Archive for ‘Fiction’

July 5, 2016

Hot Milk, by Deborah Levy

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Hamish Hamilton, £12.99, out nowDeborah Levy HOT MILK

The mother made me want to scream.  Out loud.  “She will wake up and shout, ‘Get me water, Sofia,’ and I will get her water and it will always be the wrong sort of water.”  Brilliantly effective and funny, this is a sharp and speedy summer read.

Sofia has brought her mother Rose to an exclusive private clinic on the Spanish coast.  This clinic may nor may not be run by a quack.  They can’t afford the fees and Rose’s symptoms change all the time.  Sofia is a former anthropology PhD student who has been working as a barista in London, and her idiosyncratic observations on her situation give the book its bite.  It’s not clear what, if anything, is physically wrong with Rose, but her power over her daughter is unmistakable.

Under the hot sun, on the rocky shore and in the jellyfish infested sea, things start to change.  This is a strangely memorable novel, which left me thinking about memory, identity, and control.  It also has a notable dog in it.

Review by Bethan

June 29, 2016

The Gustav Sonata, by Rose Tremain

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Chatto and Windus, £16.99, out nowRose Tremain THE GUSTAV SONATA

Gustav lives with his widowed mother in Switzerland, just after the Second World War.  A young boy, he is raised by his mother to value Switzerland’s neutrality, and told to master his own emotions.  Gustav forms an intense friendship with a new arrival at his school, a Jewish boy called Anton, who is set to be a piano prodigy but is plagued by performance nerves.  The Gustav Sonata charts their lifelong friendship, showing the complexity and importance of such relationships in a way that reminded me of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet.  Gustav’s father was a Swiss policeman – but how did he die, and does it have any connection with his mother’s strong dislike of Anton and his Jewish background?

But neutrality and mastery may not get you the intimacy you crave.  To be connected with life and other people, you might need to take risks.  And isolation is not a neutral state.

I am a Tremain fan, especially of her outstanding novel Sacred Country, a great story about a trans person.  But you don’t have to be a fan of hers to enjoy The Gustav Sonata, as it’s a very readable and thoughtful historical novel.  In her exploration of the gaps in what people kept silent about after the Second World War, she evokes some of W G Sebald’s concerns.  But the theme of friendship remains the primary concern, and she does justice to the epigraph she has chosen from Montaigne: “If anyone should importune me to give a reason why I loved him, I feel it could not otherwise be expressed than by making the answer, ‘Because it was he, because it was I’”.

June 3, 2016

The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

by Team Riverside

Hardback, £9.99, Egmont ‘Classics’wind egmont classics

Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 children’s classic The Wind in the Willows was republished last year in a beautiful hardback edition by Egmont ‘Classics’, complete with an appendix of activities for children, a well-conceived glossary (as some of Grahame’s words are challenging) and E. H. Shepherd’s original and unforgettable pen illustrations. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The recommended reading age is 9 – 11 years but a confident reader of seven or eight could be enthralled either reading it themselves or having it read to them and indeed anyone from a five or six year-old to ninety or more could fall in love with this book and remain in love for life.

The unusual and wonderful thing about The Wind in the Willows is that it has references adults will appreciate (to Ulysses for instance, the politics of Grahame’s day, and other literary allusions), some moments of genuine profundity (the haunting chapter ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ is a case in point) – and abundant humour, warmth and excitement that will entertain children as well. Indeed every aspect of this novel is exceptional. The prose is exquisite, the atmosphere palpable, the descriptions of the natural world amongst some of the best in children’s literature and not a page goes by without some gentle humour. The characterisation deserves special notice and is unusually sophisticated for a children’s book; Mole, in particular, is a peculiar, humorous and endearing little creature but all of Grahame’s cast are marvellously realised.

Children’s classics of this period excel in their delicacy, beauty and strangeness. They seem to possess a quality difficult to describe but feels ‘strange’ to our 21st century ears. This quality might also be called ‘magic’. There is an ‘otherness’ to The Wind in the Willows (and several other bygone treasures such as Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, The Secret Garden, Charlotte’s Web…) that it is virtually non-existent in modern children’s literature and so enchanting that it is impossible not to feel that Grahame has written something resonant and timeless, and that while we are reading we are doing something very worthwhile.

Review by Emily

May 24, 2016

This Must be the Place, by Maggie O’Farrell

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Tinder Press, £18.99, out now – limited number of signed copies available in storeMaggie O'Farrell THIS MUST BE THE PLACE

Daniel is an American academic married to a reclusive former film star, and living in rural Ireland.  His happy second marriage to Claudette has produced two young children, to add to the ones he left in California and never sees.  But he seems happy enough, until he hears a radio interview from 1986 with one of his exes – the big Ex, as it turns out.  He decides to find out what happened to her, and risks his current relationship and everything else in the process.

