Rebecca Wait, The View on the Way Down (2013). On the day of Kit Stewart’s funeral, his brother Jamie left home unannounced – and the Stewarts are still feeling the repercussions of Kit’s death five years on. Over time, we learn that Kit took his own life following depression; but Wait keeps her main focus on the rest of the family, in a way which suggests that they never fully understood what Kit was going through. And the novel truly shines in showing the myriad little cracks and frictions running through the family as a result of what they haven’t told each other. This is a quietly powerful novel, and a strong debut for Rebecca Wait.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925). I first read The Great Gatsby a couple of years ago and, for whatever reason, it didn’t really click with me. I don’t know why that might have been, because this time I really enjoyed it. Fitzgerald introduces Jay Gatsby as a vastly wealthy and charismatic figure, then proceeds to reveal the shallowness and fakery underneath. The dissection of the upper echelons of Roaring Twenties society is so concise and precise; and the way Fitzgerald balances one’s sympathies for his characters is marvellous. I re-read this for my new book group, whose general consensus was that The Great Gatsby is indeed great. And I say the same.
Jim Bob, Driving Jarvis Ham (2012). This novel is narrated by the old friend, ‘manager’ and occasional chauffeur of one Jarvis Ham, a semi-lovable eccentric/loser with unfulfilled dreams of stardom. Jarvis’s friend has been reading his secret diaries, but the two of them won’t be keeping secrets much longer. Driving Jarvis Ham is an absolute joy to read: there’s such a strong voice, with the narrator’s sharp eye and dry humour. But, in between all the laughs and the lovingly scrappy illustrations lurks something rather more sinister, that gives the novel a real edge. It’s a winning combination.
G. Willow Wilson, Alif the Unseen (2012). Jobbing teenage hacker Alif honours the wishes of his love Intisar (who’s now betrothed to another) to remove himself from her life, by creating a program that can detect Intisar (and hide Alif from her) to an impossibly sophisticated degree. Doing this ruptures the boundary between the worlds of humans and djinn; so, when Intisar gives Alif a book written by djinn that encodes the secrets of reality, Alif finds himself straying between worlds – and being pursued. There are some nice ideas in this debut novel, and a good deal of brio in its telling. But Alif himself is a frustratingly flat character, and there’s a sense that the political issues touched on by Wilson stay in the background, and slide by Alif’s adventures rather than confronting him. Still, Alif the Unseen is promising,and it’ll be interesting to see where Wilson goes next.