“Crudo” by Olivia Laing (2018)

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“Kathy, by which I mean I, was getting married today.”

I did the rare thing this week of giving up on a book that I wasn’t enjoying, and instead plunged headfirst into this novella about the end of the world.

It’s 2017 and Kathy is about to get married. She is worried, however, by the state of the world, with right wing governments taking office, the UK paralysed by Brexit, climate change is out of control, and anyone can lose everything with one wayward tweet. Nonetheless, she is determined to make her marriage work. Olivia Laing constructs a snapshot of a fleeting moment, capturing one hot, horrific summer in the early 21st century, as she asks if there is any point in learning to love when everything’s about to end.

The book is entirely set in 2017, and frequently mentions news stories of the time, with Kathy feeling the world is ending with every new story she hears. It’s only three years later that I’m reading it, and yet it seems like an entirely different world already. As the story progresses we see the world come to terms with the election of Trump, the President’s firing Bannon and Comey, the early repercussions of the Brexit vote begin to get felt, Jeremy Hunt denying trying to sell the NHS off, and the horror of the Grenfell Tower fire. Each seemed an earth-shattering story at the time, and while the fallout from each trundles on today, it’s remarkable to think how many tragedies we’ve been through in the last few years.

Kathy’s story, laced through these events, is one of falling love. A survivor of breast cancer, she has finally found someone she loves enough to get married at the age of forty, although we learn later that her husband is twenty-nine years older than her. It is believed that narrator is based on Kathy Acker, who is not someone I knew so I probably missed a good deal. Acker, however, died in 1997, so while our author here shares the same name and published books of identical titles, it isn’t the real one. This is obviously some literary allusion that went far above my head, although I don’t think it’s necessarily any worse for not understanding. The writing is too charged with emotion, juxtaposing falling in love with the fall of civilisation in one of the most tumultuous periods of recent history. Some of it stings a bit too close to home as the world around us becomes messier and madder and it makes you ask fundamental questions about why and how we bother carrying on as if there is some future we’ll be save in. I guess we just have hope there is.

The perfect novel to consume on a hot day, and a stark reminder of how quickly the world can change.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Turning Thirty” by Mike Gayle (2000)

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“Here’s the thing: for a long time I, Matt Beckford, had been looking forward to turning thirty.”

In times of trouble, it is always nice to return to something comforting, be it a fish finger sandwich, a warm bath, or a Mike Gayle novel. I’ve spoken about him before a few times on here, but I’m slowly rereading them to get reviews of all his novels up on the blog and here is another, ironically the twenty-ninth book of the year.

Matt Beckford is looking forward to turning thirty. He’s got a great job in New York City, money in the bank, and a great girlfriend in Elaine. However, with barely six months to go before the big day, he and Elaine suddenly break up and he decides to take a job in the Sydney office to explore a new part of the world. But first, he’s heading home to Birmingham, to catch up with his parents, see his old friend Gershwin, and finally turn thirty.

When he arrives home, however, he also bumps into Ginny, who serves as his on-and-off girlfriend in his youth, and when they restart their friendship like no time has passed, he decides to seek out the others of the old group, hunting down geeky Pete, goth Bev, beautiful Katrina and clever Elliot. As his thirtieth birthday approaches and he learns that while some things can stay the same but others have to inevitably change, he wonders if maybe everything is as alright as he once thought it was.

Like all Mike Gayle’s books, this is instantly inviting. He has a compelling, natural style that makes the characters feel real. In a lesser writer’s hand, this world could be flat and lifeless, but the normality of the characters and their everyday world shines through and they become engaging. Matt seems a decent bloke, and his friends are all given enough personality and character for us to like them. I particularly enjoy that every person he meets that he knew in school gets a descriptor of who they were once and who they are now. They’re usually throwaway comments, but fun nonetheless. Some of these work out exactly as planned, such as a person who was most likely to rob a shop who is now doing time in prison for armed robbery, and some have gone entirely off book, such as the guy most likely to be a drug dealer, who is now a qualified dentist.

