What We're Reading - 20 August 2021

Lucy Nathan
Opinion - Books Friday, 20th August 2021

The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables

Neill Denny
The Tesco in Newton Abbot is not the literary centre of the world, with just a single bay of books in the vast superstore, but it is Devon, and we are on holiday, and it does have the latest Jack Reacher. The Sentinel (Transworld) is the first Child brothers collaboration, and so far it has been a reasonable handover between Lee and Andrew. The reassuring bulk of Jack Reacher anchors the novel, triumphing in a series of balletic fight scenes, the plot is convincing when you read it, preposterous when you stop to think about it, but the series is unmistakably getting on a bit. Reacher is adrift in a strange land of servers, cyber-criminals and ransomware attacks (Andrew's area presumably) but the baddies are known quantities, Russians posing as Nazis, complete with cold-war bunker in rural Tennessee (this must be Lee). The dialogue feels a little off, and the plot has some uncharacteristic longueurs as Reacher tries to track down some old computer equipment in various recycling facilities (really). Set in the present day, Reacher's age is never mentioned, but he must be pushing 60, and the one-night stands he used to enjoy with attractive young women co-investigators have been wisely discontinued. But as a way of spending a rainy afternoon in a holiday cottage, he remains hard to beat.

David Roche
Summer Classic project. I loved War and Peace but am clearly not worthy of loving Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics) by Leo Tolstoy. I mean, what is wrong with these people? Spoiler alert: at least I lasted until the end. Great characterisation but the endless angst, philosophical self-flagellation and agrarian detail nearly got the better of me. I have greater sympathy with The Russian Revolution than I did before reading it.

Nicholas Clee
Sarah Langan's ironically titled Good Neighbours (Titan) is set in the future, but it is not science fiction. The Long Island suburb portrayed here is much like such a suburb today - except that it belongs to a world of advanced climate crisis, where sink holes, real and metaphorical, are regular occurrences. What interests Langan is how this environmental breakdown exposes the fragility of neighbourly relations. When the daughter of the local alpha female disappears, possibly as a result of a fall down the hole that has opened up nearby, the community knows whom to blame, for this and other problems: the one family who have had the presumption to move here from the wrong side of the tracks. Good Neighbours is entertaining, scalpel-sharp, and frightening, for two reasons: it shows how terrified conformity can enable injustices; and how prejudices may distort histories of events forever.

Jo Henry
In a week when the publishing news has been dominated by one teacher's book, I have co-incidentally been reading a book by another teacher, Re-educated by Lucy Kellaway. The subtitle, How I changed my job, my home, my husband and my hair, gives you some idea of the author's force of personality. A former FT staffer, Kellaway re-trained as an economics teacher in her mid 50s, changing the rest of her life along the way. She has now set up a successful organisation, NowTeach, to promote the idea that among the ranks of aging professionals such as bankers and lawyers there are many who would love to re-train to do something useful with the second part of their lives, namely teach in the State sector. This immediately inspired me. Perhaps it was time to consider a new career? Sadly I realise that a) I have no subject I can teach and b) I am not really that keen on children - but plenty of others have responded to her siren call. She is brutally honest about how difficult it was to make these changes (although she is totally revitalised by all of them, particularly the new job) and she is great too on how everything in the inner city Academy where she teaches confronted her assumptions about what a good school and education should be. Fascinating and provocative.

Lucy Nathan
I'm onto the third volume of Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy, The Ghost Road (Penguin). I found that parts of the second novel, The Eye in the Door, dragged, but that isn't the case at all with the Booker-winning The Ghost Road. It follows psychoanalyst William Rivers - a fictionalised version of a real man - and Billy Prior, who is currently being sent back to the Western Front after being cured of shell shock. Siegfried Sassoon is in this book less, but Wilfred Owen seems to have a larger role to play. There is something so masterful about how clear and concise Barker's writing is, and how simply she conveys huge ideas. This is a remarkable and triumphant trilogy.