Bring Up The Bodies is the second novel in Hilary Mantel’s multiple award winning series about Henry VIII’s advisor Thomas Cromwell. The first novel, Wolf Hall, won the Booker Prize, while this instalment has swept all before it, winning the Booker, the Costa, and being shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
While Wolf Hall tells of the machinations required to remove Katherine of Aragon and allow Henry to marry Anne Boleyn, Bring Up The Bodies finds the king tired of Anne and wanting to marry Jane Seymour. Thomas Cromwell is Henry’s chief ‘fixer’ and hard-man who has the task of finding and gathering evidence against the queen by any means necessary and obtaining the quickest method of her removal. Continue reading
Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis made it onto the shortlist for the Booker Prize. Set in the drug dens of Bombay through the 1970s and 1980s it is a compelling and disturbing novel. Narcopolis follows the underclass of addicts through the years as the drug scene changes from the more “gentle” and “refined” use of opium onto the ravages of heroin, and finally out the other side into survival for some. Continue reading
Zadie Smith’s latest book, NW, which has recently been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, or ex-Orange Prize, is both fascinating, and complex. NW, standing for the postcode of North-West London is a mix of semi-overlapping stories told in a variety of experimental styles. Continue reading
Jerry Brotton’s A History of the World in Twelve Maps has a title which describes itself. It is a serious, academic, and heavily researched (and physically heavy) study of global history illustrated by twelve cartographic examples. The maps selected by Brotton span a chronological range of nearly two thousand years from Ptolemy to Google Earth. Many of the maps that one would expect to find are included, such as the Hereford Mappa Mundi, Gerard Mercator‘s world map, and the twentieth century Peter’s Projection. However, there are also a number of maps that won’t be so familiar including the Korean Kangnido world map and the Cassini map of France. Continue reading
Bad News is the second novel in Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose series of books, following on from Never Mind. In Bad News, Patrick is no longer a child, but a drug-addled man in his twenties. While the monstrous David Melrose, the father of Patrick, was a central character of the first book, Never Mind, in this one he has died, with Patrick travelling to New York to collect the ashes. Continue reading
Having read Ned Beauman’s excellent novel The Teleportation Accident I had to go back and read his first book, Boxer Beetle. Falling somewhere in between historical fiction and sci-fi, the novel has one of the most bizarre cast-lists imaginable. There are collectors of Nazi memorabilia, amateur eugenicists, and a short, nine-toed, Jewish Boxer among others. And beetles, with swastikas on their wings. Continue reading
A lot of the attention around the 2012 Booker Prize was focussed on Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home, in part because it was published by the independent, subscription based publisher, And Other Stories. However, it is likely that this novel would have received a lot of well-deserved attention regardless of the publishing house. Set during a bizarre family holiday in Nice in the 1990s, Swimming Home is a powerful story of hidden emotions and depression. Continue reading
Robert Service has written acclaimed biographies of the leading Bolsheviks, Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky. In Spies and Commissars he takes a look at the October Revolution from the outside. In the aftermath of the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917 there were a myriad of conflicting relations and interventions between the new Red government and the Western powers. Both sides tried to get to grips with the change in the world order that had come about. Continue reading
Tan Twan Eng’s first novel, The Gift of Rain, was longlisted for the Booker Prize back in 2007. With his second book, The Garden of Evening Mists, he has gone one better and made the shortlist. Again set in his native Malaysia, but this time in the hillstations of the mainland, rather than the island of Penang.
Yun Ling is Chinese Malaysian who was imprisoned in a Japanese labour camp along with her sister during World War Two. She survives the war, and goes on to become a judge, prosecuting Japanese war criminals, but her sister does not. After the war Yun Ling learns of Aritomo, a Japanese gardener living in the Cameron Highlands, who was formerly the gardener of Emperor Hirohito. Continue reading
Ever since reading the shocking and stunning Legend of a Suicide I have been wanting to read David Vann’s recent book, Caribou Island. While his first book was a semi-autobiographical collection of stories/novel about the suicide of his father, Caribou Island is a fictional work, albeit with some similarities. From the very first page there is reference to parental suicide, with Irene telling her daughter Rhoda how she found her mother dead when just a young girl. The ghost of that death hangs over the entire novel. Continue reading