January - June 2017

January 2017

Edith Wharton: The Age of Innocence (1920) 256 pages, Wordsworth Classics

Edith Wharton's twelfth novel, it won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, making Wharton the first woman to win the prize.
Set in the New York of the 1870's,  it is a deliciously hard-edged satire of the manners and customs of a small, inbred, very privileged circle of people in an era already long past when the book was published in 1920.

When Newland Archer, a rich, well-born young lawyer and his most proper fiancee, May Welland are about to celebrate their marriage, May's first cousin, the beautiful but worldly Ellen Olenska, arrives unexpectedly on the scene and steals Archer's heart...

The novel is romantic but not sentimental, and I'm a sucker for unhappy endings (Lionel Shriver)

February 2017

Christopher Isherwood: The Berlin Novels: Mr. Norris Changes Trains (1935)/Goodbye to Berlin (1939) 512 pages, Vintage edition

A soon as you pick this book up, you know you are in the hands of a first-class writer. Isherwood's characters are wryly drawn, with an attention to detail which makes them memorably human, despite their (often astonishing, often amusing) lack of innocence. Set in Berlin leading up to the rise of Hitler, he exposes with a light hand the chilling slow slide of ordinary Berliners, as they come under the influence of the Nazi regime.

Reading Goodbye to Berlin (the inspiration for Cabaret) is much like overhearing anecdotes in a crowded bar while history knocks impatiently at the windows (The Guardian)

Piquant, witty and oblique, Mr Norris Changes Trains charts the friendship between the young William Bradshaw and the mildly sinister Mr Norris in pre-war Berlin (Vintage back cover)

March 2017

Helen Dunmore: The Siege (2002) 320 pages, Penguin

It is 1941 during the Nazi winter siege on Leningrad that killed 600,000. This is a moving and intimate story of a family's fight to survive.

In this wise, humane and beautifully written novel she has written a masterpiece (Independent)

An important, as well as a thrilling, work of art (Independent on Sunday) 

April 2017

Jane Austen: Emma (1815) 358 pages, Wordsworth edition, ed. Dr. Nicola Bradbury

Finished in 1815, only two years before her death, this mature work has all the sparkle of her early books such as Pride and Prejudice, mixed with a deeper and sharper sensibility.
The novel's simple plot is spun into so much teasing variety through games, letters and riddles (...)  that the reader is never less than fully engaged, even charmed (Robert McCrum, The Hundred Best Novels in English).

May 2017

Paul Beatty: The Sellout (2015) 304 pages, Oneworld Publications

Man Booker Winner 2016.

A remarkable story that challenges with considerable humour, optimism and courage the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement and the holy grail of racial equality. 

Paul Beatty was born in Los Angeles in 1962 and is the author of three novels. He now lives in New York.

June 2017

Ian McEwan: Nutshell (2016) 208 pages, Jonathan Cape

Trudy has betrayed her husband, John. She's still in the marital home –only she's with his brother, the profoundly banal Claude. The two of them have a plan. What they can't know is that there's a witness to their plot: the inquisitive, nine-month-old resident of Trudy's womb.

A bravura performance, it is the finest recent work from a true master… Told from a perspective unlike any other, Nutshell is a shocking tale of murder and treachery from one of the world’s master storytellers. (Telegraph)

(This has) all his hallmarks: elegant plotting, suspense, good characterisation and a chilling awareness of just how unpleasant people can be…Witty and thoughtful, this short, engaging novel punches well above its weight. (Daily Express)

Other books on our long list for January-June, 2017 

Edmund de Waal: The Hare with Amber Eyes (2011) 354 pages, Vintage edition. (Non-fiction)

Edmund de Waal is a renowned ceramic artist whose work has been exhibited in Tate Britain and the Victoria and Albert Museum. When he inherited a collection of 264 tiny Japanese netsuke carvings from an uncle, he felt prompted to investigate their place in his family history. 

An extraordinary and touching journey with a backdrop glittering with images from Proust and Zola and Klimt (Margaret Drabble, Times Literary Supplement)

Victoria Hislop: Cartes Postales from Greece (2016) 429 pages, Headline

The story of a man's journey of discovery through Greece, told through postcards sent to the wrong woman.

Victoria Hislop's love affair with Greece continues, bringing the country triumphantly to life...[her] imaginative and compelling stories paint a remarkable portrait of Greece and its history (Sunday Express) 

David Nicholls: Us (2014) 416 pages, Hodder Paperbacks

David Nicholls trained as an actor before becoming a novelist and screenwriter

Married couple Douglas and Connie are getting ready to wave their son, Albie, off to university after his summer holidays. One night Connie wakes Douglas up and announces that once Albie has gone, she is thinking about leaving him.
Nicholls is brilliant at picking apart modern life with all its hopes, disillusionments and regrets, and marrying it to a gently heartbreaking narrative (The Guardian)

The kind of book that reminds us what it means to be alive (Good Housekeeping)

Margaret Drabble: The Dark Flood Rises (2016) 336 pages, Canongate Books

This witty and intelligent story of old age and inevitable death does not make for an easy read (The Independent)

With its echoes of Simone de Beauvoir and Samuel Beckett, this quiet meditation on old age seethes with apocalyptic intent . . . Brilliant (The Guardian)

Carlos Gamerro: An Open Secret (2011) 283 pages, trans. Ian Barnett, Pushkin Press

Darío Ezcurra, a young man from a good family, has the terrible misfortune of being one of the thousands of Argentinians  'disappeared' by the military government. When a local boy, Fefe, returns twenty years later to unravel the circumstances of Dario's fate, he meets desperate lies, excuses and evasions which cover a guilty secret of which everyone, even himself, is afraid.

