An Officer and a Spy – book review

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

J’accuse!” says Emile Zola, on the front page of a Paris newspaper in 1898, and the headline throws France into disarray over the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus for treason. Or for being a Jew.

This novel was a great hit with the book club boys. It’s a fascinating period of history and Robert Harris digs around in the ugly end-of-century society, with the rise of anti-semitism in Europe, witch-hunts, the manipulation of documents, false reporting, corruption, whistle-blowing, the power of state intelligence. It all sets the scene for 20th Century history and has a uncomfortable resonance even now, when we should know better.

In An Officer & a Spy, Robert Harris creates a gripping story around real events. Continue reading “An Officer and a Spy – book review”

Lincoln in the Bardo – book review

A caveat before I put this on the book club list. It may be just too weird for many people, and there is no shame in that. It won the Booker in 2017 and follows my usual rule: read everything on the Booker short-list and avoid the winner, which will be be too edgy for its own good (it is sandwiched between Milkman & Sellout, two obvious cases in point).

However, if you’re willing to try something a bit different, and your book club has been a bit samey for a while and needs a re-boot: here you go.

Lincoln in the Bardo is the kind of book best read drunk. Continue reading “Lincoln in the Bardo – book review”

Converstations with Friends & Normal People – book reviews

Sally Rooney is my new discovery. Sure, I’m behind the play on this one, the last two years have seen her plastered with awards. Don’t ask me why she is so good, I find it hard to say why I find the lives of twenty something Irish students and their friends so compelling. They don’t go on adventures or do remarkable things. Their journeys are mostly internal and all about relationships. They’re going through the  pretty mundane stuff of growing up, involving incidents that you’ll probably recognise, things that you or your friends might have struggled with.

The two books are similar, each with the main character a very bright girl at university in Dublin, with family issues pulling her emotional strings and intense friendships. Continue reading “Converstations with Friends & Normal People – book reviews”

The Cyprus Tree – book review

The Cyprus Tree, by Kamin Mohammad

Let’s add a bit of fire to your book club reading with this book about Iran by Kamin Mohammadi.

It begins, rather dauntingly, with dense chapters of Iranian history and Kamin’s family history, both of which are complicated matters. I admit I stopped trying to make sense of it and lost track of all the uncles’ names (the book shows a family tree though the kindle version doesn’t), but I did enjoy the way these chapters give a rhythm to the story which was unlike western fiction. I got a real sense of how details are so important to this culture and understood why Kamin was introducing us so diligently. In the same way Māori will tell you an iwi history to give you a real sense of who they are and where they came from, Kamin carefully lays out the past for us. Continue reading “The Cyprus Tree – book review”

Birds without wings – book review

Birds without wings by Louis de Bernières

God, this is horrific. If you’re looking for a sweet but deep sequel to Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which is what the bloke in our book club thought he was giving us, this is way out of your depth.

This is Turkey before, during and after WWI, the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. I don’t voluntarily read war stories, but this was for book club and having been brought up on the glorious allies, I was interested to read the perspective of the other side’s glorious allies. But I was sickened by the brutality and inhumanity in this story. De Bernières writes with such clarity and perception there are images painted in my head I will never wipe clean. Continue reading “Birds without wings – book review”

Evie’s War – book review

Evie’s War, by Anna Mackenzie

A fictionalised diary is a difficult way to tell a story because although you hear the intimacies of one person’s mind, you get no one else’s point of view and none of the direct action. The story is delayed—you are told about events afterwards, once the immediacy has gone. It’s a hard format to pull off. Could Evie hook me? Continue reading “Evie’s War – book review”

Gone to Pegasus – book review

Gone to Pegasus, by Tess Redgrave

I was recommended Gone to Pegasus because of my interest in colonial women. The setting is Dunedin, New Zealand and we are in 1892, on the cusp of the historic victory that gave votes to women in 1893. Continue reading “Gone to Pegasus – book review”