What we're reading - 16 August 2019

Opinion - Books Friday, 16 August 2019

The BookBrunch team reveal what's on their bedside tables


Nicholas Clee
It's good to see Vintage continuing to promote Iris Murdoch (see our interview with Beth Coates), whom some tend to patronise. Her novels are comedies of self-deception, but tragedies too, because the self-deception has catastrophic consequences. Niceness and cultural sophistication are not enough, she tells us. A Word Child (Vintage), in which a man commits an awful mistake twice, is among her most powerful works.

Neill Denny
Have been using my holiday to catch up on books I have reported about over the course of the year which piqued my interest. Once such, The Quest for Queen Mary, has turned into a real gem, a truly bizarre, memorable and exquisitely funny look at the lost world of European royalty just after the war. The premise is superb: these are the confidential notes of meetings with the surviving members of the family and court of Queen Mary (wife of George V, the Queen's grannie) made by James Pope-Hennessy. He had been commissioned to write an inevitably starchy official biography, and these are his private musings on the extraordinary cast of dotty aristocrats and faded retainers he met. Highly recommended.

David Roche
The Snakes (Chatto) is my first Sadie Jones book and it won't be my last. A creeping suspense novel that blends the corruption and distortion of the rich, the seduction that wealth brings, and the suspicion of those who don't have it. All wrapped up in a genuine thriller - A Year in Provence meets Deliverance.

Jo Henry
Having been fascinated by a talk she gave recently at the Free Word Centre, I wanted to read something by Elif Shafak but didn't know if I was quite ready for her latest book. So I'm starting with The Architect's Apprentice (Penguin), and so far am entranced: a runaway boy, a rare white elephant, intrigue in the Sultan's court and the royal architect, Sinan, designing the sublime Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul. What more could a book need?

Lucy Nathan
This week, I devoured Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Wildfire) in two days. I have loved her celebrity profiles for a long time, so I was eagerly anticipating her first novel. The book is about Toby Fleishman, whose estranged wife Rachel has suddenly vanished. It's a remarkable novel - sprawling yet specific, funny yet unbearably sad. The characters are all so deeply flawed and sympathetic, and the last section, which takes a look into Rachel's head after hundreds of pages of Toby's vitriol, was a particular triumph.

Julie Vuong
It's not every day I'll gobble up over 400 pages on international criminal law, but East West Street by human rights lawyer Philippe Sands (W&N) is something special. Sands writes with such warmth about his own family history, blending it with the lives of the two men who originated "crimes against humanity" and "genocide". It's incredibly heartfelt, and a surprising page turner.

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