I suppose some people may have the complaint that there’s no real resolution on anything. It’s just a story of some things that happened with little lasting consequence, rather than having a particularly solid ending, but at the same time, Gayle eventually revisited these characters in Turning Forty, so there’s closure there. (If there’s a Turning Fifty to come, it can’t be far off now!) On the other hand, I quite like this. Not everything has to be endlessly dramatic; sometimes they can just be fun, and this certainly is. It’s a sweet, smart study into what it means to turn thirty (a milestone I hit two years ago with a not-inconsiderate bump).

However, it is also certainly a product of its time. That’s not a complaint because it’s clearly set at the time it was written, but it seems unfathomable to me now that life was like this. Published twenty years ago, it’s odd to imagine this is a time before social media and omnipresent mobile phones. I think I’ve mentioned this in earlier books of Gayle’s as well, and it gives them a certain charm, but not a timeless one. Even just a few years later, it became impossible to not know what everyone you went to school with was doing thanks to Facebook. As such, the effort Matt makes to reach out to his former friends is greater, and the things he discovers about them are more of a surprise, whereas if I just want to know what anyone I don’t speak to anymore is doing, I can just look them up. I’ve always been very lucky to still be good friends with many of the people I met school, but if we didn’t have the Internet, would we have stayed so close? Who can say!

Satisfyingly friendly, funny and fresh, even as it turns twenty.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Before The Coffee Gets Cold” by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (2019)

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“Oh gosh, is that the time?”

I think we all sometimes want to have access to a time machine. We’d like to go back and explore older times, or have one more day with those we’ve lost, or maybe skip ahead a few years and see if things really do get better. It’s a bleak time at the moment on planet Earth, so escapism is key to staying sane during the next couple of months, whether we’re quarantined or not. (Note to readers from the future: This post is being written during the rise of the coronavirus crisis, with Italy and Spain already entirely locked down.) When looking for something charming to read, there are worse places to escape to than Japan.

The small cafe of Funiculi Funicula in Japan has been beset by rumours for years. The urban legend goes that it is possible to travel in time in the cafe, although people say that you can’t change anything in the present by doing so, meaning that the legend eventually recedes as no one can see what the point of going back in time is if things will only stay the same. Nevertheless, Kei, Nagare and Kazu continue to run the cafe for the clientele who want to visit. Once in a blue moon, someone decides to see if the rumours are true, and will often be surprised when they are.

The story follows four people who use the cafe to travel in time. There’s the woman who wants to confront her ex-boyfriend, the woman who wants to get a letter her husband never sent, someone trying to connect with her sister one final time, and the fourth who just wants to spend some time with her daughter. Each gets their wish, but they are held to account by the rules. You can only travel by using one particular chair in the cafe. You may not leave this chair while in the past. And the most important rule of all: the time limit. You only have until your coffee gets cold…

I’m still a relative newcomer to Japanese literature, but from what I’ve learnt so far, they have an impressive skill of creating stories that are equal parts beautiful and weird. The writing is charming and somewhat melodic in places, heavily reliant on repetition which builds up a sense of tradition and protocol that whatever is happening is somehow sacred. Everything is done in a very specific way, and while the owners of the cafe take no responsibility regarding what happens when you’re travelling, sometimes they do have a contingency plan in place to make sure you don’t get stuck in the past.

It’s a small cast of characters and just a single, beautifully described location, but everyone feels real and struggling with their own tragedies and anxieties. Like other magic realism from Japan, such as If Cats Disappeared From The World, you don’t question the oddness and instead just accept that, of course, this is part of the reality. None of it feels frivolous or silly and you become emotionally invested in the stories of these people. The key theme, though, is that we shouldn’t be living in the past and moving on is healthy. Don’t forget the times and people who came before, but do not dwell on things you cannot change or always wondering “What if?”

Well worth the hype. Forgo your lattes for a few days and buy this instead.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier (1938)

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“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

My journey through the Western canon has been sporadic. Sometimes I stumble onto something I like very much. Other times, I read Thomas Hardy. The trouble is that when everyone is telling you something is really good, it raises your expectations. You also come to think that you know the story. However, as I learnt from the likes of Frankenstein or Catch-22, what I thought I knew barely touched the surface or was wildly incorrect. That was how I felt about Rebecca – I know all about the woman who overshadowed her husband, I know about Manderley, and I know all about the terrifying Mrs Danvers. But, it turns out, I knew nothing.

