Books: Cauvery Madhavan's The Tainted deals with a fascinating slice of Indian, Irish and British history
BOOK OF THE WEEK
The Tainted by Cauvery Madhavan is published by HopeRoad, priced £9.99
THE third novel by Cauvery Madhavan, an Indian writer living in Ireland, deals with a fascinating slice of history – the Irish soldiers who formed part of the British army’s presence in India during the Raj. The story centres on the Kildare Rangers regiment, posted to the Nandagiri hill station. There is very little for the troops to do, save the daily parade to remind the natives of who’s boss, and the intense heat makes passions flare – the perfect backdrop for a calamitous tale of love and loss. The year, 1920, has been chosen carefully – Gandhi is on the march and things in Ireland have reached fever pitch. As the soldiers in Nandagiri learn of the horrors meted out by the Black and Tans, they call into question their own relationship with the British Crown and their Anglo-Irish commander, Colonel Aylmer. A parallel conundrum is playing out among the local Indians, many of whom are Anglo-Indians, as a result of liaisons between the resident British and Indians (usually their servants). These paler-skinned ‘Anglos’ – the ‘tainted’ – consider themselves superior to the ‘darkies’, ‘coolies’ and ‘natives’. And so the endless tussle to climb the social ladder is fuelled – by British colonialism, but also the Indian caste system. There’s a lot to recommend this story. It’s well written but not a literary masterpiece – more Walter Macken than William Trevor.
Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid is published in hardback by Bloomsbury Circus, priced £12.99 (EBOOK £10.90)
KILEY Reid's debut novel is already making waves on both sides of the Atlantic, and it's not hard to see why. It's a tautly paced, brilliantly observed and wonderfully subtle study of the complex interrelationship of race and privilege. The story centres on an incident in which Emira, a young black woman who works as a babysitter for an affluent white family, is suspected by a white security guard of kidnapping Briar Chamberlain, the little girl she is paid to look after. The incident sets off a chain of events that deftly exposes the anxieties of affluence and the often unconscious blinkers of privilege in contemporary American society, and no doubt elsewhere. This is a story about liberal guilt and the covert racism of people who are convinced they are the least racist people in the room. Guilty about what happened to her employee, Briar's mum Alix seeks to befriend and encourage Emira in ways that, however generous, seem less than wholly disinterested – especially when she discovers Emira is dating her old High School crush, Kelley. Alix and Kelley's relationship had a troubled ending that was also racially charged. The story accelerates through a series of lightly drawn, compelling scenes to a conclusion that avoids easy solutions and points the finger at systemic issues that are as much about class as they are about race.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is published in hardback by Tinder Press, priced £14.99 (ebook £7.99). Available January 21
WE OFTEN hear stories about the horrific journeys migrants make from Mexico to the United States, but rarely from the perspective of a woman and her child – which is what you get in American Dirt. This isn't the first time Cummins has written about the effects of extreme violence; her memoir A Rip in Heaven: A Memoir of Murder and Its Aftermath, deals with a horrific attack on her brother and two cousins. American Dirt is a fiction and opens in Acapulco. Lydia's family is murdered by the cartel, and she's flees with her son Luca to make the dangerous journey to the US, forced to jump onto moving trains and pursued by police and the cartel. Cummins has obviously done her research and the journey feels incredibly realistic. The content can be quite brutal and there's not a huge amount of character development, but you're quickly swept up in their trials and tribulations. A gripping, eye-opening read.
Isabelle In The Afternoon by Douglas Kennedy is published in paperback by Hutchinson, priced £13.99 (ebook £9.99)
US WRITER Douglas Kennedy writes what is sometimes called "family noir". This overwrought tale of transatlantic passion asks what we want from life. Self-absorbed Sam is an American student in Paris in the 1970s when he meets the enigmatic Isabelle in a bookshop. Older, married and available only in the afternoons, she offers compartmentalised love and intense sex in her untidy attic flat up a dizzy staircase. Sam can never have what he wants, so sticks to his plan for a big-shot American legal life, chases other women, marries one, chases more, while his stubborn heart remains true to his chain-smoking enchantress. The writing sings at the start, as does the story, but something is lost down the long corridors of life, although maybe that's Kennedy's point. The pages do rattle by though in this dialogue-driven novel about complicated love.
You're Not Listening by Kate Murphy is published in hardback by Harvill Secker, priced £16.99 (ebook £9.99). Available January 16
THIS book by journalist Kate Murphy purports to "transform your conversations, relationships and life" by digging into how and why we communicate so poorly. Through interviews with experts as diverse as an ex-FBI chief investigator to a furniture salesman, New York Times contributor Murphy addresses listening in different contexts, such as at work or to ourselves, but essentially every chapter says the same: people do not pay enough attention. It is not a self-help book, with a to-do list to improve your skills – in fact, Murphy disparages how some "gurus" have misinterpreted active listening – more a thesis or thoroughly researched piece of long-form journalism on human behaviour. Unfortunately, it repeatedly uses social media and technology as a shorthand for modern self-obsession, and has a thread of nostalgia (notably the author's recollection of hours gossiping with a great-great-aunt) that simplistically implies things used to be better. It's an interesting read, but not quite life transforming.
CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK
One Of Us Is Next by Karen McManus is published in paperback by Penguin, priced £7.99 (ebook £4.99)
2017's One Of Us Is Lying was quite spectacular – Karen McManus has a knack for YA fiction, sketching out teen angst, first love and adolescent awkwardness that's free from cliche, and amped up by the trappings of online gossip. And she's not afraid to kill off characters either, which is always commendable. One Of Us Is Next is the follow-up, based at the same Bayview High School in the aftermath of the Simon Kelleher scandal (although, you needn't have read the first book, all is explained). 18 months on and a similarly insidious game of Truth or Dare by text amongst students has begun. Told from the perspective of classmates Phoebe, Maeve and Knox, McManus touches on sibling difficulties, dark web forums, bullying and public humiliation, but also the strength of real friendships, and the struggles to forgive those you once trusted. It's fun too, full of snogs and stakeouts. You'll race through it - and the twist isn't half bad.