Tag Archives: Louise Doughty

Black Water – Louise Doughty

Back in May of 2014 I read Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard and was, I think it is fair to say, pretty caught up in it and its brilliance. It was one of those wonderful thrillers that packs and extra punch with all the themes it talks about amongst the main propelling action. In the case of Apple Tree Yard it was the cracks in families lives, the sexual desires of women (some not all) as well as a woman’s fall from grace – lots of things packed in. So I was very, very, very excited about the arrival of Black Water the follow up (not in a sequel or series sense) to it when I was at a Faber event in the Spring, where I also met Louise who was lovely. The thing with highly anticipated novels though is that I then get nervous about them and/or save them for a rainy day. However the lovely folk at Dead Good Books asked me if I would review it, a shorter version of this post is here, and so I pulled it off the shelves and set to devouring it.

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Faber & Faber, hardback, 2016, fiction, 345 pages, kindly given at an event by the publisher

John Harper is a man waiting to die. Each night he lies in wait for the men with machetes that he believes are coming to kill him. The question we have as a reader is of course ‘but why’? Why does a man spend his days in a small hut in the middle of the nowhere in Bali? Why does he avoid people as much as he can, and seem instantly suspicious of any one he does meet? Why would people want to kill him? What on earth did he do? These are just some of the mysteries that lie deep in the heart of Black Water from the opening chapter, and there are more as the reader carries on.

A picture came to him, black water, long strands of hair, clinging like seaweed across his wrist; he dismissed the picture. Instead, he played the game of pressing at the bubbles of air beneath the t-shirt until they formed smaller bubbles, mobile beneath the thin material. Then he was impatient with the game and held the whole t-shirt down, crushing it between his fists. It was like drowning a kitten.

Early on things shift somewhat when, on a rare trip into the nearby town, he meets Rita and after a night of sex that they both feel is inevitable Harper starts to look back at how he has ended up in this situation; paranoid, isolated, aloof. It is difficult to go much further into the plot for fear of spoilers, however what I can say is that what unravels is not what you might be expecting. We are given the story of a man’s life from his difficult birth, literally – it is really traumatic, then through his unusual upbringing and onto his eventual part in the Jakarta riots of the 1960’s and the effect that has on his life afterwards. Only we don’t get this in order, course not where would the fun be in that, we get it in fits and starts, dribs and drabs, not always in order and not always with the whole truth until right at the very end.

It was the unexpected aspects of Black Water that I found fascinating and the most compelling, often grimly so, giving extra weight to the novel. I previously had no idea what happened in Jakarta during 1965 and was horrified at the extent at which killings and riots were carried out which I found quite shocking. Doughty cleverly manages to give insight into both viewpoints on either side of the communist divide, there is one particularly emotional seen in which she discusses how friends, and neighbours could turn to foes merely to save their own live. How does that leave someone afterwards, where on the spectrum of morals does it fall to save your families lives at the expense of another?

Nina glanced at Poppa and Poppa said, ‘We’re not the usual household here, Nicholaas. Michael Junior’s mother died when he was around your age. Nina came into our lives about a year later, and she’s been the best wife and mother we could have hoped for.’
‘Even though, legally speaking, I’m neither,’ Nina said with a smile that seemed resigned but not particularly unhappy. ‘Well not quite yet.’
‘Soon though…’ said Poppa firmly, looking over his glasses at her and beaming, before turning to Harper and adding, ‘Nina’s mother was from Salvador. She’s Catholic,’ as if that explained everything.

What I also thought was brilliantly done was the discussion of family and race. As Harper and his mother Anika end up in America they become part of a family who are anything but conventional and brimming with love. I thought these sections of the book were wonderful especially as they show how the things that people go through in their childhood can so easily, and Doughty doesn’t mind putting her characters through the ringer.

