Books: New from Elizabeth Strout, Pete Townshend, Catherine Chung and more
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout is published in hardback by Viking, priced £14.99 (ebook £9.99)
OLIVE, Again is the graceful, quietly poignant follow up to Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Olive Kitteridge. However, you needn't have read the original (or watched the show) to enjoy it. A collection of stories, Strout uses the brusque, imperious Olive as coat hanger on which to drape tales of Crosby, Maine. Olive is getting old, has succumbed to a new husband (who strangely, she rather likes) and busies herself being nosy, interfering and abrupt. Her interactions with others, in their pure ordinariness, are piercingly tender and touching, from her accosting a famous poet, to visiting a woman dying of cancer. Some are also just amusing – take the couple who, following an infidelity, watch TV side by side on separate televisions, with a strip of duct tape separating their lounge in two. Witty, dark and astute, Olive, Again is gentle but fascinating, and makes you really consider what could be going on between other people.
The Age Of Anxiety by Pete Townshend is published in hardback by Coronet, priced £20 (ebook £9.99). Available now
THE Who's guitarist and songwriter debuts his first novel, a work over 10 years in the making. This deeply articulate book centres on Louis, an art dealer who narrates the book, and his rock star godson Walter. Louis' wonderfully descriptive and witty narration guides you through multiple layers of characters and mythical hallucinations in a fantastical story that certainly does not baulk from dark and adult subject matter. Accompanied by love, sex and drugs, music is unsurprisingly at the novel's heart and frequent references to rock history will delight ardent fans of Townshend's earlier work. Initially conceived as an opera, there are musical and operatic themes throughout, but what should please Townshend is the intriguing success of Age of Anxiety as a standalone work of fiction. With plans for an accompanying opera and art installation too, it may not stand alone for long.
The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung is published in hardback by Little, Brown, priced £16.99 (ebook £8.99)
Katherine looks back at her life in mathematics, a career shaped by her particular time and circumstances of gender and race in post-WWII America and Europe. A position that nevertheless speaks all too clearly to our own place and time today. Catherine Chung is brilliant at showing us the forces which either block or encourage Katherine's career, from the early schoolteacher who punishes her for being too smart, to later colleagues who may help her progress but also steal or derail her work. Though Katherine's academic interest is in mathematical research, the stories which influence her are equally important. Like the tenth Muse in the tale with which the novel opens; she makes a difficult choice, but also the only one that seems right for her. The maths theories that are woven through the narrative both shine a light on human affairs and offer up a promise of perfection, though in the end, even their description of the world is contradictory and incomplete.
Finding Chika by Mitch Albom is published in hardback by Sphere, priced £14.99 (ebook £9.99)
MITCH Albom has a very specific ability to extract moments of joy from tragedy. He did it in his breakout book, Tuesdays With Morrie, and he's done it again with Finding Chika. Except this time, instead of celebrating a long life, he celebrates a much too short one – that of Chika Jeune. Born in Haiti, Chika came to Albom and his wife Jeanine's orphanage in Haiti after her mother's death. But then, aged five, she was diagnosed with a rare and inoperable brain tumour. Albom brought her to America to seek treatment, and the book follows the efforts he and Jeanine go to, to try and save her. But more than that, it's about the wonderful changes Chika brings about in Albom and his wife's own lives – opening them up to a new kind of family; giving them a new perspective on what is important. While it is understandably sentimental and quite spiritual – which some may find difficult – it is also frank, incredibly upsetting at times and very moving. But somehow, despite the pain and sadness, what you remember is how surprisingly funny and hopeful it is – and Chika too.
Royals by Emma Forrest is published in hardback by Bloomsbury Circus, priced £12.99 (ebook £7.41)
EMMA Forrest's biography-style Royals is told by teenager Steven, whose shuttered world view consists of an abusive father, his adored mother, two unremarkable tracksuit-bottomed brothers and a pending decision over his sexuality. When his father's beatings land him in hospital, he meets poor little rich girl Jasmine, an heiress recovering after a suicide attempt – but whose gilded world teeters at her feet. So begins a dizzying coming of age, where all corners of Steven's world map are stretched beyond recognition through the life-defining friendship that consumes them both. The novel starts with promise: A couple of twist-like reveals in the first two chapters are delivered with skill. But the story is soon weighed down by clumsy and unnecessary turns of phrase, which impedes the natural flow of plot and dialogue. Overall, the novel feels at times awkward and heavy-handed; it's a disappointing telling of what could have been a carefully observed depiction of love and loss.
CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK
Permanent Record by Mary HK Choi is published in paperback by Atom Books, priced £7.99 (ebook £4.99)
THIS is such a smart book. The writing is dense, quick and full of energy, even as our hero Pablo spirals into anxiety and debt denial. Working nights in a Brooklyn bodega (the New York equivalent of a newsagent), he's dropped out of college, quit talking to his mum properly and is trying to kill his terrors over the major credit card debt he's managed to rack up. Then popstar Leanna Smart walks in, and, just as snack-obsessed as he is (have some sugar on hand, this book will make you hungry), they fall into something like love. Mary HK Choi's dialogue sparkles as the pair try to carve out space for themselves, while the Korean-American YA author nails the breathless, jittery dread that can envelop you as a result of spending too much time sucked into social media. Her descriptions of crippling inertia when faced with having to decide your future are also bang on. If you're trying to work out what you do next – whatever stage of life you're at – you'll race through it.
Slaves Among Us: The Hidden World of Human Trafficking by Monique Villa is published in hardback by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, priced £15.95 (ebook £10.60)
SLAVERY is illegal everywhere, yet in her passionately written and illuminating book Monique Villa explains how "never in the history of human beings have there been so many slaves". Conservative estimates put the number of men, women and children trapped in a cycle of modern exploitation at 40.3 million, but most experts believe it's far more. Some are used for sex, others forced to labour unpaid. And Villa – who started out as a journalist, became CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and is now a global leader in the fight against human trafficking – points out it happens worldwide, and that slaves "can walk among us", looking just like us. We might tip a slave in a hotel, wear clothes they have made or sit next to one on a plane, with no idea of what they are suffering. Woven through the book are the first-person accounts of three people who were enslaved – one sold by her boyfriend, another who thought he was beginning a well-paid clerk's job, a third promised fame then flown abroad into forced prostitution. Their words are harrowing, in places almost unbearable to read. But there is hope too – in the courage shown by survivors, and in the chapter on solutions, showing what we can all do to fight back. Perhaps surprisingly, this book is an accessible page-turner as well as being a shocking eye-opener.