We will be closed for our annual stocktake on Thursday 30 June. If we whip through it we’ll open later in the afternoon and shut at 6pm, but if not we’ll stay closed and open again as usual on Friday 1 July at 9am!
Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 children’s classic The Wind in the Willows was republished last year in a beautiful hardback edition by Egmont ‘Classics’, complete with an appendix of activities for children, a well-conceived glossary (as some of Grahame’s words are challenging) and E. H. Shepherd’s original and unforgettable pen illustrations. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The recommended reading age is 9 – 11 years but a confident reader of seven or eight could be enthralled either reading it themselves or having it read to them and indeed anyone from a five or six year-old to ninety or more could fall in love with this book and remain in love for life.
The unusual and wonderful thing about The Wind in the Willows is that it has references adults will appreciate (to Ulysses for instance, the politics of Grahame’s day, and other literary allusions), some moments of genuine profundity (the haunting chapter ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ is a case in point) – and abundant humour, warmth and excitement that will entertain children as well. Indeed every aspect of this novel is exceptional. The prose is exquisite, the atmosphere palpable, the descriptions of the natural world amongst some of the best in children’s literature and not a page goes by without some gentle humour. The characterisation deserves special notice and is unusually sophisticated for a children’s book; Mole, in particular, is a peculiar, humorous and endearing little creature but all of Grahame’s cast are marvellously realised.
Children’s classics of this period excel in their delicacy, beauty and strangeness. They seem to possess a quality difficult to describe but feels ‘strange’ to our 21st century ears. This quality might also be called ‘magic’. There is an ‘otherness’ to The Wind in the Willows (and several other bygone treasures such as Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, The Secret Garden, Charlotte’s Web…) that it is virtually non-existent in modern children’s literature and so enchanting that it is impossible not to feel that Grahame has written something resonant and timeless, and that while we are reading we are doing something very worthwhile.
Review by Emily
International human rights barrister Philippe Sands opens his remarkable new book with a quote from Nicolas Abraham: “What haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others”. Sands tries to fill some of these gaps in the stories of both his family and two lawyers who developed the legal concepts of genocide and crimes against humanity that featured for the first time in the Nuremberg tribunal – Hersch Lauerpacht and Rafael Lemkin. Remarkably, there turn out to be connections between all of these people and the (now Ukrainian) city of Lviv, a site of mass murder of Jewish residents during the Second World War.
The best thing I’ve read this year, East West Street is both personal and international in scope. Sands undertakes remarkable archival and other research and succeeds in uncovering surprising and illuminating stories, which help to explain both how international law developed as it did and why it was important that it did so. In this he echoes the approach of Hartley Shawcross, British prosecutor at Nuremberg, who in his closing trial address used a single devastating case study to force home the inhumanity of Nazi war crimes (Sands recounts this at p. 346-7). It takes a skilful and confident writer to manage the risks involved in bringing the huge themes of history back, over and over again, to real individuals. He does so seamlessly, creating a book that reads as compulsively as a detective story. The photos of people and original documents scattered throughout the text make it even more engaging. The related film, My Nazi Legacy: What our Fathers Did, is also well worth watching (http://www.wildgazefilms.co.uk/my-nazi-legacy-2015/) .
Sands’ perspective as a lawyer involved with the International Criminal Court and war crimes tribunals from Rwanda to the former Yugoslavia makes the work highly relevant when thinking about human rights now. 70 years after Nuremberg, how do we deal with crimes against humanity? Do we have the courage required to remember that real individuals are caught up in these huge convulsions, and the greater courage not to look away?
Review by Bethan
Daniel is an American academic married to a reclusive former film star, and living in rural Ireland. His happy second marriage to Claudette has produced two young children, to add to the ones he left in California and never sees. But he seems happy enough, until he hears a radio interview from 1986 with one of his exes – the big Ex, as it turns out. He decides to find out what happened to her, and risks his current relationship and everything else in the process.
As we find out more about how Claudette came to run away from her career, and the consequences of Daniel’s investigations, O’Farrell introduces voices from characters we instantly believe in and want to know more about. One of the most memorable scenes in the novel concerns a small child being taken to a children’s dermatology clinic, “for kids who are inflamed with eczema, head to foot, kids for whom normal clothes and unbroken sleep are impossibilities”. It is beautifully written, funny, touching and desperate. The action moves easily between current day Donegal and Paris, international film sets in the 1990s and the Scottish Borders in the 1980s (among other places).
