Bewilderment – Richard Powers. What a story! A dazzling blend of visionary science – biology, Astro biology, astronomy, neuro science – and the tragic story of a 9 year old boy, whose brain has a few short circuits, filled with grief and bewilderment at an uncaring, baffling world. The title is well chosen, the characters are well rounded and the portrayal of a capitalistic, uncaring America is well timed. I think it must have been written in the terrible Trump years.. I empathised with the recently widowed Dad, trying to cope with his mercurial son and life in general. A wonderful read. I hope it wins the 2021 Booker Prize.
Jeeves and the Leap of Faith – Ben Schott. An Homage to P G Wodehouse. And what a splendid homage it is!, Bertie Wooster patriotically involved with the machinations of the British Secret Service v.s. the odious Black Shorts, lead by the unpleasant Lord Sidcup; the usual terrifying aunts, a dipsomaniacal fortune telling addict, a criminal bookmaker, and – of course – romantc complications on every side. Every chapter produced gales of giggles from me. A tonic and a treasure. Highly recommended.
Hum If You don’t Know the Words – Bianca Marais. A story set in a dark period in South Africa, the mid 1970s, when apartheid held the country in its iron fist. Two unlikely people – Robin, a recently orphaned white 10 year old girl, and Beauty a mid-50s black mother desperately hunting for her daughter – are flung together by events. The Soweto student uprising is the catalyst, but despite the grim circumstances, the book is full of heart and humour, and humanity. I approached it with reluctance, but was surprised how much I enjoyed the story. Recommended.
A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers. Another enjoyable space opera from BC.
A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg – Harry Kalmer. Sub-titled ’A City Novel’. Spans more than 100 years, covers many lives, follows one family but the disjointed narrative was difficult to follow.
Hard to believe that Sigrid Nunez’s Salvation City came out in 2010: does the woman own a crystal ball, I wonder? She writes of the civil and social havoc experienced in a (fictional) post-pandemic America and produces a wonderfully nuanced coming of age novel from a teenage boy’s perspective. She introduces contentious themes: religion, gun ownership, fundamentalism, familial relationships, parental relationships, and climate change but never hauls out her soapbox – admirable, given the subject matter. I will definitely be reading more of her novels.
And then there’s Sierra Leonean Ishmael Beah’s third novel: Little Family. I was looking forward to the book, and it did not disappoint. Such an engrossing read, as we follow the fortunes of a ragtag little family of survivors (maybe ex-child-soldiesr? Or maybe some of them are war victims? so much is delicately hinted at, with reference to a recent civil war). One young adult man, one budding teenage girl, two pre-teen boys, and one ten year old girl live by their wits on the fringe of the city, in an abandoned aero-plane hidden in the African bush. Crime is their business, booze and ganja provide the escape from deeply buried memories – and we are talking about kids here, may I remind you!
Avni Doshi’s debut novel Burnt Sugar landed up on the 2020 Booker Prize Shortlist. Set in 1980s Pune, India, we experience the emotional conflict of Mothers vs Daughters, Daughters vs Mothers, families v.s. women. Toss in formative childhood years spent in an Ashram, childhood neglect, a sadistic Catholic Boarding School, topped off with a Mother sliding into Dementia – or is she? And a daughter sliding into madness – or is she? A disturbing read, one that will stay with me quite a while..
September has turned out to be Memoir month: the wonderful, outrageous, flamboyant Nataniel; author Roald Dahl during WWII; and Allen Johnson, who explores life in France. Great reads, all three.
Salvation City – Sigrid Nunez. A dystopian novel set in a post-pandemic America. The ‘flu strikes, devastation and chaos ensue. Against this setting, teenager Cole struggles with the loss of this parents, contracting the disease himself, surviving a brutal orphanage and then adoption by a fundamentalist Pastor in the Mid-West. A wonderful coming of age novel, highly recommended.
Little Family – Ishmael Beah. An engrossing story about five young people, survivors and/or victims of an African civil war. Add the coming of age story of the teenage girl who cannot resist the feminine in herself, despite her dangerous lifestyle as a post-war victim/survivor In a hostile environment. What does family mean? Read the book and find out. Recommended.
Burnt Sugar – Avni Doshi. 1980s Pune, India. Family conflict, emotional drama, the aftermath of a neglected, abused childhood playing out into adult life. Plus the turmoil of a Mother’s slow descent into dementia, not to mention a daughter’s decline into madness. A riveting read, and not as heavy as it sounds. Recommended.
The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman. What a fun read! A classic murder mystery, but the twist is that the amateur sleuths live in an upmarket country retirement home. The excellent plot turns every which way, but all is revealed at the end, very satisfactorily. Moral of the story is: don’t underestimate the elderly. They are not brain dead. I can’t wait for RO’s next book. Happily, there is one in the pipeline.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Wayfarers (1) – Becky Chambers. (e-book)Another happy discovery – Becky Chambers writes refreshing SF, that does not place the human species at the top of the tree ( au contraire, pretty near the bottom due to our endemic violence); and introduces dazzlingly imaginative scenarios of future worlds and alien species. I can’t wait to read more.
Dreams and Assorted Nightmares – Abubaker Adam Ibrahim. Zangor is the mythical African town conjured up by the Nigerian writer, where a collection of interconnecting short stories explore life, death, hopes, dreams, passion – in short: hot, busy, African life. A very different read for me, but oddly enjoyable.
Look at Me – Recollections of a Childhood. Nataniel. Flamboyant dramatic performer Nataniel, artist, cook, and all round eccentric, shows us where his roots lie: in three small Boland towns. It’s a gorgeous feast of people, food, buildings, streets, neighbourhoods, trees, gardens and small town life in the Western Cape during the 1970s. I’m a fan of his storytelling, outrageous costumes, extravaganzas and music, and loved every page.
Pardon MyFrench: How a Grumpy American Fell in Love with France – Allen Johnson.(e-book)Allen and his wife Nita, spend a year in a small coastal town in the south of France, where he battles with the intricacies of the French language and the baffling social customs of his new friends and neighbours. And he catalogues his skirmishes with horrendous French bureaucracy. But Allen is up for all and any new experiences, and thrives in his new French life. A very enjoyable read.
Going Solo –Roald Dahl. Memoir. In 1938, aged 22, Dahl goes out to Tanganyika/Tanzania, East Africa, to work for the Shell Oil company. His life in East Africa fills the first half of the book, and I loved his stories of life in Africa. He has some hair raising snake stories! The second half of the book details his war time experiences in Greece and the Middle East, as a RAF pilot. I thoroughly enjoyed the East African section.