The only slight critique I have of the novel is that occasionally when I was in Jakarta I was secretly hankering to go and see Harpers nuclear family (or whatever the awful  term is) be it in America or off in Europe with his mother. In the latter case particularly I feel there is a whole book waiting in the wings all about Harper’s mother Anika which I would rush out to read the instant it came out because I found her story, even though it is a tiny piece of Black Water’s jigsaw puzzle, really fascinating and also tragic in a whole different way. This small critique is actually a sign of how great Doughty’s writing is, she can create pivotal plot points with peripheral characters who come fully formed and seem desperate to tell you their story too.

For readers, like me, who loved Apple Tree Yard there is the same delicious mounting tension, along with much intrigue, as a lead character slowly reveals their story – and who doesn’t love that – yet this is a very different kind of book. With Black Water Doughty uses the tropes and pace of a thriller to look intricately at race, grief, what makes a family a family, communism, historical events and the disparity of social classes as well as those between Asia and the rest of the world. That is quite something and sure to please Doughty’s many fans as well as bringing her many more.

Have you read Black Water and/or Apple Tree Yard and if so what did you make of them, as always I would love your thoughts and a natter about the book in the comments below. Apologies there has been a drought of reviews of late, I will be rectifying this over the next few weeks.

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Need Some Books For Your Weekend, Look No Further…

I thought as this week has been a bit of a mad rush, again, I would share some books you really might like to get reading if you hadn’t already. Some I might have mentioned and some I may have not yet, though probably will be a lot in the not too distant future. Now I know I have banged on about how I haven’t written a review in ages, well, guess what? I have, only it isn’t on the blog, it is over at Dead Good where I have reviewed Louise Doughty’s Black Water which is highly recommended reading for you weekend ahead. You can see my review here. You can also see my lovely former co-host of The Readers Gavin’s thoughts on Sharon Bolton’s new thriller Daisy in Chains here, which is teetering high on my TBR at the moment.

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Another book I have forgotten to shout about the release of, thinking of your reading weekend needs again, is Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way Of Things which is finally out in the UK. Hoorah! I read the book last year and was completely blown away by it. Charlotte also kindly joined me on You Wrote The Book a couple of weeks ago which will have you rushing out for the book if my review isn’t enough.

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This week Lisa McInerney won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016. I was thrilled as it was my joint second favourite, as I shared with you here earlier this week. Having read the whole longlist it is certainly one of the titles that stuck out and then stayed with me. My review will be up soon, it is on the list of the great unreviewed books of Simon Savidge 2016.

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Finally, if you haven’t picked Maggie O’Farrell’s latest novel This Must Be The Place then you really should think about it. I have been on a mini Northern Tour with her this week and below is the video we made ‘backstage’ at Waterstones which gives you more info on the book in a slightly rogue and tenuous way. Hope you enjoy it…

So those are my recommendations should you be in a bookshop/library this weekend, and why wouldn’t you be? Any recommendations for me? I am actually planning on locking myself away from the world with a pile of books and just read, read, reading all weekend long. I have Sarah Perry’s wonderful The Essex Serpent to finish and then I think I will be heading for Jung Yun’s Shelter, after that who knows? Seems like the book slump is joyously over though doesn’t it? Hoorah. What are you all reading?

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Books To Take on Holiday… Help!

Excitingly I am off on holiday tomorrow to Cyprus for a week of sun, sea, sand, ruins, cocktails and much reading on sun loungers (if the weather is to be believed) or the balcony. I cannot wait, this is my first holiday ‘not doing anything’ in three years and the prospect of just reading, mooching about, paddling and swimming is a little bit too joyful. What isn’t joyful however is deciding what on earth to pack book-wise. As many of you will know I loathe my Kindle Fire with a passion (the glare, the lack of pages, etc, I have tried I really have) so books is the only way. After many painstaking hours I have come up with a shortlist, which is 21 books long and takes up the entirety of one case. So I need your help to whittle it down so I can actually fit some clothes in. Here are the choices…

