Books: Uncommon Type proves Tom Hanks even more annoyingly talented than we thought
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks, published in hardback by William Heinemann
HE'S a two-time Oscar winner, Hollywood royalty and widely considered an all-round nice guy. And he can now add writer to his already impressive credentials. Tom Hanks has just published his debut collection of short stories, Uncommon Type. In contrast to many other big-time actors who have attempted fiction writing in recent years, these tales are startlingly good. Themed around Hanks's decades-long hobby and appreciation for typewriters, each of these 17 stories leap out from the page in their authenticity and whimsicality. There's a second-rate actor who experiences fleeting fame on a junket tour, a young hipster who mistakenly buys a toy typewriter from a charity shop, a pair of polar opposite pals that embark on a side-splitting fling and a Second World War veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder – and these are just a few of the folk we meet. A spellbindingly easygoing read, it is hard to find fault, other than that Hanks is annoyingly talented and yet still somehow remains impossible to dislike.
Mrs Osmond by John Banville, published in hardback by Viking
THE 1881 novel The Portrait Of A Lady by Henry James ends after Isabel Osmond finds out her husband has betrayed her and her close friend Madame Merle, his erstwhile lover, is her step-daughter's mother. And now, John Banville, the Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sea, has taken up this unfinished tale and provided us with an absorbing sequel. Having defied her husband and returned to England from Rome to be at her cousin's deathbed, Isabel is struggling to come to terms with what has happened. Through encounters with old friends and acquaintances, we discover Isabel has a plan for a reckoning. Banville, like James, really gets under Isabel's skin and when she finally confronts Gilbert Osmond, we feel for her and want her to succeed. Even if you haven't read Henry James's novel, you'll still enjoy this tale of a young woman's battle to assert her independence. Wexford-born Banville brings all the characters from the first novel newly to life, and Isabel's relationship with her maid Staines is particularly fascinating through our 21st century eyes.
Road by John Sweeney, published by Thomas & Mercer
BBC investigative reporter John Sweeney is back with the follow-up to his debut thriller Cold, featuring ex-IRA bomb maker Joe Tiplady, this time set in Syria, against the backdrop of an imminent US election. Reeling from the loss of Russian beauty Katya, Joe travels to a futuristic Bond-like lair in the Californian desert, where he meets the enigmatic Dr Dominic Franklyn and promises to bring his son Ham home from Syria, where it appears he's been taken by his radicalised wife Jameela. At the same time, in Albania, bodies are found struck by lightning on a mountaintop. While Joe finds himself imprisoned alongside ISIS bomb-maker Timur, who has intel about a North Korean 'gift' of chemical weapons, Jameela and Ham take the long road to Europe as refugees. Sweeney's first-hand experience of reporting on Trump, Putin, North Korea and the refugee crisis makes this an extremely compelling, timely and brutal read – particularly eye-opening on ISIS' children suicide vest makers and 'managed savagery' – even if you're not always quite sure which direction it's taking.
Origin by Dan Brown, published in hardback by Bantam Press
DAN Brown's readers will be familiar by now with his modus operandi. Pick a cultural European city – Paris, Rome, or, in the case of Origin, Spain's Bilbao and Barcelona, throw in Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, a young and beautiful female sidekick and a religious zealot who will kill to keep secrets from surfacing – and you're all set for a guilty pleasure of a page-turner. With Origin, Brown teases his big revelation from the very start – Langdon's former student, Edmond Kirsch, an American tech millionaire, invites him to the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao where he's planning to reveal the answers to humanity's most enduring questions: Where do we come from? Where are we going? But before Kirsch can stream his controversial presentation around the globe, he's shot by a retired Navy general. It's frustrating, but rest assured, Langdon and the museum's curator (and future Queen of Spain) Ambra Vidal will do everything in their power to publish Kirsch's research, which takes them to Barcelona's most famous landmark, the Sagrada Familia. Origin is like slipping on a comfy old pair of slippers, you know just what you're getting with Brown and Langdon – and it's an enjoyable romp over 461 pages.