As we find out more about how Claudette came to run away from her career, and the consequences of Daniel’s investigations, O’Farrell introduces voices from characters we instantly believe in and want to know more about.  One of the most memorable scenes in the novel concerns a small child being taken to a children’s dermatology clinic, “for kids who are inflamed with eczema, head to foot, kids for whom normal clothes and unbroken sleep are impossibilities”.  It is beautifully written, funny, touching and desperate.  The action moves easily between current day Donegal and Paris, international film sets in the 1990s and the Scottish Borders in the 1980s (among other places).

This turned out to be a perfect holiday read for me, with a pacy plot and thoughtful things to say about long term adult relationships.  I have read all of O’Farrell’s novels and enjoyed this one the most.  A selection on the Radio 2 Book Club, it’s already a swift seller in our shop.  If you’re a fan of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections or A M Homes’s May We All be Forgiven, I predict you will love this.

Review by Bethan

May 10, 2016

I am Henry Finch, by Viviane Schwarz and Alexis Deacon

by Team Riverside

Schwarz and Deacon I AM HENRY FINCHPaperback, Walker Books, £6.99, out now

A deserved winner of the excellent Little Rebels Award for radical children’s books (https://littlerebelsaward.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/alexis-deacon-invites-children-to-come-up-with-an-alternative-to-capitalism/ ), this beautiful picture book made me roar with laughter.

Henry Finch is a small bird who comes to realise that he exists, and thinks, and that he can use his thoughts to tackle THE BEAST.  It’s an introduction to philosophy for toddlers and small children… but also just very entertaining, with deceptively simple and funny drawings.  Definitely a book for adults as well as children.  Superb.

Review by Bethan

May 2, 2016

The Mountain Can Wait, by Sarah Leipciger

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Tinder Press, £7.99, out nowSarah Leipciger THE MOUNTAIN CAN WAIT

A distracted young man, Curtis, is driving along a mountain road at night.  A woman flashes into his headlights, is struck by the truck, and disappears.  He keeps driving.

Curtis’s single father Tom manages planting for logging in the Canadian Rockies.  His teenage daughter, like his son, appears alienated from him.  The children’s mother is gone.  His estranged mother in law seems to live with nature almost like a witch, and his colleagues are seasonal outdoors workers.

A strong story and believably flawed characters give rise to interesting questions.  If a father teaches his children to hunt, shoot and fish, is he caring for them or just getting them ready for his abandonment of them?  Is physical courage in protecting your children enough?  If you have to be absent for work, is it inevitable that you are emotionally absent as well, and how do you know if you are?  How do we live with nature now?  If you have done something bad, must it inevitably catch up with you, and how do you live before you know?

The mountains, lakes and woods inform every part of the story. The mountains aren’t straightforward and reliable though – I was reminded of Annie Dillard writing about Dead Man Mountain: “sometimes here in Virginia at sunset low clouds on the southern or northern horizon are completely invisible in the lighted sky. I only know one is there because I can see its reflection in still water”.  Like Melissa Harrison’s At Hawthorn Time, which I loved (see https://theriversideway.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/at-hawthorn-time-melissa-harrison/), The Mountain Can Wait contains evocative and unsentimental nature writing. Swimming alone in an icy mountain lake, Tom “coasted out deeper into the lake, taking mouthfuls of the mineral-rich water and spraying it out again.  It tasted like pine, like iron, a little like blood”. Like a bracing swim in a lake, this cool and sharp book is recommended.

Review by Bethan

April 16, 2016

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte

by Team Riverside

tenant of wild

Paperback, Vintage, 7.99

Ashamed of not having read anything by Anne Bronte but only her sisters I recently began reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and was astonished (though perhaps should not have been) firstly by how psychologically convincing the characters are, and secondly by the strangely addictive quality the writing possesses; considering its length (it is nearly 600 pages in the recent, extremely beautiful Vintage editions illustrated by the gifted Sarah Gillespie) I was amazed at how quickly I was half, then three-quarters, then all of the way through it, and wishing it was not over and that I could read more.

The main reason to recommend The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, however, is that Anne Bronte has created a strongly – even radically – feminist heroine in Helen Huntingdon; one who shuns the institution of marriage when circumstances call for it (an act most nineteenth century novelists – especially early nineteenth century novelists like Anne – shied away from; as they shied away from depictions of male depravity that Anne is utterly fearless in recounting) despite paying a price that at some points seems impossibly high, refusing to be swayed from following a path her own integrity marks out for her. This strength of character is common to all the Bronte’s work, of course, but Anne’s portrayals of women are by far the most revolutionary and only recently beginning to attract the recognition they deserve. It is also worth noting that her male characters possess a far more convincing inner terrain than either Emily or Charlotte’s; Heathcliff may be iconic and overwhelming, but iconic and overwhelming characters are not usually noted for their plausibility, relatability or tendency to inspire empathy. All these aspects make it both extremely sad and surprising that Charlotte Bronte herself dismissed her younger sister’s literary efforts and had so little insight into just how progressive they were.

