Archive for ‘Fiction’

November 3, 2020

An update from us 03/11/2020

by Team Riverside

Dear loyal customers of Riverside Bookshop,

unfortunately, in line with government guidelines, we will be closed from Thursday the 5th of November until further notice. If you wish to order from us in the meantime we can be found via our profile on bookshop.org here: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/theriversidebookshop

Thank you for your continued support during this difficult time and we hope to be back with you soon!

Love from,

The Team at Riverside Bookshop

November 2, 2020

Snow by John Banville

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Faber and Faber, £14.99, out now

cover of Snow by John Banville

Snow is an engrossing noirish mystery from the author of Blue Guitar and The Untouchable.  It’s 1957 in County Wexford, and a priest is found dead and castrated in a snowbound country manor.  Inspector Strafford, called to investigate, suspects a cover up may be in progress.  He’s a Protestant from the upper classes of society, and class and religion affect everything that happens in this story.  He is an appropriately lonely outsider, driven to get to the truth and wondering what he will do with it when he finds it.

Banville usually writes crime or mystery novels under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, including the superb Quirke mystery series.  Snow is a must read for Quirke fans as some of those characters appear here. The sharp wit we expect from Banville/Black is evident here.  “It had snowed continuously for two days, and this morning everything appeared to stand in hushed amazement before the spectacle of such expanses of unbroken whiteness on all sides.  People said it was unheard of, that they had never known weather like it, that it was the worst winter in living memory.  But they said that every year when it snowed, and also in years when it didn’t snow.” (p. 3)

There are several knowing nods to other crime fiction – Snow opens with a body in a library, for starters.  But while it’s a proper mystery, this is not cosy crime.  There is corruption, and hypocrisy, and Banville skewers these where he finds them.  He is not afraid of tackling difficult themes.  Isolation is not picturesque here, but it can be witty: “He had seen a robin yesterday, too, somewhere.  It was the time of year for them.  Christmas.  Yule logs.  Holly wreaths.  Loneliness.” (p. 172).

Get this for a mystery-loving friend for Christmas, and read it sneakily yourself before wrapping it.  Enjoy the atmospheric twilit cover while you’re at it.

Review by Bethan

October 24, 2020

Bestsellers This Week

by Team Riverside

Our bestsellers this week:

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osmon

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda

October 20, 2020

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata, trans. Ginny Tapeley Takemori

by Team Riverside

Granta, Hardback Fiction, £12.99, out now

A genre-defying novel from the bestselling author of Convenience Store Woman, newly translated into English. Natsuki has spent her whole life not fitting in, failing to live up to the expectations of her family. She confides in her mysterious cousin Yuu and her toy hedgehog, Piyuut, who she believes is an emissary sent by the Magic Police on Planet Popinpobopia. But a tragic event during a family vacation in the wild Nagano Mountains sets Natsuki on a path of alienation, with catastrophic consequences.

Murata’s second novel in English deals with some of the same themes as her first, but while Convenience Store Woman asks how to rebel against familial and domestic structures, Earthlings asks if these structures are necessary at all. The events of the novel are shocking and unpredictable. The structure resembles that of a horror film, Natsuki’s traumatic experiences with a neglectful mother and an abusive teacher drive her deeper and deeper into a fantasy world where she is waiting to be collected by aliens from her home planet. She attempts to escape her family through a loveless marriage, but not even this can save her from their controlling influence. Her behaviour becomes erratic, even sadistic, and culminates in a bloody conclusion, involving her cousin, her husband and a return to the mountains.

Whilst I thought this was a steep departure from Convenience Store Woman, which I thoroughly enjoyed, this second novel in English confirms that Murata is a fantastically exciting writer and I can’t wait to read what she writes next.

