Archive for ‘Fiction’

October 5, 2019

Corregidora by Gayl Jones

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Virago, £9.99, out now Gayl Jones CORREGIDORA

The first paragraph hooked me right away: “It was 1947 when Mutt and I married.  I was singing in Happy’s Café around on Delaware Street.  He didn’t like for me to sing after we were married because he said that’s why he married me so he could support me.  I said I didn’t just sing to be supported.  I said I sang because it was something I had to do, but he would never understand that.”

A long overdue new edition of this important American novel has just been published by Virago.  Praised by James Baldwin and Tayari Jones, and helped into print in the 1970s by Toni Morrison, Corregidora has lost none of its impact over the last 40 years.

It is 1947, and Ursa is singing the blues.  Her husband wants her to stop her nightclub work now that she is married.  He beats her up, leaving her unable to have children.  Her recovery and relationships after her hospitalisation are at the heart of the book.  But Ursa is also haunted by her family’s history, and particularly the horrific abuse suffered at the hands of the slave owner Corregidora.

I had never heard of this author before finding her in Toni Morrison’s recent collected essay, Mouth Full of Blood (https://riversidebookshop.co.uk/2019/09/07/mouth-full-of-blood-by-toni-morrison/).  This brutal novel grips right from the start, and there are no holds barred when Jones deals with women’s lives, sexuality, and the racism which infects Ursa’s past and present.  I read it in a single sitting, unable to put it down.

Review by Bethan

September 8, 2019

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Granta, £8.99, out nowSarah Moss GHOST WALL

I finished this slight novel in a corner of Oxford Circus tube station so that I wouldn’t be disturbed by commuters in the concluding moments of Silvie’s story.  This is a book that crept up on me as I read it and then has been ringing between my ears ever since. Seventeen-year-old Sylvie (whose name is short for Sulevia, chosen by her father, after an ancient British goddess) is a funny, brave and beguiling narrator.  Sylvie has been taken by her Father and Mother to an iron age re-enactment week in rural Northumberland.  They are joined by an Experimental Archaeology professor and some of his students. What transpires is a masterly exploration by Moss of class, sexual and regional oppressions and the dangers of idealising the rituals of the past.

If Ghost Wall were a film it would be a Best British Bafta winning Andrea Arnold film.  The descriptions of an oppressive summer and Sylvie’s burgeoning sexuality are glorious. “Her belly was rounder than mine, a pale curve dented by her belly button. I suddenly wanted to touch. I looked away. She splashed past me. Dan and Pete looked unconcerned, as if they saw women half naked in public every day, but I saw Pete glancing away and then back and then away again. Molly, up to her waist, reached round to unhook her bra from behind in a way I’d seen on TV though not, for example, in the girls changing room.” (p.56).

Moss vividly transports the reader to a stiflingly hot, uncomfortable summer.  We experience Sylvie’s tastes of exhilarating freedom and crushing debasements with her, as she comes of age in a brutal and brilliant climax.  I feel this is an important piece of fiction about female friendship and what it means to be a victim.  Silvie is an inspired heroine and no typical victim.  Moss isn’t afraid to look at toxic masculinity in both its blatantly violent and also subtle, middle class, well-educated forms.  The result is a quick read that leaves you gasping for breath and willing Sulevia to take hold of the goddess-like qualities she can just about touch with her fingertips.

Review by Eleanor

July 20, 2019

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Picador, £16.99, out now

Exhalation Chiang

Ted Chiang is perhaps best-known outside science fiction circles as the writer of the short story on which the 2016 film Arrival was based. Inside those circles, he’s the much-praised winner of a dozen sci fi writing awards – an incredibly high hit rate for a guy who’s only published seventeen short stories. This, his second collection, compiles his noughties-teens output and two originals in a single thought-provoking volume.

The deeply imaginative worlds Chiang creates within, philosophical questions he explores and his commitment to the teasing out of conundrums both moral and scientific have drawn comparisons to Borges and Calvino; given this, it would be tempting to say that these stories are in danger of “transcending science fiction”. But that would be to play down the fact that each of them revels in the genre. They are, unapologetically, part of that canon; the title story is effectively a meditation on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, while references to tech innovation, alien worlds and near-futures abound.

In this way, it’s doubly impressive that Chiang’s use of oft-trodden genre tropes yields such new and innovating results, ones that feel extremely pertinent to the present day – at times, terrifyingly so. It helps that he is, in an unflashy way, a master craftsman. His chameleonic style alters cleverly to service the needs of each story – our narrators are variously un-humanoid beings with recognisably human feelings of existential angst, fabric merchants from ancient Iraq, and an omniscient, unaffected third person narrator, recounting a truly distressing tale of Frankensteinien neglect and anonymous cruelty.

His ability to build suspense, meanwhile, is subtle and brilliant. In Exhalation our mysterious non-human storyteller’s perfectly plausible withholding of information as it tells its tale fuels our curiosity, its peculiar world introduced to us piece by piece. Reading The Lifecycle of Software Objects, meanwhile, is like watching a small child slowly crawl closer and closer to a cliff-edge. There’re shades of Michael Haneke in its blending of creeping dread and apparent mundanity, as well as in its dispassionate depictions of awful brutality; but it’s his ability to steadily crank up the unease well before any actual unpleasantness arrives that’s hugely impressive. And, because it’s fantastic sci-fi, it also takes place in an immersive world of just-on-the-horizon technological speculation (techulation?), feeling all the more grimly-plausible for that.

All-in-all, this is a collection that deserves to reach well outside of the sci-fi sphere – even if the stories themselves work inside it so adeptly.