For all these reasons, I would encourage anyone whose interest in the Brontes has been sparked by the recent TV program or who is simply wishing to embark upon a worthy, provoking and highly enjoyable Victorian novel, to invest their time in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; high-quality literature and effortlessly involving, it is the perfect marriage on many fronts.

Review by Emily

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March 28, 2016

Exposure, by Helen Dunmore

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Hutchinson, £16.99, out nowHelen Dunmore EXPOSURE

An engaging thriller with a very human heart, this cold war spy story is fresh and believable.  Giles, a long time Soviet mole in the 1950s British security services, calls in a favour from his old co-worker Stephen.  Giles is in hospital and must have stolen secret papers removed from his flat.  Lily, Stephen’s wife, watches as Stephen becomes embroiled in an impossible situation, caught up in espionage, politics, secrets and lies.

Dunmore examines the human side of a classic spy story – mainly through the story of Lily and her children.  Many of the questions that arise are still pertinent today.  How do friends and family react when you are in trouble with the law?  Can you count on the system to correct an injustice?  When you have been a refugee and exile, does that determine how you perceive and deal with the authorities and other threats?

Exposure is full of effortlessly convincing period detail, not only in setting but in attitudes.  Commonplace antisemitism and the reputational risk of homosexuality appear.  This is a must read for fans of le Carré or William Boyd.  A good holiday read too, and we have a special edition in store which is available exclusively in independent bookshops like ours!

Review by Bethan

March 2, 2016

Signed copies now in store…

by Team Riverside

Excellent signed copies of several books now in store – perfect for gifts or treating yourself.Ruby Wax FRAZZLED

  • Ruby Wax, Frazzled
  • Alexander McCall Smith, The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine
  • Jonathan Coe, Number 11
  • Ella Woodward, Deliciously Ella Every Day

Get them before they go!

March 1, 2016

Ten Days, by Gillian Slovo

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Canongate, £14.99, out 3 MarchGillian Slovo TEN DAYS

Martin Luther King said that “riots are the language of the unheard”. Developed from Slovo’s successful 2011 verbatim play The Riots at the Tricycle theatre, this readable novel offers multiple voices and a wholly convincing and gripping anatomy of how a London riot happens. It is a scorching summer, and on a fictional South London estate a series of incidents involving the police trigger rioting. We follow the stories of Cathy and her family and friends, who are resident on the estate; Peter, the Home Secretary; and Joshua, the brand new head of the Metropolitan Police. Politics, people and police all collide over ten days, and things may not be what they seem.

Ten Days reads like a thriller, and is more complex and nuanced than you might expect, giving genuine insights into the challenges and motivations of the characters. Slovo deals fearlessly with issues of class, race, poverty and power.  The plot rolls out relentlessly, leaving the reader desperate to find out what happens to key characters. Slovo thanks senior police officers, among others, in her acknowledgements and certainly the account of the police experience feels authentic.

It is a properly London novel, and a worthwhile addition to the literature of London disorder and violence. This may be why it has been chosen for London Cityread 2016 (http://www.cityread.london/ten-days/).  I stayed up far too late finishing it and suffered the next day as a result, but it was worth it.

Review by Bethan

January 15, 2016

Lila: Marilynne Robinson

by Team Riverside

Marilynne Robinson LILAThe third novel in Robinson’s Gilead trilogy, Lila is the eponymous story of the Reverend John Ames’ much younger wife, whose poverty-stricken and itinerant childhood in Dust Bowl America has shaped her into a deeply insecure, yet compassionate and courageous human being. The narrative is a mixture of omniscient third person narration and Lila’s own internal reflections, the impetus to move forward mainly derived from the vacillations of the fledgling and highly unusual relationship between herself and the aged Reverend, so that even after they are married the reader worries about the durability of the union, their very affection for one another part and parcel of their fear: ‘The more she might seem like a wife to him,’ Robinson writes, ‘the more he would fear the loss of her.’ It means that in a novel which meanders chapter-less through a plethora of apparently random details and decades, we never come to rest – or wish to – right up to the last page, so entwined do we become with Lila’s own fear-laden consciousness.

