What We're Reading - 22 October 2021

Lucy Nathan
Opinion - Books Friday, 22nd October 2021

The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables


David Roche
Wow. Q; how, as an author, do you follow the best book of the last few years - The Overstory? A: you write the Booker shortlisted Bewilderment. I can't begin to tell you how wonderful this book is. It's the story of a father and son struggling to get over the death of their wife/mother and keep the show on the road. The father is an astrobiologist who models the chances of life across the universe based on micro dots of shadows appearing as partial eclipses many light years away. The son loves animals and imaginary trips with his father to inhabited interstellar planets; he draws animals in danger of extinction and thinks deeply about the big questions of whether we are alone. Subject to tantrums and threatened with exclusion at school unless he receives help, he embarks on an experimental mind mapping procedure that his parents had sampled in the past; through this he restores contact with the records of his mother and starts to realise his true potential. The wonderful Flowers for Algernon is mentioned on more than one occasion, and as things unveil, one is caught up worrying that he may follow suit. I thought Bewilderment was just brilliant and will now devour every book Richard Powers has ever written.

Neill Denny
Perhaps The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths (Quercus) fits in to the 'cosy crime' niche of the crime genre, with its bucolic Norfolk setting and family-orientated coppers and archaeologists but it's none the worse for that. Certainly, the body count piles up in a suitably Midsummer Murders way, and the plot has a satisfying mix of red herrings, reveals and hidden clues, plus some pleasing nods to the Hound of the Baskervilles. The writing style is engaging and warm, and the fictional world you stumble in to - this is the umpteenth part of the long-running Dr Ruth Galloway series - feels entirely convincing. Some crime fiction leaves me feeling mildly sullied, but not this.

Lucy Nathan
I loved The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, so have been looking forward eagerly to his next title, Under the Whispering Door, out with Tor next week. The publisher kindly sent me a reading copy, which I tore into immediately and finished, teary-eyed, at 2am that evening. It follows Wallace, a man who spent his life at the office and treated everyone else badly. When he suddenly dies of a heart attack, he meets Mei and Hugo, whose jobs are to escort the dead to the next part of their existences through their teashop, and discovers that he missed out on a lot during life. It is unashamedly sentimental, but so sincere and heartfelt that it wasn't remotely cloying, and features a found family every bit as charming as the one in The House in the Cerulean Sea. It was a comforting and life-affirming book - and more than that, one I would heartily recommend to anyone going through some kind of grief.

Nicholas Clee
Much as I enjoy the social histories of Dominic Sandbrook and Alwyn Turner, I look forward most eagerly to new titles by David Kynaston, the doyen of the genre. Kynaston has reached 1962 in his Tales of New Jerusalem surveys of postwar Britain, and in On the Cusp: Days of 62 (Bloomsbury) he pauses here, for a snapshot of the country the year before, according to Philip Larkin, sex began. He tackles large themes, including race relations and agriculture, in between diverting snippets, culled from a huge variety of sources. Here is Harold Macmillan, having sacked a third of his Cabinet in the "Night of the Long Knives", failing to look in the eye the black Labrador (boasting a name that would be unacceptable today) of his newly redundant former Chancellor, Selwyn Lloyd; here are the Rolling Stones, on the day that the Beatles' Love Me Do and the first Bond film Dr No are released, entertaining two paying customers in a pub in North Cheam. It's a book full of treats.

Jo Henry
After weeks of wallowing in the verbosity of some classic writers, it's a bit of a relief to turn to an author who uses one word where others might use ten. Maggie O'Farrell is brilliant at evoking a feeling, a place or a person in a few brief vignettes, and I'm glad to say that This Must Be The Place (Tinder Press) looks like it will be well up to standard. With the narrative switching between countries (Ireland and America), decades (1990s to the 2010s), families and points of view, it's clear that Daniel Sullivan, a linguist and academic, lives a very complicated life. I am looking forward to finding out how - if - he resolves the many issues circulating him.