Our nameless narrator begins the novel dreaming of visiting Manderley, the house where she lived with her husband, Maxim de Winter. The de Winters are now living in Europe, in exile, living a dull life, and we wonder how they got there. Skipping back through the past, we find our heroine serving as a companion for the bad-tempered and status-obsessed Mrs Van Hopper in Monte Carlo. She finds herself interested in the quiet, brooding gentleman who dines next to them every night. Mrs Van Hopper informs her that this is Maxim de Winter, who owns the exquisite country seat of Manderley and has never got over the death of his devoted wife, Rebecca. By the time the holiday is over, our narrator finds that she is to become the second Mrs de Winter, with Maxim determined to give her a more exciting life.

When they arrive at Manderley, however, things do not seem as rosy as promised. Maxim is distant and somewhat harsh, and everything about the house is reminiscent of Rebecca, with the staff – particularly the skeletal and domineering housekeeper Mrs Danvers – still determined to do things just as Rebecca did them. Trapped behind the reputation of Maxim’s first wife, our heroine tries to forge her own path and make a name for herself in this world. How can one woman retain such power from beyond the grave, and will it ever be removed?

The story is naturally about a woman seeking to find her identity, which makes it all the more ironic and fitting that we never find out what her name is. Indeed, aside from a few hints at her hobbies and appearance, we know very little about her. It is Rebecca who dominates the book, which should be obvious given she’s the title character, but it’s unusual to have a story named for a character who never actually appears. Waiting for Godot is the only other one that springs to mind. Despite not really existing, Rebecca’s personality shines through the text and it seems that no one will ever be over her death, although as the novel progresses and more is uncovered, it seems that perhaps not everything was as it seems at first glance. The new Mrs de Winter is shy and doesn’t want to tread on any toes, but when the time comes to be severe and take on a more commanding presence, she does so with aplomb.

There are, however, two real stars of the novel. The first is Manderley itself, regarded as one of the most important houses in the area, if not the country. Legend surrounds it and people clamour to be invited to one of the famous parties that Rebecca frequently held. Maxim seems less keen on them, but his apparent devotion to his wife suggests that he will let her do as she pleases to keep her happy. The second is Mrs Danvers. Almost certainly a monomaniacal psychopath, she is the one with the strongest loyalty to Rebecca. She has never got over the death and knew Rebecca for much of her life. They were close, and I’d argue that Mrs Danvers may even have been in love with her employer. She is cruel and manipulative, tricking the narrator into humiliating herself and at one point trying to convince her to kill herself. She is terrifying at first, but she certainly has a human side, too. She’s got a misplaced devotion, a resistance to change, and a fierce need to protect the woman she loved, even from beyond the grave. She is an utterly fascinating character, made all the more interesting by the fact that she only seems scary to the narrator when they are alone. As soon as she sees Mrs Danvers in the company of others, it is clear that she is not so intimidating.

I know no one’s asking me to curate the list of what “counts” on the list of canonical Western fiction, but if they did, Rebecca gets a spot without question. My advice to everyone is to head back to this and maybe some of the other classics that you think you know so well and see if maybe you weren’t a bit wrong after all.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“My Legendary Girlfriend” by Mike Gayle (1998)

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“Mr Kelly, which football team do you support?”

Recently I’ve been having a bit of a wobble regarding the bigger questions in my life. Am I where I thought I’d be at this age (not helped by my birthday looming over me)? Have I made the right choices? Am I on the path to something better? Should I have another drink? When you feel low, it’s all too easy to sink even deeper, and Will Kelly, the protagonist of My Legendary Girlfriend, has just about reached rock bottom.

Stuck in a job he hates, a flat that should be condemned, and a mindset that has ruined his last three years, Will is desperately unhappy. The weekend approaches once more with no plans, despite Sunday being his birthday. His only source of entertainment and companionship is his phone. Over the course of one weekend, Will introduces us to his world and the people who populate it on the other end of the line. There’s his best friend, Alice, who remembers his birthday; Simon, his oldest friend, who he may not be speaking to anymore; Martina, the one-night stand who won’t go away; Kate, the former occupant of his hovel; and Aggi, the one who got away, his legendary girlfriend, the one he has been pining over for the last three years. As Will wallows, he begins to think about changing his life, but how does one go about that? And is he about to do something very rash?

