Posts tagged ‘Fiction’

September 7, 2016

His Bloody Project, by Graeme Macrae Burnet

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Contraband, £8.99, out nowgraeme-macrae-burnet-his-bloody-project

This Booker-longlisted novel is the story of a 17 year old boy facing the death penalty for a triple murder committed in a remote village in the Scottish highlands.  It is 1869, and Roderick Macrae is the son of a crofter who is living in a feudal society.  His Bloody Project is presented like a true crime story, with an account by the killer of what happened and documents from other parties involved.  The novel is introduced by the author, in his own name, suggesting that Roderick Macrae was a relative of his.  You have to bring your brain to this collection of purported primary sources, and the main question you have to answer is not whether Macrae committed the crime, which he admits, but whether he was mad at the time.  If it could be proved that he was insane, he might avoid the otherwise inevitable death penalty.

What has happened to Macrae that may have led to this point?  Through his partial account we hear of brutality, unfairness, bereavement and extreme poverty.  As a study in the abuse of power, and the impunity that goes with it, the book is excellent (to be more specific would be to risk spoilers).  The language used by every character in the documents is evocative and convincing – for example, Macrae calls winter in the village the ‘black months’ and summer the ‘yellow months’.

His Bloody Project grips tighter and tighter as the pages run out.  As we find out more about the murders and the killer, we inevitably think more about how we test whether a defendant was insane or not, an issue as present today as in 1869.  Equally relevant now, is the question – when you are subject to the law but the law does not protect you when you need it, can the society you live in really be said to be based on the rule of law?

Review by Bethan

August 20, 2016

Dead Man’s Blues, by Ray Celestin

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Mantle, £12.99, out nowJacket cover

For his second crime mystery novel, Celestin takes us to Jazz age Chicago.  Louis Armstrong is transforming the cornet solo, and Al Capone largely owns the city, which is corrupt at every level.  The novel opens with a gangster funeral almost Roman in scope, where the crowds are showered with blue petals from airplanes.

Three sets of unconventional detectives have cases that converge.  Dante Sanfilippo is a New York booze runner returning to Chicago from exile in New York at the request of Capone, who wants internal gang troubles investigated.  Michael Talbot and Ida Davis, agents at the Pinkertons private detective agency, are looking for a missing heiress.  Jacob, a police photographer, is investigating a gruesome alley death, on his own time.

And so we are introduced to the several different worlds of the city.  The diversity of the characters, in terms of race and class, gives us access to these.  There is complacent old money, garish new money, smoky jazz clubs, dangerous meat yards, and lakeside views.

Ida and Michael will be familiar to readers of The Axeman’s Jazz (https://theriversideway.wordpress.com/2015/06/06/the-axemans-jazz-ray-celestin/).   Those who loved the vivid portrayal of 1919 New Orleans in that novel will be equally pleased with the 1928 Chicago of Dead Man’s Blues.  You don’t have to have read the first one to read this – it can stand alone – but this is the second in a planned quartet, each set in a different city, so it is worth reading in order.  Luckily we have both in stock!

Review by Bethan

August 8, 2016

My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Penguin Viking, £12.99, out nowElizabeth Strout MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON

Lucy is in hospital in New York, separated from her husband and young children while her illness rumbles on.  Her mother, who she has not seen for many years, comes to visit her, staying by her bedside for several days.  The reasons for the physical and emotional distance in the relationship, and the significance of this brief but intense time of conditional reconnection, are illuminated beautifully in this short and powerful novel.

Strout is sharp and sometimes funny, not only on family relationships but on New York life generally: “I have gone to places in this city where the very wealthy go.  One place is a doctor’s office.  Women, and a few men, sit in the waiting room for the doctor who will make them look not old or worried or like their mother”.  But the heart of the book is about the shame and stories of family life, and how we can suddenly be reimmersed in these at moments of strain.  Strangely comforting and always interesting, the revelations keep coming right to the end.

I’m now keen to read her earlier work, Olive Kitteridge, having been overwhelmed by the television version with Frances McDormand.  My Name is Lucy Barton well deserves its place on the Booker Prize Longlist, along with the excellent Hot Milk (https://theriversideway.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/hot-milk-by-deborah-levy/).

Review by Bethan

July 31, 2016

The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Serpent’s Tail, £14.99, out nowSarah Perry THE ESSEX SERPENT

Victorian religion, science and superstition battle it out over a possible giant sea serpent off Essex. Cora, whose abusive husband has just died, sets out with her unusual young son Francis and working class activist friend Martha to investigate.  Finally able to explore her own interests, this amateur naturalist wonders if the serpent might be a surviving relative of her heroine Mary Anning’s ichthyosaur.