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  • The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett
  • The Sellout – Paul Beatty
  • Black Water – Louise Doughty
  • The Danish Girl – David Ebershoff
  • The Fair Fight – Anna Freeman
  • Our Endless Numbered Days – Claire Fuller
  • The Girl in the Red Coat – Kate Hamer
  • The Ship – Antonia Honeywell
  • Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz
  • The Loney – Andrew Michael Hurley
  • Human Acts – Han Kang
  • Disclaimer – Renee Knight
  • A Reunion of Ghosts – Judith Claire Mitchell
  • This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell
  • The Illuminations – Andrew O’Hagan
  • Anatomy of a Soldier – Harry Parker
  • Merciless Gods – Christos Tsiolkas
  • The Good Liar – Nicholas Searle
  • Gold Flame Citrus – Claire Vaye Watkins
  • A Lovely Way To Burn – Louise Welsh
  • A Year of Marvellous Ways – Sarah Winman

So which of these have you read and, without giving any spoilers away, what did you make of them? I will then check your answers before I leave and pick seven, maybe 8 (as the flight is 5 hours each way, notice the excuses start creeping in) for the trip. Now I better sort out my pants and other attire, thanks in advance.

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Books I’m Looking Forward to in the Next Six Months

I know we are past the middle of the first month of 2016 but, as is my want, I thought it might be a nice idea to let you know about some of the books that I am really looking forward to reading over the next six months published in the UK. I know, I know, it is the list you have all been waiting for. Ha! For a few years now, every six months, Gavin and I share 13 of the books that we are most excited about on The Readers podcast, based on which publishers catalogues we can get our mitts on – so sometimes we miss some, so I thought this year I would make it a new biannual post. Getting to that final thirteen is almost impossible (actually one year it was a struggle) and this year it has been particularly tough as it looks set to be a year of corkers. In fact my longlist of books I’m keen to get my hand on is 60 books (and would have been 62 if I hadn’t already read The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon and Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh) long. Yes that is right, 60 books. I have highlighted a few each month that I will definitely be reading or getting my mitts on. So, grab a cuppa tea and settle down with a notepad or bookstore website open next to you…

January

Mr Splitfoot – Samantha Hunt (Corsair)

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Nat and Rose are young orphans, living in a crowded foster home run by an eccentric religious fanatic. When a traveling con-man comes knocking, they see their chance to escape and join him on the road, proclaiming they can channel the dead – for a price, of course. Decades later, in a different time and place, Cora is too clever for her office job, too scared of her abysmal lover to cope with her unplanned pregnancy, and she too is looking for a way out. So when her mute Aunt Ruth pays her an unexpected visit, apparently on a mysterious mission, she decides to join her. Together the two women set out on foot, on a strange and unforgettable odyssey across the state of New York. Where is Ruth taking them? Where has she been? And who – or what – has she hidden in the woods at the end of the road? Ingenious, infectious, subversive and strange, Mr Splitfoot will take you on a journey you will not regret – and will never forget.

Human Acts – Han Kang (Portobello)

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Gwangju, South Korea, 1980. In the wake of a viciously suppressed student uprising, a boy searches for his friend’s corpse, a consciousness searches for its abandoned body, and a brutalised country searches for a voice. In a sequence of interconnected chapters the victims and the bereaved encounter censorship, denial, forgiveness and the echoing agony of the original trauma. Human Acts is a universal book, utterly modern and profoundly timeless. Already a controversial bestseller and award-winning book in Korea, it confirms Han Kang as a writer of immense importance.

The Widow – Fiona Barton (Transworld)
Paulina & Fran – Rachel B. Glaser (Granta)
The World Without Us – Mirelle Juchau (Bloomsbury)
The Outrun – Amy Liptrot (Canongate)
Sea Lovers – Valerie Martin (Serpents Tail)
Dinosaurs on Other Planets – Danielle McLaughlin (John Murray)
The Actual One – Isy Suttie (Orion)

February

The Sympathiser – Viet Thanh Nguyen (Corsair)

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A profound, startling, and beautifully crafted debut novel, “The Sympathizer” is the story of a man of two minds, someone whose political beliefs clash with his individual loyalties. It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. “The Sympathizer” is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, “The Sympathizer” explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.

