White by Marie Darrieussecq

Edmeé and Pete have never met. They come from separate parts of the globe, but White follows their individual journeys to Antarctica and each other.

Why do you sign up for a job in such freezing conditions if you are not a scientist or adventurer seeking some new discovery? What is it that Edmeé and Pete want from the ice and snow, from the endless whiteness that splits champagne bottles in half and requires constant vigilance against for survival? Continue reading

Poster Boy by N. J. Crosskey

Set in a fascist Britain, in the not too distant future, two women, Rosa and Teresa, fight to stay alive with some sense of integrity as the nation takes further steps towards totalitarian leadership where all citizens are monitored and given access to education, food and health care on a scale dependant upon their heritage, opinion and behaviour. Continue reading

Supper Club by Lara Williams

I devoured this book (pun intended). The idea of women wanting to gorge themselves and take up more space physically as a precursor to taking it up mentally and socially, is delightfully and annoyingly radical. That pressure for the feminine to be neat, contained, and, if possible, small, quiet and submissive is deliciously subverted by a rowdy supper club where women gorge themselves silly on food, drink and drugs, taking up space with their loud voices, dancing and messy eating. The physical expansion of flesh that ensues is less embarrassing because all the individuals in the group put on weight collectively and celebrate the extra flesh rather than hiding it behind modest outfits and downcast eyes. Continue reading

Asylum by Marcus Low

Set only a couple of years in the future, Asylum is a presentation of the journals of Barry Wilbert James, an inpatient at the Pearson quarantine facility for pulmonary nodulosis in the Great Karoo of the Republic of South Africa. These personal journals, begun two years after his incarceration at the Pearson are interspersed by a preface, notes and marginalia made by Barry and various academics who studied the archives at the Museum of the Plague in South Africa, a museum dedicated to the most serious outbreak of an infectious disease since the peak of the HIV epidemic. Continue reading

Devilspel by Grigory Kanovich, trans by Yisrael Elliot Cohen

Devilspel tells the story of the inhabitants of a small rural town, Mishkine, in Lithuania in the early 1940s. Though not all of the characters that we follow are Jewish, the novel explores the shifts in attitude towards the local tailors, doctors, farmhands and gravediggers, as the incoming wave of anti semitism wipes the town’s Jewish population from the map.

This is part of the wider story of Lithuania’s Jewish population, a very personal story for Grigory Kanovich who is one of only 5% of 200,000 Lithuania Jews who survived the war. Continue reading

Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks

Tariq is a teenager from Morocco who longs to travel to Paris. He knows his mother was born there, that one of her parents was French. He doesn’t know what happened to her and partly from a desire to learn more, and partly simply from the desire to escape the routine of his school life, he takes his passport and travels into France on the back of a lorry.

Hannah is American and just over thirty. She’s been in Paris before. It was there she met the man who broke her heart all those years ago. Returning now is a chance not only to generate new research for a history book being written by her professor back in the states about women’s lives during the occupation of Paris by the Germans, but also to confront that earlier version of herself, the more carefree Hannah who was open to new experiences and people, whose suffering forced the older Hannah to disconnect from the present and pursue a love of the people of the past. Continue reading

What Red Was by Rosie Price

Kate and Max become friends at university.

Kate comes from a single-parent home. Her mother suffered from depression and Kate’s journey to university is by no means a foregone conclusion, though she is smart.

Max has well-connected and rich parents and his mother is a famous film director.

Kate and Max build a close, platonic friendship whose limits are tested (spoiler alert) when Max’s cousin rapes Kate at a party. What this does to Kate, her ability to confront the experience, who she confides in, turns a fun coming of age comedy full of parties, drugs and alcohol, into something much more complex. Continue reading

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

I devoured this book, reading it incredibly quickly, eager to discover what would happen even though the outlining story itself is one we all know. Pat Barker tells the story of the Trojan War through the eyes of Briseis, Achilles prize for taking the Trojan town Lyrnessus in battle. Briseis gives us an alternative view of the war and how it affects the women of both sides. For this fact alone the novel has won huge interest and acclaim and I’m glad to have read The Silence of the Girls and to join my voice with those who praise the novel.

However, despite the need for such an alternative viewpoint, despite the pace of the action, the depth of thought, complexity of character and beauty of the language, the novel still didn’t quite push far enough for me. There was still a need to hang the story on the history of the great male Achilles. This was hugely frustrating and whilst that frustration is, no doubt, intentional, meant to be there to irritate the reader, to press them to desire narratives untethered from the grander male, birth-of-literature narrative, it niggled and nagged at me. Why not leave the wider story untold but from Briseis’ viewpoint, or have another female figure take up the story? Why take us into the histories of Patroclus and Achilles? This is, after all, a story that we know well. Continue reading

Doggerland by Ben Smith

The waters of the world have pushed back the land, driven over it, covered the earth leaving a sea of particles, plastics and life built upon the waves. The Boy is stuck with the old man repairing the turbines on a huge wind farm. Is there still land? The novel doesn’t really ever say definitively.

What we do know is that Boy’s father disappeared when his contract was unfinished, leaving Boy to fulfil it. They watch the system to alert them to faults and they take the maintenance boat and try and fix the turbines, try and keep them generating electricity. Continue reading

From Hell by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell

This is a beast of a book, beautifully tight despite suggesting multiple interpretations and readings of the Jack the Ripper murders. Everything about this graphic novel teems with an overflow of possible meaning. That makes it simply delightful to read.

I don’t know a lot about the Ripper murders or Masonry and From Hell’s exploration of both gives London itself a new shape. Darkness and chaos are cut against providence and godliness. Visions war with the tried and tested hierarchies of society. Victorian culture, the peak of British Empire is riddled with the signs of its own demise. We see the chasm between rich and poor, the exploitation of difference and poverty for the sake of the rich that we have been unable to escape from even in the twenty-first century. It’s dirty and ugly and sad and also beautiful and filled with longing and hope. Continue reading