While in Essex, Cora meets Will, an Anglican priest, with whom she immediately connects – and with whom she immediately disagrees over the serpent.  Will’s wife Stella welcomes Cora into her home, and becomes close to Francis (who I read as autistic, and whose effective portrayal here reminds me to “think smarter about people who think differently”, see https://theriversideway.wordpress.com/2015/11/03/neurotribes-the-legacy-of-autism-and-how-to-think-smarter-about-people-who-think-differently-by-steve-silberman/ ).  Left behind in London, Luke, an innovative but impoverished surgeon, is in love with Cora and resentful of her new relationship with Will, while his wealthy friend Spencer considers philanthropy, in part as a possible way to get closer to Martha.

The Essex Serpent is a fresh and gripping story about class, difference, attraction and most of all friendship.  The epigraph from Montaigne is identical to that used by Rose Tremain in her recent The Gustav Sonata, another beautiful exploration of how friends are (https://theriversideway.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/the-gustav-sonata-by-rose-tremain/ ).  This book will appeal to those who loved Sarah Waters’ Victorian novels, Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, and the gothic elements to fans of Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney.  Perfect holiday reading.

Review by Bethan

July 12, 2016

Neil Gaiman/Chris Riddell signed copies now in store!

by Team Riverside

Signed copies of the gorgeous new edition of Gaiman’s classic Neverwhere, now in.  Get yours before they go…Neil Gaiman NEVERWHERE

We also have the small book How the Marquis Got His Coat Back, also set in the Neverwhere universe, if you need a little extra fix too.

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’”.

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

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 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

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

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

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”.

February 20, 2014

The Rats: James Herbert

by Andre

40th anniversary – spring 2014

James Herbert THE RATSThe nation’s bookshops have been infested with literary rodents for four decades. The Rats was a horrible hit for James Herbert (read our tribute to the master of modern British horror here) in 1974 and beyond. The book has remained in print and publisher Pan Macmillian will issue a 40th anniversary edition in the spring.

When Herbert’s story about giant, murderous rodents with razor-sharp teeth first appeared, its detractors included a young Martin Amis, who reviewed it for The Observer. Admittedly, The Rats is a fundamentally silly and under-developed novel, but when you read it today its anger at complacent authority feels genuine. Herbert was an East End boy made good (he became the art director of an advertising agency), so he knew the appalling post-war conditions that had never really been addressed: poor housing, dystopian tower blocks, casual violence – and vermin.

Herbert’s horror was a gory rejection of the ghost story and the snobbish novels of satanic terror by Dennis Wheatley, as well as being admirably unsentimental: his rodents nibbled at everyone regardless of class, gender, age or colour. (Stephen King also shook up the genre with his debut, Carrie, in 1974). The popularity of The Rats dovetailed with the rise of punk and they both provided a small shock to the establishment. There’s a strong sense of discontent, industrial unrest and government incompetence in Herbert’s depiction of the Seventies. He went on to write better books (Fluke, The Magic Cottage, Sepulchre), but The Rats still packs a punch. Once you’ve read the horrific scene in the Underground, you won’t be able to descend into London Bridge again without looking out for a dirty rat.

July 12, 2013

Buy eBooks from the Riverside Bookshop

by Andre

The Indie eBook Shop banner

Readers still love real books. But we understand that for some of you there’s also a time and place for reading on a screen. So we’ve partnered with The Indie eBook Shop to enable you to purchase eBooks from a website that supports independent bookshops.

The Indie eBook Shop is an online store you can trust – it’s managed by the people behind National Book Tokens – and you can even purchase eBooks with your Book Tokens. We also sell eBook Cards from National Book Tokens in our shop if you’re looking for a gift for someone you know is dedicated to digital reading (the cards are still valid for physical books in bookshops nationwide if they do want to try the real thing).

There are a few rules with The Indie eBook Shop – the main one being that it does not support the Kindle, which is a ‘closed’ device limited to its own online store. Otherwise, The Indie eBook Shop allows you to browse by genre or search by title for eBooks that will work across many tablets, eReaders, phones, PCs and Macs. Click on the banner above to start browsing and check out this page for any queries. We may not be able to answer any technical queries in store – but we do know quite a lot about books.