Under the Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta (Granta)

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One day in 1968, at the height of the Biafran civil war, Ijeoma’s father is killed and her world is transformed forever. Separated from her grief-stricken mother, she meets another young lost girl, Amina, and the two become inseparable. Theirs is a relationship that will shake the foundations of Ijeoma’s faith, test her resolve and flood her heart. In this masterful novel of faith, love and redemption, Okparanta takes us from Ijeoma’s childhood in war-torn Biafra, through the perils and pleasures of her blossoming sexuality, her wrong turns, and into the everyday sorrows and joys of marriage and motherhood. As we journey with Ijeoma we are drawn to the question: what is the value of love and what is the cost? A triumphant love story written with beauty and delicacy, Under the Udala Trees is a hymn to those who’ve lost and a prayer for a more compassionate world. It is a work of extraordinary beauty that will enrich your heart.

The Butchers Hook – Janet Ellis (Two Roads)
The Narrow Bed – Sophie Hannah (Hodder)
Scary Old Sex – Arlene Heyman (Bloomsbury)
The Children’s House – Charles Lambert (Aardvark Bureau)
13 Minutes – Sarah Pinborough (Orion)
The Catch – Fiona Sampson (Chatto & Windus)
Gold Flame Citrus – Claire Vaye Watkins (Quercus)
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist – Sunil Yapa (Little Brown)

March

Where Love Begins – Judith Hermann (Serpents Tail)

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Stella is married, she has a child and a fulfilling job. She lives with her young family in a house in the suburbs. Her life is happy and unremarkable, but she is a little lonely-her husband travels a lot for work and so she is often alone in the house with only her daughter for company. One day a stranger appears at her door, a man Stella’s never seen before. He says he just wants to talk to her, nothing more. She refuses. The next day he comes again. And then the day after that. He will not leave her in peace. When Stella works out that he lives up the road, and tries to confront him, it makes no difference. This is the beginning of a nightmare that slowly and remorselessly escalates. Where Love Begins is a delicately wrought, deeply sinister novel about how easily the comfortable lives we construct for ourselves can be shattered.

Hot Milk – Deborah Levy (Penguin Books)

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Today I dropped my laptop on the concrete floor. It was tucked under my arm and slid out of its black rubber sheath, landing screen-side down. The digital page shattered. Apparently there’s a man in the next flyblown town who mends computers. He could send off for a new screen, which would take a month to arrive. Will I still be here in a month? My mother is sleeping under a mosquito net in the next room. Soon she will wake up and shout, ‘Sofia, get me a glass of water’, and I will get her water and it will be the wrong sort of water. And then after a while I will leave her and return to gaze at the shattered starfield of my screen. Two women arrive in a Spanish village – a dreamlike place caught between the desert and the ocean – seeking medical advice and salvation. One of the strangers suffers from a mysterious illness: spontaneous paralysis confines her to a wheelchair, her legs unusable. The other, her daughter Sofia, has spent years playing the reluctant detective in this mystery, struggling to understand her mother’s illness. Surrounded by the oppressive desert heat and the mesmerising figures who move through it, Sofia waits while her mother undergoes the strange programme of treatments invented by Dr Gomez. Searching for a cure to a defiant and quite possibly imagined disease, ever more entangled in the seductive, mercurial games of those around her, Sofia finally comes to confront and reconcile the disparate fragments of her identity. Hot Milk is a labyrinth of violent desires, primal impulses, and surreally persuasive internal logic.

Patience – Daniel Clowes (Vintage)
Rain – Melissa Harrison (Faber & Faber)
A Girl in Exhile – Ismail Kadare (Vintage)
The Paper Menagerie & Other Stories – Ken Liu (Head of Zeus)
An Unrestored Woman & Other Stories – Shobha Rao (Virago)
Vertigo – Joanna Walsh (And Other Stories)

April

The Sunlight Pilgrims – Jenni Fagan (Random House)

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Set in a Scottish caravan park during a freak winter – it is snowing in Jerusalem, the Thames is overflowing, and an iceberg separated from the Fjords in Norway is expected to arrive off the coast of Scotland – The Sunlight Pilgrims tells the story of a small Scottish community living through what people have begun to think is the end of times. Bodies are found frozen in the street with their eyes open, euthanasia has become an acceptable response to economic collapse, schooling and health care are run primarily on a voluntary basis. But daily life carries on: Dylan, a refugee from panic-stricken London who is grieving for his mother and his grandmother, arrives in the caravan park in the middle of the night – to begin his life anew.

