Books in brief: early February

Another catch-up with some of the books I’ve been reading recently…

Anya Lipska, Where the Devil Can’t Go (2013). At last, a mainstream UK publication for the crime novel set among East London’s Polish community that I reviewed on here a couple of years ago. The new edition has been re-edited, but is much as I remember it – which is to say that it’s a fine book, and you ought to read it.

John Le Carré, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963). I’ve never read much spy fiction – not for any particular reason, just that I haven’t really felt inclined to. But I do like to try different kinds of book, so I went with this tale of Alec Leamas, a spy sent on one final mission. Le Carré’s writing is clean and cool – so much so that it becomes impossible to be sure of Leamas’s true motivations. Ultimately, I don’t think the book was for me (again, no real reason; just one of those things), but I’m glad I tried it.

Hilary Mantel, Fludd (1989). I wanted to read something by Mantel, but preferred to leave her Cromwell trilogy until it’s complete. So I tried this tale of an isolated English mill village, some time in the 20th century, which gains a mysterious new curate. I appreciate its portrait of pragmatism – for example, the village priest is an atheist, but resistant to change, because his job is part of what holds the fabric of village life together – but the novel hasn’t stayed with me.

Sarah Butler, Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love (2013). Alice returns to London to reunite with her family as her father is dying of cancer. What she doesn’t know is that her real father, Daniel, has been living on the streets for years, and has never met her. The events of the novel bring them together… and the rest is not for synopsising. This is a very nicely written debut, and Butler gains real effect from not focusing on the back story – she lets the present speak for itself.

Eugene Salomon, Confessions of a New York Taxi Driver (2013). A New York cab driver for more than thirty years, Eugene Salomon has plenty of stories. He’s kept a blog of them, Cabs Are For Kissing, for six years; now here’s a book of them. Salomon is quite the raconteur as he takes us through the many facets of life in his job – perfect reading for those moments when you want to cut loose and relax.


  1. I have difficulties with Le Carre too. The movie version of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, if you’ve not seen it, is an excellently noirish piece — well worth a watch.

  2. David Hebblethwaite

    3rd February 2013 at 5:44 pm

    Ah, no, I haven’t seen that. I’d be interested to see what sort of film they made from such a ‘talky’ book (and I’ll wager it’s not the sort of film that would be made of it now!).

    • I’ll wager it’s not the sort of film that would be made of it now!

      Not so sure you’re right, there. We recently watched Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, released in 2011, and it was similarly nonsensationalist – a fairly cerebral piece. Spy is the better movie of the two, I’d say. It suffered on release because at the time every new spy movie was supposed to be James Bond.

  3. The only Mantel I’ve read so far was Beyond Black, six or seven years ago now … and it has stayed with me. The writing reaches up and grabs you and yanks you down into one of the grimmest psychological (and psychic) landscapes I’ve ever read. Vivid and haunting; I keep meaning to reread it, but I think I’m a little scared to go back there again. Highly recommended.

  4. David Hebblethwaite

    3rd February 2013 at 8:01 pm

    Not so sure you’re right, there.
    Well, I’d be very happy to be proved wrong in this instance.

    Stephanie: Beyond Black is the one I’d most like to read (and would have, if it had been in the library when I looked). It’ll be my next Mantel. Probably.

    • perfect reading for those moments when you want to cut loose and relax

      What a polite way of saying it . . .

    • Oh, sorry: What I also meant to say that, like you, I found Fludd pretty ephemeral. I smiled a few times, found a couple of Thoggeries, and basically forgot all about it within a couple of days.

  5. David Hebblethwaite

    3rd February 2013 at 8:56 pm

    What a polite way of saying it . . ./i

    That’s not what I meant! Not that I have any idea what you’re talking about, of course.

    like you, I found Fludd pretty ephemeral

    Yes, I think I remember reading about that on your LJ once.

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