It’s been a busy month what with 20 Books of Summer kicking off in earnest, but I’ve still had time to read a few other books, and watch and listen to lots of interesting things!
SPIES IN CANAAN by david park
On the face of it, David Park’s new novel Spies in Canaan could not be more different from his last, the critically acclaimed Travelling in a Strange Land. That novel was set amidst the snow-bound roads of England, while the main action of this new novel takes place in the overwhelming atmosphere of Vietnam in the 1960s. However, both explore the experiences of middle-aged men reckoning with the sins of their past and both are powerful elegies to the power of atonement and gift of redemption.
Michael Miller is living out a peaceful, if somewhat lonely retirement, following a stellar career as a US intelligence operative. That peace is shattered when he receives a package from an old friend, whose contents force him to confront his actions during the complicated withdrawal of American personnel towards the end of the Vietnam War. As Michael travels to the desert to face the mysterious Donovan, a man he once worked for but never thought he would see again, he also travels into his own past, sifting through long-repressed memories to confront the guilt he feels about his actions in those final months.
Spies in Canaan is a fiercely intelligent and contemplative novel, which is often reminiscent of the work of that other great Northern Irish author, Brian Moore. Park has woven a narrative that is compassionately observed, and flawless in its depiction of the inner life of a man trying to make sense of his past, the world and his place in it.
THIS TRAIN IS FOR by bernie mcgill
Bernie McGill’s new book of short stories, This Train is For is a collection of quiet majesty, featuring twelve perfectly crafted stories, all exploring moments of transition in the lives of the lost and the lonely. With a compassionate skill, these stories are like arrows in flight; we do not know where they have started from, or where they will land but the journey itself is what is important.
From the memory-laden streets of Botanic to the warm anonymity of Sardinia, McGill’s characters struggle with the repercussions of bereavement, past trauma and forgiveness. The collection is full of actual journeys – as in the masterful title story in which siblings separated for over fifty years reunite while they still have time – but also features journeys of the mind as characters come to terms with their past and attempt to define their futures.
My full review of this stunning collection was published in this month’s Dig With It Magazine and you can read it online on their website.
TOTO AMONG THE MURDERERS by sally J morgan
I was really drawn to the premise of Toto Among the Murderers which is set in the North of England in the 1970s and follows a group of art students as they navigate life following graduation.
Risk-taker and painter Toto has moved into a flat with her friends in a rough part of Leeds, while she tries to work out what to do with her life now that University is over. A penchant for for hitch-hiking lands her in some dangerous situations before bringing her into contact with real-life serial killers Fred & Rosemary West (as actually happened to the author). I found this book to be a little confused, featuring too many characters who were hard to keep track of and were relatively underdeveloped. Toto’s lesbian affair which centres the book didn’t ring true and the hook of having her cross paths with the Wests felt a little crass if I’m honest.
THEY by kay dick
I was really looking forward to They which I read as part of my 20 Books of Summer Challenge. Kay Dick’s dystopian novella, set in a world where books and art are being systematically destroyed in an attempt to control the populace, was first published in 1977 but has now been reissued by Faber to great acclaim. They didn’t really work for me on a structural level. It is very atmospheric with a haunting atmosphere steeped in apprehension and anxiety, but it doesn’t read like a completed work. Each chapter – ostensibly narrated by the same character – feels like a rewrite of the previous one and there is no overarching story arc of which to speak at all. I don’t mind episodic works that are interlinked, but They did not feel cohesive at all.
Book 5 of 20 Books of Summer
I don’t really have any great inclination to go to Glastonbury for various reasons (mainly the mud, the toilets and the crowds) but I do love a weekend spent on my comfy, dry sofa watching it on TV. Highlights for me were Wet Leg; Crowded House, where three generations of the Finn family wowed the crowd and played the hits; First Aid Kit, who I love at the best of times, but even more so when they cover Boys of Summer, and the weird and wonderful Big Thief.
I am a little bit behind with Ozark and with another seven episodes left to watch, I have been desperately avoiding spoilers online! While I think it’s a really strong show with some stunning performances (I’m looking at you Julia Garner), I’m finding this season a little inconsistent in terms of character arcs. Still, I’m sure it’s never an easy task to wrap up a show satisfactorily after this many seasons, so fingers crossed it will end well, or badly, as is more likely with the Byrde family!
Another show that’s ending soon is Stranger Things, which I’ve had a bit of a love/ hate relationship with. I thought Season One was fantastic, but didn’t have a lot of time for Seasons Two and Three (despite the presence of Matthew Modine), however this final season has been a real return to form, embracing the 80s horror genre and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. The two part finale is lined up for the weekend and I can’t wait to see how it all ends. It also gets bonus points for getting the whole world to listen to mu favourite 80’s song again!
There has been lots of great music on constant rotation this month including Katy J Pearson, Foals and ? but the new single from Jessie Buckley and Bernard Butler is such a thing of beauty that I couldn’t not share it as my choice this month. Jessie Buckley’s performance, live on Jools Holland was effortlessly sublime.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!