Inexplicably out of print for many years (along with the vast majority of Stella Gibbons’ novels) but now rightfully back in circulation (along with some of the rest of that vast majority). It could be argued that this is more of the same, but that’s fine given the sheer genius of Cold Comfort Farm. In this even more eccentric and overtly sarcastic outing Flora Poste is to remake the titular farm once again, allowing Gibbons to take beautiful and ruthless aim at art, philosophy, literature, the general pursuit of pomposity and all fool enough to take it all too seriously. Sharp stuff and a most amusing and diverting read.
Whether it be for Isherwood’s almost revered literary regard or perhaps for more Liza Minelli shaped reasons, Mr Norris Changes Trains & Goodbye to Berlin have carved themselves their own niche in mainstream culture. Either, I suppose, are acceptable routes to popular longevity, but whatever you may think you know about these books, forget it. Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical tales of early 30s Berlin are a subtle and deeply personal portrait of an era of sexual and cultural freedom that was already descending into ruin; sad, funny, ultimately tinged with the inevitability of history, but warm and joyous. A deserved must read.
Roddy Doyle essentially writes funny books about ordinary lives and this, a classic example of his earlier work, is by far the finest of them. The fast paced interior monologue of the ten year old protagonist is pitch perfect – fractious, unruly, excitable and entirely the product of the infantile logic of a child. A wonderful if bittersweet novel – emphasis on the sweet in the beginning and bitter at the end (you will cry, unless you’re hard, like me).
Alan Warner’s debut novel is the unusual, stylised tale of the titular Morvern Callar, whose drab life descends into inadvertent amorality. The stream-of-consciousness first person narrative is both forthright and a little awry – in keeping with the character herself – but unfailingly atmospheric and cool.
London’s Helen Simpson is one of our best living writers of short stories and this, her fifth collection, is another tour de force that you’ll end up pressing on everyone you know. Underpinned by a burning anxiety about the looming threat of climate change, the stories in In-Flight Entertainment do more in a few pages than most novels do in hundreds. Flick to ‘Diary of an Interesting Year’ (page 116) and you’ll start to get the picture. Set in a cholera-and-typhoid-ravaged apocalyptic England in 2040, it’s like The Road in twelve pages, only better. Utterly unlike anything Simpson has tried before, it’s well worth the price of the whole book on its own.
Hajime meets and falls in love with a girl in elementary school but loses touch with her when his family moves away. He drifts through high school, college and into his 20s before marrying and settling into a career as a successful bar owner. Then his childhood sweetheart returns weighed down with secrets. This is a rich, mysterious and moving meditation on the nature of love and in my opinion is Murakami at his best.
Born in Illinois in 1908 and Fiction Editor at the New Yorker for almost 40 years William Maxwell was one of the true greats of American literature. This is not a happy story by any stretch of the imagination but this is a heartbreaking book of great beauty and subtlety. A meditation on memory, grief, loss, guilt and regret, all human emotion is here (just not the happy ones!). At a mere 153 pages this is a small, flawless gem of a novel.
Toni Morrison is a Nobel Prize-winning titan of contemporary literature, and her masterful debut novel is an American classic. Short, sharply-observed, shocking and painfully moving, The Bluest Eye is a gorgeously lyrical page-turner that explores a legacy of race and abuse. It’s a really accessible quick read that’s as riveting as it is tear-jerking, and it out high-brows Kathryn Stockett’s The Help any day.
A richly layered multi-generational tale talking about race in America, this is a big book talking about big themes. Despite its size and scope Powers has written an intensely beautiful and intimate story, heartbreaking too. If Jonathan Franzen deserves the accolades here in the UK then Richard Powers most certainly does. He is in my opinion one of the very best writers in America today and deserves a wider audience here.
This is the tale of a day in the life of George. A British man teaching English and living inCaliforniawhose life has changed through the complex emotions grief bestows since losing his partner Jim. It’s a small book filled with subtlety. Isherwood’s prose is spare, mesmerizing: his words well chosen, succinct and meaningful. It is just brilliant.
A book that spawned an industry of tie-ins and spin-offs and gave Charlton Heston a legitimate excuse to run dementedly about a beach in a loin cloth and emote for all he was worth. But despite its many (mostly) lame connotations, the original novel (this book you’re about to buy) is really rather remarkably good. Really.
The magic and mastery of Carver’s short story writing is nothing short of breathtaking. Let yourself be swept away into the lives of ordinary folk facing bleak truths, disappointments and small revelations. Be sure of a sharp jolt ending then spend the rest of the day just thinking. You will not regret it.
I can’t see this series of books being endorsed by the Icelandic Tourist Board any time soon but don’t let that stop you. In this first instalment of the ‘Reykjavik Murder Mysteries’ we are introduced to troubled detective Erlendur. He’s been sent to investigate the murder of an old man in his Reykjavik flat. The only clues left are a cryptic note and a photograph of a young girls grave. Many years ago the victim was accused of a terrible crime, Erlendur must find out if it came back to haunt him. Every city in the world has a dark side and award winning author Indridason paints for us a plausible picture and will leave you begging for more!
Obviously if you want otherwise – nice, neat beginnings and middles and ends and absolutely no challenge whatsoever – then stick to, say, the Brothers Grimm or whatever Richard&Judy suggest. Personally, I thought this was utterly brilliant. Your loss if you give up on it.