What We're Reading - 7 May 2021

Lucy Nathan
Opinion - Books Friday, 7th May 2021

The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables


Neill Denny
Pat Barker's The Women of Troy takes up where The Silence of the Girls (both Penguin) left off. After no Trojan Horse in the first book, here she starts off by taking us right into it as a group of nervous Greek warriors hide in its stifling interior, ready to pour out and wreak havoc on the unsuspecting Trojans. Then, after the Trojan King Priam is slain and the city sacked, we return to the Greek's makeshift camp, and the fate of the captured women. Again, Queen-turned-concubine-turned-wife Briseis is our guide, and again, the rape and violence raining down on the captives is all off-camera, instead we focus purely on its effects. Gripping, earthy, horrifying, these two books have turned my knowledge of the siege of Troy completely upside down, and, if anything, this is even better than the first one.

Nicholas Clee
In Janelle Brown's thriller Pretty Things (Weidenfeld), the twists and turns, entertaining as they are in their own right, are more than plot devices. This thriller is about what if anything is authentic and what is fake in our fragmented, social media-obsessed world. Here are lost characters, all of them condemned to making bad choices: a glamourous grifter, whose speciality is robbing inheritors of obscene wealth; her fading mother, from whom she learned her craft; their occasional, utterly untrustworthy partner; and an Instagram influencer who has inherited her family's crumbling mansion on Lake Tahoe. Each of them will try to rip off at least one of the others during the course of the narrative. A chapter in which a woman slowly realises that her husband is a wrong 'un is particularly compelling. (It's curious that Weidenfeld has put on the jacket a review claiming that Pretty Things is "Dynasty meets Patricia Highsmith": it's nothing like either.)

Jo Henry
I'm slow to the critically acclaimed The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Dialogue Books) - but what a terrific read! On the face of it a story about racial identity, with twin sisters from a small Southern Black community so light in colour that one of them, Stella, eventually passes for white, while Desiree, her sister, bears a very dark child. But it's so much more than that, an intergenerational family saga that examines the courage needed to leave a small town and forge a new life and - perhaps even more difficult - returning, managing to weave together the different experiences of the twins, their mother and their daughters in a totally absorbing narrative.

David Roche
D.L. Marshall won a Northern Writer's Award in 2018 for his debut novel Anthrax Island which was picked up by Canelo and is published in paperback this week (lovely to see thanks in the acknowledgements for Will Mackie at New Writing North and Aki Schilz at The Literary Consultancy). The setting is based on the real life island off the coast of Scotland where wartime chemical weapons experiments have left a lethal legacy, and here an undercover special-ops-for-hire expert is sent in to investigate a suspicious death. Several follow in quick succession with every one of the scientist team based there a suspect and no escape possible. It's up to the flawed protagonist to discover who is the bad egg before he is taken down himself. Pacy, exhilarating, and gripping, it's a great thriller for the beach - or perhaps wrapped up warm in front of the fire.

Lucy Nathan
I loved Harriet Tyce's debut, Blood Orange, so I had high hopes for her second novel, The Lies You Told (Wildfire) and am pleased to say that they were entirely fulfilled! It's a great thriller, and I stayed up far too late to finish it last night. It follows the story of Sadie, as she returns home to London with her daughter Robin in mysterious circumstances. As Robin joins Sadie's much-hated old school, Sadie notices that other mothers are behaving in a strange, hostile way - and on top of that, she must deal with her difficult mother's old dilapidated house, her broken marriage, and - most interestingly - her first case as a barrister in a number of years. I love the look inside the legal process that Tyce gives the reader in both this novel and Blood Orange, and although I would have loved to read more about Sadie's difficult upbringing and complicated marriage, it was still a thoroughly satisfying thriller, full of intriguing twists and turns.