Though Robinson’s project is essentially spiritual, it is her deft characterisation (in this case, of Lila’s quietly burgeoning love for her husband, who has himself known great personal loss) along with her exquisite prose that make for an affecting and transcendent reading experience, rather than any overt dogma. The reason the spiritual dimension of Robinson’s world is so palatable is that it is ensconced in the everyday: a field, a little valley, a flock of pelicans, a day of snow and silence. What is more, her characters’ redemptive trajectories are couched in the gentlest, driest humor, so distinctively Robinsonian: Lila’s childhood friend’s experimentation with a member of the opposite sex, for example, is described as her getting ‘very curious’ and ‘finding out whatever it was she wanted to know’; once this curiosity has been sated she moves on to other things; ‘it had taken Lila’, Robinson tells us, ‘a little longer.’

At its’ heart Lila is concerned with reconciling a God of love with a world of suffering but because Robinson never alights on an explanation and places the debate in such halting and beautiful terms – in the mouths of characters whose search for meaning for the most part ends in uncertainty – the novel is far from a sermon. Take the concluding words of a letter written by the Reverend to Lila before they are married and little more than strangers, for instance: ‘I have struggled with this my whole life’ [Ames writes]…‘I still have not answered your question, I know, but thank you for asking it, I may be learning something from the attempt’. And this attempt by Lila to understand a biblical verse that has captured her imagination:

And there was a voice above the firmament that was over their heads; when they stood, they let down their wings. She didn’t want to know what the verse meant, what the creatures were. She knew there were words so terrible you heard them with your whole body. Guilt. And there were voices to say them. She knew there were people you might almost trust who would hear them too, and be amazed, and still not really hear them because they knew they were not the ones the words were spoken to.’

It is in such a spirit of gracious humility that Robinson makes her offering, and it is hard not to be moved and awed by the result.

 

Review by Emily

January 12, 2016

Pond, Claire-Louise Bennett

by Team Riverside

Claire-Louise Bennet PONDIt’s rare to discover a truly original book but Pond is just that. A series of short ‘stories’, sometimes no more than a few paragraphs, this highly eccentric and experimental work revolves around an unnamed woman whose rural isolation is the occasion of her meandering meditations upon everything from bananas, control knobs, a conglomeration of stones in a wall and modern dating etiquette.

Bennett withholds the conventions of fiction (namely plot and characterization) to the point of infuriating some readers I would imagine, though perhaps this is her intention. One ‘chapter’, for instance, consists solely of this ditty which is just two very short paragraphs:

‘Oh, Tomato Puree! When at last you occur to me it is as something profuse, fresh, erupting…

Oh Tomato Puree – let me lay you out and pummel those rigid furrows and creases!…’

It continues in a similar fashion.

While such strangeness can weary at times (when the reader is enmeshed in some particularly diaphanous, trance-like passage, for instance), the effort on the reader’s part to forge some sort of meaning is worth it. Bennett refuses to let anything figure – to let anything stand for pretty much anything at all; metaphor, we sense, is anathema to her; but there is a reason for this. In a brilliant passage that implicitly comments upon her own artistry and is simultaneously a cameo manifesto for the entire novel, she writes of her self/protagonist:

‘…she went off to place a cautionary notice next to the pond – which, by the way, has absolutely no depth whatsoever. If it were left up to me I wouldn’t put a sign next to a pond saying pond, either I’d write something else, such as Pig Swill, or I wouldn’t bother at all….’

She goes on to state that she knows the sign is to prevent children coming upon the water too quickly but says she herself, if ‘brought to a purportedly magical place one afternoon…only to discover the word pond scrawled on a poxy piece of damp plywood right there beside it…[would] be hopping.’

At the end of this chapter she removes the sign altogether, her reasoning being, as mystics and philosophers have pointed out before her (and there is definitely something of the mystic about Bennett’s protagonist), that words erect an artificial interface between us and the world, preventing us ‘moving about in deep and direct accordance with things.’ And it is true, as you read Pond, you feel all the strangeness of a heightened reality, much more a decipherer than simply a reader, as you do with most books. Despite the impression that Bennett’s writing is steeped in philosophers – Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gaston Bachelard and Derrida among them – there is such lightness, such whimsy, that reading Pond is not like reading a philosophical work at all, however resonant it may feel; for ironically, despite Bennett’s protestations to the contrary, her implicit suggestion that there is no ‘depth’ to her work only serves to make it all the more esoteric and enigmatic.

The experiments of post-modernism have left little room for literature to move forwards, but Bennett, in subtle yet inimitable fashion, has been able to suggest how it might. Pond is sign-posted. There are no poxy pieces of plywood, just plenty of magic.

