Recent reads (featuring: Joel Dicker, Deborah Levy, Charles Dickens, Margaret Atwood, Jenni Fagan and Angela Jackson)



The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair, Joël Dicker
August 30, 1975. The day of the disappearance. The day Somerset, New Hampshire, lost its innocence.
That summer, struggling author Harry Quebert fell in love with fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan. Thirty-three years later, her body is dug up from his yard, along with a manuscript copy of the novel that made him a household name. Quebert is the only suspect.
Marcus Goldman - Quebert's most gifted protégé - throws off his writer's block to clear his mentor's name. Solving the case and penning a new bestseller soon merge into one. As his book begins to take on a life of its own, the nation is gripped by the mystery of 'The Girl Who Touched the Heart of America'.
But with Nola, in death as in life, nothing is ever as it seems.

This book has been a massive hit in France since September 2012 when it first came out. My mother loved this book and sent me a copy a while ago but it's only this year - after it was published in English - that I ended up picking up my French copy. I have to say, I read the book in just a few days (so brownie points for that, I guess) but I've been a bit underwhelmed by it. I was expecting great things (since it won prestigious awards in France and has been translated worldwide) but for me it was a fairly typical crime novel. There were so many twists and turns that it kept me reading but I didn't find it as exceptional as the buzz is making it out to be. The story within a story about the main character's writing life and his relationship with his publisher could have been brilliant but I felt it was rather tedious to read and rather unrealistic. (I won't mention the main character's parents or some badly drawn characters because they made me pretty cross). All in all, a good page-turner, perfect for the summer, but not particularly life-altering. 
If anyone has read it in English - do let me know how you found the translation! I found several oddities (cultural and even factual) in the book, in particular about its American setting, so would love to know if these were kept in the English language version (just because I'm nosy)!

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Swimming Home, Deborah Levy
As he arrives with his family at the villa in the hills above Nice, Joe sees a body in the swimming pool. But the girl is very much alive. She is Kitty Finch: a self-proclaimed botanist with green-painted fingernails, walking naked out of the water and into the heart of their holiday. Why is she there? What does she want from them all? And why does Joe's enigmatic wife allow her to remain?
Profound and thrilling, Swimming Home reveals how the most devastating secrets are the ones we keep from ourselves.

This will undoubtedly sound odd, but I've been reading this book for the past two years. It is super short and yet it took me two years to read it. (I know, weird). I started the ebook after it was shortlisted for the Booker in 2012, and didn't quite fall in love with it so I stopped reading it. Normally, I would have forgotten all about it and moved on to other books, but I could actually remember the story vividly. So when I left the book I was reading at home and wanted to read on the bus a couple of months ago, I started reading it again. I knew exactly where I left off in the story which made me realise how memorable the writing was. I have finished it and even though I didn't entirely love the book, I am so glad I persevered. I loved the cast of characters and their personalities and since the story is set in my neck of the woods in France, it really resonated with me. 

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A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities portrays a world on fire, split between Paris and London during the brutal and bloody events of the French Revolution. This Penguin Classics edition of is edited with an introduction and notes by Richard Maxwell.
'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...'
After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille the aging Dr Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There, two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil lanes of London, they are all drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror and soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.


I had never read any Charles Dickens before, and I was never sure where to start. When I wanted to teach myself English by reading English language books, I printed off this "100 books you should read in your lifetime" type of list and obviously there were quite a few Dickens on it. A Tale of Two Cities is my wife's favourite and I'm happy to say I absolutely adored it and will be reading some more of his books. I didn't find the writing as hard as I thought it would be and the story in both Paris and London during the French revolution was fascinating.

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Surfacing, Margaret Atwood
A young woman returns to northern Quebec to the remote island of her childhood, with her lover and two friends, to investigate the mysterious disappearance of her father. Flooded with memories, she begins to realise that going home means entering not only another place but another time. As the wild island exerts its elemental hold and she is submerged in the language of the wilderness, she sees that what she is really looking for is her own past.

I read this book as part of my book group. I had never read a Margaret Atwood book before and I thought I would absolutely love it. Sadly I just couldn't get into the story. The book is said to be "one of the most important novels of the twentieth century" and I just couldn't get into the story. Nor did anyone else in the book group. Having been published in 1972, I wondered if the story may have lost some of its power and relevance over the years. Even though I didn't quite connect with this book, I really do want to read other Margaret Atwood novels (notably, The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin).

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The Panopticon, Jenni Fagan
Fifteen-year old Anais Hendricks is smart, funny and fierce, but she is also a child who has been let down, or worse, by just about every adult she has ever met. Sitting in the back of a police car, she finds herself headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders where the social workers are as suspicious as its residents. But Anais can't remember the events that have led her there, or why she has blood on her school uniform...

This is one of my favourite books of the year. I started reading it last year but got a bit intimidated by some of the writing being in Scottish and only came back to it this year with my (other) book club. Despite having put the book down after reading the beginning, I read the rest of the book quickly and fell in love with it. I absolutely loved the writing and the story and the characters. The book felt so real and raw and new. I'd like to read more books with heroines like Anais and I'll be looking out for Jenni Fagan's new book!

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The Emergence of Judy Taylor, Angela Jackson
Judy Taylor married the first man who asked her. She lives in the neighbourhood where she spent her uneventful childhood. She still has the same friends she first met in primary school. But everything she once knew is about to be turned upside down.
Judy might be ready to start a new life in vibrant Edinburgh, if she's prepared to accept what it means to change. First she has to ask herself if it's ever too late to make up for lost time.
The Emergence of Judy Taylor is a story about first loves and second chances. It's about love and life and sex and starlings. It's about Judy and Oliver and Paul and Fabiana and Rob and Min and Lily and Harry and a French siren called Isabella.

This is a very short book which packs a punch. I feel it goes against the grain and tells the story of a woman's life in a way I'd like to read more of. Judy Taylor is a bit lost, she doesn't have the answers to the questions going through her mind, but she decides to take control of her life, throw financial safety out the window, and get ready to find herself. The novel is set partly in Edinburgh and you can't fail to fall in love with the city alongside Judy. A very promising debut.

2 comments:

  1. Great round-up. You should so read The Handmaid's Tale (and Cat's Eye). I'm just finishing teaching it to Y12 and there's so much to discuss and so much that's still very relevant to today's society.

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  2. Dear Caroline,

    Thanks for the article, I felt the same way about the "The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair". This is a kind of a "roman de gare / de plage" as we say in french : easy and enjoyable to read but quickly forgotten. Maybe more captivating and well-written than usual but definitely not as good as advertised. The lesson here : don't listen to your mother ! Or at least, don't listen to your mother's litterature advice (I made the same mistake too many times).

    By the way, did you read the new "Harry Potter" short story J.K. Rowling posted a few days ago?
    http://www.today.com/books/read-j-k-rowlings-new-post-latest-harry-potter-gossip-1D79887288
    http://grantland.com/hollywood-prospectus/jk-rowling-new-harry-potter-story-on-pottermore/

    Of course you have ! And I bet you're not the only one in the Clarke household.

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