Book reviews: this week's new reads rated
This week's book reviews include Trick To Time by Kit de Waal, The One Who Wrote Destiny by Nikesh Shukla and Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce
Trick To Time by Kit de Waal is published in hardback by Viking, priced £12.99 (ebook £7.99)
ALTHOUGH so much of Kit de Waal's second novel is different from her acclaimed debut, My Name Is Leon, her focus on the lives of working class people and her ability to paint characters in minute detail through the eyes of her main character remains. It is this which is likely to leave you sobbing by the last page, and many times before that.
Mona, a bright, ambitious young woman meets her future husband William on her first night in Birmingham. As the couple begin to find their feet and build a life for themselves, an IRA attack cleaves their world apart.
Cut to the present and Mona, approaching her 60th birthday, is now a solitary individual with few close friends and a talent for doll-making, a job she shares with a melancholy and troubled local carpenter in the English seaside town she lives in.
As the narrative flits from the 1970s to the present, Mona considers her childhood, the blissful time she spent with William and the events that tore them apart. When a chance to love and be loved appears again, she must grapple with the question of whether she has healed enough to take it.
Emotional and beautifully rendered.
The One Who Wrote Destiny by Nikesh Shukla is published in hardback by Atlantic Books, priced £12.99 (ebook £4.74)
THIS is Shukla's third novel, but he is probably best known for his social commentary. He writes a column for The Guardian and edited The Good Immigrant – a 2016 collection of essays by people of colour about life in Britain.
The One Who Wrote Destiny tells of three generations of an Indian family, most of whom have moved from Kenya to England. What should be a simple set-up is rendered quite confusing. Each character tells their own story except one, for some reason, which is told by strangers who appear to have little relevance to the overall story.
Like Shukla's columns, it is a powerful study on the pervasiveness of racism. Unfortunately, this power is muddied by a fleeting focus on each character, as well as a hint of mysticism that isn't fully addressed.
Shukla evidently has a strong voice when talking about the human condition, but you can't help but think his most effective use of that is in his quite brilliant non-fiction.
Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce is published in hardback by Picador, priced £12.99 (ebook £7.59).
DEAR Mrs Bird follows Emmeline 'Emmy' Lake who dreams of being a 'Lady War Correspondent' but stumbles into a job answering problem page letters for an eccentric boss at a women's magazine in Blitz-besieged London.
This debut novel by AJ Pearce gives an insight into the trials of attempting to get on with a 20-something life of flatsharing, friends, first jobs, dates and dancing while dodging bombs from the "thoroughly annoying" Luftwaffe.
Pearce, who worked in magazine publishing and home entertainment marketing before being published, is said to have been inspired by a collection of women's magazines from the 1940s, which might account for the mannered language used throughout.
However, the twee turns of phrase are undercut by a tragic incident, the impact of the Blitz and resilience of those in the capital is clearly conveyed in a readable tale combining humour and pathos.
NON-FICTION BOOK OF THE WEEK
The Cost Of Living by Deborah Levy is published in hardback by Hamish Hmailton, priced £12.99 (ebook £7.99)
THIS is the second instalment of the novelist and playwright's 'living autobiography'. On the front cover of the hardback edition is a still image taken from Jean-Luc Godard's 1962 film Vivre Sa Vie – the story of a woman's descent into prostitution.
But anyone expecting a racy read from this respectable tale of life in North London as a middle-aged divorcee will be disappointed.
It suffers from two handicaps. The first is dullness – writers, on the whole, just sit in their sheds and write. It is, as Levy herself points out, 'Mostly about stamina'.
The second problem is decorum. Levy will not, quite properly, offer up intimate details about the collapse of her marriage. She has her daughters to consider. So what are we left with? Idiosyncratic musings on feminism and grief.
Her fans may welcome this partial glimpse of her life, but the rest of us may wonder why we bothered.
YOUNG ADULT BOOK OF THE WEEK
The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu is published in paperback by Hodder Children's Books, priced £7.99 (ebook £2.99)
TEENAGE schoolgirl Alice Franklin's life is turned upside down after a rumour she slept with two boys at a party spreads round her small town.
Things get worse when one of the boys, the school football star, dies in a car crash and his friend claims he was distracted by saucy messages from Alice while he was driving.
Dedicated to "all the Alice Franklins", this Young Adult fiction novel tries to examine how and why these rumours start and persist. By using the voices of popular Elaine, insecure Kelsie, geeky Kurt and confused jock Josh, the author looks at high school life from different points of views.
Everyone has their own reasons for fuelling or failing to halt the nasty rumours about Alice, and Mathieu cleverly exposes the damage that can be done by their selfishness and cruelty.
Simple and easy to read without any really graphic content, it's adult – but not too adult.