Review by Tom

June 19, 2019

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson

by Team Riverside

Hardback, DoubleDay, £20, out nowKate Atkinson BIG SKY

“Nadja Wilk and her sister, Katja.  They came from Gdansk, where they had worked in a hotel.  Real people with real lives, not just ciphers for the tabloid newspapers”.  Big Sky, the latest instalment of Atkinson’s series featuring private detective Jackson Brodie, starts with Nadja and Katja.  Ready to leave their hotel jobs for better chances in the UK, they Skype with impressive businessman Mark Price who promises good placements and offers to pay for their travel.  But: “The office was a fake.  Anderson Price associates was a fake, Mark Price was a fake.  Only the Rolex was real”.  As always, Atkinson nails the nature of violence against women in this funny, smart and devastating book.  She deals with hard subjects brilliantly, giving characters who elsewhere might simply be exploited victims both relatable features and agency.

We find Jackson looking after with his 13-year-old son while taking various low rent private eye jobs.  Jackson is still for justice, though not always in a strictly legal way.  He remains focussed on the unwanted and uncared-about.  The book’s epigraph is revealing.  Malcolm X: “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it.  I’m for justice, no matter who is for or against it”.

Many memorable characters from previous books turn up, which felt to me like a huge treat.  Skilfully plotted, this gripping mystery sees many strands and lives woven together.  A woman is murdered in her garden; a young girl hitch-hikes a lift from a lonely sea front; an interesting teenage boy looks after his young half-sister in between shifts at a ghost train and failing seaside theatre.  Jackson remains an engaging commentator on the meaning of unexpected events.  Watching a mother beat the living daylights out of someone who may have a clue about her missing child: “Jackson glanced around to see how the rest of the café’s denizens were reacting to this, but they all seemed to have quietly disappeared.  Jackson didn’t blame them.  Wives and mothers, he thought, you never wanted to get on the wrong side of them.  Madonnas on steroids”.

Atkinson’s sentences are both completely precise and deceptively easy to read.  I think it must take a great deal of work to produce something that seems so effortless.

There are two good dogs in this book.

Review by Bethan

June 11, 2019

Saltwater x Riverside x Grapevine Event

by Team Riverside

Pictures by Eleanor Wyld from our amazing night in collaboration with The Grapevine Zine to celebrate the launch of Saltwater, the debut novel by Jessica Andrews.

The event was sold out and very busy with  readings from Jessica, Zeba Talkhani, Megan Nolan, Yara Rodrigues Fowler, Lucy Freedman and Catherine Madden.

May 16, 2019

Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Sceptre, £18.99, out nowSiri Hustvedt MEMORIES OF THE FUTURE

This wonderful book, marketed as fiction but often feeling like memoir, tells the story of a young woman who moves to New York City in the late 1970s looking for adventure and to write her first novel.

Following the main character S.H. in her progress is immersive, we are there when she moves into her small apartment and hears her neighbour chanting manically through the wall. We eat her meals with her and meet her new friends.

This narrated past from the speaker’s position as an older woman in almost present-day America is also mixed with two other texts, her diary from the time in present tense, and the novel she is writing – a mystery about two teenage detectives.

The three sections work well together and are all compelling in their own ways. Seeing the character develop the novel is especially exciting for people interested in the writing process or those who write themselves and including both the diary from the time and the reflections of the older woman creates some insightful moments of the past and the present interacting. This is one of the things the book does very well, meditating on memories and how we relate to them differently as we get older, as well as the role writing plays in this. Hustvedt also thinks about how significant moments are recorded in our minds as they happen and how some are forgotten. About her friend Whitney the older S.H. says:

“I loved her then. I love her now, but while I was in the throes of living it was impossible for me to know whether a moment would be significant or whether it would vanish into oblivion along with so much else.” p.300

Whitney, who we meet as a vibrant young woman when S.H does is one of the characters who transcends the different time periods in the book as we hear about her life as she grows older with S.H.

The book also has a strong feminist message, Hustvedt and her character rail against the so called Great Men, academics and artists who command people’s respect while patronising women and stealing their work.

There is also a very satisfying moment at a dinner party where S.H. encounters a condescending older man.

The man says he does not want to hear any more “philosophies from female nether-regions”, and then asks the protagonist, “I don’t suppose you have anything to add to this venerable debate, my dear?”

She begins her reply with, “You have made a statement, but have delivered it as if it were a question. I find the technique dubious, if not reprehensible…” (p.234-5) and goes on to take him down philosophically in a way that one would usually articulate as a type of staircase wit. It was brilliant to read anyway and cemented the tenderness I felt for the character.

Hustvedt’s New York City is exciting and her characters warm and comforting, I loved being in their world and was sad to leave it at the end. As an older woman her observations about the present day are poignant and I also enjoyed the little illustrations throughout.

Review by Cat

May 6, 2019

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Head of Zeus, £14.99, out nowMichelle Paver WAKENHYRST

This excellent supernatural horror mystery opens in 1913 with a 16-year-old girl in rural Suffolk seeing her father leaving the house with an ice pick and hammer.  Maud runs after him shouting for help.  Too late, she witnesses her father brutally murder someone in the lane outside.  But was she really just a witness?  And how did she know to shout for help before the attack?

Flash forward 50 years.  The press have decided to dig deeper into the story, partly inspired by her father’s paintings.  Now cult classics in the 1960s, he painted them in while in a secure hospital following the murder.  At least one journalist thinks Maud may have committed the murder herself.

Something about Suffolk lends itself to gothic murder stories, and Wakenhyrst draws effectively on East Anglian myths.  Mysterious nature surrounds the isolated gentleman’s residence where Maud and her father live, with the Fens as present in the book as any other character (including Chatterpie the magpie who is the cover star).

Paver explores the lives of women and girls in this remote setting, from maids to ladies of the house.  While class separates individuals, women’s solid societal position as less clever, less important, less human than men prevails.  Wakenhyrst is psychologically convincing, examining the ground between madness and possible supernatural influences.  How people interpret events is interesting, as is the value given to each interpretation: “The rules governed every moment of Maud’s day and there were two different kinds.  One sort belonged to the lower orders: it was called superstition and Father detested it, which meant that the servants observed their rules behind his back…  The other rules were Father’s – and much stronger, as he had God on his side”.

