Book Reviews: Helen FitzGerald's depiction of notorious party town feels very realistic

Australian novelist ans screenwriter Helen FitzGerald's new book is out now

Viral by Helen FitzGerald, published by Faber & Faber

'SO FAR, twenty-three thousand and ninety six people have seen me online. They include my mother, my father, my little sister, my grandmother, my other grandmother, my grandfather, my boss, my sixth year Biology teacher and my boyfriend James.'

This is the opening line of Helen FitzGerald's 11th novel and sets the tone for a modern psychological thriller about families, moral dilemmas and the power of the internet. Viral follows the story of crazy and unreliable teenager Leah and her adopted sister Su, who head off on holiday to Magaluf to celebrate their A-levels and when a video of normally straight-laced Su performing sex acts in a nightclub appears on the internet and goes viral, she disappears, forcing her mother (a judge) to get involved.

The Australian author's depiction of the notorious party town feels very realistic and her no-nonsense writing style frames this story about lies, vengeance and family loyalties well. TV rights to the book have already been snapped up by Kudos, the production company behind Broadchurch.

Georgina Rodgers

The High Mountains Of Portugal by Yann Martel, published in hardback by Canongate

THE High Mountains Of Portugal is the long-awaited new novel by Life Of Pi author Yann Martel. This new book is really three novellas: the first set in 1904 about a grieving young man called Tomas travelling across the country in search of a religious relic; the second, the tale of a pathologist who becomes embroiled in a murder investigation; and the third is about a Canadian senator who takes refuge in Portugal following the loss of his wife.

Sounds simple enough doesn't it? The difficulty I had with this novel was the detail, the minute details of the inner workings of Tomas's car, the horrendous description of the autopsy, not to mention the senator's chimpanzee companion, made me want to put it down.

Add to that the surreal elements, one of the protagonists walks backwards and a living woman (amongst other things) is sewn inside a dead body, and my overriding emotion is bemusement. Having said that, if you liked Life Of Pi, you're sure to find enough similarities here to enjoy it.

Rachel Farrow

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin, published in hardback by Mantle

EVER since he could speak, Janie's son, Noah, has been asking for his other mother. Now four years old, Noah's imaginative leaps have become progressively worse. After the latest psychologist offers a discomforting diagnosis, Janie seeks out alternative help.

Dr Jerome Anderson walked away from a prestigious university medical residency to turn his attentions to the phenomenon of reincarnation. Now fighting primary progressive aphasia, he decides to take up the baton for his life's work once more. Time is against him though, as is finding a relevant case study, until Janie gets in touch.

Finding the truth about Noah's past could be both Anderson and Janie's salvation, but it does not come without pitfalls. Sharon Guskin's debut is an incredible Russian doll of a novel; beginning as a seemingly ordinary story of maternal struggle, it soon unfurls into a fascinating tour of reincarnation, a compelling murder mystery, and an examination of the familial bond.

Don't be put off by the foray into the preternatural if it's not your thing, because, like Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, at its core it really is just superb fiction.

Jade Craddock


Bletchley Park: The Secret Archives by Sinclair McKay and Bletchley Park, published in hardback by Aurum Press

JOE Public gets a whistle-stop tour behind the scenes of Britain's Second World War code-breaking nerve centre in this official history. It is less an examination of the Top Secret work than an introduction to the place and the people who made the magic happen, and how they lived their covert lives.

It takes in the transformation of the Park from pre-war society destination to a vital espionage hub wreathed in secrecy as it broke Axis codes and played a vital role in Allied victory.

The book is at its best when it describes the human collision of Oxbridge classicists, introverted mathematicians, society debutantes and ordinary servicemen and women brought together in what is now a nondescript suburb of Milton Keynes. The story is not told through Alan Turing-tinted glasses, introducing a wide range of people working at the Park and also those living around it, including some who thought it was a special lunatic asylum.

This isn't a book for someone wanting an in-depth history of Enigma code-breaking or Turing's disgraceful post-war treatment, but is a tactile dip-in-and-out primer.

David Wilcock

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