This turned out to be a perfect holiday read for me, with a pacy plot and thoughtful things to say about long term adult relationships. I have read all of O’Farrell’s novels and enjoyed this one the most. A selection on the Radio 2 Book Club, it’s already a swift seller in our shop. If you’re a fan of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections or A M Homes’s May We All be Forgiven, I predict you will love this.
Review by Bethan
We will be open from 11am till 6pm on Monday 30 May. Happy Bank Holiday!
A deserved winner of the excellent Little Rebels Award for radical children’s books (https://littlerebelsaward.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/alexis-deacon-invites-children-to-come-up-with-an-alternative-to-capitalism/ ), this beautiful picture book made me roar with laughter.
Henry Finch is a small bird who comes to realise that he exists, and thinks, and that he can use his thoughts to tackle THE BEAST. It’s an introduction to philosophy for toddlers and small children… but also just very entertaining, with deceptively simple and funny drawings. Definitely a book for adults as well as children. Superb.
Review by Bethan
A distracted young man, Curtis, is driving along a mountain road at night. A woman flashes into his headlights, is struck by the truck, and disappears. He keeps driving.
Curtis’s single father Tom manages planting for logging in the Canadian Rockies. His teenage daughter, like his son, appears alienated from him. The children’s mother is gone. His estranged mother in law seems to live with nature almost like a witch, and his colleagues are seasonal outdoors workers.
A strong story and believably flawed characters give rise to interesting questions. If a father teaches his children to hunt, shoot and fish, is he caring for them or just getting them ready for his abandonment of them? Is physical courage in protecting your children enough? If you have to be absent for work, is it inevitable that you are emotionally absent as well, and how do you know if you are? How do we live with nature now? If you have done something bad, must it inevitably catch up with you, and how do you live before you know?
The mountains, lakes and woods inform every part of the story. The mountains aren’t straightforward and reliable though – I was reminded of Annie Dillard writing about Dead Man Mountain: “sometimes here in Virginia at sunset low clouds on the southern or northern horizon are completely invisible in the lighted sky. I only know one is there because I can see its reflection in still water”. Like Melissa Harrison’s At Hawthorn Time, which I loved (see https://theriversideway.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/at-hawthorn-time-melissa-harrison/), The Mountain Can Wait contains evocative and unsentimental nature writing. Swimming alone in an icy mountain lake, Tom “coasted out deeper into the lake, taking mouthfuls of the mineral-rich water and spraying it out again. It tasted like pine, like iron, a little like blood”. Like a bracing swim in a lake, this cool and sharp book is recommended.
Review by Bethan
This book has been out for ages. It has been in the shop for ages. It won the Forward Poetry prize for best collection last year. So why am I writing about it now?
I am writing about it because I can’t stop thinking about it, and because it opened something profound in my head. Because it added to my intellectual toolkit and challenged the way I think about racism. Because I have bought it for others. Because I recommend it all the time but still can’t really find words to adequately describe it, and because it’s not like anything else I’ve ever read.
Rankine writes with honesty and great style about racism, both as experienced in her personal life and in public life. She tells stories which are both effortlessly relatable and deeply shocking, the more for being truthful – for example, she arrives for an appointment with a new therapist who screams at her to get out of her yard before realising that she is, in fact, a client. Her work benefits from being heard aloud, as much poetry does. I heard her perform this piece (https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/citizen-vi-train-woman-standing ) and it was like an electric shock ran through the room waking everyone up. Her pieces about Serena Williams alone are worth buying Citizen for. The book itself is a beautiful object, with art and photographs scattered throughout. It’s not a comfortable read, but transformative books rarely are.
Review by Bethan
Paperback, Vintage, 7.99
Ashamed of not having read anything by Anne Bronte but only her sisters I recently began reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and was astonished (though perhaps should not have been) firstly by how psychologically convincing the characters are, and secondly by the strangely addictive quality the writing possesses; considering its length (it is nearly 600 pages in the recent, extremely beautiful Vintage editions illustrated by the gifted Sarah Gillespie) I was amazed at how quickly I was half, then three-quarters, then all of the way through it, and wishing it was not over and that I could read more.
