On the Pile: February 2020

Name: Valerie O’Riordan
Just Read: Last Ones Left Alive, Sarah Davis-Goff. A feminist vampire(-ish) Irish dystopia: visceral and sad and lots of fun.
On the Go: Weather, Jenny Offill. Review to follow!
Next Up: Possibly David Storey’s This Sporting Life because it’s been on my shelf forever.

Name: James Doyle 
Just Read: Dirty Old Tricks by Pat Gray. A thriller set in the Northern Irish Troubles. In 1975, in Belfast, finding a murdered schoolgirl counts as “almost normal” in the midst of the civil war going on for a cynical Detective (in the best tradition of Raymond Chandler): “The radio burbled police small talk in the lull of a day when the bad men slept and the honest folk tried to begin their daily business.”
On the Go: Still Life by Ciaran Carson. Carson died a few months ago and wrote these moving, reflective poems while terminally ill. They focus on the paintings that he loved. Carson was the finest poet of Belfast’s voices, the rhythms and humour of its local language as well as the rhythms of its violence (and no poet has ever put street names to better use). These poems are written in his typically long lines, their almost casual tone are made up of his memories and appreciation that his life has been full of joy and blessings: “We think of the hares that have entered our lives,/however fleetingly.”
Next Up: Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking. As Solnit points out, “walking has a multitude of amateurs – everyone walks.” The diversity of those mentioned in the book’s index – Djuna Barnes, Martin Luther King Jr., Ludwig Wittgenstein – points towards the wide range of her interests, insights and paragraphs to make you think while walking down to the supermarket.

Name: Chris Oleson
Just Read: Finished: Finally conquered Robert Musil’s massive The Man Without Qualities, which only took me two and a half months. Enlightening, provoking, hilarious. Well worth a go.
On The Go: Jenny Offill’s Weather, which is simply captivatingly funny and perceptive after its first 40 or 50 pages. Gary Lutz’s story collection called Stories in the Worst Way. I’ve only read two of them but they are so muscular, odd, and out there.
Next Up: Garth Greenwell, Cleanness, and Nell Zink, Mislaid.

Name: Carola Huttmann
Just Read: The Girl from the Workhouse (2020), by Lynn Johnson is a charming, yet poignant family saga set around the Staffordshire potteries during the second decade of the twentieth century. Young Ginnie has to grow up fast, earning her keep and finding her way in life.
On the Go: The Secrets We Kept (2019), by Lara Prescott. At the same time as a celebrated Russian author is writing a book that would come be called Doctor Zhivago, the CIA in Washington is planning to use the book to tip the Cold War in its favour.
Next Up: From the author of Everything Under (2018), Sisters, the second novel by Daisy Johnson, explores sibling rivalry and both the fury and joy of adolescence.

Name: Pete Wild
Just Read: Here We Are by Graham Swift.
On the Go: Long Range by CJ Box. Comfort food! And How Not to be a Boy by Robert Webb
Next Up: Silver Sparrows by Tayari Jones.

Name: Dan Carpenter
Just Read: Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica. Review coming shortly, but I loved this dystopian horror novel about a world in which an underclass of people are routinely slaughtered and eaten by the rest of the population. There are shades of Cuaron’s adaptation of Children of Men in its discussion of class, but what makes Tender is the Flesh so good is in its frighteningly mundane depiction of a changed world.
On the GoSay Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe. Say Nothing starts off as a typical true crime book, a woman is disappeared from her Belfast flat, but it soon sprawls out further and further. This is not a mere whodunnit, but an all-encompassing look at the beginnings and endings of The Troubles. It’s big, and under normal circumstances would be unwieldy, but Keefe keeps things personal and focused at all times. It never loses sight of the human cost of the conflict, and for that reason alone it might well be one of the best books about the era.
Next Up: The Breach by M.T. Hill. M.T. Hill’s Zero Bomb was a terrific sci-fi novel about parent’s fears for their children’s future. I can’t wait to delve into his latest.

Name: Jackie Law
Just Read: Northern Alchemy by Christine De Luca. A collection of forty poems printed in both the original Shetlandic and an English translation. Strong sense of place with an appreciation of the beauty and power of the natural world. Contemporary references exist but overall feel is elemental, the language vivid and full-flavoured. Well worth reading.
On the Go: Fate by Jorge Consiglio (translated by Carolina Orloff and Fionn Petch). The first of Charco Press’s 2020 publications. Set in Argentina, the varied characters are each trying to take control of their fate in different ways.
Next Up: The Idea of the Brain by Matthew Cobb. The history of ‘our quest to understand the most mysterious object in the universe’ (review to follow).

Name: Amy Riddell
Just Read: Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride. I had high hopes for this stream of consciousness narrative about a hotel-hopping woman, but was sadly disappointed by its haphazard execution. [Ed.: my review to follow!]
On the Go: Fleche by Mary Jean Chan, a poetry collection which I’m reading and reviewing next month as part of the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize longlist blog tour.
Next Up: The second collection I’m reviewing for the same tour, Surge by Jay Bernard. Tracking a timeline from the New Cross Massacre to Grenfell, this collection focuses on the systematic indifference to tragedies affecting BAME groups present in the UK.



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