What We're Reading - 8 October 2021

Lucy Nathan
Opinion - Books Friday, 8th October 2021

The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables

David Roche
Colson Whitehead is another excellent American author who I only discovered in recent years when Underground Railroad hit the headlines at the end of 2016. His latest novel is Harlem Shuffle (Fleet), set in 1960s Harlem. Ray Carney is a respectable family man with his own furniture store. His in-laws know better and his seedy cousin is always one step away from getting Ray into trouble. The inadvertent involvement in one heist leads to a bigger plan to assuage the resentment caused by those who look down on him and consider him not worthy of belonging to the respectable business club, of which his father-in-law is a member. The stakes get ever higher until the potential downfall could spell the end for Ray and all he has worked so hard for.

Lucy Nathan
A debut that is going to be absolutely huge: The Maid by Nita Prose, out in January with HarperCollins. Finally booksellers have a concrete answer to the question 'I loved Eleanor Oliphant - what should I read next?'. The Maid follows Molly, a maid at a prestigious hotel who discovers a body in one of the rooms she's expected to clean. Molly is, like Eleanor, a brilliant narrator, striking that balance of being odd yet believable and hugely likeable. It's pretty easy to tell what's going to happen, if not the specifics, right from the start of the book: the bad guy, the love interest and so on, but it's such an enjoyable journey watching Molly figure everything out for herself. It's a really charming book and I whipped through it in a day. One small peeve: the setting felt strange and unclear, stuck somewhere between the UK and the US, although the author is based in Canada which may be why. But it was such an enjoyable read that it didn't matter too much.

Jo Henry
Another classic choice for my book club this month - The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal, translated by Scott-Moncrieff (in a US edition published by Boni and Liveright). Our hero Fabrizio (Fabrice in this version), naïve and idealistic, leaves his home - a castle near Lake Como - at 17 to try and join his hero Napoleon who has returned from exile, but quickly finds himself on the fringes of a chaotic and confusing battle of Waterloo (Stendhal himself had fought in the Napoleonic wars). Wounded, Fabrizio returns home but, with Italy now back under the firm control of Austria, finds himself accused of being a traitor and has to go into exile, shielded by his glamorous but impoverished aunt Gina. It's early days and the book, perhaps rather ominously, comes in two parts, but so far I'm very much enjoying Stendhal's imaginative take on the rakish lives of these Italian aristocrats; clearly he was a firm admirer of the Italian way of doing things, both in love and diplomacy. The book was considered significant by authors such as Balzac, Tolstoy and James, while Gide described it as the greatest of all French novels - I look forward to discovering why!