The main reason to recommend The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, however, is that Anne Bronte has created a strongly – even radically – feminist heroine in Helen Huntingdon; one who shuns the institution of marriage when circumstances call for it (an act most nineteenth century novelists – especially early nineteenth century novelists like Anne – shied away from; as they shied away from depictions of male depravity that Anne is utterly fearless in recounting) despite paying a price that at some points seems impossibly high, refusing to be swayed from following a path her own integrity marks out for her. This strength of character is common to all the Bronte’s work, of course, but Anne’s portrayals of women are by far the most revolutionary and only recently beginning to attract the recognition they deserve. It is also worth noting that her male characters possess a far more convincing inner terrain than either Emily or Charlotte’s; Heathcliff may be iconic and overwhelming, but iconic and overwhelming characters are not usually noted for their plausibility, relatability or tendency to inspire empathy. All these aspects make it both extremely sad and surprising that Charlotte Bronte herself dismissed her younger sister’s literary efforts and had so little insight into just how progressive they were.
For all these reasons, I would encourage anyone whose interest in the Brontes has been sparked by the recent TV program or who is simply wishing to embark upon a worthy, provoking and highly enjoyable Victorian novel, to invest their time in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; high-quality literature and effortlessly involving, it is the perfect marriage on many fronts.
Review by Emily
Hardback, Profile Books, £14.99, out now
If the belated but welcome Spring sunshine has you feeling newly mindful of our wildlife and hankering for all things natural then I couldn’t recommend anything better than Charles Foster’s latest book, Being a Beast ( – short of actually departing for the country and taking up residence in a badger set, that is; which Foster has helpfully done for us), which is a breath of fresh, heady – and slightly crazed – air. Foster, amongst many other things (he is a vet, philosopher, anthropologist, acupuncturist, academic, Oxford Fellow…the list apparently continues), is an ardent natural historian; he used to hunt animals for sport, he confesses, but is now intent on hunting them in an entirely different way: placing himself, as much as a human being can, in their skins in an attempt to know what it is like to ‘be’ them. To that end, and for prolonged periods, he lived in their physical environments, deprived of human comforts, reporting his intimate and thought-provoking experiences back to us. In Being a Beast he takes on the challenge of finding out what it is like to be a badger, an otter, a city fox, red deer and swift, combining neuroscience, psychology, natural history and memoir in a quest which takes him the length, breadth and depth of the British Isles.
As well as being a dauntless explorer (could you lie in a freezing highland stream for hours or sit in a river in Namibia watching leeches looping up your ankles en route to your groin?) Foster is also an erudite, witty, humble and entertaining writer. Take this passage, for instance, in which he reminisces about the days when shamanic ritual could transport performers into other states of consciousness:
‘You had to dance to the drum around a fire until you were so dehydrated that blood spouted out of your ruptured nasal capillaries, or stand in an icy river and chant until you could feel your soul rising like vomit into your mouth, or eat fly agaric mushrooms and watch yourself floating into the forest canopy. Then you could pass through the thin membrane that separates this world from others, and your species from other species. As you pushed through, in an epiphanic labour, the membrane enveloped you, like the amniotic sac in which you issued from your mother.’
Foster’s attempts to experience animals’ consciousness by immersing himself in their phenomenal worlds stem from a similarly impassioned desire to ‘be’ a beast (apparently he has been obsessed with birds and animals since he was a child), involves a similarly intense ‘labour’, as well as the odd moment or two that really could be described as epiphanic.
Even for those usually uninterested in nature writing Being a Beast is a winner: who can resist discovering what earthworms taste like, for instance (the terroir varies, apparently, according to region, like wine)? This is vital, dynamic, exhilarating writing that uncovers deadened senses, invokes empathy, fosters compassion and the all-important feeling of oneness. In delving into the ‘being’ of various ‘beasts’, Foster does something else too: he allows us to see ourselves more clearly – human or otherwise.
Review by Emily
An engaging thriller with a very human heart, this cold war spy story is fresh and believable. Giles, a long time Soviet mole in the 1950s British security services, calls in a favour from his old co-worker Stephen. Giles is in hospital and must have stolen secret papers removed from his flat. Lily, Stephen’s wife, watches as Stephen becomes embroiled in an impossible situation, caught up in espionage, politics, secrets and lies.