What Belongs To You – Garth Greenwell (Picador)

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On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. And so begins a relationship that could transform his life, or possibly destroy it. What Belongs To You is a stunning debut novel of desire and its consequences. With lyric intensity and startling eroticism, Garth Greenwell has created a indelible story about the ways in which our pasts and cultures, our scars and shames can shape who we are and determine how we love.

The Trees – Ali Shaw (Bloomsbury)

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There came an elastic aftershock of creaks and groans and then, softly softly, a chinking shower of rubbled cement. Leaves calmed and trunks stood serene. Where, not a minute before, there had been a suburb, there was now only woodland standing amid ruins…There is no warning. No chance to prepare. They arrive in the night: thundering up through the ground, transforming streets and towns into shadowy forest. Buildings are destroyed. Broken bodies, still wrapped in tattered bed linen, hang among the twitching leaves. Adrien Thomas has never been much of a hero. But when he realises that no help is coming, he ventures out into this unrecognisable world. Michelle, his wife, is across the sea in Ireland and he has no way of knowing whether the trees have come for her too. Then Adrien meets green-fingered Hannah and her teenage son Seb. Together, they set out to find Hannah’s forester brother, to reunite Adrien with his wife – and to discover just how deep the forest goes. Their journey will take them to a place of terrible beauty and violence, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness inside themselves.

The Cauliflower – Nicola Barker (Random House)
Foreign Soil – Maxine Beneba (Corsair)
The Last of Us – Rob Ewing (Borough Press)
Fragments – Elena Ferrante (Eurpoa Editions)
A Different Class – Joanne Harris (Transworld)
Ladivine – Marie NDiaye (Quercus)
The Bricks That Built Houses – Kate Tempest (Bloomsbury)
Six Four – Hideo Yokoyama (Quercus)

May

The Doll Master & Other Tales of Terror – Joyce Carol Oates (Head of Zeus)

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Six terrifying tales to chill the blood from the unique imagination of Joyce Carol Oates. A young boy plays with dolls instead of action figures. But as he grows older, his passion takes on a darker edge…A white man shoots dead a black boy creating a media frenzy. But could it be that it was self-defense as he claims? A nervous woman tries to escape her husband. He says he loves her, but she’s convinced he wants to kill her…These quietly lethal stories reveal the horrors that dwell within us all.

The Gustav Sonata – Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus)

It is the tutor who tells the young Gustav that he must try to be more like a coconut – that he needs a hard shell to protect the softness inside. This is what his native Switzerland has perfected – a shell to protect its neutrality, to keep its people safe. But his beloved friend, Anton, doesn’t want to be safe – a gifted pianist, he longs to make his mark in the world outside. On holiday one summer in Davos, the boys stumble across a remote building. Long ago, it was a TB sanitorium; now it is wrecked and derelict. Here, they play a game of life and death, deciding which of their imaginary patients must burn. It becomes their secret. The Gustav Sonata begins in the 1930s, under the shadow of the Second World War, and follows the boys into maturity, and middle age, where their friendship is tested as never before.

The Bones of Grace – Tahmima Anam (Canongate)
The Beautiful Dead – Belind Bauer (Transworld)
The Witches of New York – Amy McKay (Orion)
This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press)
The Woman Next Door – Yewande Omotoso (Chatto & Windus)
Now and Again – Charlotte Rogan (Virago)
The Wicked Boy – Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury)

June

Fen – Daisy Johnson (Vintage)

Daisy Johnson’s Fen is a liminal land. Real people live their lives here. They wrestle with familiar instincts, with sex and desire, with everyday routine. But the wild is always close at hand, ready to erupt. This is a place where animals and people commingle and fuse, where curious metamorphoses take place, where myth and dark magic still linger. So here a teenager may starve herself into the shape of an eel. A house might fall in love with a girl. A woman might give birth to a – well what? English folklore and a contemporary eye, sexual honesty and combustible invention – in Fen, these elements have come together to create a singular, startling piece of modern fiction.