Review by Phoebe

September 19, 2020

Bestsellers this week

by Team Riverside

Our bestsellers this week:

board showing bestsellers

Reni Eddo-Lodge – Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People About Race

Delia Owens – Where the Crawdads Sing

Phoebe Stuckes – Platinum Blonde

Zadie Smith – Intimations

Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

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September 10, 2020

Death In Her Hands, Ottessa Moshfegh

by Team Riverside

Jonathon Cape Vintage, Paperback, Fiction, £14.99, out now

Vesta Gull lives by herself, dependent on her dog Charlie for company, she feels alienated from the people in local town, she is seemingly destined to spend the rest of her life alone, until she discovers a threatening note in the woods and her world is transformed. ‘Her name was Magda, nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.’

Moshfegh’s other novels such as My Year of Rest and Relaxation seem to be inspired by writers such as Bret Easton Ellis, but Death In Her Hands is an altogether different adventure, a mystery in the mode of Shirley Jackson. In this case the ghosts vividly inhabit Vesta’s imagination, she is haunted by the voice of her controlling late husband and by the dead body of the girl she believes is lying in the woods. The people she imagines, such as ‘Blake’ the author, she thinks, of the note are often as real as the townspeople she encounters, creating an unsettlingly fragile boundary between real events and Vesta’s imagination.

As a fan of Moshfegh’s writing I found this to be an interesting foray into the mystery genre, Moshfegh twists the reader’s expectations all the way up to the novel’s horrifying and brilliant conclusion.

Review by Phoebe

September 8, 2020

New from Luan Goldie

by Team Riverside

We’re very happy to have Luan Goldie’s new book Homecoming in stock – and thanks to Luan for dropping by to sign the paperback of her Nightingale Point!

September 5, 2020

Bestsellers on the Board

by Team Riverside

This week’s bestsellers…

Sophie Ward – Love and Other Thought Experiments

Oyinkan Braithwate – My Sister the Serial Killer

Elena Ferrante – The Lying Life of Adults

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

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September 2, 2020

Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh

by Team Riverside

Hamish Hamilton, Hardback Fiction, £12.99, out now

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An unsettling new vision from the author of The Water Cure. On the day every woman gets their first period they are assigned either a blue or a white ticket, the first signalling that they will not have children, the second indicating that they must. Calla is given a blue ticket, but later in her life she develops an intense, forbidden longing for a child. When she acts on this urge she is thrown into conflict with a mysterious and threatening regime that pushes her onto a journey into exile.

Blue Ticket takes its place in the pantheon of feminist dystopian novels, the women are central to the narrative, their dissent is not just prohibited, it is dangerous. Mackintosh deftly explores the boundaries between natural urges and the systems that constrain them. Although Mackintosh’s prose is heavy with description and poetry, I could see and touch all that she described, Blue Ticket is also surprisingly fast-paced. I found myself holding my breath towards the end, waiting to discover Calla’s fate.

Whilst the questions of the book are weighty, Mackintosh avoids addressing these to the reader directly, Blue Ticket is above all an intensely poetic exploration of freedom, choice and desire.

Review by Phoebe

August 29, 2020

Bestsellers on the Board

by Team Riverside

Our bestsellers this week…bestsellers 200829 for blog.jpg

Zadie Smith – Intimations

Lauren Wilkinson – American Spy

Kiley Reid – Such a Fun Age

Matt Haig – The Midnight Library

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

August 26, 2020

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner

by Team Riverside

Ben Lerner TOPEKA SCHOOLHardback, Granta, £16.99, out now

Poet, author and essayist Ben Lerner’s latest novel, soon to be out in paperback, is as absorbing, dryly humourous and intellectually incisive as ever.

Lerner’s work is often described as autofictional, and in this instance the coming-of-age story of Adam Gordon, a gifted high-school student in Topeka Kansas during the ‘90s (like Lerner) and budding poet (like Lerner) whose parents are psychologists (like Lerner’s) seems to hew close to his lived experience. As in his excellent previous novels, Leaving the Atocha Station and 10:04, his general approach involves laying a forensic bedrock of reality, from the references to and even cameos by historical figures like Bob Dole, Paul Manaforte, Fred Phelps and Tupac to discussions of real works of art and films, institutions and global events. In this recognisably concrete world, Adam’s encounters with his violent “bro” friends, figures of the nascent alt-right movement, Westboro Baptist Church and developing field of psychology are weighted with the reality of an anthropological study, or longform reportage.