Dunmore examines the human side of a classic spy story – mainly through the story of Lily and her children. Many of the questions that arise are still pertinent today. How do friends and family react when you are in trouble with the law? Can you count on the system to correct an injustice? When you have been a refugee and exile, does that determine how you perceive and deal with the authorities and other threats?
Exposure is full of effortlessly convincing period detail, not only in setting but in attitudes. Commonplace antisemitism and the reputational risk of homosexuality appear. This is a must read for fans of le Carré or William Boyd. A good holiday read too, and we have a special edition in store which is available exclusively in independent bookshops like ours!
Review by Bethan
Martin Luther King said that “riots are the language of the unheard”. Developed from Slovo’s successful 2011 verbatim play The Riots at the Tricycle theatre, this readable novel offers multiple voices and a wholly convincing and gripping anatomy of how a London riot happens. It is a scorching summer, and on a fictional South London estate a series of incidents involving the police trigger rioting. We follow the stories of Cathy and her family and friends, who are resident on the estate; Peter, the Home Secretary; and Joshua, the brand new head of the Metropolitan Police. Politics, people and police all collide over ten days, and things may not be what they seem.
Ten Days reads like a thriller, and is more complex and nuanced than you might expect, giving genuine insights into the challenges and motivations of the characters. Slovo deals fearlessly with issues of class, race, poverty and power. The plot rolls out relentlessly, leaving the reader desperate to find out what happens to key characters. Slovo thanks senior police officers, among others, in her acknowledgements and certainly the account of the police experience feels authentic.
It is a properly London novel, and a worthwhile addition to the literature of London disorder and violence. This may be why it has been chosen for London Cityread 2016 (http://www.cityread.london/ten-days/). I stayed up far too late finishing it and suffered the next day as a result, but it was worth it.
Review by Bethan
This very readable history of London fog was a surprise hit this winter. Beautifully illustrated, with colour pictures well integrated into the text, Corton provides not only a good summary of why fogs happened and why they stopped but also gives an erudite account of how they affected people’s lives (and deaths).
Cultural responses to the phenomenon are explored in detail. It’s no surprise to find Whistler, Turner and Dickens here, but I was delighted to be introduced to Rose Maynard Barton and Yoshio Markino.
The book is stuffed with good London anecdotes and unusual images, which make it an excellent London gift. One of my favourites is the photo of a goalie struggling to see the pitch – let alone the ball – at a Spurs match in 1945, when opponents Moscow Dynamo were accused of fielding 12 men while the visibility was poor. They had also chosen the referee, apparently, and he refused to stop the match…
If you are already thinking about climate change, and how human behaviour can influence weather for the good or bad, this is a useful and not too heavy addition to your reading list. It is one of the several excellent new books on weather and nature this year (for more examples, come and see our display table on the top floor – we particularly like Thunder and Lightning too).
Review by Bethan
Hardback, Canongate, £14.99, out now
A young woman flies back into Orkney with her newborn baby – pausing at the airport to introduce the baby to her husband, who is being flown out, in a straitjacket, to a psychiatric hospital. Amy Liptrot, the author of this engaging addition to the nature/memoir selection, was the baby in question.
The rest of the book is as candid and compelling as the opening. Liptrot is open and graphic about her alcoholism, which becomes particularly brutal while she is working in London in her twenties. Her account of her recovery, from several failed attempts at rehab to a successful intense course and a return to Orkney, is illuminating. This isn’t a ‘nature as healer’ book, and it is resolutely unsentimental about island life. It interleaves the events of Liptrot’s life with beautiful passages of nature writing.
Her account of searching for the rare corncrake at 3am in the ‘simmer dim’ half light of an Orkney summer night is vivid, and I found I picked up lots of unexpected information about the life and wildlife of the islands. It is pleasing to learn that an Orkney wild swimming club is called the ‘Polar Bears’, and that until 1977 sheep were individually winched on and off a particular rock on one of the islands. Her unexpected joy in the natural world is well expressed: “There are moments that thrill and glow: the few seconds a silver male hen harrier flies beside my car one afternoon; the porpoise surfacing around our small boat; the wonderful sight of a herd of cattle let out on grass after a winter indoors, skipping and jumping, tails straight up to the sky with joy”. This was a pleasure to read, despite its sometimes bleak subject matter, and I recommend it.
