book, but readers don’t need to have read the previous book in the series to enjoy this one – this was my first entry into the stories of the people of the Scottish island of Mure, and I’ll probably seek out Colgan’s previous novel in this series now, but my enjoyment of this one wasn’t hampered by not having read it previously.

The story follows the main character Flora and her closest friends and family, whose lives centre around the remote Scottish island which is their home (and home-from-home). Flora’s hard-won relationship with Joel – her stressed, overworked boyfriend – is fraying before her eyes, and she doesn’t know how to fix it. Meanwhile, Saif is a recently-settled refugee whose family are missing somewhere in a war zone, and as he frets for them and tries to get settled on the island, he’s quietly developing a friendship with Flora’s best friend Lorna, the local school teacher.

It’s a slow, warm-hearted story of good characters trying to find their way through life, in a beautiful and well-wrought setting and a nice pace. I found elements of the story very moving, particularly Saif’s story (which made me cry – a rare feat for a book!). A good holiday read, or a one-sitting devour on a rainy Sunday.

cover120622-mediumManhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication Date: 3 October 2017

Synopsis: 

Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles.

Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that had always belonged to men. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. She is the sole provider for her mother, a farm girl who had a brief and glamorous career as a Ziegfield folly, and her lovely, severely disabled sister. At a night club, she chances to meet Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished, and she begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have been murdered.

My thoughts: 

4 stars out of 5

‘Manhattan Beach’ was an absorbing and epic pageturner, immersing the reader in the inner lives of its characters from beginning to end.

The novel follows Anna Kerrigan, her parents Eddie and Agnes, and her disabled sister Lydia in New York in in the 1920s up to the early 40s as the US enters the Second World War. Also featured as a main character is Dexter Styles, a gangster with a conscience whose life becomes inextricably linked with the Kerrigan family as the years pass.

Set against the backdrop of gangsters, speakeasies, the mob and the docks, the reader watches Anna emerge into adulthood and a city preparing for war. She becomes a headstrong and confident character who pushes for what she wants and fights to be heard, all the while still holding onto the ghost of what she once believed her father was.

This was an excellent read, with a huge amount of research evidently going into this rich and engaging story. Highly recommended.

cover127032-medium‘The Heart’s Invisible Furies’ by John Boyne
Publisher: Random House UK
Publication Date: 14 December 2017

Synopsis: 

Forced to flee the scandal brewing in her hometown, Catherine Goggin finds herself pregnant and alone, in search of a new life at just sixteen. She knows she has no choice but to believe that the nun she entrusts her child to will find him a better life.

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery, or so his parents are constantly reminding him. Adopted as a baby, he’s never quite felt at home with the family that treats him more as a curious pet than a son. But it is all he has ever known.

And so begins one man’s desperate search to find his place in the world. Unspooling and unseeing, Cyril is a misguided, heart-breaking, heartbroken fool. Buffeted by the harsh winds of circumstance towards the one thing that might save him from himself, but when opportunity knocks, will he have the courage, finally, take it?

My thoughts: 

5 stars out of 5

I couldn’t decide between giving this novel four stars or five. It’s so much better than many other novels to which I’ve given four stars, and therefore needs to be marked apart from those which aren’t as excellent. It deserved more than four stars.

‘The Heart’s Invisible Furies’ is a sweeping epic life story of Cyril Avery, an Irish boy born to an unmarried mother in the 1940s and given up for adoption. His story drives a channel through landmark events of the 20th century, both worldwide and Ireland focused, covering Irish attitudes to illegitimate children, women, gay people and AIDS, but it also deconstructs those issues, critiques them and shows how attitudes developed as the 20th century progressed and the 21st began. It’s a fantastic insight into the changing attitudes of the last 70 years, both in Ireland and further afield, while always focusing on the story at the forefront of everything.

Cyril is a flawed character who makes a lot of mistakes. He’s selfish and he’s often wrong, yet he’s also amusing and good at heart; many of the ‘wrong’ things that he does are born of circumstance or his mental state in that moment, and his actions and decisions always understandable. He’s a complex and well-written character and I thoroughly commend Boyne for his writing of this character.

The picaresque style of the novel is charming, and is reminiscent of novels such as William Boyd’s ‘Any Human Heart’ (which I loved) and John Irving’s ‘The World According to Garp’ (which I didn’t love). In fact, I would go as far as to say that Boyne’s novel was probably directly influenced by these novels, as their similarities are so great.

Yet it’s not a perfect novel. I felt there were too many coincidences: Cyril bumps into the people he knows in multiple countries, and it often seemed a bit of a stretch, a bit too coincidental, and too often. The final scene is a good way to tie everything together, but seemed to detach from the realist style of the rest of the book.

It took me a while to get into the book, but around 25% into the story, I realised I didn’t want to put it down. I loved the characters and I was invested in the story, but not only that, Boyne has created such a concrete and well-wrought world that I felt like it was real. Even the house he describes on Dartmouth Square, I feel like I could draw it myself and map out whose room is whose depending on the time period because the writing is so clear and strong.

A hugely impressive work, and although not perfect, it’s deserving of 5 stars out of 5, a lot of recognition, and everyone should be talking about this book in 2018. It deserves a lot.

cover112339-mediumThe Betrayals by Fiona Neill
Publication date: 10 August 2017
Publisher: Penguin UK – Michael Joseph

Synopsis: 

None of them would forget that week on the wild Norfolk coast. Best friends Rosie and Lisa’s families had always been inseparable. But that summer, Lisa had an affair with Rosie’s husband Nick. And now, after years of silence, she sends Rosie a letter begging for help. A letter which exposes dark secrets. Daughter Daisy’s fragile hold on reality begins to unravel. Teenage son Max blames himself for everything that happened that long hot summer. And Nick must confront his own version of events. There are four sides to this story. Who will you believe?

My thoughts: 

4 stars out of 5

‘The Betrayals’ is a gripping and engaging exploration of a family torn apart by infidelity, mental illness, secrets and guilt.

When Rosie’s husband leaves her for her best friend, Rosie and her two children (Daisy and Max) are shattered in myriad ways. The consequences continue for years in unexpected ways, and ‘The Betrayals’ explores the impact on all the characters involved.

The novel explores memory and its fallibility, coincidence, guilt and secrets in a way that means you just can’t put the book down until you’ve untangled the web.