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry (Profile Books)

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Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890’s, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way. They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners’ agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.

Foxlowe – Eleanor Wassberg (Harper Collins)

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A chilling, compulsive debut about group mentality, superstition and betrayal – and a utopian commune gone badly wrong We were the Family, and Foxlowe was our home. There was me – my name is Green – and my little sister, Blue. There was October, who we called Toby, and Ellensia, Dylan, Liberty, Pet and Egg. There was Richard, of course, who was one of the Founders. And there was Freya. We were the Family, but we weren’t just an ordinary family. We were a new, better kind of family. We didn’t need to go to school, because we had a new, better kind of education. We shared everything. We were close to the ancient way of living and the ancient landscape. We knew the moors, and the standing stones. We celebrated the solstice in the correct way, with honey and fruit and garlands of fresh flowers. We knew the Bad and we knew how to keep it away. And we had Foxlowe, our home. Where we were free. There really was no reason for anyone to want to leave.

Daisy in Chains – Sharon Bolton (Transworld)
Everyone Is Watching – Megan Bradbury (Picador)
Addlands – Tom Bullough (Granta)
The Girls – Emma Cline (Chatto & Windus)
Black Water – Louise Doughty (Faber & Faber)
Early Riser – Jasper Fforde (Hodder)
The Little Communist That Never Smiled – Lola Lafon (Serpents Tail)
The Bed Moved – Rebecca Schiff (John Murrary)
Smoke – Dan Vyleta (Orion)
Our Young Man – Edmund White (Bloomsbury)

Phew! So that is the list, it has changed slightly since we recorded The Readers as Gav and I had a couple of snap choices and also I found out some other books were coming out earlier than thought or I simply only discovered them in the last few months. There will be many more I discover or hear about too I am sure. I have just thought of several I have missed (Kit De Waal, Nicholas Searle and a whole shelf of prrof I can’t get to due to scaffolding) so there will be many more. Anyway, quite a few for you to go and find out more about and a good list for me to have when I am stuck in a bookshop without a clue of what to by next – as if that ever happens. Right, I better get reading then. Which of these do you fancy? Which books are you looking forward to in the next six months?

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Apple Tree Yard – Louise Doughty

I do love a book where a character does something completely out of the ordinary and chases a whim for a split second which then changes their lives forever. Louise Doughty uses this device in her latest novel Apple Tree Yard and creates a gripping and thrilling (for oh so many reasons) tale of a women’s fall from grace that leads her from respectability to being on trial at the Old Bailey. It makes for a very, very compelling read.

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Faber & Faber, paperback, 2014, fiction, 448 pages, from my own personal TBR

‘You are familiar, aren’t you?’ says Ms Bonnard in her satin, sinuous voice, ‘with a small back alleyway called Apple Tree Yard.’ I close my eyes, very slowly, as if I am bringing the shutters down on the whole of my life until this moment. There is not a sound from the court, then someone from the benches in front of me shuffles their feet. The barrister is pausing for effect. She knows that I will keep my eyes closed for a moment or two: to absorb this, to attempt to calm my ragged breathing and buy myself a few more seconds, but time has slipped from us like water through our fingers and there is none of it left, not one moment: it’s over.

From the start of Apple Tree Yard we know that Yvonne Carmichael, a married 52 year old highly successful geneticist, is on trial for something horrendous. What we don’t know is what that is, how she may or may not have been involved and what may have led her to that situation. Louise Doughty already has you hooked, I mean with a start like that and all those questions how could she not. What is brilliant is that as the tale goes on she keeps the pace cracking along, and the twists a coming round the corners of every chapter, as we learn of a moment when Yvonne met ‘X’ and in a split second decided to be reckless and ends up having sex with him in a public place and starting an affair built on thrills and risk. Yet the risk, it turns out, is going to be far greater than Yvonne could ever have imagined.