The tale is creepy and chilling, but thought-provoking.  It would lend itself to a firelit room with creaky floorboards, though I enjoyed it on a sunny day outdoors.  It’s not cosy crime, with some of the plot being truly horrifying.  We have one signed copy left of this physically beautiful book, so get it while it’s hot.

Review by Bethan

April 23, 2019

Riverside x Grapevine x Saltwater

by Team Riverside

grapevine eventThe bookshop is putting on an event in collaboration with The Grapevine Zine to celebrate the launch of Saltwater, the debut novel by Jessica Andrews.

Jess will read from Saltwater and there will be other readings from:

Zeba Talkhani, Megan Nolan, Yara Rodrigues Fowler, Lucy Freedman and Catherine Madden.

The event is free but ticketed as there is limited space in our shop.

Get your tickets here.

 

 

April 2, 2019

The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Vintage, £8.99, out nowSamantha Harvey WESTERN WIND

It is a time of change in the isolated Somerset village of Oakham.  Four days before Lent 1491, the wealthy landlord appears to have been swept away by the flooded river.  But was he murdered?  Did he take his own life?  Is he, in fact, dead at all?

The parish priest, young John Reve, narrates the story of the four days, starting with day four and working backwards.  Revelations come satisfyingly fast, as the scheming local Dean investigates and queasy secrets are revealed in the confessional and elsewhere… But there is more to this story.

Tensions have risen in the village over whether a recently built (and recently collapsed) bridge, intended to end Oakham’s isolation, should be replaced.  Oakham is wedded to its own traditions, some of which are clearly pagan, but is unable to ignore the world outside.  Not least as the Bishop has been imprisoned, and the local monastery is angling to seize village lands.

The missing landlord had recently returned from a pilgrimage in Europe, and described in sensuous terms the banquet of commodities on offer: “Spanish olive oil, as golden-green as those young grain fields; silk from Sicily; Indian pepper, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg; dried rhubarb and galingale from eastern China; aloes from the lands around the Red Sea; cloves that are violent on the tongue; brocades and great noble tapestries; Syrian ash in Venetian glass and scented soap; Asian elephant tusks and unicorn horns that change hands in Alexandria and go to Paris  for carving; Indian emeralds, rubies, sapphires, diamonds, lapis lazuli from the Oxus, Persian pearls and turquoise”.  The contrast with the literally stagnating muddy pariochial village, whose crops are failing this year, is painful.  It feels like Harvey may be asking us to draw parallels with the deep and raw debates happening now about the UK’s relationship with Europe.

The Western Wind is a gripping historical crime mystery, evocative and psychologically convincing, and would appeal to fans of C J Sansom, Ellis Peters, and Hilary Mantel.  Harvey shows us what can happen when change affects faith, the climate, and how we see ourselves in the world.

Review by Bethan

March 19, 2019

Vanish in an Instant by Margaret Millar

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Pushkin Vertigo, £8.99, out nowMargaret Millar VANISH IN AN INSTANT

A young woman covered in blood walks down a snowy small town street, and a man’s body is found with stab wounds nearby.  Minor league lawyer Meecham tries to get the woman released from jail, and there seems to be much more to the story than is evident…

Reprinted in a smart new paperback edition, this 1952 American mystery classic has introduced me to Margaret Millar (who is possibly my new addiction – I have already been trying to find out which of her other books I can get hold of).  An excellent Noir style thriller, Vanish in an Instant is more than just a great page turner.  The psychological aspects of the work ring true, and the style is fresh and engrossing.  “On the observation ramp above the airfield she could see the faces of people waiting to board a plane or to meet someone or simply waiting and watching, because if they couldn’t go anywhere themselves, the next best thing was to watch someone else going.  Under the glaring lights their faces appeared as similar as the rows of wax vegetables in the windows of the markets back home”.

I would recommend this for fans of well written crime, particularly to anyone who enjoys Patricia Highsmith or Raymond Chandler. Val McDermid finds Margaret Millar “stunningly original” in her review of Beast in View (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/01/books/review/women-crime-writers-eight-suspense-novels-of-the-1940s-and-1950s.html).

The Pushkin Vertigo stuff is always worth a go – I completely loved Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Suspicion (https://theriversideway.wordpress.com/2017/08/05/suspicion-by-friedrich-durrenmatt/) .  I hope they will publish more of Millar’s work on this showing.  I am ready to feed my new addiction.

Review by Bethan

January 28, 2019

Cassandra Darke by Posy Simmonds

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Jonathan Cape, £16.99, out now

Posy Simmonds Darke.jpgPosy Simmonds’ latest neatly combines arch Metropolitan satire with a slow-burn, snowballing thriller narrative (truly something for everyone…) – we know from the intriguing cover that elderly, miserly art dealer Cassandra Darke will come into contact with a pistol, and, presumably, some deadly goings-on – the question is, how? And it’s a particularly tantalising question given that we’re introduced to the character in a very relatable, rather domestic way, as she navigates the Christmastime hell of Oxford Street; but as always with these things, all is not well beneath the surface…

Over the course of Simmonds’ twisty tale we’re treated to a time-jumping narrative and a host of crooked characters, including Darke herself; who looks, thanks to the fantastic illustrations, like a kindly grandmother from a seaside postcard, but is thoroughly, undeniably unpleasant. Plausibly so, though; she feels completely real, at once bitter, entitled, self-made, domineering, intellectual, unapologetic, and regretful. A real cocktail, but far from loathing her, Simmonds’ expertly plays with our perceptions – I admired, pitied, feared, hated and supported her all at once, and so a human centre is artfully given to every stubborn, obstinate whirlwind of a person we’ve bumped up against in our lives. And as the plot thickens and the threat of violence looms, maybe it’s good to have a right bullish so-and-so on your side…

Like Raymond Briggs, and Orlando Weeks, whose The Gritterman we reviewed here, Simmonds’ cosy illustrations rub up intriguingly against the darker aspects of the narrative; and, in more poignant moments, add real emotional heft.

