Arts

Books: The Summer House by Philip Teir, Why Mummy Swears by Gill Sims

The Summer House by Philip Teir

The Summer House by Philip Teir is published in hardback by Serpent's Tail, priced £12.99 (ebook £3.99)

SWEDISH-Finnish writer Philip Teir is a rising star of the contemporary fiction scene, and in The Summer House, Helsinki couple Julia and Erik take their two children, Alice and Anton, to spend a summer at the family's old summer home by the sea. Julia wants to start work on her next book; Erik needs to find a way to tell her he has lost his job. Their relationship is foundering. The book builds subtly but ominously – there's an unaccountable smell, the pipes are set to flood, the children are left unattended for too long. A strange neighbour plays tennis solo in the middle of the night. And then the family bump into another group – you wait for the tragedy... but it never quite comes. This is more a study of mood and character than a plot-driven machine. There are things we worry about too much, and others we don't worry about enough, this sparely written book seems to say. Who has the wisdom or courage to know the difference?

7/10

Dan Brotzel

Why Mummy Swears by Gill Sims is published in hardback by HarperCollins, priced £12.99 (ebook £6.99)

THIS is the follow-up to bestseller Why Mummy Drinks and is allegedly a cultural phenomenon. Related in a chatty diary-style narrative that owes much to Bridget Jones, we pick up the story of Ellen, a middle-class mum (au pair, polenta, man-flu, Guide Camp etc.) who's returning to full-time work but must also juggle the demands of her two children, relatives both rubbish and annoying, and a suitably crap husband who massively fails to pull his weight but can't see what the problem is. Relatable? Certainly, but the book lacks psychological depth, and the characters feel a bit obvious. There's not much narrative tension, and the tone is ambivalent – sometimes the book wants to be a light comedy and at others it feels like a more serious examination of the work-life issue. The book has a great ear for modish teenspeak, but the humour is often rather leaden and the parenting tropes are ticked off predictably. In an age of sitcoms like Motherland and Catastrophe, it all feels rather safe.

5/10

Dan Brotzel

Testament by Kim Sherwood is published in hardback by riverrun, priced £14.99 (ebook £7.49)

KIM Sherwood's powerful and moving debut novel spans a family's first and third generation. Eva and her grandfather, Joseph Silk, were close, but it's only after his death that Eva discovers the depths of the secrets he kept hidden from her. A Hungarian Jew, Silk survived the horrors of the concentrations camps in Europe and eventually settled in Britain, where he became known for his captivating paintings. Not only does Sherwood communicate the trauma of Silk's experiences, but the weight of the suffering he carried throughout his new life in London. Hugely poignant, Sherwood writes with a beauty and bravery that befits Holocaust remembrance and honours the strength of the human spirit.

7/10

Rebecca Wilcock

NON-FICTION

Eye Can Write by Jonathan Bryan is published in hardback by Bonnier Publishing, priced £14.99 (ebook £6.47)

IT'S hard to review Eye Can Write, the memoir of a 12-year-old boy, without being patronising. Jonathan Bryan was born with severe cerebral palsy and is largely non-verbal, but with no idea about his challenges, a reader would be struck by his sophisticated vocabulary and creative imagery. Any pre-adolescent who could write to this standard would be applauded. For years, Bryan's inability to communicate meant education professionals classified him as having learning difficulties – but when he, his family and his carers learned to use an eye-transfer board, and later a spelling board, they realised he could use his eyes to look at letters and construct sentences. Since being "unlocked", Bryan has demonstrated his fierce intelligence, composed poems and written more than 100 pages of this book. Jonathan is campaigning for children with similar physical disabilities to be taught how to read and write. This book alone is a persuasive argument that he is right.

9/10

Natalie Bowen

Notes On A Nervous Planet by Matt Haig is published in hardback by Canongate, priced £14.99 (ebook £10.39)

THREE years ago novelist Matt Haig published a book about his mental ill-health, explaining his experience of suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety – and his methods for coping. This rainbow-backed follow-up was inspired by the parallels Haig observed between the causes of a nervous breakdown, and the pressures of stressful, consumerist societies – how individualism is encouraged, yet thinking as an individual is forbidden; how satisfaction can be manipulated into wanting more. For example, Twitter is a paradoxical supplier of support and vitriol. Haig likens tech addiction to any other substance abuse, but this drug destroys your confidence, trust, ability to reason and show compassion. The 'cure' is much the same: control your social media use and "be human". It's still a personal account, but Haig's short chapters, often only a couple of pages, blur the lines between commentary, self-help guide and quotation book. Although it's short, reading in one sitting is a heavy dosage. Dip in as and when needed.

9/10

Natalie Bowen

CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK

Munmun by Jesse Andrews is published in hardback by Allen & Unwin, priced £12.99 (ebook £6.98)

HAVE you ever questioned what the world would be like if money dictated everything? From the size of your home to the actual size of your body? In Munmun Jesse Andrews attempts to broach this subject. We follow Littlepoor brother and sister Warner and Prayer as they try and find the wealth (or munmun) to scale up – from the size of a rat. The more money you have, the bigger you are. Promising their mother (injured from a cat attack) that they will find Prayer a husband, they set off with friend Usher and look for ways to survive in Lifeanddeathworld. Andrews' subject matter is intriguing, bringing up questions on how money controls the many. However, the slow fizzle before anything of excitement happens detracts from the overall message he is trying to impart. A fascinating premise, but could have been better executed.

6/10

Rachel Howdle

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