People complain that there’s no realism in fiction. No one in Star Wars ever pops to the toilet, for example, and no one in any of Jane Austen’s work ever gets an itch on their back they can’t reach. Here, the realism is dialled up to eleven. The entire novel takes place between Friday night and Monday morning, with long periods of loneliness and depression interspersed with phone calls from the people who aren’t in his life quite as much as he’d like (and Martina). Gayle, already showing signs of being a master of the genre in his debut novel, does great work in highlighting the excruciating boredom of a weekend stuck at home. Will’s flat is a squalid pit, and he does little to tidy it up, and over the course of the book it gets messier and grubbier. In the hands of another writer, he could be extremely unlikable, but while there is something a bit sad and pitiful about him, I found myself wanting to stick around.

It’s very much of its time, as these days the whole thing would have to be conducted via WhatsApp conversations, but the concept of basically having Will be the only character on the page for much of the time is great fun and well-executed. Gayle writes with a humourist’s touch, too, and while not laugh out loud funny, it’s sharp and witty in a way that reminds me of Victoria Wood, with very specific brand names mentioned that really populate the story. Also like Wood, it manages to balance the humour with some genuinely heartbreaking moments, as you are pretty sure you’re witnessing a man having a breakdown and you just want to get him to sort himself out. As anyone who’s struggled with depression knows, though, it’s not quite as simple as that.

I’ve read pretty much all of Gayle’s work, and this is my second time on this one, and I think I can safely say that while it’s still an entertaining story, he’s still learning and they get better. Still, if my debut had been as good as this, you wouldn’t have been able to beat the smugness out of me with a crowbar. Entertaining, honest, and very raw, it’s well worth checking out.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Bonjour Tristesse” and “A Certain Smile” by Françoise Sagan (1954)

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“This strange new feeling of mine, obsessing me by its sweet languor, is such that I am reluctant to dignify it with the fine, solemn name of ‘sadness’.”

Despite it only being a short boat ride away, I’ve never been to France. It’s not somewhere that holds a great deal of appeal for me, despite the wine flowing like water through the countryside. Besides, it’s much cheaper to travel by book. I’ve just paid two visits with this collection by one of France’s finest young writers.

In the first story, Bonjour Tristesse, we meet seventeen-year-old Cécile who enjoys a life of laziness on the French Riviera with her father, the philandering Raymond, and his new mistress, the superficial Elsa. Because Raymond has no intellectual interests, instead spending his time meeting women and socialising, Cécile in turn doesn’t show any interest in her studies, instead spending her time achieving a sexual eucducation from Cyril, the student in the villa next door.

Things change, however, when Anne, an old friend of Cécile’s mother appear at the villa. She is intelligent and cultured, and the same age as Raymond, making her a far more suitable match for marriage, and within days Elsa has been turfed out and Anne and Raymond announce their engagement. Seeing this as a threat to her lazy, privileged life, Cécile schemes with Cyril and Elsa to get Anne out of the picture, with tragic consequences.

In the second story, A Certain Smile, Dominique is a young Parisian student who embarks on an affair with Luc, the uncle of her current boyfriend, despite knowing that if his doting and very sweet wife Françoise was to find out, it would ruin their blossoming friendship. Unperturbed and acting on base instinct, the affair continues but Dominique is sure that Luc will never leave his wife, meaning more than one person’s heart will get broken as events unfold.

The Guardian, and I sense they aren’t alone, called Sagan “the French F. Scott Fitzgerald”. I’m not sure I’d go that far. There is perhaps a similarity in style, but my overall sense is that she’s a 1950s Sally Rooney. Like her, the stories are led by unlikable, selfish young women who have read too many stories and think they understand what love is. Cécile and Dominique both act without realising that everyone else around them is also human with their own emotions and failings, and one gets the impression that even when you leave them to deal with the fall out of their actions, they’re never going to learn from their mistakes.

