The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables
The end of this strange lock-down summer has prompted a violent nostalgia for those delirious pre-Covid days which we all took so easily for granted, a mood perfectly enhanced by Glastonbury 50 (Trapeze). Put together by the festival's founder, Michael Eavis, and his daughter Emily, it follows a straightforward format of a few pages for each year, illustrated with scores of atmospheric shots of bands, fans, flyers and mud, interspersed with longer recollections from some of the performers and the Eavis'. The matt and gold hardback cover gives it quality feel, beautifully at odds with the ramshackle and chaotic story of the actual festival. A sure-fire hit, with a ready made readership of everyone who'se ever been, it already has over 1000 five-star reviews on Amazon. The real joy of course is looking at the year/s you went. Seeing The Cure in '86 in a thunderstorm was my personal highlight (no mention of the storm in the text inexplicably), 'trench foot' 1997 a lowlight...
An old joke, variously attributed, has it that Vivaldi did not write 500 concertos - he wrote the same concerto, 500 times. A similar observation has become the default view of the 24 novels of Anita Brookner. Her 23rd, Leaving Home (Penguin), may not win round those who are allergic to her familiar subjects of loneliness, unwillingly accepted inhibitions, and the selfish happiness of less fastidious souls. It is about a young woman who leaves the stifling companionship of her widowed mother in order to research a book in Paris, but finds that the shackles stay with her. As Hilary Mantel has written, Brookner's career demonstrates that, particularly if you are a woman, it is possible to win the Booker Prize and still to be underrated: it is not really the reworking of themes that critics do not like (no one makes this complaint about, say, Samuel Beckett), but the themes themselves. I have come to love the unsparing rigour of her writing and her - often overlooked - bleak humour.
On several people's recommendation I am reading Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession (Bluemoose), and I'm not quite sure what to make of it! It's a gentle tale about two 30-something men who have somehow never really engaged with 'real life'. Leonard does in fact have a job (writing children's non-fiction, something I'm a bit more knowledgeable about now after going to the Nielsen's Children's Summit last week!), but he is drifting in a vacuum after his mother's death, while Hungry Paul (why Hungry? We are never told) lives with a lovely, supportive family, but doesn't hold down a job and is probably on the spectrum. The faux naïve style of writing works well for recounting their small successes and their quiet friendship, but not so well when broadening out to the other people in their world. I keep waiting for something shocking to happen - but perhaps that's the point: most lives don’t go from crisis to crisis, but just drift along. So for now I am content to drift along with them.
I am currently halfway through Scabby Queen by Kirstin Innes (HarperCollins) and thoroughly enjoying. It follows the life of Clio Campbell, a one-hit-wonder pop star and political activist, and looks at her through the eyes of her friends, acquaintances, colleagues, lovers, and family. An easy comparison is Daisy Jones and the Six, but although I loved that book too, Scabby Queen is darker and sadder and more gritty. Clio dies by suicide in the first chapter, leaving her old friend Ruth to clean up after her, and the rest of the book unfurls slowly and carefully as we find out what exactly made Clio the difficult and fascinating person that she was. There are plenty of books in which we are told repeatedly how charismatic and incredible the central character is but don't actually see any evidence of that; however, Clio really is that magnetic and shines out of every page. Although you might not want to spend much time with her in real life, she's one of the most vivid characters I've encountered in a long time.