Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett

I’m very keen on books that incorporate music into the story and I’m not fussy about the format it takes. Things I love: literary mix tapes; words put to song; songs put to words; and authors who include playlists in end-notes. So, of course I was going to read Laura Barnett’s latest, Greatest Hits.

Greatest Hits is a fictional memoir. Singer-songwriter Cass Wheeler reflects on her life by choosing sixteen tracks that define her. Each chapter begins with the lyrics to one of her songs, followed by Cass’s account of important events in her life. Cass’s childhood, in particular her relationship with her mother, sets the foundation for an interesting story, and it moves on to her troubled teen years, her discovery of music, her rise to fame, and her tumultuous relationship with fellow musician, Ivor. Continue reading

Conrad & Eleanor by Jane Rogers

Sometimes you get more ‘enjoyment’ thinking about a book after you’ve finished it, rather than while you’re actually reading it. I use the word ‘enjoyment’ loosely because the post-book thinking I’ve done about Conrad & Eleanor by Jane Rogers has been about how irritating the characters were rather than what was intended (reflections on a dying marriage).

The story is moral-thriller. Conrad and Eleanor have been married for decades. Both are scientists yet Conrad is more interested in their four children than his work, while ambitious Eleanor is focused on her career. When Conrad fails to return from a conference in Munich, Eleanor begins to speculate as to why – her affairs? His jealousy over her career success? His discovery of their daughter Cara’s parentage? Meanwhile, Conrad finds himself in Italy, on the run from a crazed animal rights activist. He has lots of time to think. It’s a hot mess. Continue reading

100 RPM – One Hundred Stories Inspired By Music by Caroline Smailes

Any book that begins with a playlist and an introduction by Nik Kershaw is obviously going on my reading list.

A quick Nik Kershaw refresher before I get into the nitty-gritty of 100 RPM – One Hundred Stories Inspired By Music, edited by Caroline Smailes –

And a little reminder of when I met him… Continue reading

These Dividing Walls by Fran Cooper

Stories about people in apartment buildings are a bit like stories about groups of school mates for me – you invariably have a mixed bunch of characters who are tied together because they have one (physical) thing in a common – a building. I generally quite like these stories, which is why I picked up Fran Cooper’s These Dividing Walls (the very pretty cover also swayed me).

These Dividing Walls is about a particular apartment building in Paris. It’s described beautifully, just as I imagine the quintessential apartment building in Paris to be – a courtyard, heavy wooden doors, flower boxes, winding staircases, a garret room at the top and, the pièce de résistance, a bookshop at the bottom. Continue reading

Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford

Depending on your attitude, it’s either wildly inappropriate or absolutely hilarious that I was listening to Nancy Mitford’s Wigs on the Green concurrently with the podcast, My Dad Wrote a Porno. If you’ve experienced both, you’ll appreciate that the frequent mentions of hedge mazes, manicured lawns, horses and duchesses are quite similar in one sense… and also very much not. Anyway, the important thing is that both made me laugh. A lot.

There’s a juicy back-story to Wigs on the Green, notably that the novel was truly about Nancy’s two Fascist sisters, Unity and Diana, and that the relationship between Nancy and her sisters imploded after its publication (I really should read The Mitford Girls, which has been languishing on my TBR stack for over a decade). Nancy never allowed the novel to be printed after WWII, on the basis that jokes about Nazis were not funny in any context. And obviously they’re not, yet the elements of the story related to class and marriage are sharp and very, very funny.

‘Marriage is a great bore. Chaps’ waistcoats lying around in one’s bedroom and so on. It gets one down in time.’ Continue reading

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

A story about the sea, swimming, books and relationships. It’s like Claire Fuller was writing just for me.

Despite the blurb hinting that Swimming Lessons is a mystery, it’s not. It’s a book about marriage – specially that of Gil and Ingrid. Gil is a lecturer and a writer, famous for a scandalous novel. He’s also a collector of books, specifically those with notes in the margins and passages underlined.

“Forget that first-edition, signed-by-the-author nonsense. Fiction is about readers. Without readers there is no point in books, and therefore they are as important as the author, perhaps more important. But often the only way to see what a reader thought, how they lived when they were reading, is to examine what they left behind.” Continue reading

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

The reviews for Zadie Smith’s latest novel, Swing Time, have been glowing. Which is a good thing, because: glowing, but a bad thing, because: expectations.

My expectations were high. And perhaps nudged even a little higher thanks to The Embassy of Cambodia, which is still fresh in my mind.

Swing Time tells the story of two biracial girls growing up in the eighties in neighbouring housing estates in London. The pair meet at a dance class run in the local hall – the unnamed narrator is intelligent but self-doubting, while the other girl, Tracey, is confident, talented and self-destructive.

“There were many other girls present but for obvious reasons we noticed each other, the similarities and the differences, as girls will.” Continue reading

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty

I’ve done a lot of grizzling on this blog about the implausibility, and ultimately the predictability of thrillers (most recently, Second Life and Girl on the Train). So it’s with great excitement that I actually recommend a thriller – Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty. Continue reading