The writing, however, is beautiful (it’s French and the French don’t do ugly) and conjures up the long days of French summers and the need to do nothing in a hurry. Despite being written sixty years ago, in many ways it feels surprisingly modern, and I suppose it just reveals that people haven’t really changed all that much, not at a fundamental level anyway. We’re all just looking for ways to stem the boredom that encroaches some days, but we may not always go about it the best way.

Of the two, I think I preferred A Certain Smile, but with both I found myself sympathising with the older female characters most of all. Anne and Françoise do not deserve their fates in these books, whereas the protagonists are, as I said, not people I want to befriend and the men are all, well, men. That’s maybe the bit that tells you more that you’re in a different era. A book like this could be written now, but must be prepared to face a backlash. It is of its time, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed for what it is now, too.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll take a look!

“Kismet” by Luke Tredget (2018)

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“The bus to Kilburn is a long time coming, and while waiting Anna looks back and forth between two versions of the Edgware Road, the real and the digital.”

As the chronically single member of my friendship group, I’m the only one who has much experience with dating apps. Most of the people I know seemed to get in just in time and settled down before they could download. I’m not particularly a fan though, as it’s often difficult to maintain a conversation with someone when there’s no need to reply immediately and you can project whatever version of yourself on there you like. There’s no denying, however, that they have changed the dating landscape forever, and some people seem to become obsessed with them. Luke Tredget’s book, therefore, is very timely.

Anna is having a bit of a crisis. While her career is going from strength-to-strength, and she’s got a great boyfriend in Pete, her thirtieth birthday is inching ever closer, and she begins to doubt whether she’s really got what she wanted. Intrigued, she downloads Kismet, a dating app that matches you to people nearby, but to her dismay she finds that the app has been so successful in the last few years that there are barely any single people left. That is, until she meets Geoff. He’s quite a bit older than her and, while handsome, she wouldn’t normally consider him dating material, but Kismet has given them a match of 81, which is extraordinarily high.

She starts to question everything, not least her relationship with Pete which Kismet rates at 70. Surely if there’s an option to do better, she should take it? She’s become all the more nervous because she’s accidentally discovered that Pete is going to propose after her birthday dinner and she isn’t sure she’s ready for that yet. As she looks at her life and all the things she’s yet to do, the stability of everything crumbles around her, all for the sake of a simple number on a screen.

The cover quote says that this is the book equivalent of Fleabag, which is true in that it’s about a not particularly likeable woman showing agency regarding her sex life, but I would say otherwise that it’s not quite the same thing. It is, however, a hugely important book for the zeitgeist. We are so used to algorithms now telling us what we should like, do and be, that even when it comes to love we’re happy to pass over responsibility to an artificial intelligence that thinks we’re compatible with someone just because we’ve watched the same TV show. You only need to spend five minutes on a dating app to know that these numbers are mostly meaningless. For example, I just checked my rarely-used OK Cupid profile and have a 91% match with a girl, but the entirety of her profile is a single “I’ll fill this in later” and it seems to therefore be based on the fact we both think Paris is more romantic than a camping holiday, and an aversion to horror movies. Hardly enough to make me drop everything and run off to find her.

The book is a romance, but not many of the old cliches are in evidence, which is nice. Rather than being desperate to settle down with her partner, Anna is scared by the commitment of marriage, and the mistakes she makes with her job are not part of her “ditzy but charming personality”, but rather quite serious and have actual consequences. While superficially, she and Geoff are a good match, Tredget does a good job at dismantling the notion that we are better off with someone just because it’s better on paper. It doesn’t account for everything, as there are some things that even Amazon and Facebook don’t know for sure about us. Kismet is shown as a particularly advanced app, but with a lot of secrecy embedded into its functionality, and it works on a whole other level to Tinder and its kin, suggesting this is a slightly altered version of our world where technology has developed a little faster. The app is spooky, but the world seems obsessed by it, as Anna is frequently seeing news stories and adverts for it, implying it is a hugely influential piece of tech.

