Posts tagged ‘Fiction’

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

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 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

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 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 8, 2020

Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Fairlight Moderns, £7.99, out nowSophie Van LLewyn BOTTLED GOODS

This little book is written ‘in flash’ meaning that each chapter could be a stand-alone piece of very short fiction, but all together they make sense as a whole novella. The overarching narrative concerns the life of Alina, a teacher living in communist Romania in the 1970s. Her life becomes increasingly unbearable after her brother-in-law flees the country and the communist authorities’ interest in her and her husband grows. As a fan of flash fiction anyway, I enjoyed how the small chapters allowed this tension to build and it was interesting to experience this in a different way to a standard novel. A lot of the chapters also have pretty cool titles, for example, ‘What We Had To Give Away So That We Could Buy a Fourteen-year-old Dacia So that We Would Have an Independent Means of Transportation in order to Flee From the Country.’ That particular chapter is presented as a table, by the way!

Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2019, Bottled Goods is funny in a dark kind of way and also contains elements of magical realism. One character can shrink other people down in order to keep them away from trouble and out of the hands of the secret police. There are other aspects of folklore which pop up in a plot that is otherwise rooted in the harsh reality of communist Romania.

Fairlight Moderns are a new publisher and are obviously ready to take risks on exciting fiction such as this. I think this is great and the longlist for the Women’s Prize shows that it has paid off.

Review by Cat

 

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

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 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 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 8, 2019

Luna Loves Library Day by Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Andersen Press, £6.99, out nowcoelho and lumbers luna loves library day

Luna’s mum drops her off at the library, where Dad meets her and they have an adventurous day!

This beautiful picture book for young children shows libraries to be exciting and safe places.  It celebrates all different kinds of reading, and there is even a bonus miniature story book set inside so you can read along with Luna and Dad as they have an enjoyable cuddle while reading together.

There are light touch mentions of young children whose parents are separated, and what comes after.  The lively illustrations show a dual heritage family.  Endorsed by Amnesty International, this is a gorgeous positive book that makes even adult readers want to get back to their local library.

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

August 25, 2018

Signed copies of Patrick Gale!

by Team Riverside

We are delighted to have some signed copies of Patrick Gale’s new novel Take Nothing Patrick Gale signed 180825with You – get them while they’re hot!

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

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