What we're reading - 30 August 2019

Opinion - Books Friday, 30 August 2019

The BookBrunch team reveal what's on their bedside tables


Neill Denny
Last of the holiday reading, and almost literally a beach read, On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming (Chatto) is a profoundly moving book. Once - and, being a cynical hack, this is not something that often happens - it even made me cry. It's the story of Laura's mother, snatched as a young child off a Lincolnshire beach in 1929, who was miraculously found five days later. Laura is a London media luvvie, chief art critic of the Observer, so this true story of the almost medieval circumstances of her mother's childhood is all the more bizarre and unsettling. She turns her art critic's expertise on the family photograph album, and finds clues to the long-buried mystery hiding in plain sight. More satisfying than a dozen contrived thrillers.

David Roche
No time like the height of summer to take to the frozen Bay of Bothnia and accompany Horatio Clare in Icebreaker (Chatto) as he joins the crew, keeping the sea lanes open and rescuing trapped ships from their frozen vices. Along the way Clare narrates far more about Finland and the Finns - a good introduction for anyone curious about Suomi - and also touches on the concerns for the climate crisis that he discovered more about in his time on board.

Lucy Nathan
I recently finished The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware (Harvill Secker), who has made a sideways step from domestic noir into gothic thrillers. I thought her last novel, The Death of Mrs Westaway, was her best yet, and The Turn of the Key is even better. It's completely engrossing, following the story of Rowan, the new nanny at Heatherbrae House in the Scottish Highlands. The house - I will read anything about a house that's slightly 'off' - is a luxurious 'smart' house with a tragic history and a poison garden, and the family she's working for is equally glossy on the surface but with a core of dark secrets. I read this book in a day - I could not put it down.

Jo Henry
Having read and loved much of Jan Morris's travel writing, I was recommended Conundrum, her account of her transition from James to Jan Morris, and all that that entailed. Extraordinarily honest, and very much ahead of its time in talking about such issues, it does nevertheless feel somewhat dated - but still very readable.

Julie Vuong
Vintage recently rejacketed a set of Iris Murdoch novels for her centenary, and I was sent The Sea, The Sea, which I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. Once I'm able to get past the stunning cover designed by LA artist Bijou Karman, I'll let you know what I think of the actual story...

Nicholas Clee
Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman (Faber). As ever with Lippman's fiction, it's the sharpness of the writing and the exploration of moral ambiguity - in this case, about journalism, Lippman's former profession - as much as the thriller plot that keep you hooked.

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