The BookBrunch team reveal what's on their bedside tables
A quiet week in January seems the perfect time to tackle 700 pages on the history of submarines in the shape of Iain Ballantyne's The Deadly Trade (W&N), kindly sent to me by Alan Samson. I've had a weakness for in-depth naval history since reading the incredible Castles of Steel some 20 years ago, and the early signs from The Deadly Trade are promising. It boasts the essential span for this kind of book, starting with Archimedes and ending at the present day, and it sports the full complement of maps, charts and grainy photographs of doomed ships. I fear giving it justice is going to take more than a week though, so more later...
I was delighted to receive Felicity Cloake’s One More Croissant for the Road (Mudlark) for Christmas: cycling around France in order to eat the best of French regional food – and a lot of croissants too – seemed like the perfect challenge. I can now say definitively that I will never do it myself: it was clearly incredibly hard work (and not just the cycling!), so I’m delighted that Cloake has done it for me. From the delights of the famous omelette souffle of Mont St Michel via cassoulet, tartiflette, boeuf bourguignon and other delicacies, to the low of a croissant rating only 3/10 in the Hautes-Pyrénées, Cloake’s good humour in the face of dodgy campsites, dreadful weather and museums that were always closed shines through, making this a truly joyful read.
There’s been a lot of buzz around Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line (Chatto & Windus), the debut novel from the journalist Deepa Anappara. The story is told through the eyes of 9-year-old Jia, brought up in a shanty town, who with two friends turns detective when children start disappearing. It’s well crafted, engaging, with clever and sympathetic characters and voices: a story of quick minds and street nous striving to overcome poverty and hardship. I am completely absorbed, and look forward eagerly to discovering how it turns out in the remaining 50 pages.
In common with many English students who did modules (as we did not call them then) in 20th-century literature, I learned that John Galsworthy was a stuffy plodder, whose dim novels were eclipsed completely by the dazzling productions of Lawrence, Woolf and Joyce. Now Lawrence is out of fashion, Woolf is regarded more sceptically, and we can reassess the reputations they overshadowed. Inspired by a couple of TLS pieces by James Campbell, who asserted that Galsworthy had thoroughly deserved his Nobel Prize in Literature, I have picked up The Forsyte Saga, and I am impressed as well as entertained. My only reservation concerns Galsworthy's satirical tone, bestowed on all the male Forsytes and making them hard to distinguish.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is released with Tinder Press on 21 January, and it is an incredible read. There have been criticisms of it, and even the author has questioned whether she, as a white woman, was the right person to write this book. However, it is an absolutely engrossing pageturner that is written with blazing fury and heartbreaking tenderness. It follows Lydia, whose entire family has been slaughtered after her journalist husband Sebastian published an expose of a local cartel leader. Lydia escapes with her only surviving family member, her eight-year-old son Luca, and travels north to the United States on a treacherous migrant train route, La Bestia. This book was breathless, painful, and full of love, danger and desperation, and I hope it forces everyone who reads it to think more carefully about the humanity of migrants.
I'm halfway through The Outrun by Amy Liptrot (Canongate), a memoir which was a big success a few years ago. I can see why: Liptrot writes beautifully about her return to her native Orkney after a decade in London battling alcoholism. The passages about the island are captivating, a life so far removed from the rush of London. Really enjoying this, and I can't believe I left it on my bookshelf untouched for so long!