June 16, 2013

Generation Loss: Elizabeth Hand

by Andre

Elizabeth Hand GENERATION LOSSThis first book in an edgy new US crime series introduces us to burnt-out punk photographer Cass Neary. Cass is a mess but at least she hasn’t sold out: she’s hooking up with younger men (and sometimes women) in gnarly New York clubs, still listening to Patti Smith and refusing to ditch her ancient Konica for digital. We’re soon rooting for Cass – though we’re also a bit scared of this hard-drinking, tattooed kleptomaniac and her steel-tipped cowboy boots.

Granted a rare journalistic assignment to interview an influential, reclusive photographer, Cass takes a drug-fuelled drive to Maine where she finds a desolate coastal town dotted with posters of missing teenagers. After reaching the photographer’s isolated island (‘what you’d imagine a fairytale would look like if you fell into one’), the interview doesn’t go to plan; now she’s stuck there. So she drinks, hangs out with the more arty locals and picks up on dark hints about an abandoned commune. Cass can’t help stirring up old secrets, though as one character says it’s more that she makes things weird not worse.

This is a story where the crime is revealed, like death-fixated Cass’s creepy photos in the darkroom, slowly and with a sense of dread. Hand also follows Stephen King’s dictum that readers love the intricacies of work by rubbing our noses in the chemical smells and processes of pre-digital photography. Generation Loss is an eerily atmospheric crime novel with an unrepentant bad girl snarling acerbic one-liners between swigs of Jack Daniel’s. Yet Hand’s prose, preoccupied with creative power and its decline, gleams with a luminous beauty even as it’s pulling the reader to an explosive finale. A Sequel, Available Dark, is out on August and Hand’s next book will take Cass on a trip to London – a terrifying but thrilling prospect.

April 6, 2013

The Teleportation Accident: Ned Beauman

by Andre

Now in paperback – £8.99

Ned Beauman published a precociously confident debut novel, Boxer, Beetle, in 2010. He’s followed that with an audacious comic romp that made the Man Booker Prize longlist. The globe-trotting story begins in Berlin in 1931 where sex-starved set designer Egon Loeser is working on a production about his 17th century stagecraft hero, the mysterious Adriano Lavicini, and his Extraordinary Mechanism for the Almost Instantaneous Transportation of Persons from Place to Place. As a result of Loeser’s self-obsession and his desire for a former pupil called Adele Hitler, he fails to take much notice of the rise of her namesake. Loeser’s wilful political ignorance sets up some bad taste but very funny jokes that tease the reader’s familiarity with 1930s Nazi notoriety.

Beauman flirts outrageously with genre fiction: H.P. Lovecraft is an influence and his story The Shadow Over Innsmouth plays a part in the plot’s science fiction elements. Then there’s Loeser’s pursuit of a serial killer and his inability to read anything other than the brutish crime stories of (fictional) author Stent Mutton – perhaps the Lee Child of his day. The Teleportation Accident is a highly readable, amiably bizarre novel that’s unafraid to play with structure and has a serious point to make about history being a nightmare from which you really need to wake up.

March 14, 2013

The Daylight Gate: Jeanette Winterson

by Andre

Now in paperback – £7.99

She turned her hand to science fiction in The Stone Gods a few years ago and now Jeanette Winterson has embraced horror in this devastating short novel about the Pendle witch trials. Winterson was commissioned by the publishing imprint of Hammer Films to portray the brutality and bigotry unleashed against women and Catholics in Lancashire in 1612, when witchcraft and popery were twin evils in the eyes of King James I.

Winterson’s fans and horror aficionados alike will enjoy this humane and at times shocking story, an unflinching portrait of the suffering and indignity meted out to a family whose poverty and disregard for authority make them easy targets. She heightens the horror by depicting the diabolical in a gripping imagined version of events featuring witchcraft, animal familiars and paranormal visions, as well as a love triangle with human souls at stake. Winterson focuses on the strangely youthful widow Alice Nutter, though her short novel has several memorable characters and she boldly works familiar names into the story, including Shakespeare and the occultist and mathematician Dr John Dee. The Daylight Gate is an unremitting, elegantly crafted tale written in a spare prose style that will haunt you – at least until you pick it up and read it again.

