Book Review – THE HIGHER THE MONKEY CLIMBS by BRUCE GEDDES

Bruce Geddes's debut novel deftly deals with the dilemma of living in a chaotic present while also having to cope with the uncertainties of the past and the unpredictability of the future. The book has patches of dark humour but is also suffused with real pathos and recognition of human frailty. The narrator is Richard …

Book Review – HISTORY OF VIOLENCE by ÉDOUARD LOUIS – Brutal Honesty About Brutal Reality

Édouard Louis's first novel, En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule, was published in France in 2014, when Louis was 22 years old, and translated into English last year as The End of Eddy. It is a short but powerful autobiographical novel about Louis's adolescence and young manhood as an effeminate, book-loving son of working class parents in …

Book Review – MIRROR, SHOULDER, SIGNAL by DORTHE NORS – A Clever Novel About Coping in Copenhagen

Danish writer Dorthe Nors has had two books translated into English so far, a book of short stories, Karate Chop, and a book containing two experimental novellas, So Much For That Winter. The droll and compassionate Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, the first of her five novels to appear in English, was published last year in the UK, …

Book Review – MY GERMAN BROTHER by CHICO BUARQUE – A Ribald and Wise Coming of Age Tale and a Family Mystery

Before I began My German Brother, Chico Buarque's fifth novel, I didn't know a lot about the author. I was vaguely aware that he was a beloved Brazilian singer/songwriter and novelist who often writes on themes of love and politics, and who is now a handsome elder statesman in his seventies. In short, a sort …

Book Review – SLAVE OLD MAN by PATRICK CHAMOISEAU (translated by Linda Coverdale) – A Heart Pounding Tale of a Runaway Slave and a Monstrous Hound

Patrick Chamoiseau is a French writer from the Caribbean island of Martinique, which is an "overseas region" of France. His novel Texaco won the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 1992. His 1997 novel, L'Esclave vieil homme et le molosse, has just been translated into English as Slave Old Man (in the UK it is called The …

Book Review – TANGERINE by CHRISTINE MANGAN – A Poised But Flawed Psychological Thriller in 1950s Tangier

On the cover of Christine Mangan's heavily hyped debut novel Joyce Carol Oates compares her to Donna Tart, Gillian Flynn and Patricia Highsmith. Unfortunately those comparisons are a little overripe. Tangerine is a very assured first novel but it has enough faults and lack of depth to keep it out of the ranks of really …

Book Review – TIN MAN by SARAH WINMAN – A Moving Novel of Love, Life and Regret

Tin Man, British author Sarah Winman’s third novel (after A Year of Marvellous Ways and When God Was a Rabbit) is a beautifully written, often heartbreaking look at love, loss and regret. It is pervaded by doubts over risks not taken and by the loss of loved ones -- to estrangement or death. This theme expands in …

Book Review – THE MARS ROOM by RACHEL KUSHNER – A Harrowing Novel of Life in Prison

Rachel Kushner's two previous novels, both of which were finalists for the National Book Award, relied heavily on research, which she used skillfully to give her novels an air of authority. Telex From Cuba (2008) centred on a group of Americans in Cuba on the brink of the Castro revolution in the 1950s and The …

Book Review – WEST by CARYS DAVIES – A Quixotic Search in a Stunning Debut Novel

Welsh writer Carys Davies's impressive first novel, West, opens with a spare dialogue between a widowed mule breeder and his ten-year-old daughter: “How far must you go?” “That depends.” “On where they are?” “Yes.” “So how far? A thousand miles? More than a thousand miles?” “More than a thousand miles, I think so, Bess, yes.” …

Book Review – THE SOLITARY TWIN by HARRY MATHEWS – The Great Trickster’s Final Novel

Harry Mathews was an American novelist and poet who lived most of his life in France. When he died last year at the age of 86, he was perhaps better known in Europe than in the English speaking world. His fan base in his native language may be small, but they are tenaciously dedicated to …

Book Review – INSEPARABLE: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History by YUNTE HUANG

Yunte Huang is an English professor at UC Santa Barbara and the author of a wonderfully eye-opening earlier book, Charlie Chan: the Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History, which traced the Charlie Chan story from the real-life Honalulu police investigator, Chang Apana, who inspired Earl Derr Biggers' fictional detective, …

Book Review – VENGEANCE by ZACHARY LAZAR – Questions of Truth and Trust, Guilt and Innocence in a Prisoner’s Story

  Vengeance, Zachary Lazar's fourth novel, begins with a narrator (unnamed throughout the novel, but undeniably Zachary Lazar) visiting the notorious Angola prison (population 6,400 mostly black inmates) in Louisiana with his photographer friend Deborah to cover the prison's all-inmate "passion play" about the crucifixion of Jesus. Deborah is clearly Deborah Luster, to whom the …

Book Review – THE ADULTURANTS by JOE DUNTHORNE – A Touching and Comic Look at Millennials and their Elusive Search for Adulthood

Joe Dunthorne's third novel is short, poignant and very, very funny. Ray, The Adulturants' not very reliable narrator, has charm and a quick wit -- or so he believes -- and he tends to deploy them at the most inopportune times. There is no situation so serious -- getting caught in a compromising position with …

Book Review – TOMB SONG by JULIÁN HERBERT – A Son’s Haunting Story of His Dying Mother Told in Fiction, Memoir and Fantasy

Julián Herbert is a poet and novelist famous in his native Mexico for his dazzling wordplay. Tomb Song, his 2011 novel, is the first of his books be translated into English, fluidly by Christina MacSweeney who also translated Valerie Luiselli's wonderful The Story of My Teeth. Tomb Song is another entry in the recently popular …

Book Review – HOW TO STOP TIME by MATT HAIG – The Comic Perils of a 1,000 Year Life

"I am old. That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong." So Tom Hazard, the narrator of Matt Haig's exuberant new novel, How to Stop Time, tells us in …

Book Review – EDUCATED: A MEMOIR by TARA WESTOVER – A Sensitive Story of a Journey From Isolation to a PhD

Today, at 32, Tara Westover lives in London, England, has a PhD in history from Cambridge University and has been a visiting fellow at Harvard University. But, she didn't set foot in a classroom until she was 17 and had never heard of the Holocaust or the Civil Rights movement. She grew up without a …

Book Review – AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE by TAYARI JONES – What Happens to a Young Marriage When Catastrophe Strikes?

Tayari Jones new novel (which is also the latest addition to Oprah's Book Club) is a powerful and heartbreaking dissection of a marriage that goes sour after an unexpected tragedy. Celestial and Roy are perfect embodiments of Atlanta's new black middle class. She is an artist who is gaining success with her collectible dolls, which …

Book Review – THE JOB OF THE WASP by COLIN WINNETTE – An Hilarious Gothic Coming of Age Story

In his last book, 2015's Haints Stay, Colin Winnette magnificently skewered the Western genre with splashes of violence, drunkenness and gender confusion. Oh, and ghosts too. His latest novel explodes the Gothic horror genre and the coming- of-age novel, with just as much skill and black humour. Oh, and it has ghosts too. Throughout the …

Book Review – KING ZENO by NATHANIEL RICH – A Shimmering Novel of Jazz and Violence in New Orleans

Between an axe murderer on the loose, an outbreak of Spanish influenza, the end of The Great War, the birth of jazz and the construction of a massive canal linking the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Pontchartrain there is a lot going on in Nathaniel Rich's hometown of New Orleans in his boisterous third novel. …