Review by Emily

January 12, 2016

The Incarnations, Susan Barker

by Team Riverside

Susan Barker THE INCARNATIONSA ghost is this highly original novel’s second protagonist; its’ first is Wang, a taxi driver in contemporary Beijing who is the recipient of a series of mysterious letters purporting to be from a soul he has encountered in past lives. Barker weaves a seamless and gripping narrative between the modern-day and a dozen brilliantly realized pasts, from the brutal days of a sorceress, to the might of Genghis Khan, the giddying cruelty of the despotic Emperor Jaijing, a pirate ship during the Opium Wars, and the treacherous climate of the Cultural Revolution. Betrayal of one sort of another colours all of the stories, even if both souls feature as friends or lovers; at some point they are always at enmity.

This book is not for the squeamish. It portrays unimaginable, nightmarish cruelty, often and graphically. But the barbarity is not pointless. It shows the depths of horror human beings can sink to and how any one of us could be perpetrators of such horror, depending on when we are born and whom we are born to. Barker also suggests that evolution and transformation, however slight, requires some degree of awareness; though she leaves us very much in the dark as to whether any of her characters actually succeed in securing their personal freedom and reading their own destiny – a destiny that has already been spelt out in their incarnate lives.

January 10, 2016

Disclaimer: Renee Knight

by Andre

Disclaimer RENEE KNIGHTDisclaimer is yet another book being marketed with comparisons to Gone Girl on the cover. In fact, this clever debut set in London and Spain has its own distinctive style and deliciously sinister concept. When Catherine Ravenscroft and her husband downsize, she finds an unfamiliar book by her bedside just as she’s settling into a new chapter in her life. To her horror, the story of The Perfect Stranger is apparently her own: a 20-year-old secret about the tragic Spanish holiday she’d tried to forget. Its lurid plot details a holiday seduction by a married woman who’s also a bad mother – a deadly combination to appear in print. To underline the mysterious author’s baleful intentions, the standard disclaimer is scored through with red ink: any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is definitely not a coincidence.

Catherine is an award-winning documentary maker; perhaps this professional woman who charms her way into other people’s lives deserves this fictional intrusion into her privacy. Disclaimer’s dual narrative pits her against disgraced teacher and widower Stephen Brigstocke, who discovers a fiction manuscript by his wife that reveals his family’s fatal connection to Catherine. When he self-publishes and carefully distributes The Perfect Stranger, Catherine has to fight to regain control of her life – and her story – as the poisonous prose suggests a reckoning is coming. Knight is adept at creating suspense as the gradual revelation of family secrets builds to a shocking denouement in the Spanish sun. Disclaimer is a superior psychological thriller shot through with cruelty, tragedy and insights into the artful nature of fiction, though perhaps not best suited as a beach read.

January 4, 2016

Edna O’Brien, The Little Red Chairs

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Faber and Faber, £18.99, out nowEdna O'Brien LITTLE RED CHAIRS

In 2012, in memory of the Sarajevo siege which began in 1992, “11,541 red chairs were laid out in rows along… the Sarajevo high street. One empty chair for every Sarajevan killed during the 1,425 days of siege. Six hundred and forty-three small chairs for the children killed by snipers and the heavy artillery fired from the surrounding mountains”. So opens Edna O’Brien’s new novel.

An on the run Serbian alleged war criminal sets up as a New Age healer in a village in Ireland, and one local woman in particular is mesmerised by him. The fallout from this for her and others is dealt with humanely in this often shocking but always thoughtful book. I was reminded of some aspects of the story of Radovan Karadžić, currently awaiting judgement following a five year trial for war crimes in the Hague (http://www.icty.org/x/cases/karadzic/cis/en/cis_karadzic_en.pdf).

Impunity in committing war crimes, and attempts to hold individuals to account for them, are such huge issues that the destruction wrought on individual human lives can be lost. O’Brien manages to capture and convey such human stories in this remarkable novel. Exile of all types and refugee status are also explored: it feels like nothing is too challenging a subject for the author to address. She humanises refugees and exiles, which is more important than ever given the current refugee crisis.

Review by Bethan

November 18, 2015

Signed copies in now – Jonathan Coe and Sebastian Faulks

by Team Riverside

Now in store – limited supplies of signed copies of Number 11 by Jonathan Coe, and also of Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks.

Both of these new hardbacks have been greeted by great reviews, so pick up your copy now!Coe and Faulks signed copies 151118

November 17, 2015

Robert Harris Dictator – Signed copies now in!

by Team Riverside

We are delighted to have signed hardback copies of Robert Harris’s latest, excellent, book – Dictator.  This completes his Cicero trilogy, and has had rave reviews.  Get your Christmas shopping underway now!Robert Harris DICTATOR signed

November 16, 2015

The American Lover, by Rose Tremain

by Team Riverside

Paperback £8.99, Vintage, out nowRose Tremain THE AMERICAN LOVER

I don’t often feel like reading short stories, but this collection by one of my favourite novelists makes for a swift and pleasurable read. The stories are diverse but this manages not to jar, which is especially impressive given their variety.

