Name: Dan Carpenter
Just Finished: In Search of Mary Shelley by Fiona Sampson. A fairly average biography about an author who deserves better. Sampson makes some oddly wild speculations about Shelley’s childhood, and considering this is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, there’s very little of the novel in this.
On The Go: Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi. Winner of the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction and so far proving that its win was totally deserving, this is a brilliantly bonkers novel, taking the ideas behind the original Shelley novel, golem mythology, and modern Middle East politics and mixing them up. Genuinely ace.
Next Up: Behindlings by Nicola Barker. One of the few Barker novels that I haven’t read yet. Cannot wait.
Name: Lucy Chatburn
Just Finished: Anne Tyler, Vinegar Girl. Modern day adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew. Short, sweet and emotionally unchallenging. It was a perfect rebound read after the torment which was A Little Life.
On The Go: Angela Carter, Expletives Deleted. I was hooked from the bit in the introduction where she mentions her mother obsessing over cookery books during food rationing. I think I have a similar relationship with my cookbooks.
Next Up: Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad.
Name: James Doyle
Just Finished: Sebastian Barry’s prize-winning Days Without End deserves to win all those prizes. It’s a historical novel in the language of a folk ballad that is so evocative you wish Johnny Cash was alive to read the audiobook. “Two wood-shavings of humanity” survive the American Civil War and create a family, it is a novel where the subject matter justifies the Biblical rhythm and sweep that is Barry’s style.
On The Go: Antarctica by Claire Keegan. An exceptional collection of short stories in the classic Irish style, closely-detailed misery. One of which, ‘Scissors’, is the equal of William Trevor (no higher praise is possible).
Next Up: Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is a re-telling of The Taming of the Shrew in twentieth-century Baltimore. It seems lighter than Tyler’s norm, and alongside the amused observation of life there could even be a happy ending.
Name: Jackie Law
Just Finished: Sońka by Ignacy Karpowicz (translated by Maya Zakrzewska-Pim). An old woman offers refreshment to a theatre director whose car breaks down close to her home. She decides to tell him of her life, which she considered ended many decades before. It is a devastating history, yet by interspersing her narrative with the director’s plans to adapt what he is hearing for the stage becomes lightened by humour. Of love, lies and legacy, and attitudes within and to the arts.
On The Go: Lansdowne: The Last Great Whig by Simon Kerry. A detailed factual history written by one of the subject’s descendants and somewhat partisan in approach. It is nevertheless interesting to learn of the privileged world of the still politically powerful Victorian aristocracy over a period of significant global transition, and to compare this to today.
Next Up: Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani. Set in Kenya on the verge of independence, described as a racially charged dance of power. Also The Feed by Nick Clark Windo. A futuristic dystopian thriller where brain implants offer the population constant access to the internet, and what happens when the technology fails.
Name: Valerie O’Riordan
Just Finished: Honoured Guest by Joy Williams. One for fans of Lorrie Moore, but with less word-play: I liked it a lot.
On The Go: Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh. I loved Eileen, so this ought to be good (only about two pages in so far). Review to follow…
Next Up: Probably Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado – let’s keep the short story glut going.
Name: Joe Phelan
Just Finished: The Blocks by Karl Parkinson. Sing praise for this novel from the rooftops. The story of artistic triumph against all the odds. Comparable only to Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
On The Go: A Good Hanging by Ian Rankin. A collection of short stories featuring Detective Inspector John Rebus. A mixed bag.
Next Up: Hell’s Cartographers ed. Brian Aldiss. An oldie. Six giants of sci-fi (Aldiss, Harrison, Silverberg etc.) give candid interviews concerning their lives, inspirations and the craft of writing. Soon to be re-issued.
Name: Pete Wild
Just Finished: The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, the final short story collection by Denis Johnson. Review coming very soon.
On The Go: I’m reading J Robert Lennon’s Broken River, which Daniel reviewed for Bookmunch last year. Really enjoying it so far. Sorry I’ve left it so long. And I’ve got that Michael Wolff’s Fire & Fury on the go too.
Next Up: I’m going to have a crack at Katie Kitamura’s A Separation (which, again, we’ve already reviewed).