What We're Reading - 16 July 2021

Lucy Nathan
Opinion - Books Friday, 16th July 2021

The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables


Jo Henry
Highly recommended in recent Summer Reading roundups - as well as by Lucy Nathan on here recently - was Meg Mason's debut novel, Sorrow and Bliss (W&N), which prompted another trip to the bookshop. She can certainly write, but I found the first half hard going, having not fully grasped that the protagonist was ill (sorry, spoiler alert) rather than just very, very annoying indeed. The second half, as I slowly began to understand just how damaged she was is gripping, though I'm not sure I go along with Jessie Burton's quote of it being 'jaw-droppingly funny'. It's sad and tender and ultimately hopeful, and has some terrific characters in it, particularly her fecund and foul mouthed sister, as well as some lovely comic moments - but is also a darkly believable exploration of what it is to suffer from mental illness and how it affects those around you.

David Roche
Jenn Ashworth is a hard-hitting writer with a deserved and growing reputation and recognition. Ghosted (Sceptre), is the story of Laurie, whose husband disappears one morning with no explanation and leaves her questioning everything but doing nothing. Some weeks later she reports it to the police who do little themselves other than eventually considering her a suspect. It's a moving story of loss, trauma, and unreliable reminiscence told with empathy and dark humour. I recommend getting acquainted with Jenn Ashworth's writing and this is a great place to start.

Lucy Nathan
Lisa Jewell's new novel, The Night She Disappeared, is out on 22 July with Century. I'm not sure there's an author out there who can make me turn the pages as rapidly as Jewell does - I devour each of her books as quickly as I can, staying up horrendously late, only to be irritated with myself for not making it last longer. This book is about Kim, whose daughter Tallulah, a teenage mum, goes missing one night with her boyfriend. Tangled in with that is the story of Sophie, a mystery writer who moves to the area a year later and is caught up in the disappearance. I'm not sure there's anyone else out there who can write domestic thrillers with as much pace and plot as Jewell - this is writing that seems effortless, which means that it is incredibly skilled. I look forward to her books every year.

Neill Denny
Alex Hippisley-Cox recommended Fleishman is in Trouble (Wildfire) by Taffy Brodesser-Akner as her book of the year in her Q&A this week, which was good enough for me. We are in New York's Jewish community, amidst the mega-earning upper middle-class, and our hero Toby, the good but poor doctor (he struggles by on $250,000 a year), is being divorced by the ruthless, greedy Rachel, who is paid four times as much. So after 15 years of marriage, Toby is free to play the field, and his smart phone is throbbing with women eager to have sex with him, bombarding him with pictures of available body parts. But he is stuck with their two childen, he's had to fire the babysitter for a porn misdemeanour, and Rachel has disappeared off the face of the earth after a yoga weekend. Will it become a police matter, I'm guessing, but I am only a third of the way through. The author is a New York Times Magazine staff writer, and the witty, informed, needle-sharp observation of this world of pampered sleepovers, houses in the Hamptons and glamorous New York apartments can only come from first-hand experience. Although the ghost of Woody Allen is flickering somewhere on the margins, I am absolutely hooked. Thank you Alex!

Nicholas Clee
Publication of John Sutherland's Monica Jones, Philip Larkin and Me prompted me to return to Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim (Penguin), with its portrait of Jones as the awful Margaret Peel, Jim’s reluctantly acknowledged girlfriend. I found Margaret to be slightly less awful, and Dixon slightly less sympathetic, than I remembered - though no doubt I would read the novel in a different light if, like Sutherland, I had been Jones' friend. It seems to me that many of Margaret's complaints about Jim, whose fecklessness gets him into numerous scrapes, are justified. Bertrand, though - now he is awful, and I must admit to cheering as Jim freed himself from Margaret, got the job Bertrand had coveted, and got Bertrand's girlfriend too.