Books: New from Laura Lippman, Colson Whitehead, Luan Goldie, Svetlana Alexievich
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Lady In The Lake by Laura Lippman is published in paperback by Faber & Faber, priced £12.99 (ebook £6.99)
LAURA Lippman says she had no idea she was writing a newspaper novel. Maddie Schwartz surprised her into that direction. It is 1966, Maddie is Jewish, in her late 30s, divorced (more or less), and determined to be a reporter, whatever anyone says. She lands a job as an assistant at the Baltimore Sun, and two deaths help Maddie on her way: A Jewish girl killed in a pet shop and a young black woman found in a fountain. Maddie becomes obsessed with Cleo Sherwood, the 'lady' in this Raymond Chandleresque title and dredges the murky story, despite warnings to stay away – including, oddly, from the dead woman. Plus, Maddie's black cop lover arrives through an open window, lights up her nights, and tells stories he shouldn't. Luminescent writing, immaculate plotting and multifaceted storytelling make for an ingenious and satisfying read.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is published in hardback by Fleet, priced £16.99 (ebook £8.99)
THE Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Underground Railroad has delivered another searing indictment of injustice and suffering. Set in the Jim Crow era after slavery has been abolished, 'students' are cast into the murderous, cruel Nickel reform school in Florida. You'll burn with anger as A-student Elwood, guilty of nothing more than naivety and a stubborn idealism, inspired by a worn-out recording of a Martin Luther King speech, finds the door slammed shut on his dream of a better life. Whitehead's powerful prose is a cool study of an era which still shakes the foundations of the US today and resonates worldwide as the voices of those who survived similar treatment in orphanages, church or state-run workhouses are finally heard. There are memorable moments but, as it was inspired by shocking events at a real reform school, sometimes the truth suffocates the story. Not quite the must-read which led to the runaway success of The Underground Railroad, but close enough.
Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie is published in hardback by HQ, priced £12.99 (ebook £5.99)
THE lives of the residents of council estate Nightingale Point are only loosely interwoven until a tragedy occurs that affects all of their lives irreversibly. Luan Goldie says the spirit of the characters in her debut novel are driven by the real life Bijlmer tragedy – a cargo plane crash in Amsterdam in 1992 – as well as being a tribute to the people of Grenfell Tower. Because of that, it would be easy to get a novel like this wrong, but Goldie manages not to sensationalise. It's gripping from the get-go, darting from flat to flat in the somewhat neglected east London block, and the multi-cast narrative helps portray the far-reaching devastation. Goldie's talent for writing with pace and creating flawed characters you really grow to care about makes it all the more affecting. Nightingale Point may be set in 1996 but feels timely; exploring issues of class, race, grief, community and connection. It's not always a comfortable read, but feels like an important one.
Surrounded By Idiots by Thomas Erikson is published in paperback by Vermilion, priced £9.99 (ebook £4.99)
HAVE you ever wondered why people react in the most unreasonable ways? Or have you been in a team that simply cannot work together? If yes, this book explains why – and how readers can recognise their own personality "colour group" and communicate more effectively with other colours, or "idiots". Swedish communications expert Thomas Erikson's system divides us into four broad types: Red for confident ambition, Yellow for gregarious enthusiasm; Green for non-confrontational routine and Blue for cautious analysis, although people are usually a combination of shades. He explains which colours get along or conflict, and gives advice and practical examples such as: 'How to give feedback to a Yellow' and 'Adapting to Blue behaviour'. This simple-to-understand, amusing and easily digestible book, translated from Swedish, focuses on the workplace but to be honest it can also apply to friendships and relationships. Here's to working better, together.
Last Witnesses: Unchildlike Stories by Svetlana Alexievich is published in paperback by Penguin Modern Classics, priced £12.99 (ebook £9.49)
THE awarding of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature has led to English translations of Svetlana Alexievich's oral histories. Last Witnesses, originally published in 1985, is not an easy book to read. The testimonies gathered from those who were children in the USSR during the Second World War are each no more than a few pages long and are presented without editorial comment. The range of experiences takes in both the evacuated and the left behind, the active partisans and the interned. They are 'unchildlike' stories in that they all tell of lost childhood and lost innocence, from children seeing or inflicting death for the first time, to the traumas left by war. But the accounts are also childlike: 'War' intrudes into their lives shorn of context, explanation or logic, if it ever had any, and harrowing events happen as if at random. An important read, if not a comforting or simple one.
Joshua Pugh Ginn
CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK
Body Brilliant by Nicola Morgan is published in paperback by Franklin Watts, priced £7.99 (ebook £4.99)
WITH instances of anorexia in children as young as six, author Nicola Morgan seeks to champion change. Her books include the highly rated Blame My Brain, and she's twice won the Scottish Children's Book of the Year. Here, Morgan aims to empower a happier and healthier state of young mind. In here latest book, Morgan offers explanations of the psychology underpinning young anxieties, suggests activities to inspire a healthier body image, and provides useful resource lists for each topic area. However, it's difficult to see how this book might come to be read by its intended audience. Gifting it would seem heavy-handed; perhaps patronising. With a head-on approach to topics, a young reader might prefer to swerve – particularly those most affected by its topics. The activities can feel trite and some advice feels potentially confusing. It's the adults engaged in children's lives who will gain the most from the chatty explanations and who can best pick and choose from the suggested activities – becoming, themselves, champions for change.