Disquietingly convincing, too, are his investigations into the persuasive power of words. The journeys of he and his parents enfold psychoanalysis, poetry, rap, political debate and constant internecine argument, and the weaponising of rhetoric – the verbal deftness of the point made often trumping the veracity of what’s said, in a queasy presaging of modern political discourse – tends to be the order of the day. In this way, young Adam Gordon’s micro-level experiences reflect the coming world of alternative facts and virulent division towards which he, and his country, are being pulled.

Which is all interesting and vital enough, but Lerner adds to this an occasional grain of the surreal which harks straight back to his poetic beginnings. There are slippages between time periods and points of view, and visual motifs – paintings, hospital rooms – that return at odd, flashing moments, as if the novel is beset by glitches. This feels like a very modern form of surrealism, less dreamlike flight of fancy than the kind of punch-drunk informational overload brought on by a heavy internet binge. In this way, the abstract and concrete sit comfortably and beguilingly together, in a work which is just as adept at communicating bursts of feeling as it is at adroitly analysing. Essential modern reading.

Review by Tom

August 19, 2020

Weather by Jenny Offill

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Granta, £12.99, out nowJenny Offill WEATHER.jpg

How does a person who cares (possibly too much) for others respond to their woes, and to the all-time-great woe of the climate emergency?  Serious subjects are addressed with joy and great style in this funny and kind short novel from the author of The Department of Speculation.

Lizzie lives in New York with her husband and son.  But this is regular Brooklyn, not glitzy, and her snapshots of ordinary life are a treat. She chats to Mohan, who’s working at the bodega.  “I admire his new cat, but he tells me it just wandered in.  He will keep it though because his wife no longer loves him”.

She’s a librarian with an academic background, and her old tutor (now hosting a podcast on climate change) hires her to answer podcast correspondence.  The listeners’ emails are revealingly fraught or apocalyptic.  A podcast guest “…signs off with a small borrowed witticism.  ‘Many of us subscribe to the same sentiment as our colleague Sherwood Rowland.  He remarked to his wife one night after coming home: “The work is going well, but it looks like it might be the end of the world.””

The perils of taking too much responsibility for others are teased out: Lizzie ends up taking a car service (taxi) she can’t really afford too often, as the driver’s business is failing and she doesn’t want him to suffer.  How she eventually ends this entanglement is striking.

Offill has spoken candidly about trying to address a huge issue in a short novel.  Being in relative denial about the impacts of the climate emergency is a fact of everyday life, so as a reader it’s interesting to watch Lizzie move away from ignoring it and towards acceptance of the situation.  I agree with the Guardian interviewer who concluded: “At its core, the story asks: what happens after we start to pay attention?”.  (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/feb/08/jenny-offill-interview – it was this interview that made me want to read the book, and also prompted me to finally read Stan Cohen’s States of Denial).

Enjoyable and relatable, but also very serious and relevant.  A great short read with wisdom and heart.

Review by Bethan

August 5, 2020

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Macmillan, £14.99, out nowEmily St John Mandel THE GLASS HOTEL.jpg

If you like your novels to take you to a series of elsewheres, and give you characters to get obsessed with, The Glass Hotel may be your perfect book.

It moves through striking settings: skyscraper Manhattan, a deluxe glass hotel in the Canadian wilderness, and a ship that the young and beautiful woman Vincent falls from as the novel opens.  But who is Vincent, and why does she disappear?  And why has someone etched in acid on the hotel lobby window “why don’t you swallow broken glass”?