Review by Bethan
The third novel in Robinson’s Gilead trilogy, Lila is the eponymous story of the Reverend John Ames’ much younger wife, whose poverty-stricken and itinerant childhood in Dust Bowl America has shaped her into a deeply insecure, yet compassionate and courageous human being. The narrative is a mixture of omniscient third person narration and Lila’s own internal reflections, the impetus to move forward mainly derived from the vacillations of the fledgling and highly unusual relationship between herself and the aged Reverend, so that even after they are married the reader worries about the durability of the union, their very affection for one another part and parcel of their fear: ‘The more she might seem like a wife to him,’ Robinson writes, ‘the more he would fear the loss of her.’ It means that in a novel which meanders chapter-less through a plethora of apparently random details and decades, we never come to rest – or wish to – right up to the last page, so entwined do we become with Lila’s own fear-laden consciousness.
Though Robinson’s project is essentially spiritual, it is her deft characterisation (in this case, of Lila’s quietly burgeoning love for her husband, who has himself known great personal loss) along with her exquisite prose that make for an affecting and transcendent reading experience, rather than any overt dogma. The reason the spiritual dimension of Robinson’s world is so palatable is that it is ensconced in the everyday: a field, a little valley, a flock of pelicans, a day of snow and silence. What is more, her characters’ redemptive trajectories are couched in the gentlest, driest humor, so distinctively Robinsonian: Lila’s childhood friend’s experimentation with a member of the opposite sex, for example, is described as her getting ‘very curious’ and ‘finding out whatever it was she wanted to know’; once this curiosity has been sated she moves on to other things; ‘it had taken Lila’, Robinson tells us, ‘a little longer.’
At its’ heart Lila is concerned with reconciling a God of love with a world of suffering but because Robinson never alights on an explanation and places the debate in such halting and beautiful terms – in the mouths of characters whose search for meaning for the most part ends in uncertainty – the novel is far from a sermon. Take the concluding words of a letter written by the Reverend to Lila before they are married and little more than strangers, for instance: ‘I have struggled with this my whole life’ [Ames writes]…‘I still have not answered your question, I know, but thank you for asking it, I may be learning something from the attempt’. And this attempt by Lila to understand a biblical verse that has captured her imagination:
‘And there was a voice above the firmament that was over their heads; when they stood, they let down their wings. She didn’t want to know what the verse meant, what the creatures were. She knew there were words so terrible you heard them with your whole body. Guilt. And there were voices to say them. She knew there were people you might almost trust who would hear them too, and be amazed, and still not really hear them because they knew they were not the ones the words were spoken to.’
It is in such a spirit of gracious humility that Robinson makes her offering, and it is hard not to be moved and awed by the result.
Review by Emily
It’s rare to discover a truly original book but Pond is just that. A series of short ‘stories’, sometimes no more than a few paragraphs, this highly eccentric and experimental work revolves around an unnamed woman whose rural isolation is the occasion of her meandering meditations upon everything from bananas, control knobs, a conglomeration of stones in a wall and modern dating etiquette.
Bennett withholds the conventions of fiction (namely plot and characterization) to the point of infuriating some readers I would imagine, though perhaps this is her intention. One ‘chapter’, for instance, consists solely of this ditty which is just two very short paragraphs:
‘Oh, Tomato Puree! When at last you occur to me it is as something profuse, fresh, erupting…
Oh Tomato Puree – let me lay you out and pummel those rigid furrows and creases!…’
It continues in a similar fashion.
While such strangeness can weary at times (when the reader is enmeshed in some particularly diaphanous, trance-like passage, for instance), the effort on the reader’s part to forge some sort of meaning is worth it. Bennett refuses to let anything figure – to let anything stand for pretty much anything at all; metaphor, we sense, is anathema to her; but there is a reason for this. In a brilliant passage that implicitly comments upon her own artistry and is simultaneously a cameo manifesto for the entire novel, she writes of her self/protagonist:
‘…she went off to place a cautionary notice next to the pond – which, by the way, has absolutely no depth whatsoever. If it were left up to me I wouldn’t put a sign next to a pond saying pond, either I’d write something else, such as Pig Swill, or I wouldn’t bother at all….’
