The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables
The literary equivalent of fast food, I am on my second Lee Child of 2020 with Blue Moon (Bantam), although I had to go back to check whether I had actually read one earlier this year, so easily do they slip down. All the classic ingredients are baked in: Jack Reacher drifts into town, gets involved in defending the defenceless, disrupts a vast and sinister criminal enterprise with astonishing feats of hyper-violence, and drifts away into the night, whilst still making time for recreational sex with a willing local girl. Everything is tied together with crisp writing, pithy observations on American life, and dryly amusing sides on coffee, town planning and cars. Quite soon - this may even be the last one - Child will start handing over writing duties to his brother, but my prediction is the recipe and the success will stay the same, McDonald's will still be serving classic burgers whoever is tending the grill.
A formidable publisher, Carmen Callil is now a formidable social historian. Her Oh Happy Day: Those Times and These Times (Cape 5 November) is an extraordinary reclamation of lives usually lost to history, starting with Callil's great-great grandmother Sary Lacey, born in 1808 into a family of framework knitters in the East Midlands. It is also a model of how to construct a compelling narrative from patchy material: the official records may lose track of Sary and her relatives from time to time, but so immediate is Callil's evocation of the brutal conditions they endured that the reader does not feel the loss. Other writers, from Dickens onwards, have exposed these hardships: few have done so with the rigour and bitter irony that Callil employs.
I am a fan of the books of the Neapolitan Novels Series (My Brilliant Friend et al) and also their excellent TV adaptation. A whistle-stop visit to Puglia last week gave me a great excuse to get introduced to Elena Ferrante’s latest, stand-alone novel, The Lying Life of Adults (Europa). Having had three sons, I have to admit to being somewhat mystified by daughters and this wonderfully engaging story of Giovanna’s coming of age - amplified by the outsized nature of Italian family life - I really enjoyed. Some may wish to assess it alongside her earlier quartet, and here a bracelet takes on the role of the red shoes, but I just enjoyed it for what it was and was not disappointed.
Another classic this week, Put out More Flags by Evelyn Waugh (Penguin, although I read it in a lovely gift edition published by Little Brown in the US). With his usual finely wielded scalpel, the author dissects the idiocrasies of upper class English society at the start of the Second World War, the so-called Phony War. We're back in the company of the disreputable Basil Seal and a cast of characters, many from Waugh’s previous books Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies. Feeling that the onset of hostilities provides him with a host of opportunities to showcase his (peculiar) talents, Basil attempts to get into the Army and then the Ministry of Information, finally finding a pecuniary opportunity as billeting officer at his sister’s country estate. As always with Waugh, the satire is very close to the bone. Basil is a ghastly character and his total lack of self-awareness and chutzpah is both hilarious and excruciating. Well worth (re)reading.
Richard Osman's debut novel The Thursday Murder Club (Viking) has sold huge amounts of copies, so naturally I wanted to find out for myself if it was any good - and in a surprise to absolutely no one, I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were times that I felt the plot became a little unwieldy and convenient, but it was such an enjoyable read with brilliant characters, and so many funny lines. You can really hear Osman's dry humour in the narrative and it was very charming - it reminded me very much of Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon, which I also loved. I'll definitely read the next one in the series when it's released.