Category Archives: David Whitehouse

Mobile Library – David Whitehouse

Many of you may know, as being so excited I mentioned it a few times, I had the joy of judging Fiction Uncovered earlier this year. Over the next few weeks (and indeed last two weeks) I will be (and have been) sharing my thoughts with you on the winners, one per week. This week it is David Whitehouse’s utterly brilliant Mobile Library which is one of those books that charms you so much and whose characters you become so attached to you hug it to you afterwards, like you were ten again.

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Picador Books, hardback, 2015, fiction, 384 pages, kindly submitted by the publisher for Fiction Uncovered (I am tempted to have this cover made into some kind of tattoo design!)

Bobby Nusku is a twelve year old unhappy in the world that he is living. His mother has disappeared, he has tried to catalogue as much of her life as he can in a box of artefacts he keeps hidden, his father has met a new woman and both of them either spend the time ignoring Bobby, telling him off or being drunk. If that wasn’t bad enough his best friend, and protector from school bullies, Sunny has had to move away after a failed attempt to turn himself into the first human-cyborg. After witnessing an act of bullying on someone else, Rosa, he tries to pay for his cowardice by befriending her and in doing so comes to meet her mother Vera, and before long they all decide to escape their lives, quite literally, in a mobile library.

In case you are thinking ‘oh Simon, you rotten spoil sport, you have given everything away’ I actually haven’t. Once on the road and off on the adventures of their lives so far, for good and bad reasons, much happens and they meet many people and get into various scrapes along the way. Also, Mobile Library actually begins somewhere towards its end and so we back pedal and then head towards a literal cliff-hanger we know is coming. Though we don’t know what happens after it, ooh that David Whitehouse is a teaser.

‘Are we in trouble?’ Bobby asked?
‘No,’ Val said, ‘not anymore.’
The white cliffs of southern England spread out beyond them, disappearing where the blues, sea and sky, coalesce. High up in the cab of the mobile library, they could not see the land below them, just the oceans ceaseless loop, as if they were driving an island through the sea to a faraway place. Hemmed by a crescent of police cars to the cliff edge, bulbs flashed, helicopters chopped up the air. When the sirens fell mute, he saw her, exquisite in the dim dashboard light.

I will say no more on the plot bar the fact that it involves camping in woods, creepy old mansions, an escaped convict and an abandoned zoo. The reason I mention all these things is because they were all things I loved in books as ‘a youth’ and of course still do, so there was a lovely nostalgic feeling as I was reading. There is no doubt that this is Whitehouse’s intention as actually the book takes on many tropes of the fairytales (for me the Ladybird Classics) that I would say 90% of us read or had read to us when we were small. Bobby himself, though admittedly without the ugly stepsisters or his parents giving a monkey’s how dirty the house is, is rather a Cinderella figure in some ways, Val his fairy godmother and the Mobile Library his pumpkin… though the story doesn’t follow the path of Cinderella you can see other nods to fairytale as you go, especially towards the very end.

One thing the book doesn’t have is magic, well at least not of the wands, spells, eye of newt or enchanted spinning wheel (or steering wheel, see what I did there – sorry!) kind. There are two other kinds of magic in it, love and friendship. Now any of you who think I have been kidnapped by some hippy commune bear with me. Love is something we cannot explain, there is no science behind it, there is no logic and the same applies to friendship, these invisible bonds tie us together for some unknown rhyme or reason. That is a magic of sorts and we take it far too much for granted which was something I felt strongly after finishing the book.

The theme of friendship also links onto the other major theme of the book which is what makes a family. The stereotypical family of 2.4 children and indeed the ‘nuclear’ family (whatever that meant, it sounds horrid) can no longer be defined so easily. I know this all too well with two half brothers, two half sisters and two step sisters – I know think of the Christmases’! Not only that though more and more people are creating family through friendships, I am Uncle (Sugabear in some cases) to a lot of my friends children because there are certain friends who you feel are more your family than your own family. Whitehouse looks at this through a group of people who couldn’t be more different and yet somehow – no spoilers – become a family of sorts. People who either have difficult or awkward family relationships or feel they have no real family at all.

