Vanquishing the Man Booker winners and a Peirene binge feature in the Autumn 2015 batch of nine – and for the delay in posting, I can only blame moving country.
THE FAMISHED ROAD – BEN OKRI: Imagine a dream that keeps morphing and changing, over the course of a fevered, endless night and you’ll about have the measure of The Famished Road. I probably didn’t get it. I know two people who’ve read it – one liked it, the other kept tight lipped whenever I mentioned it. I am still astonished that I finished it.
READER FOR HIRE – RAYMOND JEAN: If you agree that the power of reading is at least in part seductive, then Reader for Hire is a fun adventure about how one reader gets enveloped into the lives of her listeners. If you don’t agree, then the story could be bamboozling, bordering on upsetting. I really enjoyed the reflected intimacy between reader and listener, but found the story overall lacking in depth.
UNDER THE TRIPOLI SKY – KAMAL BEN HAMEDA: An enigmatic, revealing tale that dwells in the temporary confidences and acceptance bestowed on a boy before he starts to stretch towards manhood. A view of a changing culture from ‘under the skirt tails’. Imbued with a sense of melancholy about what may soon be forbidden and with perplexity about why and how people behave as they do.
PORTRAIT OF THE MOTHER AS A YOUNG WOMAN – FRIEDRICH CHRISTIAN DELIUS: This seems to me to be the ultimate portrayal of a moment in time and left me with an affection for Rome that I hadn’t felt when I visited. The observations are tender and the young woman at the centre of it draws the gaze.
HOW TO BE BOTH – ALI SMITH: My copy started with George, who is swimming in the death of her mother. Instantly likeable, compelling and all the more real for her analytical approach to porn, her conversations with her dead mother, her wringing of her own lexicon to suit her new environment – utterly intoxicating. The historical section that follows is light-hearted and breathes magic and play into an era depicted so heavily in fresco. The protagonist becomes something she isn’t, and lives it to great consequence. A long solitary walk in the damp mountain plains could stop my heart bursting. Monumental.
MORE TREES TO CLIMB – BEN MOOR: The title story of this three story collection is the one that captures the charm of Moor’s brand of storytelling whimsy, it centring around tree-climbing championships. Not having experienced these stories in their original form of live performance, I can’t speak to how well they translate, but the stories definitely stand to be read, and the linguistic gymnastics and penchant for the fantastical are evident.
THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE – PATRICK NESS: This is the kind of book that makes me feel a bit more hopeful for the next generation, because it depicts same-sex, first sex, depression, eating disorders and OCD without being about any of those things. It’s an engaging story that’s also super smart: it took me longer to realise that the italicised chapter intros were happening elsewhere in the town than I care to admit!
GRIEF IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS – MAX PORTER: I can only superlatively gush about this novel, the likes of which you will never have seen before. A hybrid between novel and poem, it’s a document of grief and about how we weave our losses into the fabric of our lives enough that we can carry on. But it isn’t mawkish at all: it’s charming and funny and gross and slippery and honest and wacky and on-the-nail and diverting and playful. Above all playful. Because isn’t that what we do when we lose the very thing that anchors us to the world? We play at living, until we remember how to. READ IT. But not, as Bookseller Crow says, on an e-reader.
SAINT MAZIE – JAMI ATTENBERG: To say this is a smart blend of diary and third person accounts that depicts Manhattan through the start of the 20th century is to not even get close to why it’s GREAT. Mazie’s voice is wholly original and invites deep affection and trust; her situation is fascinating and complex and her approach to it a mixture of the duty-bound and the frivolous. The way that areas of town and even particular buildings add to the cast of characters induces awe. The story so expertly avoids painting Mazie’s charitable actions sentimentally that we should all read it, because you don’t have to be a saint to do good.