There are several things that make the book so thrilling to read. First there is Yvonne herself. As we read on, going backwards, and find out about her life we learn how all the people around her, herself included in fact, would say she was the last women they could imagine having an affair. From the outside she seems to have the perfect life. They would say she is happily married, has two wonderful children, is highly respected in her job – of course facades can be just that and also do we always really know how happy we are? You cannot help but be compelled to learn more about Yvonne and what makes her suddenly do something so out of character and reckless. There is also the lingering question, how reliable is Yvonne and the side of the story she is giving us?

The structure of the book also makes it very twisty and all the more readable. Louise Doughty sets the book is set into parts first we have the prologue; which feels like it is the end at the start but actually isn’t, then we have X & Y; letters that Yvonne writes to her mystery lover X about how they met and how things spiralled, A T C & G; looks at her family life and what lies behind the façade before things start and the lies she tells afterwards, then finally DNA which is the trial.

Each section is gripping in its own way. In X & Y we have the start of the affair and the illicit sexual nature it takes on. So what about all the sex? Come on, we all do it (well unless there are some Nuns or Monks reading in which case I apologise) and if we all admit it we can’t help but be fascinated/titillated by it. The sex between Yvonne and her lover is really what keeps their affair going, mainly out in public areas this too is completely out of character for Yvonne. Doughty looks at sexuality frankly and, rather bravely, explicitly without it ever being gratuitous or smutty.

In A T C & G we get a look into another subject that fascinates us all, family secrets and cracks in the domestic life. You might thing the Carmicheal’s are the perfect family but are they really? Doughty takes a very interesting look at marriage and child and parent relationships whilst also making sure there is a brooding atmosphere and sense of everything being about to smash into pieces. Domestic drama, we love it don’t we? This culminates in the reason why Yvonne and her lover are on trial, which I had forgotten about so thrilled had I been. This of course leads to the final section DNA, where we have the trial. Now I don’t think I like a courtroom setting but I was gripped by this as witnesses come to the stand Doughty throws in a few more twists for good measure.

What is also brilliant about Apple Tree Yard is the questions it asks. Why is sexuality for people over 50 almost seen as a taboo? Do we fool ourselves into thinking we are happy? Why do women tend to be judged more harshly in terms of sexuality or wrong doing? (This really reminded me of the brilliant Did She Kill Him? only with a different subject and in the modern world not in the Victoriana of that true court case. These two would actually make great companion pieces. Just saying.) All this whilst being a cracking yarn and a wonderfully written and plotted thrilling tale.

I sit in the dock. And I listen to this story. And it comes to me that all you need for a story is a series of facts that can be strung together. A spider sometimes strings a thread from a bush to a fence post several feet away, quite implausibly it often seems, but it’s still a web.

The above quote, from Yvonne as she sits in the docks, wonderfully summarises Apple Tree Yard. Louise Doughty is, if you will allow me, a genius spider spinning an intricate and deft web. A truly original, gripping, slick yet slightly grubby (in a good way), thrilling tale which – cliché alert – I found very, very difficult to put down. I thought it was brilliant. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Not only one of the best thrillers of my reading year so far, one of the best reads full stop.

Who else has read it and what did you make of it? Which of Louise Doughty’s books should I get my mitts on next?

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Filed under Books of 2014, Faber & Faber, Louise Doughty, Review

The Prose Practice Returns; Help Aunty Alice…

So after a three year hiatus I have decided to bring back The Prose Practice, a place where readers can bring their ills, concerns and questions to which I try and be helpful and you all end up being much, much more helpful. Oddly this has nothing to do with me having been sick as a pig (where does that phrase come from?) for a week, it just seemed timely. When this occasional series was in force back in 2010/11 we tried to help many a reader with very important questions like; which books are best for book groups, is there another ‘One Day’ and most importantly (and my favourite yet)… Where are all the novels about lonely men in cardigans?