These days she looked forward to visiting the doctor. As cold as his hands were, small talk was a welcome respite from the otherwise lengthy nothingness. Sometimes she considered faking symptoms, just to feel that rough chill against her body and talk about the changing weather.

Having read Whitehouse’s previous novel Bed, which shamefully I loved but haven’t reviewed, it is interesting to see that his theme of outsiders in society is still there. Interestingly I think Mobile Library is like a polar opposite look at these ‘underdogs’ because whereas in Bed the act of someone going to bed forever is about dropping out of society due to a lack of hope, here we have people desperate for love and belonging. Even when ‘Sometimes,’ she said to nobody in particular, ‘I worry that life is just the journey between toilets.’ there is a glimmer of hope and potential which may be fulfilled at some point. Isn’t that the essence of every great fairytale?

Yes, I am back to fairy tales again. Speaking of which, if you hadn’t guessed yet, Mobile Library is also a book about the power and wonder of books. I need say no more, brilliant…

‘In every book is a clue about life,’ Val said. ‘That’s how stories are connected. You bring them to life when you read them, so the things that happen in them will happen to you.’
‘I don’t think the things that happen in books will happen in my life,’ he said.
‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ she said. ‘You just don’t recognise them yet.’  

I loved, and hugged, Mobile Library which is frankly some of the highest praise that I can give it. It is a book that reminds you of the magic of books, friendship, family and love without any magic having actually occurred. It is also an adventure story, possibly the most quintessentially British road trip novel you could encounter. It is also a book that despite being marketed for adults, I think many a ‘youth’ should read as I think it will remind them of the brilliance of reading and the fun it can be, as much as it reminds we adults of all ages, of just the same thing. I’m a massive fan of books, Mobile Library reminded me why whilst making me even more of a fan.

If you would like to hear  David talking about Mobile Library in more detail you can hear him chatting with me on Fiction Uncovered FM and he will also be on You Wrote The Book next week, again with me but quite a different chat. Who else has read Mobile Library and what did you think of it? Which other books about books and grown up fairy tales have you loved? I always want more recommendations of those.

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Filed under Books of 2015, David Whitehouse, Fiction Uncovered, Picador Books, Review

London Diary #1 – Ten for 15; Speakeasy @DrinkShopDo

One of the things that I miss about London, and something I would like to address ‘oop north’ in Liverpool if I could get ten minutes, is the literary buzz that runs through the city. I don’t just mean all the famous author living or dead, or the infamous sights, sounds and streets that they write about; I also mean the fact that on almost any given night you will find something wonderfully booky going on in some lovely venue somewhere in the city.

Thanks to the lovely Will who is now Community Manager at Vintage Books, I was invited to such an event called Speakeasy at Drink Shop Do, one of those lovely shops selling gifts (like tea towels, bags, candles, cards and knickknacks that I never knew I wanted until I walk in and promptly need them)  and upstairs has a cafe-cum-bar (careful how you say that) and disco room. I do not know who had this idea but they are a genius – could they please identify themselves and open one in Liverpool instantly that I can run. Anyway tonight was all about ten readings from ten authors whose books look set to cause quite a lot of chatter in 2015, hosted by the very funny and lovely duo comprised of Ian Ellard (who I believe works for Faber) and Tom Pollock (whose books you may have read, I know I have been recommended them by many of you).

So who were the authors and what were their books about I hear you cry, desperate for me to get on with it so you can go and see if you want to read their books. Well thanks to modern technology I was able to sneakily take some snaps of the authors, which came out rather snazzily like silhouettes that some really amazing photographer would take hours to conjure. Coughs.

First up, as her surname came first, was Emily Bullock whose debut novel The Longest Fight is inspired by her grandfather and is set in 1950s South East London in the gritty and violent world of boxing. Now boxing is probably somewhere not far behind boats and horses in my idea of what I would like in a book, Emily’s reading created a real tension in the room as her protagonist faced the ring and actually hooked in me, right on the chin (see what I did there?)

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Alex Christofi was up next and broke the tension with a very, very funny reading from his debut Glass, which is currently getting a lot of buzz in all the right places as an off-beat comedy about a young man finding his way in the modern world, oh and window cleaning. If the whole book has the sense of humour, which was darkly and ever-so-slightly wrongly funny, we witnessed the whole way through I think it will be right up my street.