She goes on to state that she knows the sign is to prevent children coming upon the water too quickly but says she herself, if ‘brought to a purportedly magical place one afternoon…only to discover the word pond scrawled on a poxy piece of damp plywood right there beside it…[would] be hopping.’
At the end of this chapter she removes the sign altogether, her reasoning being, as mystics and philosophers have pointed out before her (and there is definitely something of the mystic about Bennett’s protagonist), that words erect an artificial interface between us and the world, preventing us ‘moving about in deep and direct accordance with things.’ And it is true, as you read Pond, you feel all the strangeness of a heightened reality, much more a decipherer than simply a reader, as you do with most books. Despite the impression that Bennett’s writing is steeped in philosophers – Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gaston Bachelard and Derrida among them – there is such lightness, such whimsy, that reading Pond is not like reading a philosophical work at all, however resonant it may feel; for ironically, despite Bennett’s protestations to the contrary, her implicit suggestion that there is no ‘depth’ to her work only serves to make it all the more esoteric and enigmatic.
The experiments of post-modernism have left little room for literature to move forwards, but Bennett, in subtle yet inimitable fashion, has been able to suggest how it might. Pond is sign-posted. There are no poxy pieces of plywood, just plenty of magic.
Review by Emily
A ghost is this highly original novel’s second protagonist; its’ first is Wang, a taxi driver in contemporary Beijing who is the recipient of a series of mysterious letters purporting to be from a soul he has encountered in past lives. Barker weaves a seamless and gripping narrative between the modern-day and a dozen brilliantly realized pasts, from the brutal days of a sorceress, to the might of Genghis Khan, the giddying cruelty of the despotic Emperor Jaijing, a pirate ship during the Opium Wars, and the treacherous climate of the Cultural Revolution. Betrayal of one sort of another colours all of the stories, even if both souls feature as friends or lovers; at some point they are always at enmity.
This book is not for the squeamish. It portrays unimaginable, nightmarish cruelty, often and graphically. But the barbarity is not pointless. It shows the depths of horror human beings can sink to and how any one of us could be perpetrators of such horror, depending on when we are born and whom we are born to. Barker also suggests that evolution and transformation, however slight, requires some degree of awareness; though she leaves us very much in the dark as to whether any of her characters actually succeed in securing their personal freedom and reading their own destiny – a destiny that has already been spelt out in their incarnate lives.
Disclaimer is yet another book being marketed with comparisons to Gone Girl on the cover. In fact, this clever debut set in London and Spain has its own distinctive style and deliciously sinister concept. When Catherine Ravenscroft and her husband downsize, she finds an unfamiliar book by her bedside just as she’s settling into a new chapter in her life. To her horror, the story of The Perfect Stranger is apparently her own: a 20-year-old secret about the tragic Spanish holiday she’d tried to forget. Its lurid plot details a holiday seduction by a married woman who’s also a bad mother – a deadly combination to appear in print. To underline the mysterious author’s baleful intentions, the standard disclaimer is scored through with red ink: any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is definitely not a coincidence.
Catherine is an award-winning documentary maker; perhaps this professional woman who charms her way into other people’s lives deserves this fictional intrusion into her privacy. Disclaimer’s dual narrative pits her against disgraced teacher and widower Stephen Brigstocke, who discovers a fiction manuscript by his wife that reveals his family’s fatal connection to Catherine. When he self-publishes and carefully distributes The Perfect Stranger, Catherine has to fight to regain control of her life – and her story – as the poisonous prose suggests a reckoning is coming. Knight is adept at creating suspense as the gradual revelation of family secrets builds to a shocking denouement in the Spanish sun. Disclaimer is a superior psychological thriller shot through with cruelty, tragedy and insights into the artful nature of fiction, though perhaps not best suited as a beach read.
In 2012, in memory of the Sarajevo siege which began in 1992, “11,541 red chairs were laid out in rows along… the Sarajevo high street. One empty chair for every Sarajevan killed during the 1,425 days of siege. Six hundred and forty-three small chairs for the children killed by snipers and the heavy artillery fired from the surrounding mountains”. So opens Edna O’Brien’s new novel.
