Book Reviews: Peter Carey's round-Australia novel is really two books in one
A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey is published in hardback by Faber & Faber priced £17.99 (ebook £8.96). Available now
PETER Carey is one of just three novelists to have won the Booker Prize twice so A Long Way From Home has been keenly awaited. The narrative centres on the Redex Trial, a brutal real-life car race around Australia. Irene Bobs is a wild and audacious woman who loves fast driving – and isn't going to let sexism stop her competing in the 1954 rally, with her husband Titch as co-driver and neighbour Willy as navigator. The book begins as an upbeat and hugely enjoyable romp. But as the race progresses, the atmosphere becomes much darker. Irene discovers weaknesses in her marriage; Willy discovers his previously unsuspected Aboriginal heritage and is forced to confront the truth, both about himself and the crimes committed against the indigenous people. This novel is fascinating and Carey has put in a lot of historical research. Yet it feels like two books in one – the funny and the disturbing. A well-intended and admirable venture, that makes for an odd read.
White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht is published in hardback by Chatto & Windus, priced £12.99 (ebook £7.99). Available now
IF YOU'RE a fan of The Kite Runner and Memoirs Of A Geisha, you'll love White Chrysanthemum. Mary Lynn Bracht's debut novel is told through two sisters – Hana and Emi – 68 years apart. Their little family is devastated in 1943, when elder sister Hana is taken by Japanese soldiers and forced to become a 'comfort woman' in a Japanese military brothel. Despite her elder sister's sacrifice to keep her safe, Emi endures her own horrors throughout the war as the family is torn apart. The narrative oscillates between the two sisters: Hana in 1943 as she's forced into prostitution and then taken captive by the Japanese soldier who first stole her, and Emi, looking back on her life as an old lady in 2011. Both educating and engaging, Bracht's rich detail and captivating characters plunge you into Korean history in a heartbreaking and deeply emotional page-turner.
Still Me by Jojo Moyes is published in hardback by Michael Joseph, priced £20 (ebook £9.99). Available January 25
JOJO Moyes has a habit of hooking her readers in with irrevocably loveable characters. And none more so than Louisa Clark, who we were first introduced to in the touching bestseller, Me Before You. The third book following the kind-hearted, bumble-bee-tights-wearing heroine is a departure from the tone of the other novels in the series. Louisa moves to New York to start a job with an incredibly wealthy family, in a bid to give herself a fresh start, but soon discovers life is complicated no matter where she lives. Especially when it comes to the relationships she has left behind. Was another instalment in the series absolutely necessary? Maybe not. Still Me doesn't have quite the same emotional pull as its predecessors, and the plot feels a little clunky and random at times. But if you've followed Louisa's journey so far, it's worth a read. If nothing else, it's a warming tale of self discovery, while also feeling like a comforting catch up with an old friend.
The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar is published in hardback by Harvill Secker, priced £12.99 (ebook £7.99). Available January 25
SO MUCH promise and imagination reside in The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock, but writer Imogen Hermes Gowar struggles to fully realise them, getting bogged down in too much meandering. Mr Hancock is a slightly tubby businessman, whose success is dependent on what his ships bring in. Greyed and blurred around the edges by sadness after the loss of his wife and son during childbirth, his fortunes seem set to change when the tides provide him with a curious 'mermaid' to put on display. Precocious, frivolous escort Angelica is on the brink of society greatness, but needs bankrolling and protection courtesy of a suitor – she and Hancock of course collide. The supporting characters are a little hammy and the plot needs tightening up; however, the dips in and out of London's underbelly are intriguingly gaudy, and the details of domestic life are precise and telling. There's a twist, but it is too predictable to be wholly satisfying.
From Here To Eternity by Caitlin Doughty is published in hardback by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, priced £14.99 (ebook £7.99). Available January 25
IN HER previous memoir, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, Caitlin Doughty drew on her experience as a crematorium worker to examine attitudes to death. Now a licensed mortician with her own alternative funeral practice in Los Angeles, for this second book she turns her attention to death-care practices around the world. Using examples from Spain, the Americas and the Far East, Doughty contrasts the formal restraint of western funeral directors with more intimate, hands-on traditions. In Indonesia she sees long-dead corpses brought into homes to be lovingly dressed by family members. Squeamishness and avoidance of death, Doughty argues, put at risk our ability to properly grieve. With humorous asides, demystifying practical information (exactly what happens to a composted corpse) and appealing black-and-white illustrations, she gives pointers towards ways in which we might create more meaningful and involving death traditions. The end result is a book that is far from morbid, but moving and inspiring.
Lost Connections: Uncovering The Real Causes Of Depression And The Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari is published in hardback by Bloomsbury priced £18.99 (ebook £). Available now
THE bestselling author of Chasing The Scream turns his attention from addiction to depression, another spiralling modern-day malaise. At the centre of this thought-provoking work is his assertion that big pharma has made $100 billion with the false story that chemical antidepressants are the solution to an imbalance in the brain. Hari, who endured years of misery on such drugs, says it's more the case of life going wrong. His comprehensible and penetrating study features extensive research and interviews. Though he concedes some provide temporary relief, he questions the efficacy of drugs like SSRIs and the lack of unbiased clinically proven evidence, with studies policed by self-interested drug giants. He points to disconnection, disempowerment and anxiety as the real villains, with advertising promoting materialism that leads to unhappiness. This heartening and influential book reveals the mutual social benefits of reconnecting with others and helping them to help yourself.
Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone is published in paperback by Simon & Schuster Children's UK, priced £6.99 (ebook £4.99). Available now
ABI Elphinstone has taken inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairytale, The Snow Queen, and thrown in a dash of CS Lewis's Chronicles Of Narnia for her latest book, Sky Song. Following the success of The Dreamsnatcher trilogy and Winter Magic, she has delivered another breathtaking fantasy adventure. This time it is set in a frozen world of ice and magic, where an evil Ice Queen has cast a spell over the kingdom of Erkenwald, dividing its tribes and seeking to gain eternal life by stealing voices. With all Erkenwald's adults locked up in her Winterfang Palace, it is left to three children – Eska, Flint and his little sister Blu – to free the land from the Ice Queen's control. They must find the legendary Frost Horn and claim the Sky Song, but this takes them on a dangerous quest filled with monstrous beasts and dark magic. After a slow start, the plot picks up pace and becomes an enthralling tale of adventure for middle-grade readers.
The Light Jar by Lisa Thompson is published in paperback by Scholastic priced £6.99 (ebook £5.31). Available now
LISA Thompson delivers another powerful tale of mystery and courage. Fans of her debut novel The Goldfish Boy will not be disappointed as she once again tackles tough subjects and creates endearing characters that are easy to relate to. The story sees 11-year-old Nate and his mum run away from her controlling partner Gary and end up hiding out in an overgrown cottage in the middle of a forest. When his mum heads off to buy some food and does not return, Nate is left alone – afraid of the dark and too scared to reach out for help in case Gary is looking for them. But the reappearance of an old friend and the distraction of a treasure hunt with a mysterious girl helps save Nate from despair. It is a gut-wrenching moment when Nate's mum fails to return, but the book shows hope around each corner. Thompson also tactfully deals with some grown-up subjects, such as divorce, in a way children can understand. A captivating story for children and adults alike.