Arts

Book reviews: The Western Wild a God-fearing tale of guilt and suspicion

The Western Wild by Samantha Harvey

BOOK OF THE WEEK

The Western Wild by Samantha Harvey is published in hardback by Jonathan Cape, priced £16.99 (ebook £9.99). Available now

WHEN the richest man in Oakham – a vividly imagined, late 15th century Somerset village – is swept away and lost in the river one Shrovetide morning, it falls to bucolic priest John Reve to investigate his disappearance. In her fourth novel, Samantha Harvey, a senior lecturer in creative writing at Bath University and the author of the Booker Prize longlisted The Wilderness, pours a modern style into her God-fearing tale of guilt and suspicion that sees Reve conduct most of his sleuthing from the discomfort of a rudimentary confessional. The disappearance of the worldly Thomas Newman has pervasive consequences for Reve and his congregation, as he was funding the building of a bridge to an expanding world – a metaphor perhaps for his own enlightenment amid folk obsessed with the cycle of sin and forgiveness. Harvey's novel eventually jumps back in time to reveal the truth behind Newman's fate, but it is the steady unravelling of Reve's absolute faith in the old ways that leaves the deepest impression.

8/10

James Cann

 

Love After Love by Alex Hourston is published in hardback by Faber & Faber, priced £12.99 (ebook £5.03). Available now

ALEX Hourston is an advertising strategist turned novelist, who won much praise for her first novel, In My House. Her second novel, Love After Love, is an intense domestic tale of adultery among the chattering classes. Nancy Jansen is a therapist with an idyllic middle-class family lifestyle and a disgustingly perfect husband. Only something isn't right, and before long she's embarked on an intense afair with Adam, a therapist and old college mate who now shares her offices. Nancy likes to think she can keep everything going if she can just keep the different aspects of her life separate. But inevitably, the strands all start to get tangled up, and we're drawn into an involving psychodrama as we wonder how the imminent crisis will resolve itself. Though the book's subject is a familiar one, it never seems formulaic or predictable, and we cannot but be absorbed, because of Hourston's sharply observed characters, her economical scenes and her darkly evocative sentences.

7/10

Dan Brotzel

 

The Heart Is A Burial Ground by Tamara Colchester is published in hardback by Simon & Schuster, priced £12.99 (ebook £4.99). Available now

TAMARA Colchester's debut novel, The Heart Is A Burial Ground, follows four generations of women in a single family: matriarch Caresse, her daughter Diana, Diana's troubled daughters Elena and Leonie, and Elena's six-year-old daughter, Bay. A descendant of Caresse, Colchester was inspired by her family history to tell the women's fictitious life stories, interlaced with their complex emotions. The story revolves around Caresse, whose impact upon everyone she meets seems to have deep emotional and psychological bearing – for better and worse. Evoking the writing of authors Kate Atkinson and Tessa Hadley, Colchester's self-indulgent characters almost seem aware that their lives will end up in a novel, and you'll be swept along with their fanciful lives across centuries and continents.

5/10

Rebecca Wilcock

 

NON-FICTION

Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan is published in hardback by Square Peg, priced £14.99 (ebook £9.99). Available now

LUCY Mangan is a Guardian journalist and Stylist columnist, who married a fellow bookworm, and hopes her young son will become one too, because she feels books made her the person she is today. This is a life told through books, starting with The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Janet and John readers, via Milly-Molly-Mandy, and Where The Wild Things Are. Then reading on through Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, C S Lewis and Judy Blume to name but a few. All the old favourites are here, and many less well-known treasures too. Mangan's book-filled memoir is funny and engaging. Along the way she adds background and insights: why and how writers write the way they do and which illustrators made such a difference to which stories. On the downside, the cramming in of footnotes because she just can't bear to leave anything out should be endearing, but is not.

7/10

Sue Barraclough

 

CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK

My Worst Book Ever! by Allan Ahlberg is published in hardback by Thames & Hudson, priced £10.95. Available now

PEEPO!, The Jolly Postman and Each Peach Pear Plum are just a few of the 140 or so books that Allan Ahlberg has created in his long and successful career. This charming tale takes us through the book creating process, from coming up with the original idea, forming the words and planning the pages, to choosing an illustrator, working with a publisher and sending it off to the printer. There are accidents, disagreements and delays along the way. The illustrations are appealing and the words are classic Ahlberg, simple rhyming text and quirky details. However, it is simplistic rather than insightful, and the gatefold spread that opens to show how the worst book ever turned out is particularly disappointing and lacks impact. In-jokes about the popularity of dinosaurs over crocodiles or hippos, designers and their love of fonts, and the joys of teamwork will most likely be lost on the reader too.

6/10

Sue Barraclough

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