Tolstoy is dying in a Russian stationmaster’s house – but what do their respective wives think about this? In my favourite story, A View of Lake Superior in the Fall, an American couple run away from their troublesome adult daughter to a winter cabin by a lake.

The best first line in the collection in my view belongs to The Housekeeper: “Everybody believes that I am an invented person: Mrs Danvers”. This is a strong and engagingly written selection. Recommended.

Review by Bethan

November 14, 2015

Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither: Sara Baume

by Team Riverside

Sara Baume SPILL SUMMER FALTER WITHERI first picked up this book because of the high praise from Eimear McBride and because of the title which seemed to herald the type of word-play found in McBride’s own extraordinary debut A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither really is inventive: the title, for instance, refers to the seasons, both onomatopoeically and metaphorically lending itself to the words: ‘spring’, ‘summer’, ‘autumn,’ and ‘winter’. Then there are Baume’s unusual coinages (‘spork’), metaphors (‘hedgehogs of moss’) and constructions, which lend the prose urgency and immediacy. Take the opening passage, for instance:

He is running, running, running.
And it’s like no kind of running he’s ever run before. He’s the surge that burst the dam and he’s pouring down the hillslope, channelling through the grass to the width of his widest part. He’s tripping into hoof-rucks. He’s slapping groundsel stems down dead. Dandelions and chickweed, nettles and dock.

Baume has also devised an original strategy for relaying the dog’s past : through the man’s dreams, while simultaneously linking the two characters’ consciousness, journey and fate.

This novel is not as original or as dazzling as McBride’s, but perhaps because of that, it is more accessible and will appeal to a wider array of readers. Baume’s narrative of an unlikely friendship between a lonely, damaged man and an abused, runaway dog is atmospheric, moving and fearless in its exploration of just how dark life can be. A wonderful book, though not for the faint-hearted.

Review by Emily

October 20, 2015

The Murderer in Ruins, Cay Rademacher

by Team Riverside

Arcadia Books, £8.99, paperback out now

“Still half asleep, Chief Inspector Frank Stave reached an arm out across the bed towards his wife, then remembered that she had burned to death in a firestorm three and a half years ago. He balled his hand into a fist, hurled back tCay Rademacher THE MURDERER IN RUINShe blanket and let the ice-cold air banish the last shades of his nightmare”.

So opens The Murderer in Ruins, a gripping historical crime novel set in Hamburg in 1947. The city is experiencing the coldest winter anyone can remember, and refugees and displaced residents are living in the ruins. Hamburg is occupied by the British after being destroyed in the conflict, and it appears that a serial killer is leaving unidentifiable naked bodies in the frozen ruins. Stave has his own problems – his young soldier son is missing, and he is a frequent visitor to the Red Cross reunification office, without success.

The description of the barely-functioning city is completely convincing, and the mystery is satisfyingly gripping and surprising. The lingering poisons of the Third Reich and the war are shown to touch relationships and power structures in post war life. Translated four years after its German publication, and released here by a small press with the support of the Goethe Institute, it is intended to be the first part of a trilogy. I hope Arcadia Press crack on and publish the next two, as I can’t wait to read more from this author.

Review by Bethan

October 12, 2015

Kolymsky Heights, by Lionel Davidson

by Team Riverside

Faber and Faber, £8.99, out now

Recently re-released in paperback, Phillip Pullman in his new introduction describes this 1994 spy adventure novel as “the best thriller I’ve ever read”.Lionel Davidson KOLYMSKY HEIGHTS

The head scientist of a supremely secret Russian base in Siberia sends an urgent message to a friend in the West, asking him to send help. The base is described initially as something similar to the UK’s Porton Down, conducting “research into the materials for chemical and biological warfare”. A mysterious and fantastically accomplished Indian from British Columbia, known sometimes as Dr Johnny Porter, sets out to provide this. But how can he get to, and into, the station? Why has he been summoned? And even if he does get there and find out why, how can he get home?

The book is satisfying at every level, with instantly believable characters and utterly convincing plot and locations. In particular, the action in Siberia is so well written I was wandering about with a head full of whiteness, snow and ice and wind, even when forced to put the book down.

Davidson won multiple awards from the Crime Writers Association, culminating in the lifetime achievement award of the Diamond dagger. Graham Greene and Daphne du Maurier were fans, and his own life was not short on adventure and challenge (see http://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/nov/02/lionel-davidson-obituary). I have no idea why I have not heard of him until now. But I loved this book and will be seeking out his others.