And there’s even some interesting interrogations of art in the mix – Darke frequently butts heads with her ex-husband’s stepdaughter and lodger, a budding conceptual artist, in sequences which reflect larger generational ideas about art and authenticity. Critiques of the value of high-falutin’ modern art in a world quite possibly going to hell in a handcart aren’t new, but the way Simmonds comes at it, by showing us her characters’ hypocrisies on a micro level, feels fresh and cutting without being judgemental. These characters struggle with how to be good, and make things of value, just like the rest of us.

Review by Tom

January 19, 2019

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Abacus, £8.99, out nowandrew sean greer less

This book made me laugh out loud while alone on the Tube, despite my best efforts (Londoners will know what a travel faux pas this is).  Several sections took me a while to get through, due to crying with laughter and being unable to see the text.

Arthur Less is a middle-aged American novelist who has just broken up with his longstanding younger boyfriend… the boyfriend whose wedding he has just been invited to.  Less decides he must leave the country immediately and embarks on a round of bizarre literary engagements all around the world, just so that he can avoid the wedding.  There is something very comforting about watching someone fail to cope with heartbreak in such an epic way.  Mishaps and encounters pop up for Less, but can he really outrun his old romance?

It’s not fluffy.  A sentence that lingered for me, out of context, was “We believe they burned their own city to the ground”.  It is, however, a kind novel.  This is rare for a funny book.

Praise quotes from Armistead Maupin, Ann Patchett and Karen Joy Fowler should be a sign of greatness, and they are all correct.  I want to read another book like this immediately, but I don’t think there is one.

Smart and relatable, Less is beautifully written and an easy quick read.  It has a good dog in it.  Oh, and it won the Pulitzer.  Heaven in a sky blue cover.

Review by Bethan

January 6, 2019

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Quercus, £12.99, out nowelly griffiths stranger diaries

A teacher is murdered in Shoreham-by-Sea in Sussex.  Her school has an historic connection with ghost story writer R M Holland.  As pupils and colleagues try to come to terms with her death, the story surrounding it unfolds with Gothic overtones.

Investigating is Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur, an excellent character with an acid tongue and a sharp mind.  On arriving at a witness’s home, she sees that the witness has been reading The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, and remembers that the murder victim had been “sitting in the dark with her herbal tea.  Someone really should tell these women about Netflix” (p. 138).  Her genial home life gives me the same cosy feeling I get reading this aspect of Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti crime stories (see https://theriversideway.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/earthly-remains-by-donna-leon/).  She is an old student of the comprehensive where the murder happened, and knows all the rumours and ghost stories which surround the school.  The story is told from the perspectives of Harbinder, Clare (a colleague of the victim), and Clare’s daughter Georgia, who is a pupil at the school.  Also woven in are sections of R M Holland’s ghost story.

It helped that the abandoned cement works and nearby strip of workers’ houses where some of the action takes place are familiar to me, as I used to go past them on the bus… and I had often thought that it was quite a creepy place.  But I’m pretty sure this personal experience isn’t necessary for others to enjoy the book!

This was a perfect holiday read for me.  I had never read any Elly Griffiths, but a friend bought me this standalone mystery novel for Christmas.  I devoured it in two days when I should have been doing other things.  I am now looking forward to reading her series set in Norfolk, which my friend says is just as good.  There are two good dogs in this book.

Review by Bethan

October 10, 2018

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love by Kathleen Collins

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Granta, £8.99, out nowKathleen Collins WHATEVER HAPPENED TO INTERRACIAL LOVE

Not published until 2016, decades after Collins’ death, these short stories are dazzling rediscoveries. Set during the civil rights era, they explore this radical time with equal parts joy and heartbreak. I love the way her writing describes fully realised characters and the emotional connection between them. In ‘The Happy Family’ the narrator describes a younger man from the titular family, “Andrew had such an incredible presence that even I was often intimidated by him. He was one of those people whom you almost do not assign an age. He had the ability to focus himself on a moment, bring all his presence to bear and so charge the air that you were a bit shaken.”(p.78) When this man falls in love with a family friend, the description of it is beautiful, “I would give anything to see them again, loose limbed and free, coming into the apartment and heating it with a glow, an intensity so strong it made you tingle…” p.78-9)

I agree with Zadie Smith about this collection, she said “To be this good and yet to be ignored is shameful, but her rediscovery is a great piece of luck, for us.” (http://kathleencollins.org/advance-reviews-for-interracial-love/)

 

Review by Cat

September 22, 2018

The Old Slave and the Mastiff by Patrick Chamoiseau

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Dialogue, £14.99, out now

Old Slave ChamoiseauPatrick Chamoiseau’s latest novel is a little masterpiece: perfectly-formed, mesmerising, thrilling, moving, eye-opening, distressing, poignant, the lot.

This is a deeply singular piece of work that takes a simple, if grim, narrative – the titular old slave, who has spent his life in bondage on a Caribbean plantation, flees it one day pursued by the plantation owner and his horrifying hound – and explodes it. The old man’s journey through the surrounding jungle towards possible freedom becomes a simultaneous freeing of his mind; what we’re experiencing, through Chamoiseau’s gobsmackingly poetic prose, is a kind of anti-brainwashing on the part of our hero, an awakening to the world, to the present, and to a past both personal and cultural which he has tamped down in order to survive the humiliation of his servitude.

The fact that a chase narrative of heart-pounding proportions runs perfectly in tandem shows Chamoiseau’s staggering mastery of his craft; they’re so perfectly intertwined that the old slave’s physical, spiritual and mental progress become one hypnotic, hallucinatory broth. He discovers as he runs scraps of his old language, is spellbound and shaken by newly-remembered Creole folk tales and the creatures which haunt them, and gradually rekindles the fires of a selfhood long discarded; all while fighting to stay one step ahead of a despicable slaver and fiction’s most malevolent dog.

The sum of this is a distinctly idiosyncratic addition to the canon of literature addressing slavery, one that lays bare on a micro level the psychological torment and cultural subjugation heaped on a slave while managing, incredibly, to be uplifting, at times joyful; the old man’s flight, and his mental and spiritual re-entry into the world, is powerfully moving. It’s hard to think of another character in recent fiction I’ve wanted to succeed more.

