Panic at Christmas?
By Ralph McAllister
Don’t know what to buy him/her?
Don’t worry Help is nigh.
Here are four novels from writers at the pinnacles of their careers.
Surely one or more will solve your quandary.
Munich 1938: the novel
Robert Harris offers another piece of extraordinary research with Munich, his fictional account of the five days Chamberlain and Hitler spent pretending that World War Two could and would be averted.
Two minor officials, Legatt from Downing Street and Hartmann from Berlin were good friends at Oxford, now they have major problems with their respective bosses.
We all know what happened in Munich in 1938, but Harris builds tension and insight as only he can, both through his fictional characters and his detailed landscapes.
One of the best thrillers of the year.
Another excellent thriller
So too is Defectors by Joseph Kanon, another 60’s spy story from the Leaving Berlin author.
This time one brother has defected to Russia years before the story begins.
Now he wants his younger brother to publish his story of the defection.
The two meet in Moscow and complications ensue, loyalties and friendships are severely tested, particularly after a murder is committed.
Fiction? Yes, but shades of Burgess and McLean haunt the story.
Totally believable and fast moving.
Classy thriller with an Isis theme
Home Fire a seventh novel by Kamila Shamsie is a reworking of both Sophocles and Anouilh’s versions of Antigone.
But do not let that put you off!
This is the modern day story of families rent apart, Aneeka’s twin brother has joined Isis.
Eamonn, the Home Secretary’s son falls in love with Aneeka and she uses him mercilessly to try to “save” her brother from himself.
The story builds to a shattering climactic scene which will have you gasping.
Excellent writing awaits you, Home Fire was long listed for the Booker.
Mmm, it should have been given greater recognition.
The pièce de résistance: Hollinghurst is back!
Finally, The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst, hovers close to being Book of the Year.
We shall see.
In the meantime readers of his previous novels, such as Line of Beauty and The Swimming Pool Library will need little persuasion to devour this next piece of gay brilliance.
We start on the rooftops of Oxford in 1940 where the students are fire watching as German bombers do their worst.
David Sparsholt, young and desperately handsome, seems oblivious of his own beauty, and with shades of Brideshead Revisited behaviour proceeds to form and ruin relationships.
The novel is laid out in three periods finishing in 2013 and we are quickly involved in the secrets, the loves, and the sexual proclivities of several families.
The whole is framed within the visual arts world and the literature of the eras.The time jumps are demanding, you have to keep your wits about you.
~ set scenes of stunning creation,
~ characters that leap from the pages,
~ humour and pain depicted with accuracy and empathy,
it is impossible to argue with the belief that Hollinghurst is Britain’s best living novelist.
And Book Of the Year?