Mandel has said that she wanted to write about the collapse of a too good to be true investment scheme, and those affected by it (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/apr/04/emily-st-john-mandel-i-admire-novelists-who-are-pushing-the-form-forward-in-some-some).  But the book is about our ability to delude ourselves more generally, to be able to carry on living with some level of knowledge of what is going on, but to be in denial about the true meaning of our actions until everything collapses.  I had read Stan Cohen’s classic States of Denial just before reading this, and his themes of knowing and not knowing at the same time were echoed over and over in The Glass Hotel.

The Glass Hotel reflects the very different worlds an individual can occupy and move between.  From poverty to wealth, abundance to ruin, work to permanent leisure.  Vincent comments on the similarity between wealthy urban areas around the world after visiting Singapore and London, noting that they are a culture or nation of their own – “the kingdom of money”.  One character, a former businessman, notices the world of shadows – people living in the margins compared to his more mainstream life.  He sees people in Las Vegas holding up signs advertising ‘girls to your room in 20 mins’ (p.247).  “He’d seen the shadow country, its outskirts and signs, he’d just never thought he’d have anything to do with it”.

It is also about how the people from your past might come back to haunt you, literally or figuratively.

The possibility of finding joy in difficult situations, and the value of resilience, recurs.  Vincent’s brother Paul, meeting her after some time apart, notes: “He studied Vincent closely for signs of trouble, but she seemed like a reserved, put-together person, someone who’d conducted herself carefully and avoided the land mines.  How did she get to be like that, and Paul like this?”.

I fell into this novel and didn’t want to stop till I’d finished.

Review by Bethan

July 25, 2020

The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Bitter Lemon Press, £8.99, out now

This might be the best mysterRiku Onda THE AOSAWA MURDERS.jpgy I’ve ever read.  I immediately reread it and liked it even better second time around.

A prominent local family host a party at their smart villa in a seaside town in 1970s Japan.  Seventeen people are poisoned and only one member of the family survives: teenage Hisako, a blind girl.  Hisako claims that all she can remember is a blue room, and a flower.

Convinced that she is guilty of murder, a local police inspector tries for years to prove it.  But an easier suspect takes his own life, and people start to move on.  A gathering together of multiple forms of testimony helps to find an answer at last.

The Aosawa Murders is made up of witness accounts, stories and other ‘found’ testimony.  You read along, almost as an investigator yourself, and the process is extraordinarily engrossing.  It reminded me of the things I liked best about Graham Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project, but ultimately it’s not really like anything else (https://riversidebookshop.co.uk/2016/09/07/his-bloody-project-by-graeme-macrae-burnet/).

Riku Onda’s writing is beautiful and the translation seamless.  The setting is so vivid it becomes a character in itself: “But the ocean here isn’t refreshing at all.  Gazing at it doesn’t give you any sense of freedom or relief.  And the horizon is always close, as if waiting for an opportunity to force its way onto land.  It feels like you’re being watched, and if you dare look away for just a moment the sea might descend upon you.” (p. 14)

The need to reread immediately is a reflection of the intricate and satisfying plot.  I suspected I could make more connections by having a second pass of the evidence, and I did.

The book literally gave me chills.  There were a couple of moments where I gasped aloud.  It’s both understated and electrifying and I’m still not sure how the author achieves this.  The Aosawa Murders has opened up a whole world of Japanese crime writing for me.  I went straight on to read The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada.  I will never forget The Aosawa Murders.

Review by Bethan

July 21, 2020

Re-opening bestsellers

by Team Riverside

bestsellers 210720.jpg.jpegOur bestselling books, from 7 July to today 21 July:

1. Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo

2. Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People about Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge

3. My Name is Why – Lemn Sissay

4. Three Women – Lisa Taddeo

5. Talking to Strangers – Malcolm Gladwell

6. Utopia Avenue – David Mitchell

7. Black and British – David Olusoga

8. Machines Like Me – Ian McEwan

9. Normal People – Sally Rooney

10. City of Girls – Elizabeth Gilbert

11. Humankind: a Hopeful History – Rutger Bregman

12. Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams

13. Too Much and Never Enough – Mary L. Trump

14. Swimming in the Dark – Tomasz Jedrowski

15. Mouth Full of Blood – Toni Morrison

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July 19, 2020

Meesha Makes Friends by Tom Percival

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Bloomsbury, £6.99, out nowTom Perceval MEESHA MAKES FRIENDS

Meesha has a loving family and a joyful and creative spirit, but she finds it hard to make friends.  This latest picture book in Tom Percival’s Big Bright Feelings series deals with this common experience sensitively and with helpful practical suggestions.