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Nicci Cloke was up next to read from her second novel, Lay Me Down. Set in San Francisco, it follows a couple, Jack and Elsa, as they struggle to adjust to the extraordinary demands of Jack’s job on the Golden Gate Bridge. Apparently it is also a tale of suicide. Nicci is one of the Vintage authors and so it was in part thanks to her I was there.

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All rules of alphabetic order were thrown caution to the wind as Rebecca Whitney (who might have had an early train to catch) read from her debut The Liar’s Chair, which sounded right up the alley of Gone Girl fans like myself as it asks: What if the thing you were most afraid of was your husband? Her reading was genuinely creepy, so I need to get my mitts on that.

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Antonia Honeywell was the next person to stand up (next to Ian Ellard who is in all these pictures and gives very good ‘listening’ face, I tend to stare at my shoes or idly pick at fluff on my top when an author is reading when hosting events) and read to us all from her debut novel, The Ship. Yes, you guessed it a book on A BOAT! I have to say though if anyone is going to get me reading a book on a boat in 2015 it will be Antonia. Enough about me, the story… Sixteen year old Lalla’s father has a plan to escape London which has gone into meltdown: he will captain a ship big enough to save five hundred worthy people. But what is the price of salvation?

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Den Patrick was up next and read from The Boy Who Wept Blood which is a follow up to The Boy With the Porcelain Blade. I do not know anyone who has yet to tell me they didn’t like the first so this is a series I need to do some more investigating on. In other news Den Patrick looks very like Matthew Goode out of Hollywood, you can’t tell this from my picture but it is true.

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Peter Swanson was up next with his second novel The Kind Worth Killing. Now by this point I might have had too many sherries or too many Haribo from lovely china cups, I swear that he introduced the book as being about someone who feels his wife should be killed and so does she… yet that doesn’t sound right. Either way he made me want to read it and I have his first novel The Girl With a Clock for a Heart on my shelves already.

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Ruth Ware was the second of Vintage’s authors up and was reading from her thriller In A Dark Dark Wood which is set around a hen weekend which goes horrendously wrong and a secret between some of the women that seemed to have been left in the past, hasn’t. This isn’t out until the summer so we will have to wait with baited breath. Note – I have included a shot of Tom Pollock in the background of the photo below to a) prove he was there b) show you his very good listening face.

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The penultimate reading was from David Whitehouse, whose debut Bed I absolutely loved when it came out and yet never reviewed because I am a tool. His new novel The Mobile Library sounds like it will be just as wonderful, I mean from the title you can tell it will be about bookish adventures and so any book lover wants to read it regardless of whether I tell you more or not. So I won’t. I will say in just a few pages that David read he does humour and heartbreak brilliantly well.

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Last but not least was Shelley Harris, another author whose debut I really liked but didn’t review because I am a loon – though I did share her bookshelves, reading from Vigilante which also sounds right up my street. After stumbling into a vigilante rescue one night, Jenny Pepper decides to become a hero – but with frightening consequences. Now as a lover of superhero’s, and just from Shelley’s prologue, I cannot not read this at some point this year.

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So there you have it, ten authors whose books I would highly recommend you read if you haven’t already. If that wasn’t enough I also got to see lots of lovely faces from the blogging world. Will and I have been meaning to say hello for years, also on my table were my mates Kim, Rob and Kate plus I got to meet SanneNaomi and Jim for the first time as well as the lovely Nina.  Oh and Anna from the We Love This Book. Then there were the aforementioned authors who some of came and said hello, as I was being my usual wallflower like self, as did Stuart Evers who was also in attendance. Plus from the land of publishing the lovely Sam and Francesa from Picador and Drew from Serpent’s Tail. It was quite a first night in London Town. A huge thanks to Vintage Books and especially the lovely host with the most Will for inviting me and looking after me so well!

So have you read any of these authors’ books and if so what did you think? Have you been to Drink Shop Do? Which literary events have you been to and loved?

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Filed under Alex Christofi, Antonia Honeywell, David Whitehouse, Den Patrick, Emily Bullock, Nicci Cloke, Peter Swanson, Random Savidgeness, Rebecca Whitney, Ruth Ware, Shelley Harris