Archive for September, 2015

September 26, 2015

This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War, by Samanth Subramanian

by Team Riverside

Samanth Subramanian THIS DIVIDED ISLANDAtlantic Books, out now

Just longlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize, this well written account of the Sri Lankan civil war does not take sides. Indian Tamil journalist Subramanian approaches a notoriously tangled and controversial subject through the stories of diverse individuals. These include former combatants from the Tamil Tigers and the army, refugees and other members of the diaspora, journalists, medics and other civilians. We learn some of the human cost of this awful conflict.

He finds that Sri Lanka lends itself to this style: “It never required much to begin a conversation in Sri Lanka. The very air was primed for it. In a country so full of uncertainty, all life, and all death, was rehearsed through conversation. It was a form of art, well honed and practiced with skill.”

No previous knowledge of Sri Lankan history is necessary and so it is a useful primer, but also very revealing for those who know more. The problems facing Sri Lankans at home and abroad now are shown. No easy answers present themselves. The author documents his own, sometimes conflicting, reactions to the stories he is told. This makes the book feel honest, current and engaging.

This Divided Island is a must-read for anyone thinking of visiting this beautiful but troubled place, as well as for those who want to know more about the civil war and its aftermath. In places his reporting is the best kind of travel writing, immediate and vivid in his descriptions of transport, food, and places. Despite the grimness of some of the content, the clarity of the writing and the writer’s affection for the place make this an engaging and swift read.

Review by Bethan

September 15, 2015

The Neapolitan Novels, by Elena Ferrante

by Team Riverside

Out now, £11.99 eachElena Ferrante THE STORY OF THE LOST CHILD

A woman in her sixties, at home in Naples, receives a call from the middle-aged son of her best friend. His mother is missing. She has disappeared, cutting her image out of photos and removing all her belongings. Her lifelong friend is not surprised, noting it has been thirty years since her friend – referred to as being an electronics wizard during the 1960s – first told her of her wish to disappear. This beginning of the first of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, My Brilliant Friend, grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go.

I decided to read the quartet because we couldn’t keep them in the shop. We’d order, they’d sell out. People had heard about them from friends, or been lent the first book and then been unable to wait to borrow the second, and then the third (The Story of a New Name, followed by Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay).

Now I’m about to read the fourth and final book, The Story of the Lost Child. After the opening disappearance, we see the post-war childhood beginning of the difficult and complex friendship between the two women, Elena and Lila, in a poor area of Naples. What difference does an education make to a woman’s life? Marriage? Children? Violence? Money? Family? Wartime shadows? The novels give us a lifetime up close, but so convincingly that I am desperate to find out how all the stories end. And not much else will get done till I’m finished.

Review by Bethan

September 13, 2015

Trigger Mortis: Anthony Horowitz

by Andre

Anthony Horowitz TRIGGER MORTISJames Bond returns in Trigger Mortis, by far the best of the continuation novels to be penned by a big-name author (it follows official Bond books by William Boyd, Jeffery Deaver and Sebastian Faulks). Anthony Horowitz is clearly a fan of 007; more importantly, he’s captured the relentless cruelty and lean action that make Ian Fleming’s novels such an enduring body of work despite the antiquated Cold War scenario. Horowitz doesn’t mess with the formula – no modern-day setting, inner turmoil or downplaying of Bond’s 1950s opinions. Yet there are some modern touches that ensure this isn’t just Horowitz mimicking his literary hero. He’s also audacious enough to reintroduce Pussy Galore in a story set in 1957, a few weeks after the events of Goldfinger. “The conquest had been particularly satisfying to Bond,” we learn of the relationship between the British spy and the American leader of an all-lesbian crime gang based in Harlem. Perhaps it’s not a union built to last, though.

Luckily for Horowitz, he also gets to play with a recently discovered TV outline for Bond, written by Fleming, that was never used. Murder on Wheels is incorporated into Trigger Mortis and has Bond on a German Grand Prix track attempting to steer a Maserati at 160 miles per hour while preventing a Soviet assassination of a British racing champion. You don’t need to be a fan of Top Gear to find it utterly thrilling. The fiendish Russian plot also involves a sinister Korean businessman, the early days of the space race and rocket technology, though Trigger Mortis is not a re-run of Moonraker. Nor is it replete with boys’ toys like many of the films. Horowitz has remained true to the novels of Ian Fleming with this masterclass in James Bond.