Appropriate for infants and up, the gorgeous illustrations show how the world can be a little monochrome when we feel alone.  Meesha makes her own toy friends out of bits and pieces, but finds that while they are very compliant, they are not much fun to play catch with!

The feelings of being alone in a crowd, and of lacking the skills to get involved with what other children are enjoying, are explored in an accessible way than many (including adults) will be able to relate to.

When someone takes a risk to come and talk to Meesha, will she be able to take a chance and involve him in her games?  The author gives us handy hints: “… if you ever see someone who looks a little bit ‘on-their-own’, try to include them.  Ask them what they like to do.  You never know, it might be something that YOU love to do as well, and you might just have met your new best friend!”

A kind and useful book.  If you like this, I also recommend Ruby’s Worry, an excellent book by the same author about getting help when the worry monster visits.

Review by Bethan

February 18, 2020

Actress by Anne Enright

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Jonathan Cape, £16.99, out 20 February Anne Enright ACTRESS

Katherine O’Dell is an actress, and her daughter Norah tells her story.  From the Irish theatre of the 1940s to London’s West End and the early days of Hollywood, famous Katherine’s life is exciting and often turbulent.  But no-one could predict that she would shoot someone.  Why did this happen?

Norah notes: “I was twenty-eight and the time of the assault.  I struggled on for the next year or more, but there came a day when I could not make it in to work.  I was writing a book, I said.  And then that became true.  I wrote, not one, but many books.  But I never wrote the one I needed to write, the one that was shouting out to be written, the story of my mother and Boyd O’Neill’s wound”.

From the Booker winning author of The Gathering and The Green Road, all of the things Anne Enright is known for are present here.  There is family drama, mothers and daughters, snappy lines and a story that seizes you and doesn’t let you go.

Norah begins to feel able to tell her mother’s story after Katherine’s death, prompted in part by irritation with how the story is being co-opted by others.  But how can she get to the truth?  Can she tell her own story too?

My colleague read this first, and rightly said this was a must-read for fans of fiction about theatre.  The dry wit reminded me of another all-time great theatre book, Penelope Fitzgerald’s At Freddie’s.

Review by Bethan

February 17, 2020

Ben Aaronovitch signed copies!

by Team Riverside

We were delighted to welcome Ben Ben Aaronovitch 200217Aaronovitch to Riverside to sign copies of his new book, False Value.  Come and get them while they’re hot…

Ben generously signed copies of his back catalogue too, so fans can upgrade their collection.

February 12, 2020

We Love You, Mr Panda by Steve Antony

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Hodder Children’s Books, £6.99, out nowSteve Antony WE LOVE YOU MR PANDA

The legendary Mr Panda returns.

As ever he is long on kindness and manners, and short on rudeness and entitled behaviour.

This time he is offering free hugs (after checking first with each potential recipient).  He is all ready to hug a smelly skunk and a potentially bitey crocodile.  But everyone would seem to prefer to hug someone else.  It is a difficult moment when you realise that perhaps no-one wants to hug you.  But maybe someone will offer Mr Panda a hug instead?

Engaging bright pictures and a relatable character make this a great addition to a winning series.  This perfect Valentine’s gift is guaranteed to raise a smile.