Review by Bethan

September 15, 2015

The Neapolitan Novels, by Elena Ferrante

by Team Riverside

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

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

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

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

Review by Bethan

September 13, 2015

Trigger Mortis: Anthony Horowitz

by Andre

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

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

August 9, 2015

Top 10 Fiction and Non-Fiction: August 2015

by Team Riverside

Harper Lee GO SET A WATCHMANLena Dunham NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL

No surprise this month – Harper Lee is back, back, back. The holiday reading season has also revived several titles including The Girl on the Train, which benefited from a Radio 4 adaptation. Incidentally, Go Set a Watchman is not the only literary sequel in town: The Meursalt Investigation is an Algerian writer’s companion novel to The Outsider, set 70 years after the Camus classic.

Top 10 Fiction

1 Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
2 The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
3 How to Be Both – Ali Smith
4 Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The First Bad Man – Miranda July
7 The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell
8 The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters
9 Curtain Call – Anthony Quinn
10 The Meursalt Investigation – Kamel Daoud

Bubbling under: Wake Up, Sir! – Jonathan Ames

Top 10 Non-Fiction

1 Not That Kind of Girl – Lena Dunham
2 Gut: The Inside Story of our Body’s Most Underrated Organ – Giulia Enders
3 The Churchill Factor – Boris Johnson
4 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari
5 Think Like an Artist – Will Gompertz
6 Yes Please – Amy Poehler
7 London: A Travel Guide Through Time – Matthew Green
8 The Opposite of Loneliness – Marina Keegan
9 Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own – Kate Bolick
10 London Thames Path – David Fathers

Bubbling under: How We Are – Vincent Deary

June 6, 2015

The Axeman’s Jazz: Ray Celestin

by Team Riverside

Ray Celestin THE AXEMAN'S JAZZA serial killer is targeting residents of New Orleans. It is 1919, and the Axeman is being pursued not only by Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot, but also by his nemesis, busted former corrupt cop Luca d’Andrea. Alongside, Ida Davis, a secretary to a private detective with ambitions to be a PI herself, brings in her friend Louis Armstrong to help her solve the case.

Celestin writes so well about the food and music of the city, as well as the communities and physical places, that it made me hunger to visit. This is quite an achievement when the story concerns a real life psychotic axe killer terrorising the population. The jazz, smoke, po’ boy sandwiches, Mafia, style, and corruption all went straight to my head.

He also explores the explosively segregated nature of the city, with different groups living alongside each other but remaining entirely separate. A very young Louis Armstrong provides a useful way for us to encounter some of the jazz, the poverty and the racial violence of the period. This is another historical crime thriller to have a real person in a fictionalised detective role (a similar one is Jed Rubenfeld’s The Interpretation of Murder, which features Freud and Jung in New York in 1909). Based on a true story, this is a very satisfying historical crime mystery – I ate it up in a single bite and was ready for more.

Review by Bethan

May 24, 2015

At Hawthorn Time: Melissa Harrison

by Team Riverside

Melissa Harrison AT HAWTHORN TIMEImagine Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways, turned into a novel. British nature features in At Hawthorn Time as a character, as London does for Dickens. Disappearing and forgotten paths weave through the book, and those who remember or sense them often seem to be out of time. Opening with the aftermath of a terrible car crash on a country lane, At Hawthorn Time braids several narratives that give us space to think about the countryside and the natural world. How do we see our countryside now? What is it, and what might it be?

Jack wishes “just to be able to go where I like… Just to live how I see fit. I don’t do any harm, God knows…”. Repeatedly arrested and imprisoned for vagrancy and other things, we join him walking out of London, away from his hostel, and towards the village of Lodeshill where he hopes to find farm work. Howard and Kitty, retirees from London following Kitty’s dream of countryside life, are recent incomers to Lodeshill. The difference in their views of the countryside is just one of their problems. Their young neighbour Jamie has his own difficulties, with an ailing grandfather, and his unsatisfactory job as a picker and packer at a giant warehouse.

Each chapter starts with brief nature notes from Jack’s journal. We may admire or envy his total attunement to nature, as the current popularity of nature writing and television shows suggests. But this does not translate into society tolerating his unconventional way of living. Increasing legislation and surveillance restrict his choices, and his situation makes us wonder what we might be prepared to do to regain the freedoms we have lost.  At a time when street homelessness seems to be everywhere – I have people living in my local park – it is worth thinking about who is allowed to be where, and when, and who enforces this. A timely and compelling read.

