Tagmonth in review

October wrap-up

The best book that I read in October was Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt (the latest title from And Other Stories, publishers of Deborah Levy’s Booker-shortlisted Swimming Home). It’s a disturbing but superbly realised study of how language and thought can be manipulated to make something abhorrent start to seem reasonable.

Harry Karlinsky’s debut novel, The Evolution of Inanimate Objects, is a biography of a fictitious historical character — Thomas Darwin, youngest child of Charles, who thought he could apply his father’s theories to artefacts. It’s a playful mixture of fact and fiction, a poignant character study, and a reflection on science. I reviewed it for Strange Horizons.

More reviews from October:

…and I continued my story-by-story review of Roelof Bakker’s anthology Still.

In features:

September wrap-up

I read quite a  number of excellent books in September. M. John Harrison’s classic series Viriconium progressively destroyed the notion of fantasy literature as escape. In NW, Zadie Smith created a superb portrait of interlocking lives in north-west London. Scarlett Thomas’s Monkeys with Typewriters was a creative writing book with as much interest for reader as for budding writers.

I began a story-by-story review of Roelof Bakker’s anthology Still, a book of stories inspired by Bakker’s photographs of a vacated building. That project will continue into October.

I also reviewed: the fifth Bristol Short Story Prize anthology; Ryan David Jahn’s Low Life; Evan Mandery’s Q: A Love Story; Terry Pratchett’s Dodger; and Tarun J. Tejpal’s The Story of My Assassins.

In features, I blogged the first and second parts of a round-table discussion about State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. For Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I wrote about what book blogging means to me. I posted the shortlists of the BBC International Short Story Award, the SI Leeds Literary Prize and the Man Booker Prize.

There were three Sunday Story Society discussions, concerning Angela Carter’s “The Merchant of Shadows“, Alois Hotschnig’s “Two Ways of Leaving” and Krys Lee’s “Drifting House“.

August wrap-up

August was the month when I discovered the work of Muriel Spark. I found The Driver’s Seat a powerfully unsettling piece of fiction – the story of a woman’s impending death, a woman who’s acting strangely, for reasons we don’t learn. I was wrong-footed by Spark’s book in the best possible way, and now want to read more of her fiction.

In The Uninvited, Liz Jensen viewed a world of children turning against adults through the eyes of a scientist tested by extremes of emotion. The latest title from Peirene Press, Pia Juul’s The Murder of Halland (tr. Martin Aitken), took a crime as the starting-point for a striking portrait of bereavement. Ewan Morrison combined fiction, anecdote and history to examine a ubiquitous modern institution, in Tales from the Mall.

I also reviewed P.Y. Betts’s superb memoir, People Who Say Goodbye; Alison Moore’s intense Booker-longlisted character study, The Lighthouse; William Wharton’s classic war story, Birdy; Christopher Coake’s tale of the dangers of believing in ghosts, You Came Back; J.R. Crook’s jigsaw of a novel, Sleeping Patterns; Manu Joseph’s story of a father investigating his son’s death, The Illicit Happiness of Other People; and two short story collections: Jon Gower’s Too Cold for Snow, and Tim Maughan’s Paintwork.

In features, I made a list of ten favourite books read during the lifetime of the blog; and posted a couple of personal book round-ups: of the books I bought while on holiday in Bath and Oxford; and a snapshot of my library loans. There were also two Sunday Story Society discussions: of “Bombay’s Republic” by Rotimi Babatunde, and “Atlantic City” by Kevin Barry.

July wrap-up

The most significant development on the blog in July was the Sunday Story Society. This is a book club for short stories, which I’m hosting here every two weeks. We’ve already discussed Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box”; this Sunday, we’ll start talking about Rotimi Babatunde’s Caine Prize-winning story “Bombay’s Republic“. Take a look at our schedule for the rest of the year.

One of my favourite reads this month – and of 2012 so far – was Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo, a Senegalese folktale extended and spliced with chaos theory. Gav and Simon of The Readers podcast invited me on to discuss it, and I also posted a review of the novel.

Another candidate for ‘book of the month’ – although completely different – was Keith Ridgway’s Hawthorn & Child. Where Lord’s novel revolves around storytelling, Ridgway’s is the opposite: an anti-detective novel that fragments as you read it, and where all attempts to impose narrative on the world fail.

Katie Kitamura’s The Longshot was a great debut: an intense study of a mixed martial artist and his trainer, pinning their hopes on one last fight. Other fine debuts came in the shape of Kerry Hudson’s coming-of-age tale, Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma; and Katy Darby’s Victorian-set fusion of melodrama and social commentary, The Whores’ Asylum.

The Madman of Freedom Square by Hassan Blasim and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain were a couple of excellent books – one a story collection, one a novel – offering perspectives on different aspects of the Iraq War. I reviewed them in a double feature.

This month, I also reviewed Stuart Evers’ If This Is Home; Xiaolu Guo’s UFO in Her Eyes; Nikita Lalwani’s The Village; Toby Litt’s Ghost Story  David Logan’s Half-Sick of Shadows (at The Zone); Rosy Thornton’s Ninepins; and Benjamin Wood’s The Bellwether Revivals.

In addition, I blogged about the longlists of two awards: the Man Booker Prize and the Dylan Thomas Prize.

June wrap-up

Book of the Month

Top of the pile this month was the second novel by a writer who is clearly going places. Jonathan Lee’s Joy is a great feat of of characterisation and voice which explores what drove a successful lawyer to commit suicide in a very public way, through the contrasting perspectives of herself and her colleague. It’s a book that brings to mind Rupture by Simon Lelic – in terms of quality as well as structure and subject.

Reviews

Features

May wrap-up

Book of the Month

At the start of May, we found out which novel won this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award, and my favourite read of the month was a previous Clarke shortlistee – Sarah Hall’s The Carhullan Army. Already I have plans for the next book of Hall’s I’m going to read; there won’t be a review of it, but something else. More on that in a few weeks…

Reviews

Features

April wrap-up

Book of the Month

April was mostly about the Arthur C. Clarke Award on here; the best book I read all month was not on this year’s shortlist, but a previous Clarke nominee: David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. I’ve been meaning to read Mitchell for ages, and now I can see that I had good reason.

Reviews

Features

March wrap-up

Book of the Month

Never mind book of the month, my favourite book of the year is Diving Belles, a marvellous collection by newcomer Lucy Wood. But, though the review appeared in March, I actually read that book in February, and mentioned it in last month’s wrap-up. So I think I should also nominate a book which I read in March; and my favourite of those was Anne Brontë’s Agnes Grey.

Reviews

Features

February wrap-up

Book of the Month

This is a tricky one, because the best book I read in February — Lucy Wood’s marvellous collection of stories based on Cornish folklore, Diving Belles — is one I haven’t reviewed yet; and the best book I reviewed on the blog — Everyone’s Just So So Special by Robert Shearman — was one I read last year. Oh, just go and read them both; they’re brilliant books.

Reviews

Features

January wrap-up

I haven’t had as much time to devote to reading and blogging so far this year, so January was a relatively lean month, but not one without some interesting books…

Book of the Month

Simon Lelic has, for me, been one of the most interesting British authors to emerge in the last few years. My favourite read in January was his latest novel, The Child Who, the complex portrait of a lawyer defending a child murderer.

Reviews

Features

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