And speaking of characters – none of this would work if Chamoiseau’s protagonist didn’t resonate with the reader, but he, the plantation owner and even the dog feel carved out of stone, somehow managing to be both archetypes and intensely individual. For such a short, fast-paced novel these guys are brilliantly and vibrantly illuminated, meaning that even the undeniable villains of the piece become multidimensional.

And once again it’s translator extraordinaire Linda Coverdale behind the superlative translation, and whose note at the beginning in which she details the challenges of adapting Chamoiseau’s Creole and Creolized-French-peppered script is fascinating.

It’s a completely captivating book. Buy it, read it and read it again.

Review by Tom

September 9, 2018

Signed Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell book in now!

by Team Riverside

Kate Atkinson TRANSCRIPTIONWe have a few signed copies of their gorgeous new book Art Matters.

We have got some delicious new signed copies in… get them before they go:

Kate Atkinson – Transcription

Sebastian Faulks – Paris Echo

Tom Lee – The Alarming Palsy of James Orr

Patrick Gale – Take Nothing With You

Christie Watson – The Language of Kindness: a Nurse’s Story

August 27, 2018

Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Granta, £16.99, out now

Nick Drnaso Sabrina

This graphic novel has been making waves outside the comics scene, exemplified by its inclusion – gasp – in the Man Booker prize longlist this year, the first funny-picture-word-bubble book to be so.

And it’s easy to see why. This intelligent and affecting work has in its crosshairs a swathe of modern maladies, from the pervasiveness of fake news and conspiracy legitimacy to the prevalence of non-specific alienation and mental illness. Make no mistake, this is heavy – just listen to the plot: the titular Sabrina has, out of the blue, disappeared, and her quietly distraught boyfriend has moved in with an old school-buddy, the nominal centre of the story. He wants to help his friend, with whom he’d all but lost touch, but he’s got problems of his own – namely a failed marriage and a young daughter he never gets to see. And when new information about Sabrina’s situation emerges, his troubles are about to multiply in a distinctly 21st century way…

From this framework Drnaso constructs an unsettling, paranoid world, but it’s a very recognisable one, cleaving very close to our current reality. It’s a testament to his skills as a storyteller that every damning reference to modernity – from one character’s urge to another not to unplug his phone (which the latter is using for a pivotal phone-call) as he needs it charged for work, to a constant, inescapable onslaught of emails a protagonist must at one point suffer – feels natural and unforced. Awkward Skype calls, violent video games, online hate-campaigns, clickbait… they’re all peppered throughout without feeling like clutter. He hunts big game effortlessly while propelling a queasily gripping narrative, a world away from traditional missing-person procedurals but just as enthralling. Certain sequences really bring out the armpit-sweat.

But what of the graphic part of this graphic novel? Sabrina’s visuals are, frankly, bland, its characters simply depicted, androgynous snow-man shapes with dot eyes and thin lines for mouths; at times, they make Tintin look photorealist. When they experience strong emotion, there’s a haunting disconnect between their rudimentary features and their apparent anguish; but mostly each ambiguous countenance suits this sterile world of platitudinous conversation, missed signals and repression. Every backdrop is minimally, if accurately, drawn, bright colours are almost entirely absent, and somehow this banal milieu quickly becomes engrossing in its own way. Indeed, at key points in the narrative this unreadability on the part of the characters drives the tension wonderfully, as we cannot suss out their intentions or judge where they stand. Simply put, what at first might seem like an unexciting creative decision quickly reveals itself to be a brilliant and innovative use of the form.

All-in-all this is tough, smart, powerful stuff, form and content perfectly married to craft a cold world of unspoken pain and suffering. If it ticks your boxes, we’d also recommend Art Spiegelman’s superlative Maus, another amazing, devastating graphic novel which we happen to stock as well.

Review by Tom

July 28, 2018

Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

by Team Riverside

Jessica Love JULIAN IS A MERMAIDHardback, Walker Books, £11.99, out now

Julian is a small boy on the subway with his Nana… but he is also a mermaid.  After seeing three gorgeous women dressed up as mermaids on the journey, he tells Nana: “Nana, I am also a mermaid”.  Julian dresses himself up as a mermaid while Nana is in the bath.  He feels wonderful… but how will Nana react?

This is a stunningly illustrated picture book, with a joyous message at its heart.  The colour and life in the pictures make you want to look and look, from the kids playing in the water from the hydrant to the older ladies swimming in the pool.

If you want a book with a superb grandparent in, this would also do the job!  As with the best picture books, this is one for all humans, not only small children.  Read Julian is a Mermaid and feel part of the kindness and delight that it celebrates.

Review by Bethan

July 1, 2018

Going to the Volcano by Andy Stanton and Miguel Ordóñez

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Hodder Children’s Books, £12.99, out now

Stanton and Ordonez GOING TO THE VOLCANOThis book is extremely silly and a guaranteed good laugh for anyone aged about two and up.  Dwayne and Jane-o want to see the volcano… they’ll catch a plane-o and climb down a chain-o… their enthusiasm is not in doubt but what will happen when they get there?

Well, the bright and engaging pictures tell the epic story of how friends and followers join them on their quest, including Roger the incredible colour changing cat and Dr Eyjafjallajökull.  There are good in-jokes for adults as well as children, but they are not allowed to get in the way of a very funny story to read aloud.  Fans of Stanton’s Mr Gum series will recognise the humour.

I treated the character list at the end as a Where’s Wally style list of folks to go back and find in the pictures, giving the book a good spin for older children.  Also it was full of bonus jokes.  This book is a proper treat.

Review by Bethan

June 17, 2018

In her Prime

by Team Riverside

MurielSparkHere at Riverside we’re pleased to see that The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at the Donmar is getting good reviews – and particularly that its characterisation of the troublingly fascism-sympathetic Brodie cleaves to Spark’s original vision – because a few of us are massive fans of the late Scottish author (and total genius).

