The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables
My book club is reading Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber), and it's proved to be a good book to get me out of my recent reading rut. The story of an AF (we have to work out this means Artificial Friend or robot) who waits in the sun in her showroom to be chosen by a child is narrated in Ishiguro's typical clear, simple prose, the epitome of a style which shows rather than tells. And it's that sense of not quite understanding yet, so having to search for clues in the text, that makes this such a compelling read. The ending can't be a surprise, but the sense of wonder inherent in Klara, and the author's investigation into what it means to be human and to love, have left me thinking about the book for days afterwards.
I interviewed Alan Clark once, and it struck me that what made him a good interviewee was also one of the qualities that made him a good diarist: he was highly interested in himself. Such interest overrode any qualms he might have had in revealing his worst traits. You find this candour too in the pre-eminent political diaries of the 20th century, those of Sir Henry "Chips" Channon - arriviste, snob (the most damning insult in his lexicon is "middle class"), lightweight. Channon, as the unexpurgated Henry "Chips" Channon: The Diaries (Volume 1): 1918-38, meticulously edited by Simon Heffer, makes clear, was wrong about almost everything, and particularly in his star-struck devotion to Edward and Mrs Simpson, in his similarly star-struck response to the Nazi hierarchy, and in his promotion of appeasement. But his faults do not invalidate his writings - quite the opposite, for while his conclusions are regularly awry, his observations are sharp and entertaining. Only reviewers, one assumes, will read the 1,000 pages of this volume consecutively; but drop in anywhere, and you'll find much to fascinate and amuse.
What has Murakami's new collection of short stories (Harvill Secker) to do with Ed Smith being dropped as Head Selector for England Men's Cricket Teams? Well, Ed Smith has been pretty successful in his role. So successful in fact, that the role has now been deemed redundant, in a way that happens all too often. Someone makes something look easy and gets results, so is not deemed necessary because they do not seem to be sweating enough in making it happen (things often start to go wrong as a result). Murakami's latest collection of short stories has come into a bit of this sort of flak in the reviews, with the author accused of being on autopilot or going through the motions. For his fans, this is indeed familiar territory: bars, jazz, cats, great recordings, mysterious women, patchy relationships - and all in his ever so simple (to read, not write) style. It's a comfy pair of shoes, if not an old pair of slippers, but there is the presentation in a new box and the smell of fresh leather, and it's very welcome for that.
The recent easing of lockdown has seen a series of face-to-face family meet-ups in the garden, and with it a surge in long-delayed Christmas and birthday presents (I am now officially in the 'difficult uncle' category). One such gift was Prisoners of History by Keith Lowe (William Collins), subtitled What Monuments to the Second World War Tell Us About Our History and Ourselves. A book I would never have bought, but have really enjoyed: brilliant chapter-length summaries of various monuments dotted around the world, and what they say about both the war and the societies that produced them. Strangely fascinating, and more insightful into the war than a whole battalion of military histories.
It's rare to find a book as lovely as The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune (Tor). It follows Linus Baker, a caseworker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, whose quiet life is changed when he is given a new assignment: to travel to an orphanage on a distant island to determine whether the six children there are dangerous enough to bring about the end of days. I was entranced from the first page of this book - it's funny in a way that reminds me of Good Omens, and incredibly warm. It's rare to read a book and feel so much tenderness for its characters. More than that, it's also about defeating bureaucracy, and the importance of listening to and protecting children. It's a book in which good things happen to good people, a gorgeous love story, and about choosing the life that you want to live.