September 15, 2014
It’s a truism that old age brings a reawakening of childhood memories. For almost every writer, memory is a rich resource, but things get especially interesting when they undergo that memory reboot in their seventies or eighties. At the age of 84 – and 50 years since her debut From Doon with Death – Ruth Rendell has written a captivating novel about that experience. The Girl Next Door is nominally a crime novel, though the killer is identified at the beginning and the crime (a double murder) occurred in 1944. The case is brought to light by the unearthing of a pair of severed hands. What’s fascinating is the effect the grisly discovery has on the 70-somethings who used to play on the site as children. Memories are stirred and lives are shaken up at a time when the days, months and years might appear to be predictable and unchanging.
Penelope Lively’s brief, meditative memoir, Ammonites & Leaping Fish: A Life in Time, is a treasure trove of memory – from childhood in Alexandria to the ‘hospital years’ of old age – filtered through her precise and discursive prose. She is especially good on the working of memory and how it becomes “the mind’s triumph over time”, as well as childhood amnesia and the importance of teaching history (our collective memory). At 81, Lively has written a rich, absorbing memoir that has you hoping for further novels from this former Booker Prize winner.
October 24, 2013
If you’re in the mood for autumnal immersion into a big book, here’s a brace of blockbuster novels – a Booker winner and a long-awaited comeback. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton is back in stock after publishers Granta reprinted the Booker-winning, 830-page literary novel that doubles up as a homage to Victorian sensation novels. A gripping mystery and a structurally innovative work, The Luminaries is a sprawling tale of unsolved murders in 19th century New Zealand. Look out, too, for the Kiwi author’s debut novel, The Rehearsal, which is currently reprinting to meet the surge in demand for her work.
Catton’s Booker triumph occurred in the final year of its restriction to writers from the Commonwealth, Ireland and Zimbabwe. With the award opening up to English language authors from the rest of the world, US author Donna Tartt is in the running for the 2014 Man Booker Prize with her third novel, The Goldfinch, which came out this week and weighs in at 784 pages. With themes of art, loss and alienation, it’s a literary novel that’s not afraid of plot. Devotees of The Secret History have been anticipating a new book from Tartt for the past decade – thankfully, the reviews suggest it’s been worth the wait.
October 13, 2013
Novels that are barely novels have sometimes managed to win over the Booker Prize judges: Julian Barnes won for The Sense of an Ending a couple of years ago and Penelope Fitzgerald’s Offshore was triumphant in 1979. (Both are excellent, slender novels that are suited to reading in a single sitting.) So perhaps The Testament of Mary, in which Colm Tóibín enters the mind of the aged mother of Christ over 100 lyrical, heart-wrenching pages, will be named the best novel of the year this week at the 15 October prize ceremony, which takes place just the other side of London Bridge at the Guildhall. The Irish author would certainly be a deserving winner.
The Testament of Mary is such a rich work of the imagination, you’d have to be Richard Dawkins not to be moved by this depiction of Mary’s memories of her sanctified son and the violence, cruelty and duplicity that encroached upon her daily existence. This is a subtly daring work of fiction, in which Jesus (though his name is never uttered) and his followers are portrayed with a degree of ambivalence by his mother, as she recalls the world-changing incidents that sent her into exile. The Son of God is serenely powerful yet distant with her, and preoccupied during the wedding banquet where his followers claim he has turned water into wine. In the months and years after his murder, these early Christians busily fashion myths about his life, death and rise that confound his mother. His death may have redeemed the world, but for Mary it was the tragedy of losing a son.
As she tries to make sense of it all in later life, her account swells with a sadness that is, at times, overwhelming. ‘Memory fills my body as much as blood and bones,’ says Mary. Read this remarkable book in one sitting and Tóibín’s insistent, poignant prose will have a similar effect.
October 10, 2013
£7.99 – available now
Congratulations to Sarah Hall, who was named this week as the winner of the BBC National Short Story Award 2013. Her story, Mrs Fox, is an earthy fable about a complacent husband whose wife undergoes a shocking transformation.
Hall emerged as the winner of the £15,000 prize from an all-female shortlist (stories were submitted anonymously) that also included tales of quiet grief and vivid imagination from new and established authors Lisa Blower, Lavinia Greenlaw, Lionel Shriver and Lucy Wood. Settings for these stories range from the haunted corners of an old Cornish house to the panic-stricken streets of New York in Shriver’s Prepositions, which takes the form of a resentful letter looking back exactly 10 years earlier at the distinction made between the people who died on 9/11 but not in 9/11. All the shortlisted stories have been published in the annual anthology that is now available for those readers who, like Edgar Allan Poe, appreciate the power of a literary work that can be read in one sitting.
Sarah Hall is the author of the Booker Prize shortlisted The Electric Michelangelo, the eco-feminist science fiction novel The Carhullan Army and a short story collection, The Beautiful Indifference.
July 24, 2013
The longlist for the Man Booker Prize 2013 is out although several of the selected books are not (update: publishers have rush released titles to meet demand). This year the judges have picked an unpredictable, international list of 13 books for the literary prize and we have them in stock here at the Riverside. Click on the images below for a gallery of the nominees and look out for The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, the final title published in September. The £50,000 prize is awarded on 15 October.