Sunday, 1 November 2015

Recommended Books - Fiction


Carson McCullers, The Member of the Wedding

With delicacy of perception and memory, humour and pathos, Carson McCullers spreads before us the three phases of a weekend crisis in the life of a motherless twelve-year-old girl. Within the span of a few hours, the irresistible, hoydenish Frankie passionately plays out her fantasies at her elder brother's wedding. Through a perilous skylight we look into the mind of a child torn between her yearning to belong and the urge to run away.

Indra Sinha, Animal's People

'I used to be human once. So I'm told. I don't remember it myself, but people who knew me when I was small say I walked on two feet just like a human being'.....But now Jaanvar - Animal - walks on all fours, the catastrophic result of what happened on That Night when, thanks to an American chemical company, the Apocalypse visited his slums. He lives a hand-to-mouth existence, with a crazy old nun called Ma Franci; Nisha, the daughter of a local musician; and his dog Jara. Each of them had their lives irreversibly changed on That Night.

Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk about Kevin

"'Once in a while, a stunningly powerful novel comes along, knocks you sideways and takes your breath away: this is it... a horrifying, original, witty, brave and deliberately provocative investigation into all the casual assumptions we make about family life, and motherhood in particular' Daily Mail 'This startling shocker strips bare motherhood... the most remarkable Orange prize victor so far' Polly Toynbee, Guardian 'One of the most striking works of fiction to be published this year. It is Desperate Housewives as written by Euripides... A powerful, gripping and original meditation on evil' New Statesman"

Dai Sijie, Balzac and the Chinese Seamstress

In 1971 Mao's campaign against the intellectuals is at its height. Our narrator and his best friend, Luo, distinctly unintellectual but guilty of being the sons of doctors, have been sent to a remote mountain village to be 'reeducated'. The kind of education that takes place among the peasants of Phoenix Mountain involves carting buckets of excrement up and down precipitous, foggy paths, but the two seventeen-year-olds have a violin and their sense of humour to keep them going. Further distraction is provided by the attractive daughter of the local tailor, possessor of a particularly fine pair of feet. Their true re-education starts, however, when they discover a comrade's hidden stash of classics of great nineteenth-century Western literature - Balzac, Dickens, Dumas, Tolstoy and others, in Chinese translation. They need all their ingenuity to get their hands on the forbidden books, but when they do their lives are turned upside down. And not only their lives: after listening to their dangerously seductive retellings of Balzac, the Little Seamstress will never be the same again. Without betraying the truth of what happened, Dai Sijie transforms the bleak events of China's Cultural Revolution into an enchanting and unexpected story about the resilience of the human spirit and the magical power of great storytelling.

Don DeLillo, The Names

Reading the fiction of Don DeLillo is an utterly original experience: powerful, prescient, perceptive. Writing in a prose that is both majestic and muscular, his unerringly accurate vision penetrates deep into the soul of America and consistently leaves readers with a fresh perspective on the world. Since the publication of his first novel, in 1971, he has been acknowledged across the globe as one of the greatest writers of his generation. DeLillo’s seventh is an exotic thriller. Set mostly in Greece, it concerns a mysterious ‘language cult’ seemingly behind a number of unexplained murders. Obsessed by news of this ritualistic violence, an American risk analyst is drawn to search for an explanation. We follow his progress on an obsessive journey that begins to take over his life and the lives of those closest to him. In addition to offering a series of precise character studies, The Names explores the intersection of language and culture, the perception of America from both inside and outside of its borders, and the impact that narration has on the facts of a story. Meditative and probing, DeLillo wonders: how does one cope with the fact that the act of articulation is simultaneously capable of defining and circumscriptively restricting access to the self?

J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

The ultimate novel for disaffected youth, but it's relevant to all ages. The story is told by Holden Caulfield, a seventeen- year-old dropout who has just been kicked out of his fourth school. Throughout, Holden dissects the 'phony' aspects of society, and the 'phonies' themselves: the headmaster whose affability depends on the wealth of the parents, his roommate who scores with girls using sickly-sweet affection. Lazy in style, full of slang and swear words, it's a novel whose interest and appeal comes from its observations rather than its plot intrigues (in conventional terms, there is hardly any plot at all). Salinger's style creates an effect of conversation, it is as though Holden is speaking to you personally, as though you too have seen through the pretences of the American Dream and are growing up unable to see the point of living in, or contributing to, the society around you. Written with the clarity of a boy leaving childhood, it deals with society, love, loss, and expectations without ever falling into the clutch of a cliche.

Louis de Bernieres, The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman

When the economy of his small South American country collapses, President Veracruz joins his improbable populace of ex-soldiers, former guerillas, unfrocked priests and reformed - though by no means inactive - whores, in a bizarre search for sexual fulfilment. But for Cardinal Guzman, a man tormented by his own private demons, their stupendous, hedonistic fiestas represent the epicentre of all heresies. Heresies that must be challenged with a horrifying new inquisition destined to climax in a spectacular confrontation

Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman

‘Flann O’Brien learned from Joyce the art of tuning language to a lyrical pitch, which he could then turn to his purpose, whether it was to be plain foolery, unconcealed indignation or high comedy. The best of his contemporaries and many subsequent Irish writers have much to thank him for.’ Sunday Times
‘Flann O’Brien is inventive, his storytelling is swift and sure, making the eccentric seem natural and the commonplace hilarious.’ The Times ‘Even with “Ulysses” and “Finnegans Wake” behind him, James Joyce might have been envious.’ The Observer ‘Wonderful. “The Third Policeman” is a great masterpiece of black humour.’ George Mackay Brown

