HOT MILK by DEBORAH LEVY
After the success of Swimming Home (short listed for the Booker) Deborah Levy has written another scorching novel, looking at familial bonds, sexuality and exile. This is an atmospheric and tense book, set one stifling summer on the Spanish coast. Sofia, the narrator, is a young woman adrift in her life, an anthropologist working as a barista in London. She has come to Spain with her mother, Rose, who has mortgaged her house to spend time in a sanatorium where she hopes to cure her mysterious paralysis. But is Gomez, the doctor, just a quack? Will Sofia find some sort of relationship with her wealthy Greek father who abandoned them years ago? Why does she have this strange obsession with Ingrid, a German seamstress “whose body is long and hard like an autobahn”? This is a short novel but rich and dense and hypnotic as we get drawn into Sofia’s life – her mother’s dependency and manipulation and Sofia’s search for truth and identity.
HALF OF A YELLOW SUN BY CHIMIMANDA ADICHIE
A lot of people will have read this remarkable book – it was published in 2006 and has won plenty of awards. This is a powerful account of the Biafran War told through 3 disparate characters. The focus of the story is the war’s impact on civilian life and follows the lives of Odenigbo, a radical Maths lecturer, Ugwu a village teenager who becomes his houseboy, and Olanna, Odenigbo’s beautiful London educated mistress. They are all Igbo and part of breakaway Biafra and we follow their lives through the excitement of their belief in their new state to the horror of starvation and failure. It is such a compassionate and intelligent book and so vividly written that the book stays with you for a long time.
BEFORE THE FALL BY NOAH HAWLEY
This is one of the year’s best suspense novels according to The New York Times. The book begins one August evening on the runway in Martha’s Vineyard where a private plane is preparing to take off for New York. On board are the founder of a right wing and wildly profitable cable network, his wife and two children, his bodyguard, a financier friend who is facing indictment for money laundering, his wife and a penniless artist who has been offered a last minute lift on the plane. We are told in the first chapter that the plane will crash 16 minutes after take off and only Scott, the artist, and the little boy, JJ, will survive. Scott, a competitive swimmer in his youth, miraculously manages to swim to shore with JJ and there the intrigue begins. Was there a bomb on board? Did someone on board deliberately cause the crash? Was it targeted by a missile? Or did it just malfunction? The book is a fascinating puzzle, a clever satire and also a sad story of loss. One of those books that you keep reading even when the lights should be out.
THE MIDNIGHT WATCH BY DAVID DYER
I couldn’t stop reading this book. It is the true and extraordinary story of the Titanic and the Californian, the latter being the ship that was close enough to save everyone on board the Titanic, whose midnight watch saw the distress flairs, who alerted his highly respected Captain but unbelievably the Californian did not respond and 1500 people died that night in 1912. In the whole dreadful story of the Titanic, the Californian’s inaction is the most baffling and unresolved puzzle of all.
The book is written as a novel from the point of view of a journalist who becomes consumed by the Californian story and spends years trying to find an explanation. He continues, even after losing his job, and travels to the hearings in Washington and in London and keeps asking the question – what was it that prevented Captain Lord and his crew from going to the aid of the ship that was so obviously in trouble? A large amount of the book is factual and the hearings make fascinating reading. David Dyer has admitted to being obsessed with the story of the Titanic – he also spent many years at sea before becoming a lawyer – so his knowledge of both the events of 1912 and his descriptions of life at sea make this a book that is very difficult to put down. I became a complete bore telling everyone about this story that is so hard to believe is true.