The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables
A visit to my local bookseller (the wonderful Aldeburgh Bookshop) has renewed my TBR pile and my appetite for reading. One of my many purchases, The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley (HarperCollins), comes garnished with praise and comparisons to Donna Tartt's The Secret History and Agatha Christie, both favourites, so I am expecting great things. So far, the mise-en-scène is promising: a remote Scottish lodge at New Year's Eve, a group of university friends 15 years on, and an as yet unnamed corpse who has not died a natural death. All the elements for a tight, menacing whodunnit, with a fixed group of potential suspects and heavy snow keeping law and order at bay, are in place and I'm gripped...
I just love it when I come across a novel like The Ascent of Rum Doodle (Vintage) by WE Bowman, and cannot imagine how I have avoided it for so long. This is an absolutely wonderful, gem of a book. Written in 1956 it is a hilarious parody of British exploratory expeditions, in this case an assault on the previously unconquered Rum Doodle, which at 40,000 feet is the highest mountain in the world. The romantic idea, so prevalent at the moment, of the gifted amateur winning through with just sheer bravado and a seasoning of spunk is writ large here and the result is laugh out loud funny. Each team member is delightfully characterised with their fragile relationship and ineffectualness put into sharp relief by the professional ease of the local porters. The crevasse scene where one by one, armed only with 'medicinal' champagne, the team are lowered in to rescue those that went before, will stay with me for a long time. At 171 pages it is a must to tuck away somewhere in your holiday luggage or to content yourself with if you are happiest staying at home. There’s also a lovely 2001 introduction by Bill Bryson which I recommend you read after you have read the actual book - it's nice to have the reward then as you will definitely want to know more at that point.
I'm not a huge fantasy reader and nor was I a big fan of the Divergent series, so I'm not sure what made me pick up my proof of Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth (Hodder) this week. However, I'm very glad that I did. The premise immediately grabbed me: a common trope of YA fantasy is that teenagers have to save the world, and this book explores what might be happening to those teenagers ten years after the Dark One has been vanquished. It's a book that feels dark and heavy at times, and part of me thinks that I preferred the premise to the plot, but I am certainly enjoying it. It's slow-paced in a way that lets you soak up its world(s), and I love the details of newspaper articles and confidential files scattered between the chapters. It's an excellent and thoughtful urban fantasy, and it makes me think that I need to expand my horizons a little more and explore more books within the genre.
Susie Steiner's Remain Silent (Borough Press) does not disappoint after the outstanding first two novels in the DI Manon Bradshaw series - though the author, who is blind as the result of a degenerative condition and who also has cancer, might have been excused a sub-par effort. Here, the mystery centres on Lithuanian agricultural workers, kept in conditions amounting to slavery; and Manon is troubled in her family life, chafing against her apparently settled routines. Only the dead end of an apparent plot strand involving Manon's adopted son hints at a shortage of energy. No one combines police procedural and domestic drama with such skill, wit and insight.
For reasons presumably connected to the lockdown, Radio 4 is currently re-running Neil MacGregor's A History of the World in 100 Objects. Each 15 minute episode on a single object comprises one of the 100 chapters in the accompanying book, from Allen Lane, making it ideal for dipping into during odd moments. Actually, the infomation is so dense you can't read more than two or three at a time without suffering from intellectual overload. There's no plot, except for the small matter of the history of the entire world encapsulated in 100 objects held by the British Museum. The sub-plot is the book itself: ten years after it was published, the question of quite how all these priceless objects ended up in London has expanded massively from just the old chestnut of the Elgin Marbles (discreetly only mentioned once in the index). Scholarly collection, or goods stolen by slave-trading empire? Discuss...