What We're Reading - 25 September 2020

Opinion - Books Friday, 25th September 2020

The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables

Nicholas Clee
I have been reading my wife Nicolette Jones' The Illustrators: Raymond Briggs (Thames & Hudson, 1 October). Nicolette is one of the few people who could have written this book, combining a deep knowledge of and sympathy with Briggs' work (she is the author also of Blooming Books, Cape 2003), children's book illustration, and art history. She reveals the techniques with which Briggs achieves his effects; she observes that the texture of Father Christmas' cuffs is similar to that of his fluffy beard; she identifies the tribute an illustration in Fee Fi Fo Fum pays to a painting by Velazquez. The text and images in T&H's handsome production complement each other to offer new insights into the worlds Briggs creates.

Julie Vuong
Although How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang (Virago) didn't make the Booker shortlist, I'm so pleased it was recognised in the longlist. What a beautiful novel. It's a story about Chinese involvement in the American West at the end of the Gold Rush - something I knew very little about (and I'm sure I’m not alone). Zhang won me over from the start. Her writing is mesmeric, and it's no surprise she is a poet; there's a wonderful lyricism to her writing. What is a surprise, though, is that for a debut it's incredibly confident - and she takes risks, such as how the narrative is structured, as well as its wide-ranging themes. The central one is delivered in this refrain: 'What makes a home a home?' which ties into Zhang's exploration of identities, ownership, land and family. I will most certainly pick up anything else Zhang writes.

Jo Henry
While staying with my mother recently I picked up a book she had read for her book group, A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee (Vintage). Published in 2016, it is the first in what has become a series of police procedurals set in Calcutta just after the First World War. Fresh from the horrors of the Western Front, Captain Sam Wyndham arrives to take up a senior post in the police force, but his first case - the murder of a senior British official with a note in his mouth warning the British to leave India - quickly dumps him into very murky waters indeed. Initially I found the writing style rather humdrum, but am glad I stuck with it as the plot became ever more labyrinthine and the characters of Wyndham and his Indian Sergeant Banerjee developed. Set against an evocative depiction of interwar Calcutta, and with the added interest of reading a story of the Raj by an author of Indian heritage (who doesn't need to editorialise to bring home the full horrors perpetrated by the British Empire), I am racing to the conclusion. One quibble: am I the only person still around who finds the construction "was sat" upsetting? Sadly, a number of examples of that here.

Lucy Nathan
I read I Am Dust by Louise Beech (Orenda Books) in a day and absolutely loved it. It's a deliciously spooky ghost story set in a theatre, the perfect location for supernatural events. A lot of thrillers provide a perfectly logical explanation for ghostly happenings, which I find incredibly disappointing, but this novel really delivered. It follows the story of Chloe, who works at a theatre where the legendary musical Dust is being performed twenty years after its first run was cancelled, following the brutal unsolved murder of the leading actress - and her spirit may or may not still be onstage. It was atmospheric, eerie, and like all the best ghost stories, at times extremely sad. Even if ghosts aren't your thing, there's also plenty of intrigue and romance here to get stuck into.

David Roche
My Sister the Serial Killer (Atlantic) is the debut novel by Oyinkan Braithwaite with a confident jacket. Who knew serial killers could be so seductive? I haven't rooted for the murdering side so much since Hannibal Lecter. The title tells the tale and this is a gem of a book. It's punchy, funny, direct, and addresses allegiances, priorities, faithfulness and whim along the way. Korede is the reliable, honest sister to the stunningly beautiful Ayoola who breezes through life and despatches boyfriends with a disarming finality. How much further will Ayoola go and will Korede's loyalty stretch that far, or will the whole thing come crashing down? Most families have their issues but this one has more than most.

Neill Denny
With an RRP of £90, Nick Hull's Jaguar Design: A Story of Style (Porter Press), is asking a lot of the reader, and frankly it delivers. Quite why publishers are so obsessed with discounting and frequently underprice their books in the first place remains a mystery to me, and there is a whole category of people with plenty of money that the trade seems blissfully unaware of. But if you run a Jaguar, which can cost well over £150,000 for a decent E-type, this book is still less than the price of a tank of petrol. And at over 500 pages with hundreds of illustrations, and tipping the scales at 2.5kg, this is 'premium luxury' publishing done in style. Hull is a former Jaguar designer, which is evident from the authoritative text, and the book is gorgeously illustrated throughout, with the doomed prototypes of models that were never made particularly arresting. Behind the cars is the wider back-story of Jaguar keeping its ethos alive despite a near-death experience under BL and then Ford, going on to become one of the last successful manufacturing businesses in Britain.

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