I enjoyed the book because it toys with that notion of finding “the one” and how we’re all imperfect people trying to find perfection. Tinder only works because you can swipe left with few consequences, as another face will be along in the blink of an eye. How many people have you rejected on dating apps that you’d probably actually have quite a good time with? Kismet makes the reader face up to the idea of being happy with what you’ve got, rather than constantly striving for something that you think will be better, regardless of whether or not it actually is.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll take a look!

“Normal People” by Sally Rooney (2018)

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“Marianne answers the door when Connell rings the bell.”

Last year, I read Conversations with Friends which a friend had been gently nagging me to have a go at. I ended up enjoying it much more than I thought I would. This was not the end of the nagging however, as then attention was turned to Sally Rooney’s second novel. So here we are.

Connell and Marianne live in the same small Irish town, but have very different backgrounds. Marianne lives in a large house with her mother and brother, and Connell’s mother cleans for them. Despite this difference, the two begin a friendship of sorts, although Connell is so concerned that people at school will judge him for talking to weird friendless Marianne that he keeps everything about it a secret and doesn’t speak to her in public. When the relationship becomes sexual, the two find themselves incredibly compatible, but Connell’s pride threatens to ruin everything.

Over the next five years, at university and out the other side, they continue to weave in and out of one another’s lives and beds, their relationship constantly changing, yet somehow still being the one constant in their lives. As they grow and change and learn more about themselves, it seems that no matter what they do, they are continually drawn back to one another, for better or for worse.

Perhaps inevitably because it’s by the same author, but I found myself having many of the same feelings about this one as I did Conversations with Friends, although I think I slightly prefer that one. Rooney’s writing continues to sing, with its curiously poetic quality. Although there were fewer lines in here that jumped out at me and struck me in that bit of the brain that thinks, “That’s exactly it”, there is still something utterly compelling about it all, and the characters feel real in ways I can’t really fathom. In terms of plot, not much happens, and yet we are drawn deeply and fully into this small world where we find ourselves sitting alongside these people. Part of me wanted to dislike them both, and yet I can’t. That’s not to say I particularly want to be friends with them, but I don’t dislike them.

I guess the biggest compliment I can pay the book is that I could have read another two hundred pages of it, at least. Perhaps after a while the idea would have grown stale, but when it finished I just wanted to know what happened next. That’s not to say that it ends badly, it doesn’t, and the ending emphasises the cyclical nature of life and in particular the relationship between Connell and Marianne.

It’s going to stick with me, and I can’t say that about everything I’ve read. I wonder if this is the beginning of a long and plentiful career, or whether Rooney will rest on her laurels with these two brilliant novels.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll check it out!

“His ‘N’ Hers” by Mike Gayle (2004)

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“With a remote control in one hand and a Budweiser in the other, I’m slouched on the sofa in front of my widescreen TV and The Matrix on DVD.”

Imagine that you’re in the pub with your best mate telling you a story, a table full of pints and peanuts in front of you. At the same time imagine you’re in the most comfortable claw-footed bath in the world with a good wine in one hand and a great book in the other. Add to this the thought of being in the front row of a really great comedy gig. Top it off with watching a weepy romance film at the cinema. Got all that? Congratulations – you have just got some idea of what it’s like to read a Mike Gayle novel.

Jim and Alison seemed to have a great relationship, but it’s been four years since they broke up and moved on with their lives. When the cat that used to belong to them both but now lives with Alison dies, she is compelled to call Jim for the first time in years and let him know. Jim decides to go with her to the vet, and the two both begin to wonder where it all went wrong.

The timeline skips back to the two meeting at university for the first time, both young and heads full of dreams about being a rock star (him) and a famous author (her). Their relationship takes a while to get going, what with such interruptions as other boyfriends and unattainable girls, but soon they’re an unstoppable match, doing whatever it takes to keep them together. But as their relationship grows and changes, so do they, and sometimes things aren’t meant to be. In the present, they’re all but entirely different people. What if it isn’t all quite over just yet?

