Good news, book lovers! In addition to the books page in the
print magazine, we are going to endeavour to bring you more book
reviews here on the website, hopefully on a weekly basis. With this
in mind, I managed to catch up on some reading over the weekend and
have three great books to recommend.
The first one will be of particular interest to fans of Virginia
Woolf. To The River: A Journey Beneath The Surface
came out last month from Canongate and is the story of the Ouse in
Sussex, the river in which Woolf famously drowned herself seventy
The book follows the journey of author Olivia
Laing, who walks the river from source to sea, describing
her trip and providing a bio of Woolf as she goes. It might sound a
bit dry (ha!) and academic, but although Laing is clearly very well
read and the book full of historical and literary anecdotes
relating to the Ouse, it is beautifully written and very readable.
I particularly loved the section about the family life of Kenneth
Grahame, author of one of my favourite books as a child, The Wind
in the Willows.
Recommended for those who enjoy the work of Michael Palin and
Bill Bryson and maybe even a bit of Laurie Lee, but who fancy a
female (and a literary) twist.
It's currently £8.50 on amazon, which is about half the RRP:
To The River at amazon.co.uk
Another one from Canongate, out in paperback now, is the novel
True Things About Me by Deborah Kay
Davies. It's a fairly short read at 214 pages, which ticks
one box for many people: it's not too heavy to lug about on the
commute, should you have to endure one. For those who like
comparisons, which would be most of us, a quote on the cover
compares it favorably to Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, which is high
The plot, then. The book starts with the female protagonist
falling under the spell of a stranger, a cocky guy with tight jeans
and nice fingernails who leads her from her office to an
underground car park where they have grimy sex up against a pillar.
From that moment on she's in his thrall, a phrase that suddenly
feels very weird (what is a thrall exactly? Must look it up), and I
guess this is where the Bell Jar comparison comes in, as her life
starts to fall apart and things get pretty dark, leading to… well,
you'll have to read it to find out.
I'm not 100% convinced by the Plath comparison, by the way; if
forced to liken it to another author's work, I would describe it as
Bridget Jones' Diary if she'd ended up with someone much, much less
suitable than Daniel or Darcy. Which is intended as a compliment to
Davies' work, without a doubt.
Visit amazon.co.uk to check out True Things About Me
An even slimmer slip of a book, Michel
Houellebecq's Whatever (Serpent's Tail
Classics) is also a dark novel. The anti-hero protagonist is a
30-year-old (male) chain-smoker with a good job as a computer
programmer and a "bad attitude".
Scornful of his co-workers, critical of social rules and
etiquette and sexually unsuccessful, he is struggling to find
meaning and to take an interest in the world. Just as Davies True
Things About Me traces a decline, so does Whatever, albeit in a
vastly different style and voice (translated from the French by
Paul Hammond, for the record).
Houellebecq's protagonist's voice is direct and honest and yes,
it is a bit depressing, but in a very good way. This is an
indisputably clever, sharp novel full of great observations about
what it is like to live without an appetite for life. And at 155
pages it is another savvy choice for the discerning commuter. I
Buy Whatever at amazon.co.uk
Those, then, are my recommendations this week. Tune in next
week, when I'll be doing it all over again, but with different