So it’s as good a time as any to say that we’ve got in a raft of her best works – some in absolutely gorgeous new editions from Polygon – from her complete short story collection to some deep cuts more than worthy of your time.

There’s early chiller The Ballad of Peckham Rye, in which a devilish stranger turns the titular district upside-down, showcasing Spark’s fully-formed blend of blitheness and villainy. It’s a twisting delight, shocking and beguiling, with the wicked purpose of a Grimm’s fairy tale.

Comic gem A Far Cry From Kensington is a blast, a coiled spring of absurd characters, mysterious goings on, blackmail and backstabbing, the upper-class ne’er-do-wells of Agatha Christie meeting the upper-class ne’er-do-wells of Oscar Wilde. The narrator Mrs Hawkins’ misadventures in publishing, as her honesty brings the ire of influential writer Hector Bartlett, are as nutty as her ruminations are sometimes thought-provoking.

Then there’s unsung masterwork Memento Mori, which we’ve got in a beautiful new Virago and a Polygon edition. It’s a piercingly funny, at times very moving examination of the ignominy of old age; and, it being Spark, it’s all wrapped in a delicious blend of mystery and deception. Easily as good as Ms Jean Brodie.

And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg – we’re carrying a multitude more, all of which prove that this brilliant novelist could go head-to-head with Highsmith when it comes to bleakness, Greene when it comes to conspiracy and Wodehouse when it comes to wit. Every story will stick in your mind long after you’ve finished it, and that’s a Riverside guarantee.

May 19, 2018

Sight by Jessie Greengrass

by Team Riverside

Hardback, JM Originals, £14.99, out now

jessie greengrass sight

Sight, Jessie Greengrass’s debut novel, weaves an unnamed narrator’s meditations on her decision to be a mother, her own mother’s early death and her relationship with her grandmother in with historical stories of discovery and progress.

Greengrass dissects these scientific studies for their emotional resonance. Of Wilhelm Roentgen’s discovery of X-Rays one of the things she is interested in is his disappointment, where “afterward nothing was different at all, and although he had seen through metal and seen through flesh to what was hidden…what had been left was only so much quibbling at the bill” (p.45). Other cases that get this thorough treatment are Freud’s study of a phobic five-year-old known as Little Hans, as well as his relationship in general with his daughter Anna, and John and William Hunter’s 18th century discoveries on pregnancy.

In deciding whether or not to have a baby (we know from the start that she will settle in the positive) the narrator reflects on what she would be giving up in order to become a mother. The novel also questions what parents must then lose again in order for their children to reach adulthood successfully.  On the narrator’s thoughts around her young daughter’s maturing past toddler-hood Greengrass’s insight is heart-breaking: “I know her less and less the more that she becomes herself. This is how things ought to be, her going away while I remain.” (p.2).

But what would be the alternative, we are asked, Anna Freud living in her father’s house with his analyst room still in the centre of it untouched – “a still unconsecrated monument” (p.125)?

All the stories interlink with the idea that someone has to lose something for society to seem to progress – parents have to lose the lives they had before in order to have children, and then lose the children again, women have to die painfully in labour so that surgeons can learn how to perform caesarean sections. Even the loss of mystery that seeing the interior of her hand brings is felt as death-like by Bertha Roentgen when her husband demonstrates his discovery (p.46).

Sight also quietly wonders who the people are who have to make these sacrifices. Do mothers lose more than fathers? “The child was, for Johannes, still largely hypothetical: his life so far remained predominantly unchanged and what I felt as a set of prohibitions and a physical incapacity… was for him hardly more than anticipation waiting for Christmas to come…” (p.159). Whose corpses rot in basements so that we can see what our origins look like, as the unnamed dead model for Jan van Rymsdyk’s engraving The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus did? The answer more often than not is women or, as in Freud’s case of Little Hans, children.

At linking these stories to form the overarching questions I found Greengrass’s novel to be smoothly expert and I’m not surprised it has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year.

Review by Cat

March 31, 2018

Alphonse, that is not OK to do! By Daisy Hirst

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Walker Books, £6.99, out nowDaisy Hirst ALPHONSE THAT IS NOT OK TO DO

“ONCE there was Natalie… and then there was Alphonse too.  Natalie mostly did not mind there being Alphonse.”   This is a great way to start a picture book about the relationship between a small sister and brother.

Through bright and cheerful illustrations, Hirst shows the ways in which Natalie and Alphonse usually get on.  But then Alphonse eats Natalie’s favourite book, on a day which has already been bad (“lunch was peas”).  Natalie is angry and upset, and Alphonse doesn’t know what to do.  The themes of being cross and hurt, not knowing how to make things better, and the difficulty and relief of making up are easy to relate to.  As an adult this is one of the reasons why I like the book very much, and also why I think it is great for children aged about 2 and up, especially if they have siblings.

I like that the family live in a flat with a 1980s style balcony – I feel like these types of homes are not shown very often in illustrated children’s books, so it feels like a real gift here.  Alphonse, that is not OK to do! features an excellent (if slightly alarmed) cat, and what I think is a cameo appearance by The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  What more could you ask for?

Review by Bethan

March 11, 2018

My Life as a Russian Novel by Emmanuel Carrère

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Vintage, £8.99, out now

Emmanuel Carrere My Life Russian Novel

Linda Coverdale’s superlative translations of the work of French powerhouse Emmanuel Carrère continue to delight us at Riverside – this latest sees the writer and filmmaker tell the story of a love affair, a family history and a possibly-doomed documentary in a “non-fiction novel” heavy on sex and introspection.

At the book’s beginning Carrère is ostensibly investigating the curious tale of a Hungarian soldier who, during World War 2, was imprisoned by the Russians, transferred to a psychiatric institution and somehow forgotten about, only being released in the noughties. A fascinating story; but also a feint, as we soon discover it’s not the anecdote itself that interests Carrère but its passing similarity to the life of his Nazi-collaborator grandfather, a similarly disturbed figure who was “disappeared” after the end of the occupation. It’s this buried history that hangs over the Carrères like a dark cloud, and one which this book sees him trying to purge in one way or another.