March 7, 2013

Richard III: biographies and classic crime

by Andre

David Baldwin RICHARD IIIJosephine Tey THE DAUGHTER OF TIME

The surprise reappearance of Richard III, dug up in a Leicester car park, is a timely opportunity to try and disinter the truth about a king portrayed as a Machiavellian villain by Shakespeare. “We have to concede the curved spine was not Tudor propaganda, but we need not believe the chronicler who claimed Richard was the product of a two-year pregnancy and was born with teeth,” as Hilary Mantel said in her (unfairly) infamous lecture on royal bodies. “The king stripped by the victors has been reclothed in his true identity.” If you want to learn more about the last king of the Plantagenet dynasty, there are a pair of updated historical biographies that feature the car park dig: David Baldwin’s Richard III and – not so snappily titled – The Last Days of Richard III and the Fate of His DNA: The Book that Inspired the Dig by John Ashdown-Hill.

Perhaps the most enjoyable piece of historical revisionism for Richard III, though, is Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, a unique and classic crime novel in which a bed-ridden Inspector Alan Grant decides to investigate the real facts behind the murderous ‘hunchback king’ after seeing a contemporary portrait of Richard. Could such a sensitive, noble face really belong to one of the most infamous villains of history? It’s a fascinating premise for an exquisite crime novel which, 62 years since publication, is more inventive and adroit in its plotting than almost any modern genre author can manage.

February 28, 2013

Communion Town: Sam Thompson

by Andre

Sam Thompson COMMUNION TOWNNovels depicting cities tend towards prolixity – Edward Rutherfurd’s doorstop volumes are intimidating me from the Riverside shelves as I write this – but Sam Thompson’s debut is a perfectly formed narrative that relies on its idiosyncratic characters: you wander the streets in their shoes rather than having to swallow endless descriptions of historical buildings and byways. Thompson’s unnamed, imaginary city (Communion Town is just one of its districts) leaves you both mystified and awestruck over the course of 10 ‘chapters’; it’s not really a novel, though it did make the Man Booker Prize longlist, presumably because the writing was just too good to ignore.

There are loosely connected stories of odd couples, unequal friendships and isolated workers whose frailties are exposed by the city’s indifference. Communion Town is speculative rather than realist fiction and there’s a haunting, recurring image of the flâneur that lends a dream-like quality to the prose. Thompson’s trump card is his magpie approach to genre including Chandler-esque detective fiction, a Sherlock Holmes style adventure with a metaphysical twist, and the sort of visionary horror that Arthur Machen employed to turn London into a sinister dreamscape. Communion Town is a book that will benefit from repeated readings: each time you pick it up, the imaginary streets will feel as alive with possibility and strangeness as our own metropolis.

February 18, 2013

The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares: Joyce Carol Oates

by Andre

Joyce Carol Oates THE CORN MAIDEN AND OTHER NIGHTMARESWith a 50-year career that takes in novels, short stories, young adult fiction, poetry, reviews, and edited anthologies as well as book-length memoirs and essays ranging from widowhood to boxing, keeping up with the astonishing literary output of Joyce Carol Oates is a job of work. But it’s an occupation that never feels like a chore, such is the emotional pull of her prose and the thrilling sense of dread in her stories.

Her latest collection – though another one will probably turn up any minute – is lyrical, elegant and shocking in a way you might not anticipate from such an admired woman of letters. The novella that gives the book its title is the case of a missing girl told from multiple perspectives in which Oates adroitly pairs adult emotions of guilt, regret and loss with an adolescent rage that threatens to explode into ritual killing. There’s also a brace of tales about evil twins, a devastating story about a jealous sibling and a breathless account of a plastic surgeon losing his grip – literally – that’s just plain nasty. Edgar Allan Poe is clearly a lifelong influence on Oates’s intricate, intoxicating horror. Once you wander in, the temptation to lose yourself in her literary backlist may be hard to resist.

January 1, 2013

HHhH: Laurent Binet

by Stuart

Now in paperback – £8.99

Laurent Binet’s debut was one of the hottest books of 2012. A genre-bending piece of ‘fictionless’ historical fiction, it’s a novel about mind-bendingly chilling facts: those surrounding the awe-inspiring story of the 1942 assassination of Gestapo honcho Reinhard ‘The Blonde Beast’ Heydrich. On the first page Binet claims that Heydrich’s British-trained Czech assassins are “the authors of one of the greatest acts of resistance in human history, and without doubt the greatest of the Second World War.” By the last page you’ll be in total and permanent agreement. Obsessed with the past but gleaming with radical innovation, HHhH is urgent and new and terrifying and beautiful and pretty much the best thing that’s happened in literary fiction for ages.

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