Immediately warm and inviting, Gayle has the narration switch between Jim and Alison, and is equally adept at playing the roles of male and female characters. They both feel nicely rounded out, and while the secondary characters never get a huge amount of space on the page, they are still welcome and feel real too. It is Jim and Alison that get most of the attention – quite rightly – and they are well-crafted and finely-honed characters, with flaws and issues, and prone to silly arguments that feel all too realistic. That’s the big thing here – they feel like people you’d know. Very little runs smoothly for them. Life, and love, is not a case of having everything work out perfectly, and here they do get to experience sadness and difficulty along with the good times.

Gayle is sharply funny and prone to some great observations about people and their circumstances. We feel for Jim as he loses his drive to be a rock star and instead settles down to be an accountant, and the quiet tragedy of Alison’s slightly obsessive ex-boyfriend is played straight and never dwelt upon too much – just enough to allow you to infer your own interpretation of Alison’s feelings on the subject. There’s a curious nuance here about how relationships work and how life never turns out quite like we expect.

Gayle is one of my favourite writers, hands down. I realised last year that I hadn’t read him for ages, so as well as starting all the Agatha Christie mysteries again this year, I’m also powering back through Gayle’s work, and that of Lisa Jewell, another favourite with a similar sense of humour and style. It’s been a long time since I read these earlier books of his, although I have kept up with his more recent output, and there is honestly nothing quite as comfortable as this. Reading his stuff again is like popping on your favourite slippers and dressing gown and settling in for the night.

I look forward to continuing the journey through this back catalogue.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll check it out!

“Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (2014)

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“One summer night I fell asleep, hoping the world would be different when I woke.”

When the weather gets gloomy and cold, it’s often best to take yourself off to somewhere warm, even if just in a book. I made my way El Paso, Texas in the 1980s to escape some of the British January chill. There, I found a story that was much more than I expected.

Angel Aristotle Mendoza – known as Ari – is in many ways your average fifteen-year-old, swallowed up by self-doubt, confusion and family troubles. His brother is in prison and his father is a Vietnam war veteran: neither of these things are ever discussed. At the local swimming pool one day, he meets Dante, a fellow Mexican-American teenager who teaches Ari to swim. Ari has never had a proper friend before, and the two are soon inseparable, spending all their time together laughing and playing games.

As Ari’s self-imposed walls begin to crumble, their bond seems unshakeable, and on one rainy summer’s day, Ari saves Dante’s life, breaking three of his limbs in the process. Unable to speak about his heroic act, Ari closes down again, and Dante has to move away to Chicago with his parents for the rest of the year. When he returns, however, both boys have been changed and they wonder if their friendship can continue as they change from boys to men…

A friend of mine recommended me this and said she loved it. I generally trust her opinion on books, so went for it and was very pleased I did. I’ve long struggled with getting into much young adult stuff, but there’s something quite wonderful and wise about this. The relationships between the boys and their parents are particularly endearing. Ari gets on with his mum, but struggles with his father who is clearly suffering from PTSD. The shadow of his brother hangs heavy over them all, and there isn’t even a picture of him up in the house. It’s almost as if he never existed, but Ari can’t open up the communication channels to ask why or even what he’s in prison for, as it all happened when he was very young. Dante, on the other hand, is an only child and has a very open and affectionate relationship with his parents, which Ari is jealous of.

A lot of emphasis is also played on the two boys identities as Mexicans. According to Wikipedia, 80.7% of the city’s population identify as Hispanic or Latino, and given the city sits right on the Rio Grande with Ciudad Juárez, a Mexican city, right on the other side, this is obviously an important aspect to them. Many of the other characters are also of Mexican extraction, allowing for a very diverse novel that paints a world that I’m not familiar with. Sáenz however builds a fascinating and beautiful little world, with characters who feel very real and good company. The relationship between Ari and Dante is, for the most part, kept somewhat ambigious. Ari is the sole narrator, but he’s so used to burying his feelings that he’s even capable of burying them from us.

A charming and beautiful novel about growing up and the hidden trauma that so many carry around with them.

Looking for something different to read that bursts genre and shakes up the status quo of storytelling? My second novel, The Third Wheel, is available now at Amazon and Waterstones! If you like tongue-in-cheek stories about aliens and the struggles of being single in a world built for couples, it might just be up your alley. I hope you’ll take a look and enjoy it! Thanks!

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