The BookBrunch team reveal what's on their bedside tables
John le Carré’s latest, Agent Running in the Field (Viking), has been much anticipated, with modern themes and events woven into an agency plot with Russian overtones. As ever, the welcomingly recognisable characters are a touch shabby, a tad unreliable and always have more than a soupcon of rogue about them. Recommended.
I've been a fan of Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy series set in Belfast for a while now, and am sorry that they've not achieved the huge sales I think they deserve, despite winning awards. I was, however, a little hesitant about reading his new book, The Chain (Orion), a standalone thriller set in the States about a pyramid kidnapping scheme: parents have to kidnap someone else's child in order to get their own child released. I need not have worried. McKinty is a master storyteller, and I absolutely raced through this, finishing it within the day while nothing else got done. I'm looking forward already to whatever he's going to do next!
Years ago, after a bruising encounter with And Quiet Flows the Don, I resolved never to read another Russian classic again, because a) they were too long, b) with scores of characters each with three names they were impossible to follow, c) they were too slow-moving, and d) life was too short. Of late I have become slightly ashamed of my philistinism, and have been gently reintroducing myself to Russian literature, and its potential delights, with Everyman's Pocket Classics' Russian Stories, edited by Christoph Keller. This is a collection of short stories by greats such as Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Pushkin, along with lesser names such as Mandelstam and Sadur, all in one handy pocket volume, and almost everything under 30 pages. For my internet-addled attention span, these are essential baby steps...
A lot of people out there are desperately looking for the next Eleanor Oliphant - and happily, she has arrived in the form of 79-year-old Missy Carmichael in Beth Morrey's debut novel, Saving Missy, which is out next February with HarperCollins and was a huge hit in Frankfurt in 2018. I absolutely loved it - despite its pangs of darker emotions and incredibly accurate descriptions of the most hidden and ugly feelings that we all have, it felt like the novel equivalent of being wrapped up on the sofa in a blanket with a mug of hot chocolate: comforting, warm, and thoroughly enjoyable.
When I wrote in an earlier column about finishing volume 12 of A Dance to the Music of Time and needing to start again at volume 1, I was not joking. On my second lap, I am half way through volume 2, A Buyer's Market. Sometimes I feel, when reading Anthony Powell's scrupulous, almost nerdish explorations of his characters, that I have little reason to care about them. Normally, novels have plots that give the characters consequence; Powell presents instead a series of tableaux - a structure that scuppered the TV dramatisation. But it's the exactness of observation that hooks you. Widmerpool, Uncle Giles, Quiggin, Pamela Flitton - I can't get enough of them.
I heard Irenosen Okojie read "Synsepalum" from Nudibranch (Dialogue Books) earlier this year, and given it was the book's official release date yesterday, I was reminded to pick it up. It was one of the standout author events of the year for me. Nudibranch is an eclectic collection of stories with energy and imagination; it builds on the success of Speak Gigantular and shows off what an original writer she is.