On The Pile: February

Name: Dan Carpenter
Just Finished: The Smoke by Simon Ings. I absolutely loved this insane London novel in which several scientific advances cause humanity to split into three completely separate species – humans, The Bund, and the strange mutant Chickies. This is weird sci-fi, but it’s also a deeply sad novel about loneliness in an alienating city. It hits the sweet spot of Nicola Barker characterisation, Gerry Anderson references, and Grant Morrison strangeness. Possibly a book written only for me then.
On The Go: Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. Booker prize winning novel A Brief History of Seven Killings might be one of the best crime novels I have ever read. James knows his way around genre fiction, and though the awards lavished upon him might make him a literary darling to some, he doesn’t appear to see himself as above any particular genre. So comes along Black Leopard, Red Wolf, billed as the African Game of Thrones. But James’ book is so much more interesting than that. His fantasy world is far stranger than Martin’s dour European lands. Black Leopard is also far more interestingly structured and told. So far, so good.
Next Up: Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar. Alternate histories are ten a penny, but Lavie Tidhar is always an author I’ll check out. This novel, in which Israel was never founded, and instead, the state of Palestinia has been created in Uganda, finds Tidhar exploring the complexities of Israel, the border and terrorism. Central Station, his brilliant interconnected short story collection also found him immersed in the state, and I can’t wait to see what he does this time. 

Name: Lucy Chatburn
Just Finished: Ottessa Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation. In which a New York rich kid takes loads of meds in an attempt to sleep for a year. I found it very compelling, although I read it during a particularly sleep deprived week, so it may just have been vicarious gratification/desperation at work.
On The Go: Elvira Dones, Sworn Virgin. To avoid marriage, a young Albanian goes into the mountains, lives as a man. Years later emigrates to America and tries to get used to being a woman again. So far it’s like nothing I’ve ever read before.
Next Up: Angela Carter, Wise Children. I’ve read some of Angela Carter’s essays and fairy tale collection but this will be my first foray into her fiction. Not quite sure what to expect.

Name: James Doyle
Just Finished: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. When Bert Cousins leaves his wife for another woman, the two families are united, unhappy children, warring adults, where everyone “became more profoundly themselves.” Comprehensive in its understanding of sibling relationships over decades and how individuals come to understand themselves as a result.
On The Go: Brett Anderson’s Coal Black Mornings. A memoir of life pre-fame, as a teenager and student, during “John Major’s irrelevant, dreary, Tory world of unemployment and cut-price lager and crap boy bands.” Anderson’s chief quality as a memoirist is his self-awareness and honesty about his own failings, as well as a honesty about his ambitions, that fed into Suede’s music: “this fascinating duality of faded elegance and harsh, stark poverty.” Even without Bernard Butler on guitar, Anderson is an exceptional writer.
Next Up: Jess Kidd’s Things in Jars. Kidd’s imagination and verbal originality goes back to its Dickensian home (perhaps).

Name: Carola Huttmann
Just Finished: The Professor of Poetry (2013) is the middle of three stand-alone novels by Grace McCleen, the other being The Land of Decoration (2012) and The Offering (2015). Beautifully and sensitively written it is the story of a relationship that almost never was which deserves to be read more than once (this was my third time).
On The Go: I would call Daughter of the Wolf (2016), by Victoria Whitworth a historical fantasy rather than historical fiction as only two characters in this novel, set in ninth century Northumbria, really existed and Whitworth has shifted geographical locations around a bit. But since she is also the author of the Wulfgar novels (2012 & 2013) and a respected Viking Age scholar I am happy to allow her that literary licence.
Next Up: Then, by Julie Myerson (2011) is set in a post-apocalyptical London. The voice which tells the story is either delusional or simply an unreliable narrator traumatised by her experiences. The reviews I’ve read of this novel are a pretty mixed bag, so I’m curious to see what I’ll make of the book myself.

Name: Jackie Law
Just Finished: Tempest: An Anthology edited by Anna Vaught and Anna Johnson. Contains a wide variety of speculative fiction, poetry and essays that explore our tempestuous times. Although sometimes lacking in depth, the collection’s strength is its spread of opinions.
On The Go: Sweet Home by Wendy Erskine (recently longlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses). Short stories set in East Belfast. Have only just started but loving the voice so far.
Next Up: The Near Witch by V.E. Schwab. I don’t read much fantasy but this came recommended and turned out to be a gorgeous looking book. Also, A Perfect Explanation by Eleanor Anstruther – the fictionalised story of an aristocrat who sold her son for £500

Name: Chris Oleson
Just Finished: Megan Abbott, You Will Know Me; Roberto Bolano, The Spirit of Science Fiction (review coming very soon!); Richard Kalish, Penthouse F
On The Go: Sesshu Foster, City Terrace; David Shields, Remote.
Next Up: Eula Biss, Notes From No Man’s Land; Roberto Bolano, 2666, and rereading my friend Colin O’Sullivan’s first novel, KIllarnery Blues (Happy Birthday Colin)

Name: Valerie O’Riordan
Just Finished: You Know You Want This, Kristin Roupenian. First collection from the author of ‘Cat Person’ – review to follow!
On The Go: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon. A reread for work, about fourteen years since the last time… Still seems good!
Next Up: Lanny, Max Porter. New book from the writer of Grief Is The Thing With Feathers. I’m expecting the unexpected…

Name: Joe Phelan
Just Finished: The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin. Chatwin’s work has fallen out of favour. Still this mixture of fact and fiction sings. Just listen.
On The Go: The Cuban Club by Barry Gifford. 71 short stories telling the life of Roy a boy growing up in Chicago in 1950’s and 60’s. Gifford is on fire here, the writing is a joy.
Next Up: He, A Novel by John Connolly: John Connolly ventures into the world of Hollywood to relate the life of Stan Laurel. Looking forward to this.

Name: Fran Slater
Just Finished: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara: a fascinating true crime tale that is as much about its author, who sadly died while writing the book, as it is about the never caught serial rapist and murderer from Chicago. Highly recommended.
On The Go: No Ashes in the Fire by Darnell L. Moore: Darnell’s memoir deals with the complexities of growing up black and gay in America. Almost set on fire by bullies at age fourteen, Darnell decides to make the most of his life. But obstacles are everywhere for someone marked as different.
Next Up: 84k by Claire North: After two pretty heavy books, it’s time for some escape into a dystopian future. Each life has a monetarty value and it’s the protagonist’s job to figure out what each person is worth.

Name: Pete Wild
Just Finished: Re-read (or rather re-listened to) the audiobook of George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo. Stellar cast, masterclass in how an audiobook can be done and still a big fan of what Saunders does.
On The Go: The Border by Don Winslow, the epic conclusion to the story that started 20 years ago in The Power of the Dog and continued in The Cartel.
Next Up: Either Sam Lipsyte’s Hark or Ronan Hession’s much talked about Leonard & Hungry Paul




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