New Year Reading for Late Late Summer

The weather may have delayed the swimming, the walks and the sun bathing but it sure has left time for reading, reading and reading.

Escaping from slavery in the Old South

By Ralph McAllister

First up, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

This is an ambitious novel centred on slavery and how to escape it in the 1850’s South, in America.

The railroad doesn’t exist, but is a metaphor for the transportation system, bathed in secrecy and danger, which fifteen year old Cora is subjected to, as she fights for her freedom.

A brilliant and upsetting book.
Nowhere theme is no good!

The Nowhere Man by Gregg Hurwitz is a follow up to Orphan X, last year’s best seller, which introduced Evan Snoak to the criminal world.

Like Jack Reacher there is very little that Evan faces which defeats him.

Invincible he certainly is, but the thriller is never less than slightly ridiculous both in character and plot.

Suspension of disbelief needed in buckets, plus a strong stomach to cope with the violence.

There is spurious content for some and, incidentally, the first cover in a long time which does not feature the author’s name.

David Szalay provides a mirror of society’s woes?

All That Man Is by David Szalay was one of my books of 2016, published, labelled a novel but really a series of short stories, and none the worse for that.

You might be tempted to respond to the title with a “not much”, as the men question their existences, their memories and their prospects.

But we soon realize that these men mirror so many of our own uncertainties and anguish.Miserable? Yes, but also an enriching experience and deservedly shortlisted for the Man Booker.

Szalay writes compassionately and superbly and, yet again, I wonder why this didn’t win the big prize instead of The Sellout, a satire about racism, which Orwell did so much better with Animal Farm and at least half the length.

A journey around an uninspiring father

Alan Dudding has written a memoir, My Father’s Island, an account of his father Robin and his days bringing up a large family while working as an editor for publications such as Landfall, the Listener, Mates, Islands and other publications.

The son struggles trying to understand why his father treated his wife with such disdain as she brings up six children in dreadful settings.

That Dudding senior was preeminent in the editorial field is undisputed, but personally, he remains unappealing, despite his son’s sensitive and searching account.

An interesting social document of the second half of the 20th century.

Jessie Burton does it again!

Finally for all fans of The Minaturists, which sold over a million copies in 2014, Jessie Burton has followed that triumph with another, The Muse.

A rattling good story, well, two actually, as we follow Olive, the aspiring young artist in Spain at the beginning of the civil war in 1930’s. She meets and falls in love with Isaac, a handsome and mysterious local, who has a precocious sixteen year old half-sister Teresa.

Meanwhile Trinidadian Odelle obtains work in an art gallery in not so swinging 60’s London. she is strongly attracted to Lawrie whose background is dubious.

Art and secrecy link the stories, eventually, but not before wondrous twists and turns make this compulsive reading.

Early in the year, I know, but it promises to be one of the best of my non-summer 2017.

Happy reading

Ralph