Swing Time is the story of two brown girls from London, who love to dance and have a complicated relationship. We follow them from childhood to adulthood, in London, New York and Africa. It is, as you would expect from Zadie Smith, beautifully written, and I never found it dull, but I was not entranced, either. The narrator, not named, is detached, without ambition, even shiftless, so I found the themes of parenthood, race, belonging, poverty, charity, fame, purpose, and meaning not, perhaps, as powerful as they might have been.
Yes, it took me two and a half months to finish this. I always find Nick Harkaway’s books dense, and I can’t race through them, but how I enjoy his convoluted, madcap, far too clever stories! Gnomon is a mystery, an adventure and a complex and confusing maze. Set in a near future of hyper-surveillance, it looks at what is important to self, to society, and what sacrifices are made to achieve the common good. I’ll miss it, now I have finished.
Orlando is such a beautiful, lyrical, whimsical, funny, dreamlike, book; I wanted to read it out loud. It’s an historical fantasy story about an aristocratic young man, with a great passion for nature and living, who somehow lives outside of time, and one day wakes up as a woman. Yes, it is bizarre, but a joyful, amusing, and exotic journey.
Every nine years, someone will find just what they have been hoping for at Slade House, a grand old house that almost appears out of nowhere, and then, they disappear. Beginning in 1979, and ending in 2015, we are those poor unfortunates as they discover the horrors behind the house. It is creepy, not really scary, and so very clever, as we get into the heads of needy people, just as things are turning around for them, then spectacularly turned upside down. You don’t need to have read his earlier book, The Bone Clocks, but if you have, it will be especially good.
Yuki is a Japanese teenager, living in New York City in the late 60s; no longer belonging in Japan, she is also an outsider in New York. Her parents return to Japan, and she stays, with an almost friend, and for the next few years tries to be an artist. The story of her son, set in the current day, is also told, as he tries to adjust to parenthood, and wonders why his mother left him. It’s a quietly bleak story, with flashes emotion, of Yuki and Jay’s internal struggle for meaning and place, and for peace within themselves. The characters are deeply flawed, most are unlikeable, and it is a touch melancholy, but it is strangely suspenseful and compelling.
Anatomy of a Scandal is a fast-paced, courtroom drama told from multiple perspectives. A powerful politician, happily married and living in London, is accused of rape, and we follow him, his wife, the prosecutor and a number of others, both now and during his time at Oxford, in events leading up to what has happened. It is clever, tight, suspenseful and very timely, dealing with the experiences of women, privilege, the abuse of power and the search for truth.
Guylain Vignolles lives alone, apart from his goldfish, and hates his job. Each day he gets pleasure from reading aloud, on the train, from pages of books he has rescued. One day he discovers entries from a young woman’s diary, and goes on a quest for love. Set in Paris, with a host of quirky characters, I expected this to be an awful lot sweeter and more heartwarming than I found it. It was rather more coarse, and didn’t deliver on the promises I thought the plot had made, especially about the power of books. It was a quick, and pleasant read, but disappointingly unaffecting.
For lovers of language, not action, this book is about life and those who live it; it’s a river flowing through the mundane, the every day, picking up the thoughts, motivations, loves, losses and every little foible of those it carries along. It is beautiful, lush, stark, funny, uncomfortable, and tenderly beautiful.
Tom is not an ordinary person, he has a condition that makes him age very, very slowly. Through Tom Matt Haig explores what time and memory means to us humans. We are always thinking of the past or the future. Perhaps we should allow ourselves time to live in the moment, open ourselves up, and be willing to love — Cynthia
Imagine once you hit puberty, your ageing slowed, so that when you were over 400 years old, you looked around 40. How would you live, how would your memory work, what would be important to you? This is the situation for Tom Hazard, who has struggled for centuries to live with his past, and keep his secrets; knowing he mustn’t make connections, but keep moving on. Now, he questions the meaning of life, and what makes it worthwhile. It’s an imaginative story, full of historical detail, deep questions and sweet relationships — Amy
Sunset Song was voted the best Scottish book, so I felt compelled to read it. It is set in a small, rural Scottish community, full of eccentric characters, and a landscape both harsh and beautiful. Beginning not long before WWI, it tells of an ancient place in a time of great change, and we follow young Chris Guthrie as she grows with her family, suffers loss, falls in love and changes with the world. There were so many Scottish words I had to guess the meaning of, but the strange beauty of the land, the pull it had on its people, the quirky, funny, sweet and dark characters, and Chris’ strength through her trials and joys were clear, heartwarming and moving.