Reconciliation by Guy Ware and Book Giveaway

Reconciliation takes the transcript of a diary from the Second World War, written by an English spy describing his deliverance from occupied Norway, and creates a delightfully playful novel about the difficulties of accounting for past and present, fact and fiction, in national and individual identity. Set in the 1990s during the Iraq war as well as the 1940s, one woman’s grandfather’s diary becomes the subject of several different retellings and reframings that never quite seem to grasp the skirts of truth, constantly questioning a reader’s grasp of authenticity and our desire for fiction to say something true.

The novel feels wildly relevant, questioning the wisdom of all governance and the clarity of individual allegiance to a political ideology. It forces us to accept a reconciliation between history as fact and history as interpretation. Some things we can only ever speculate upon, but speculation is attempted empathy, a compromise that allows us to move on.

Because the novel progresses from one seemingly authentic account of the transcript’s discovery and subsequent exploration to another, we are forced to continue to question our expectations of narrative. Outlining the plot would spoil the novel, but let’s just say there is enough intrigue in the past and present, as well as a thoroughly forensic exploration of the minutiae of daily living – the reheated ready meals, the workplace banter, a clear vision of Scotland, Norway, Cambridge and London, as well as plenty of whisky – to create a page-turning novel that has the reader constantly on the hop. That’s what makes it such a delight. You’re never quite sure where you are, and yet all of it feels relevant, meaningful and real. Literary critics would have a field day with this novel, despite it also being a book you would be happy to read in one sitting on a long journey or tucked up in a comfy chair by a warm fire.

Nicholas Lezard called Guy Ware’s previous novel, The Fat of Fed Beasts, ‘The best debut novel I have read in years’. Reconciliation consolidates Guy Ware’s reputation as a writer whose observations of modern life are witty, precise and provocative. It’s brilliant. Read it and see for yourself.

Speaking of which, I am delighted to say I have 5 copies of Reconciliation to give away to the first 5 people who reply to this blog post requesting a copy. Good luck!

If you miss the giveaway, you can buy a copy, published by Salt on the 5th October 2017, here.

Compass by Mathias Enard

Compass is one of those novels that requires high levels of engagement, whose scope of knowledge is scintillating and baffling.

Franz, the narrator, is seriously ill. Set in one sleepless night, we follow his thoughts as he contemplates his mortality and his failed loved life. He has had two obsessions in life: the workings of Oriental music within the European tradition – both Europeans using Oriental motifs or Oriental composers working in Europe – and Sarah. Continue reading

The Mandibles: A Family 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver

After reading We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Post-Birthday World, I wasn’t sure I’d be tempted to read another novel by Lionel Shriver. I’d found We Need to Talk About Kevin an issues based novel whose characters didn’t quite convince me and I seem to remember feeling mildly unmoved by The Post-Birthday World. Reading The Mandibles brings all the good sides of Lionel Shriver’s fiction – her snappy dialogue, her delight in conflict, her interest in topical issues – and shows them off to their best. My readings of her previous novels feel harsh and I begin to understand what it is that motivates Shriver and what makes her a fascinating writer to read. Being provocative isn’t just about getting people to read your book, it’s about getting people to think and The Mandibles really does get you thinking.

My scepticism of her previous work is one confession over with, the next is that I know very little about economics. Given that The Mandibles is all about the economy on a local and global scale, how it drives all aspects of governance and society, my reading of the novel will undoubtedly be different from someone with sound economic knowledge.

Ok, now I’ve confessed it all, you’ll know where my review is coming from.

The Mandibles are an American family whose head, Great Grand Man, has a fortune (from his forebears) to leave to his children and their children’s children. At the start of the novel his family are living with the knowledge that one day they may receive some of this fortune, though none of them seem to know how much money there really is. Some of children and grandchildren have done well for themselves, some struggle.

Then the dollar collapses.

In one fell swoop the fortune has gone and different echelons of the Mandible family are thrown together in ways they couldn’t have expected. Continue reading