Carlos Gamerro was born in Buenos Aires in 1962. He has published several novels, short stories and numerous works of literary criticism, including a screenplay.

Tomás González was born in 1950 in Medellín, Colombia, where he studied philosophy. After many years in the USA, he now lives in the country of his birth.This was his first novel.

Paula McLain: Circling the Sun (2015) 432 pages, Fleet

Beryl Markham was a 20th century flying phenomenon; Britain's answer to America's Amelia Earhart. (...) Paula McLain cements herself as THE writer of historical fictional memoir, giving vivid voice to this singular, extraordinary woman  (Jodi Picoult)

Markham generally has a walk-on part in accounts of Out of Africa-era Kenya, but here she is the energetic, captivating centre of a richly evoked colonial world . . . The beauty of the Kenyan landscape, the red of its soil and the inkiness of its night, are conveyed with pungency in McLain's accomplished, immersive telling (Sunday Times)

John Lanchester: The Debt to Pleasure (1997) 231 pages, Picador

Wickedly funny account of the life of a loquacious Englishman revealed through his thoughts on cuisine as he journeys around France.

'Reading between the lines to discover what Tarquin is up to is enormous, sinister fun . . .dazzling, languidly brilliant, his verbal flourishes are irresistible' James Walton, (Daily Telegraph)

Helen Simonson: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (2011) 400 pages, Bloomsbury paperbacks

After the death of his beloved brother, the Major finds himself seeking companionship with the village shopkeeper, Mrs Ali. Drawn together by a love of books and the loss of their partners, they are soon forced to contend with irate relatives and gossiping villagers. The perfect gentleman, but the most unlikely hero, the Major must ask himself what matters most: family obligation, tradition or love?

This book feels fresh (...) its main characters are especially well drawn, and Ms. Simonson makes them as admirable as they are entertaining.  It’s about intelligence, heart, dignity and backbone. “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” has them all. (The New York Times)

It's gentle and charming, but these words can't convey the slow-burning pleasure of this novel (The Times)

John Le Carre: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) 304 pages, Penguin Classics

Alex Leamas is tired. It's the 1960s, he's been out in the cold for years, spying in the shadow of the Berlin Wall for his British masters. He has seen too many good agents murdered for their troubles. Now Control wants to bring him in at last - but only after one final assignment... 

One of the sheer pleasures of the grade one espionage novel is in unravelling its multifarious complexities and Le Carré handles the unspooling web of narrative and motive with exemplary poise. (William Boyd)

He can communicate emotion, from sweating fear to despairing love, with terse and compassionate conviction. Above all, he can tell a tale. (The Sunday Times)

Tomas Gonzalez: In the beginning was the Sea 
(1983) 154 pages, trans Frank WynnePushkin Press, 2016

J. and Elena leave the city in search of paradise and a new start to life on a remote tropical coast, but soon find themselves in hell.

Based on a true story, this is a dramatic and searingly ironic account of the disastrous encounter of the imagined life with reality - a satire of hippyism, ecological fantasies, and of the very idea that man can control fate. (Amazon Books)

Tomás González was born in 1950 in Medellín, Colombia, where he studied philosophy. After many years in the USA, he now lives in the country of his birth.This was his first novel.

Stella Rimington: Close Call (2015) (Number 8 in the Liz Carlyle series)

Dame Stella Rimington was Director General of MI5 from 1992 to 1996.

A pacy, intelligent espionage thriller from a woman with true insider knowledge whose young female protagonist is definitely on a level playing field with her male counterparts.

Sarah Moss: The Tidal Zone (2016) 336 pages, Granta

A contemporary story about a family whose ordinary lives are tipped into freefall when eldest daughter Miriam collapses one day at school. 

Part of the pleasure of Moss's novel lies in its studied contemporaneity. (Seeing reflected) the life of a wide swath of the British middle class, Moss, you feel, sees clearly where we are just now' (TLS)

Karen Joy Fowler: We are all completely beside ourselves (2014) 336 pages 

Rosemary once had a sister, or thought she had somehow, and now the sister is gone, her disappearance has cast a long shadow over Rosemary's life.

Readably juicy and surreptitiously smart (Barbara Kingsolver)

This brave, bold, shattering novel reminds us what it is to be human (Miami Herald)

Dorothy L. Sayers: The Nine Tailors  (1934) 384 pages, Hodder and Stoughton Paperback, 2003 

When his sexton finds a corpse in the wrong grave, the rector of Fenchurch St Paul asks Lord Peter Wimsey to find out who the dead man was and how he came to be there.The lore of bell-ringing and a brilliantly-evoked village in the remote fens of East Anglia are the unforgettable background to a story of an old unsolved crime and its violent unravelling twenty years later..

She brought to the detective novel originality, intelligence, energy and wit (P.D. James)

I admire her novels ... she has great fertility of invention, ingenuity and a wonderful eye for detail (Ruth Rendell)