Review by Bethan

February 2, 2020

January Bestsellers

by Team Riverside

1. Nora Ephron – I Feel Bad About My NeckNora Ephron I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK

2. Greta Thunberg – No-one is Too Small to Make a Difference

3. Josh Cohen – Not Working

4. Charlie Mackesy – The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

5. David Wallace-Wells – The Uninhabitable Earth

6. Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

6 = Emily Maitlis – Airhead

8. Bridget Collins – The Binding

8 = Livia Franchini – Shelf Life

8 = Tayari Jones – An American Marriage

8 = Oyinkan Braithwaite – My Sister, the Serial Killer

12. Lucy Foley – The Hunting Party

13. Nathan Filer – This Book will Change Your Mind About Mental Health

13 = Deborah Orr – Motherwell

13 = David Nott – War Doctor

13 = Laura Shepherd-Robinson – Blood and Sugar

13 = Kiley Reid – Such a Fun Age

13 = Taylor Jenkins Reid – Daisy Jones and the Six

19. Malcolm Gladwell – Talking to Strangers

19 = ed. Alain de Botton – The School of Life

19 = Sally Rooney – Conversations with Friends

19 = Jeanine Cummins – American Dirt

19 = Richard Powers – The Overstory

24. Stephane Garnier – How to Live Like Your Cat

24 = Elizabeth Strout – Olive, Again

24 = Sara Collins – The Confessions of Frannie Langton

24 = Andrew Sean Greer – Less

24 = Okechukwu Nzelu – The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney

24 = Candice Carty-Williams – Queenie

24 = Ian McEwan – The Cockroach

24 = Shoshana Zuboff – The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

24 = Lemn Sissay – My Name is Why

24 = Carmen Maria Machado – In the Dream House

24 = Various – Dog Poems

24 = Esi Edugyan – Washington Black

24 = Lillian Li – Number One Chinese Restaurant

January 5, 2020

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Fleet, £16.99, out nowColson Whitehead THE NICKEL BOYS

This is a completely gripping novel based on the horrific true-life events at the Arthur G Dozier School for Boys, in Florida.  Elwood has just started to be involved in the civil rights protests sweeping the US in the 1960s, but can he use what he has learnt to survive in the notorious Nickel Academy?

Elwood is inspired to join the civil rights movement after listening to a Martin Luther King record bought by his grandmother.  He tries to stick to everyone’s rules, but events overtake him and he ends up in a reform school.  Torture and death are rumoured for some of the boys at Nickel Academy.  How can you survive, or keep your soul alive, where there appears to be no rescue on the horizon?  Can you do both of these things at the same time?

I read this short novel in a single sitting, knowing that I would not be able to think properly about anything else until I had finished it.  The characters felt so real, I had to know what happened to them.  Knowing that it was based on real events, I was concerned that the novel should do justice to the horrors uncovered (see https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/apr/22/a-type-of-justice-florida-reform-school-yields-evidence-of-more-graves, and https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/20/colson-whitehead-reality-is-kids-shot-by-racist-cops for Whitehead’s own views on his novel).  It absolutely does.

The Nickel Boys speaks to current debates around historical abuse, institutional racism, and how we deal with the shadows of the long past.  It engages with questions of whose voices are listened to and whose are not: why did it take so long for the authorities to listen to survivors?

Review by Bethan

December 3, 2019

New signed copies in!

by Team Riverside

Toni Adeyemi – Children of Virtue and VengeanceTomi Adeyemi CHILDREN OF VIRTUE AND VENGEANCE

Alain de Botton (editor) – School of Life

John le Carré – Agent Running in the Field

Jung Chang – Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister

Richard Dawkins – Outgrowing God

Carol Ann Duffy – Frost Fair

Emily Gravett – Meerkat Christmas

Frances Hardinge – Deeplight

Simon Jenkins – A Short History of London

Jay Rayner – My Last Supper

Lemn Sissay – My Name is Why

Nigel Slater – Greenfeast: Autumn, Winter

Zadie Smith – Grand Union

Rick Stein – Rick Stein’s Secret France

 

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.