Kazuo Ishiguro, When We Were Orphans

Christopher Banks, the protagonist of Kazuo Ishiguro's fifth novel, When We Were Orphans, has dedicated his life to detective work but behind his successes lies one unsolved mystery: the disappearance of his parents when he was a small boy living in the International Settlement in Shanghai. Moving between England and China in the inter-war period, the book, encompassing the turbulence and political anxieties of the time and the crumbling certainties of a Britain deeply involved in the opium trade in the East, centres on Banks's idealistic need to make sense of the world through the small victories of detection and his need to understand finally what happened to his mother and father.
This new novel, however, is the deliberate antithesis of the classic English detective story--the hermetic country-house worlds of Agatha Christie, the classic "locked room" puzzles in which order and sanity is restored at the story's end. Ishiguro mimics the functional style and clipped speech patterns of the genre, ironising its reliance on melodrama and stereotype, while developing a narrative of subtlety, great emotional depth, and political and cultural acuity: what we get is a negative image of classic detective fiction, in which the solved crimes are mentioned in passing and the real mystery is played out in the psychology of the detective himself. The act of detection, Ishiguro suggests, is one we all perform on our own past, struggling to marshal clues and evidence whilst trying to construct the story of ourselves; the one mystery Banks seems unable to solve is his own.

Marina Lewycka, Two Caravans

And sitting in it two caravans – one for the men and one for the women. The residents are from all over: miner’s son Andriy is from the old Ukraine, while sexy young Irina is from the new: they eye each other warily. There are the Poles Tomasz and Yola, two Chinese girls and Emanuel from Malawi. They’re all here to pick strawberries in England’s green and pleasant land. But these days England’s not so pleasant for immigrants. Not with Russian gangster-wannabes like Vulk, who’s taken a shine to Irina and thinks kidnapping is a wooing strategy. And so Andriy – who really doesn’t fancy Irina, honest – must set off in search of that girl he’s not in love with.

Bernhard Schlink,  The Reader

For 15-year-old Michael Berg, a chance meeting with an older woman leads to far more than he ever imagined. The woman in question is Hanna, and before long they embark on a passionate, clandestine love affair which leaves Michael both euphoric and confused. For Hanna is not all she seems. Years later, as a law student observing a trial in Germany, Michael is shocked to realize that the person in the dock is Hanna. The woman he had loved is a criminal. Much about her behaviour during the trial does not make sense. But then suddenly, and terribly, it does - Hanna is not only obliged to answer for a horrible crime, she is also desperately concealing an even deeper secret. 'A tender, horrifying novel that shows blazingly well how the Holocaust should be dealt with in fiction. A thriller, a love story and a deeply moving examination of a German conscience' INDEPENDENT SATURDAY MAGAZINE

Patrick Suskind, Perfume

Survivor, genius, perfumer, killer: this is Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. He is abandoned on the filthy streets as a child, but grows up to discover he has an extraordinary gift: a sense of smell more powerful than any other human’s. Soon, he is creating the most sublime fragrances in Paris. Yet there is one odour he cannot capture. It is exquisite, magical: the scent of a young virgin. And to get it he must kill. And kill. And kill …

Rose Tremain, Music And Silence

In the year 1629, a young English lutenist named Peter Claire arrives at the Danish Court to join King Christian IV's Royal Orchestra. From the moment when he realises that the musicians perform in a freezing cellar underneath the royal apartments, Peter Claire understands that he's come to a place where the opposing states of light and dark, good and evil, are waging war to the death.

Designated the King's 'Angel' because of his good looks, he finds himself falling in love with the young woman who is the companion of the King's adulterous and estranged wife, Kirsten. With his loyalties fatally divided between duty and passion, how can Peter Claire find the path that will realise his hopes and save his soul?

John Banville, The Sea

Max Morden has reached a crossroads in his life, and is trying hard to deal with several disturbing things. A recent loss is still taking its toll on him, and a trauma in his past is similarly proving hard to deal with. He decides that he will return to a town on the coast at which he spent a memorable holiday when a boy. His memory of that time devolves on the charismatic Grace family, particularly the seductive twins Myles and Chloe. In a very short time, Max found himself drawn into a strange relationship with them, and pursuant events left their mark on him for the rest of his life. But will he be able to exorcise those memories of the past?
The fashion in which John Banville draws the reader into this hypnotic and disturbing world is non pareil, and the very complex relationships between his brilliantly delineated cast of characters are orchestrated with a master’s skill. As in such books as Shroud and The Book of Evidence, the author eschews the obvious at all times, and the narrative is delivered with subtlety and understatement. The genuine moments of drama, when they do occur, are commensurately more powerful. --Barry Forshaw Incandescent prose. Beautifully textured characterisation. Transparent narratives. The adjectives to describe the writing of John Banville are all affirmative, and The Sea is a ringing affirmation of all his best qualities. His publishers are claiming that this novel by the Booker-shortlisted author is his finest yet, and while that claim may have an element of hyperbole, there is no denying that this perfectly balanced book is among the writer’s most accomplished work.