Review by Bethan

May 24, 2015

Top 10 Fiction and Non-Fiction: May 2015

by Team Riverside

HOW TO USE YOUR ENEMIES David Nicholls US
The Penguin Little Black Classics series is still going gangbusters here at the Riverside, although it’s the non-fiction titles that are the big sellers. The most popular of the 80 books is How to Use Your Enemies (no 12 in the series), a 17th century Spanish priest’s guide to exploiting your foes (and friends too). If you’re not minded to be Machiavellian, there’s plenty more literary inspiration among our bestsellers this spring…

Top 10 Fiction

1 Us – David Nicholls
2 The Bees – Laline Paull
3 The Children Act – Ian McEwan
4 How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran
5 A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson
6 The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair – Joel Dicker
7 Outline – Rachel Cusk
8 The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
9 Family Life – Akhil Sharma
10 The Ballad of a Small Player – Lawrence Osborne

Bubbling under: Wake Up, Sir! – Jonathan Ames

Top 10 Non-Fiction

1 Penguin Little Black Classics (80th anniversary)
2 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari
3 H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald
4 Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art – Julian Barnes
5 Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble – Antony Beevor
6 On Palestine – Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe
7 Flash Boys – Michael Lewis
8 The Year of Reading Dangerously – Andy Miller
9 A Buzz in the Meadow – Dave Goulson
10 The Establishment – Owen Jones

Bubbling under: On the Move: A Life – Oliver Sacks

April 11, 2015

Top 10 Fiction and Non-Fiction – April 2015

by Team Riverside

Guy de Maupassant FEMME FATALERichard Flanagan NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH

If you’re in need of literary inspiration, here’s a snapshot of our bestselling novels and non-fiction (including the 80 titles in the Penguin Little Black Classics series) this spring…

Top 10 Fiction

1 Penguin Little Black Classics (80th anniversary)
2 The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan
3 How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran
4 The Children Act – Ian McEwan
5 The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro
6 The Guest Cat – Takashi Hiraide
7 Family Life – Akhil Sharma
8 The Secret Place – Tana French
9 Look Who’s Back – Timur Vermes
10 We Are Not Ourselves – Matthew Thomas

Bubbling under: All My Puny Sorrows – Miriam Toews

Top 10 Non-Fiction

1 Penguin Little Black Classics (80th anniversary)
2 Flash Boys – Michael Lewis
3 The Establishment – Owen Jones
4 Rebel Footprints – David Rosenberg
5 This Changes Everything – Naomi Klein
6 The Utopia of Rules – David Graeber
7 H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald
8 So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson
9 The Moth – various
10 The Shepherd’s Life – James Rebanks

Bubbling under: Napoleon the Great – Andrew Roberts

February 14, 2015

Grace McCleen: The Offering

by Team Riverside

Signed copies available – £17.99

Grace McCleen THE OFFERINGWe now have signed copies of the acclaimed new book by Grace McCleen in stock. A novel about faith, innocence and sin, the lyrical prose also evokes the rhythms and beauty of the natural world. In The Offering, a charismatic psychiatrist believes he can unlock Madeline’s memory by taking her step by step through the preceding year, when her father moved the family to an island he was certain God had guided them to. McCleen’s third novel was praised in The Guardian by poet and author John Burnside as “wonderfully suspenseful and deeply moving… full of insights about the nature of madness”, while the Independent on Sunday described it as “strange and beautiful”.

November 23, 2014

Cat Out of Hell: Lynne Truss

by Andre

Lynne Truss CAT OUT OF HELLHumour and horror might seem unlikely bedfellows, but it’s a combination that can be scarily effective in the right hands. Lynne Truss is best known for her comic forays into grammar though she used to write novels. Cat Out of Hell, her first in 15 years, is the latest entry in the Hammer imprint series and it’s a hoot, as well as being genuinely eerie. Alec is grieving for his wife, a fellow librarian, when he’s drawn into a feline conspiracy connected to their library’s collection of occult material belonging to the sinister John Seeward. He committed suicide in the Sixties in the grounds of his stately home, but this diabolist’s power in the mastery of moggies lives on with his disciples.

What might seem silly ends up as a minor comic masterpiece thanks to the tricksy, self-aware structure of Alec’s story, Truss’s imaginative and grisly mythology for felines, and a talking cat called Roger. We know Roger’s smart – he even got to grips with Greek ferry timetables – but he might also be dangerous. Then there’s the threat from a shadowy black cat known as The Captain, who mentored Roger in the art of immortality, and the Grand Cat Master himself (appointed by Beelzebub). Fortunately, Alec has his faithful companion Watson, a dog he addresses with dialogue from the Sherlock Holmes stories. (“You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive,” he says when the dirty dog returns from digging in the garden). The showdown at Harville Manor is straight out of Dennis Wheatley – with a dash of PG Wodehouse. For anyone who’s wondered what their cat is actually thinking, Lynne Truss has come up with some hilarious and horrible speculation.