An on the run Serbian alleged war criminal sets up as a New Age healer in a village in Ireland, and one local woman in particular is mesmerised by him. The fallout from this for her and others is dealt with humanely in this often shocking but always thoughtful book. I was reminded of some aspects of the story of Radovan Karadžić, currently awaiting judgement following a five year trial for war crimes in the Hague (http://www.icty.org/x/cases/karadzic/cis/en/cis_karadzic_en.pdf).
Impunity in committing war crimes, and attempts to hold individuals to account for them, are such huge issues that the destruction wrought on individual human lives can be lost. O’Brien manages to capture and convey such human stories in this remarkable novel. Exile of all types and refugee status are also explored: it feels like nothing is too challenging a subject for the author to address. She humanises refugees and exiles, which is more important than ever given the current refugee crisis.
Review by Bethan
Thank you to all our customers for supporting us in our new home, and helping to make Christmas 2015 a real pleasure! We’ll look forward to seeing you in the New Year… and to help you plan your visits, our opening hours this week are:
Tuesday 29 December – 10am to 6pm
Wednesday 30 December – 9am to 6pm
Thursday 31 December – 9am to 4pm
New Year’s Day – CLOSED
Saturday 2 January – 10am to 6pm
Sunday 3 January – 11am to 6pm
From Monday 4 January onwards – normal opening hours
See you soon!
Happy Christmas to all of our customers from everyone at the Riverside Bookshop!
Sort your Christmas book presents with a signed copy of one of the following – all of these are now in store:
- Robert Harris, Dictator
- Jonathan Coe, Number 11
- Susan Hill, The Woman in Black and other Ghost Stories
- Geraint Thomas, The World of Cycling According to G
- Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully, Nopi
- Barnaby Phillips, Another Man’s War
- Sebastian Faulks, Where my Heart Used to Beat
- Edna O’Brien, The Little Red Chairs
- Grace McCleen, The Professor of Poetry
- Grace McCleen, The Offering
- Grace McCleen, The Land of Decoration
- Dawn French, According to Yes
- Sue Perkins, Spectacles
- Mary Beard, SPQR
- Edmund de Waal, The White Road
- Carol Ann Duffy, The Wren Boys
- Jonathan Franzen, Purity
- Iain Pears, Arcadia
- Jojo Moyes, After You
- Hans Christian Andersen illustrated by Sanna Annuka, The Snow Queen
Buy while stocks last – when they’re gone they’re gone!
There are foxes with scarves on and cats fighting fairy lights, polar bears snowboarding and badgers sledging. In between we have all the traditional scenes you could wish for and we can sort you out for winter landscapes and robins as well. We also have rude funny ones. There are extra special individual cards, and packs of charity cards. Come and peruse at your leisure.
Monday – Friday 9am till 6.30pm
Saturday 10am till 6pm
Sunday 11am till 6pm
From 14 December to 24 December, our opening hours are:
Monday – Friday 9am till 7pm
Saturday 10am till 6pm
Sunday 11am till 6pm
On Christmas Eve we will close at 4pm. The shop will be closed 25-28 December and will reopen on Tuesday 29 December.
Hardback £20, Canongate, out now
“There is so much in this world to make me happy. Small things such as cats, a good meal, one’s garden, trees in spring and autumn, clouds, colours, fabrics, clothes, companionship, books and music and films, a drink in the friendly atmosphere of an English pub, a ride in a bus, a letter from a friend, staying in bed when one is tired, firelight, starlight, waves breaking against rocks, evening sunlight on a flight of bombers”.
Jean Lucey Pratt writes this in 1944, aged 34, a woman living alone and working in Slough as the bombs fall around her. She takes much joy in life, as this extract shows, and is not afraid of giving her own views on the remarkable times she’s living through. In these edited journals, started when she was 16 and continuing into old age, she is painfully honest about her romantic life (I was absolutely willing her to find someone half decent to get off with). Like all the best published diaries, we feel that we are getting a view into someone’s secret inner life, but she also illuminates the uncertainties of living through a time of great international and domestic turbulance.
Jean is anything but fluffy, despite the excellent cats that march through these pages. Her diary is a real page turner, and well edited by Simon Garfield (who has previously published some of her contributions to the Mass Observation study). I enjoyed spending time with her enormously, and only wish she could have seen this delicious volume published during her lifetime.
Review by Bethan