The unexpected lyricism that made his wonderful The Adversary so effective is well served here by a narrative that interrogates love, betrayal, and ennui, flitting effortlessly from travelogue to existential rumination, erotic fantasy to historical reportage. But what’s really interesting is that Carrère often doesn’t come across at all well; a slave to his neuroses and passions, irrational and impulsive, he embarks on a poorly thought-out film project in a Russian town in tandem with a poorly thought-out relationship with a woman whose non-bohemian existence he can’t help but feel ashamed of. In both cases, as apparently in all things, he seems driven not so much by constructive sentiments as demons from his past, and having an author bare all on the page in such a borderline masochistic way is both shocking and powerful.

Props must go once again to Coverdale also; as with the best translators, the continuity of the author’s voice across the works she has interpreted is evident – which is perhaps not easy when her subject is so mercurial – and her word choices paint a vibrant picture of a narrator who is at once urbane aesthete and helpless obsessive. In short, exactly the kind of person you want to read about.

Review by Tom

January 16, 2018

Under the Same Sky by Britta Teckentrup

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Caterpillar Books, £10.99, out now

Under the Same Sky is a beautiful hardback picture book, from the author of the striking book Moon.Britta Teckentrup UNDER THE SAME SKY

Teckentrup explores the idea of what we share, being here together on this planet, through a gentle rhyme ideal for reading aloud.  “We live under the same sky… in lands near and far.  We live under the same sky… wherever we are”.

Her ingenious use of paper cutting illuminates the text and the message perfectly.  There are likeable illustrations with a focus on the natural world, which will be appreciated by fans of Chris Haughton and Jon Klassen.

As ever with the best picture books, I have bought this one for children and adults. The dedication says it all – ‘For a united world’.

Review by Bethan

November 19, 2017

Autumn by Ali Smith

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Penguin Random House, £8.99, out now

 

AutumnMuch has been made of the fact that this is Ali Smith’s “Brexit novel”, which in some ways is to do it a disservice. Because if, like me, the term “Brexit novel” makes you shudder internally and want to reach for the new Lee Childs instead, you’d be missing out on a fascinating entry which manages to look at our newly-divided Britain with a fresh eye.

The plot concerns the curious relationship between Elisabeth Demand, a precariously-employed “casual contract junior lecturer” visiting the town in which she grew up, and Daniel Gluck, her centenarian former neighbour who now lies dying in a hospice. But this is just the springboard from which Smith leads us through a whirlwind of dreams and memories, in tandem with her always-enjoyable day-to-day interactions deftly delivered with the usual eye for eccentricity.

And all this is of course set very much in the present, against the backdrop of the country’s historic decision to leave the EU. Working as she is in a medium where we’re used to clever allusions, parodies, fables and metaphors instead of approaching things head-on, there’s something almost illicitly exciting in the way she occasionally allows her asides about Brexit to be so on-the-nose, never shying away from directly addressing the matter at hand. This feels every inch a book written in the direct aftermath of the referendum, simultaneously angry, confused, ruminative, wounded and playful – which must be a very hard concoction to pull off as successfully as it is here.

At times it feels like Smith is examining this disorienting time in the same way that Gunter Grass so brilliantly tackled the incremental rise of Nazi Germany in The Tin Drum; by focusing alternately on scenes of domesticity, surreality and hard, painful truth.

And as in many of Smith’s novels, it’s somehow dreamlike yet relatable, like a glimpse inside a brain at once the same and totally different to your own. Written in the distinctly idiosyncratic prose – peppered with elastic quips, digressions through language and the occasional startling image – which has won her such a loyal fan-base, it’s no surprise that such a talented writer, wrestling with so seismic a period in our history, has turned out a piece of work as singular as this. Get it down you.

Review by Tom

November 13, 2017

The Alarming Palsy of James Orr by Tom Lee

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Granta, £12.99, out now

Alarming PalsyAnother week, another deeply unsettling novella. Tom Lee’s dream-like tale of suburban living gone awry would make a good companion piece to Matthew Weiner’s Heather, the Totality; but where that short novel felt very American in its evocation of a divided, gentrified New York, Lee’s is distinctly, queasily English, exploiting the tensions behind middle-class social mores.

Unremarkable family man James Orr wakes up one morning to discover he has contracted Bell’s Palsy, which has caused the left side of his face to droop unresponsively. In the hands of Lee, dealing with this plausible (if unlikely) malady becomes a Kafkaesque nightmare, as Orr – like the haplessly metamorphosed Gregor Samsa – tries his best to navigate his life and responsibilities in a world where he has been indelibly transformed.

Suddenly unable to work at his client-facing company, he is forced to confront the grim reality of days unmoored from any sort of routine. Meanwhile his unblemished cul-de-sac community of identical homes is under siege, as youths are using its quiet streets for sexual encounters in their cars. As head of the neighbourhood residents’ committee, James may have to do something – but his predicament is a doubly unfortunate one, as he finds that his face is sufficiently disabled that he often can’t speak or make himself understood.

Tough stuff for anyone to deal with; but like in any bad dream, an inexplicable edge begins to creep into our hero’s behaviour. As his visage is obscured so too are the motives behind his actions, and the unpredictability of the narrative as he becomes increasingly erratic makes for compelling reading.

This is a novel which utilizes its idyllic setting perfectly in a way that recalls Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby or The Stepford Wives, and the slow and innocuous way that an atmosphere of dread is built is remarkable.  A quick, punchy read that stays with you long after the final page.

Review by Tom

October 15, 2017

Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Sort Of Books, £10.99, out nowTove Jansson MOOMINLAND MIDWINTER

One of the best book things ever has just happened to me.  I discovered that the Moomin prose books are not the same stories as the Moomin comic strips.  This means that there is a whole world of unknown Moomin that I can explore, and I can do it through the beautiful new hardback editions of four of the prose books just issued by Sort Of Books.  This is the reader equivalent of buried treasure.

