What We're Reading - 13 August 2021

Lucy Nathan
Opinion - Books Friday, 13th August 2021

The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables

Jo Henry
A visit to my mother allows me to borrow a book I gave her as a present, the latest Kate Atkinson, Big Sky (Doubleday). Starring the reluctantly heroic private eye Jackson Brodie - now with a teenage son and a soon-to-be married daughter, plus various ex-wives and partners - the novel is set in and around the North East coastal town of Whitby, where some very dodgy things are happening, albeit none of them obviously vampiric. As always, Atkinson's plots are impressively labyrinthine, with new and old characters interconnecting in increasingly bizarre ways - though as Brodie says, 'A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen.' All is more than satisfactorily wrapped up in the end, even if I seem to have missed just who was driving the silver car that played a minor but key role.

David Roche
I have had the audiobook of Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future (Hachette Audio) bubbling under in the background for a couple of weeks or more now. It focuses on the climate crisis with a big bang introduction where wet bulb temperatures reach 35 in India, at which humans start dropping dead. A foreign journalist survives and their story interlinks with others who are agitating to force action, and the Ministry for the Future considers what lengths it should go to in order to effect that change. Should it have a black ops division designed to take out the half dozen or so most guilty billionaire abusers, or should air travel and eco unfriendly power sources be targeted? As planes start falling out of the sky and airships thrive, is there a cell already in place that the head of the Ministry knows nothing about? The plot is interspersed with science and exploration of the operations that might make a difference, from pumping water from underneath glaciers and on top of the Arctic ice, to carbon capture and solar geo-engineering. Not sure how accurate the science is, but it's intriguing to examine the impact in a fictional form. I'm about halfway through and it's a good addition to the holiday, though Test Match Special competes strongly when available.

Lucy Nathan
I read Regeneration by Pat Barker (Penguin) for the first time at about 18 and loved it. Rereading it now is even better as I understand more of the background of the novel, and its depth and nuance too. Set in Craiglockhart Hospital in Scotland during the First World War, it follows psychiatrist Rivers, who pioneered PTSD treatments during the war, with his patients including real life soldiers and poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and the fictional officer Billy Prior, perhaps the most fascinating and compelling character of them all. It's such a sharp and well-structured novel, with fascinating subject matter. I'm looking forward to rereading the rest of the trilogy too.

Nicholas Clee
I suspect that I might find some implausibilities if I subjected the plot of Jane Casey's The Killing Kind to a close analysis, but I was happy instead to go along for the ride. Ingrid Lewis, a London barrister, successfully represents a smooth charmer called John Webster, accused of stalking. But he is a stalker, and he turns his attention to her. Webster is one of those superhumanly able sociopaths ("I really dislike that word. Don't use it again") you find only in psychological thrillers; but is he really the villain? People near Ingrid start dying, and Webster is always at hand, claiming he's trying to protect her. I'm a fan of Casey's Maeve Kerrigan series, and I enjoyed this standalone too. Plus, how refreshing to come across a novel in this genre that is not told in the present tense!