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In short this is a place for any queries about books you might have, from an awkward relative (nothing to do with this post honest) you want to buy for? Any books with a specific recommendation you are having horrors hunting down? Anything really.

What inspired me with this post is that my lovely aunty Alice, who I never call aunty for varying reasons, randomly asked me about some bookish advice. Actually she didn’t ask in person, she’s become all technological and so asked me on Facebook – how modern! Now Alice likes a book, like most of the Savidge’s though not to the extent of myself and my mother perhaps, but she would like some specific recommendations. Very specific…

Hello bookworm, recommendations please. Am thinking thriller type gripping page turner, nothing too violent with proper good plot twists. Can you help?

Now, as it happens I could do with your help on this one as all I could think of to recommend was the oh-so-obvious but oh-so-brilliant Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and anything by Sophie Hannah. All my other recommendations would have had too much gore or too much ‘full on’ murder. I think Alice doesn’t mind a murder, just wants one that has happened or doesn’t happen in the view of the readers eyes. I wanted to recommend Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty, but I haven’t actually read it, just heard lots of marvellous stuff about it.

So, go on… What book or books would you recommend for Aunty Alice, and also possibly for me?

P.S If you have a bothersome bookish conundrum do email me and maybe we can answer it.

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My Orange Shortlist 2011…

Today will see the announcement of The Orange Prize Short List 2011 and I think it’s the most excited I have been about a prizes short list, other than The Green Carnation Prize of course, in quite some time. I was going to call this post ‘guessing the Orange short list 2011’ but I simply can’t second guess what the panel of judges will have chosen as the final six books, even if I have read the entire Orange long list for 2011 (and I did manage it, thanks to my latest stint in the hospital). I can only go on what I would put forward for my six personal choices after having read the lot. So before I make my guesses here are the 20 books long listed once more, all with my score out of ten and links to the ones have posted already, others are from posts pending which will be up over the next week or so (I’m spacing them out in case you are oranged out, as I almost was at one point)…

So like I said rather than guessing what the judges might or might not have in their short list, no one can do that as five individuals will all love very different books (a few of my favourite submissions for The Green Carnation Prize last year didn’t make the longlist as I was out voted, that’s the way it goes sometimes), I looked at my marks out of ten. Did I still rate those books as highly as I did at the time, how did they compare, had some favourites faded and some books stayed with me when I thought they wouldn’t? I then thought about which of the 20 books I would want to have to read again two or more times and which ones I really loved first time but I am not sure I could read again (something I will be discussing on the blog soon). I also ignored hype, and would hope the judges are too. These are the six that I would have chosen if I was a judge, in order of preference…

  

  

It was a really, really tough decision to make because this years twenty books, ok apart from two of them for me personally, were all really strong and reading them has been brilliant on the whole. You might be shocked as two of my favourite books from the list haven’t made my final six. ‘Room’ because though I loved it last year I feel like I have seen and heard too much about it since. ‘Great House’, which is a book that really surprised me with how much I loved it when I least expected it to, could I read it again though? Probably not, though I would be happy if both of these were on the shortlist too and have a feeling they both with be on the real one.I almost popped ‘Repeat It Today With Tears’ on there too as that has really grown on me, and I liked it a lot to start with, but I couldn’t choose seven titles so had to be tough!

The six I have chosen have stayed with me, I’ve connected with them all in some way and most of all really, really enjoyed them. Will I get it right? I am sure that I won’t, I was rubbish at guessing the long list and am sure it will be the same in this instance. It’s the taking part that’s the fun bit though isn’t it? Which books do you think will make the final six? Which ones have you read, or which ones are you really tempted to read? Will you be reading the short listed titles?

P.S This will be my last post on all things Orange for a while, apart from the actual long list of course which I will post later, I am aware Savidge Reads has been quite orangey in the last week or so, so my missing long list reviews will be sporadic over the next few weeks/months leading up to the winner being announced.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Orange Prize