Moomintroll wakes up from his winter hibernation early, and is surrounded by his sleeping family.  Feeling lonely, but also adventurous, he heads out to see what the winter world is like, and who he can find there.  He makes new friends, and their insights are valuable: after Moomintroll and Too-ticky see the Northern Lights, Too-ticky notes, “I’m thinking about the aurora borealis.  You can’t tell if it really does exist or if it just looks like existing.  All things are so very uncertain, and that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured”.  The gorgeous illustrations and fold out map (complete with Lonely Mountains and Grotto) complete the magic.

A long time fan of Jansson’s Summer Book, a novel for adults, I have found similar themes of kindness and adventure in her Moomin books (see Ali Smith on The Summer Book here – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/jul/12/fiction.alismith).  I agree absolutely with Philip Pullman when he writes: “Tove Jansson was a genius of a very subtle kind.  These simple stories resonate with profound and complex emotions that are like nothing else in literature for children or adults”.  I can vouch for the joy of reading them for the first time as an adult.  These are books for every human.  In case the books are not enough, I can also head to Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Tove Jansson exhibition (http://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/2017/october/tove-jansson/).

There should be a word for the rare feeling that you get when reading a book that is new to you, but which you realise will be a favourite for the rest of your life.  There isn’t one that I can think of, but this book would have occasioned it.

Review by Bethan

September 11, 2017

Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Portobello Books, £9.99, out now     Andres Barba SUCH SMALL HANDS

Marina’s parents have been killed in an accident, a trauma that she conceptualises through the sounds of the words used to break the news to her; “Your father died instantly and your mother died just now.”, as well as the smooth white lines of the car seat that she was looking at before the vehicle the family were in is fatally flipped over. The beauty of Barba’s novella, translated from Spanish by Lisa Dillman, is in these details, small horrors described in sentences that are allowed to luxuriate in the visceral heat of childhood, for instance when Marina wets herself after learning she will be sent to an orphanage, “She felt the hot, acidic urine run down her legs to her shoes and she felt the shame, which was also hot: a dark, robust, inescapable mass.”

When she gets to the orphanage accompanied by her doll, also Marina, we are introduced to the rest of the girls who live there. These children who Marina can’t distinguish between, are heard from in unison, Greek chorus style. To them Marina’s arrival is a disruption of their shared sense of self and through her they are shocked into the realisation that they are individuals. Their proceeding obsession with her is disturbing in its violence and sexuality.

The full and descriptive sentences in Such Small Hands are really the best thing about it, and they are particularly moving at the beginning, so much so that when I’d finished it, which I did quickly -it’s a short book, I went back and read the opening part again.  A good one if you like books that describe the dark side of childhood or confusing experiences being richly explored through language.

Review by Cat

 

September 7, 2017

The Gritterman by Orlando Weeks

by Team Riverside

Signed Hardback, Particular Books, £17.99, out now

Gritterman coverFormer Maccabees frontman Orlando Weeks has taken a surprising career-turn into bittersweet picture-books with The Gritterman, a beautifully illustrated and touching tale about a local gritter’s last night on duty.

Our unnamed hero takes us through his life and times in prose written with an understated, colloquial charm, discussing his work (ice cream man on summer days, gritterman on winter nights), late wife and private ruminations. His beloved night-time role consigned to the scrapheap by global warming and a terse letter from the council, he’s a man whose quiet profession – and way of life – is being extinguished by the relentless march of modernity.

Just as his faithful van putters along on its final mission, so he, an elderly man quite alone in the world, moves towards his ultimate destination. But while elegiac, The Gritterman is not depressing, instead finding a sweet triumphalism in a sad situation. As our narrator says; “Being alone and loneliness aren’t the same thing”.

All of this is paired with wonderful drawings by Weeks; and if lovely hand-drawn illustrations, sad scenarios and wintry landscapes are putting you in mind of Raymond Briggs, you wouldn’t be far wrong. Weeks’ melancholic, low-key style and domestic focus feel like a continuation of the kind of themes Briggs famously explored in works like The Snowman and Father Christmas, while his scratchy coloured pencil illustrations marked by subdued blues and flashes of colour recall The Snowman in particular.

But unlike Briggs’ work, this isn’t a comic, instead making use of the ample white space that a novel’s form allows to suggest isolation, and thick blankets of snow. And Weeks’ style is ultimately looser. The gritterman is rendered an incomplete ghost, fading fast; his world a foggy, unfocused one perpetually obscured by inclement weather.

It’s the little details in this book that make it shine, from the “dink on [his van’s] left wheel arch that’s the same shape as Scotland” to the turkey chow mein dinner our protagonist painstakingly prepares, a chunk of which he later removes from his molar with the corner of a Christmas card. Between them and the pictures you could pore over for hours, it’s the reading equivalent of what’s known as chrysalism; the intangible satisfaction of being snuggled up in bed while listening to a raging storm outside.

Review by Tom

 

 

September 5, 2017

Bestsellers in July and August

by Team Riverside

Excellent fiction, a good dose of feminism and fun children’s books make up our top 20 Jennifer Bell THE SMOKING HOURGLASS.pngfrom the last two months.  In reverse order:

Jennifer Bell – The Smoking Hourglass

Jennifer Bell – The Crooked Sixpence

Noam Chomsky – Optimism over Despair

J K Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Emma Cline – The Girls

Matt Haig – How to Stop Time

Elizabeth Strout – My Name is Lucy Barton

Sam Bourne – To Kill the President

Paul Beatty – The Sellout

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – We should all be Feminists

Haruki Murakami – Desire (Vintage Minis)

Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale

David Szalay – All that Man Is

Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens

Deborah Levy – Hot Milk

Lisa Owens – Not Working

Zadie Smith – Swing Time

Colson Whitehead – The Underground Railroad

Naomi Alderman – The Power

… and at number one, we are proud to announce:

Peppa goes to London!

We predict that this month several new things will fly off the shelves – including Maggie O’Farrell’s memoir I am, I am, I am and John le Carré’s A Legacy of Spies.