What We're Reading - 31 January 2020

Lucy Nathan
Opinion - Books Friday, 31 January 2020

The BookBrunch team reveal what's on their bedside tables


Nicholas Clee
I tend to be unsympathetic to comments about not liking a book because of not liking the characters, but I found myself experiencing just that reaction as I read To the Lions (Raven) by Holly Watt. Because the heroine is an undercover reporter, she and therefore we have to spend a good deal of time in the company of some truly horrible people; and she's not exactly warm and cuddly herself. Holly Watt does not quite succeed in creating a world in which her sophisticated portrayal of the press and of geo-politics can sit comfortably with the necessary implausibilities of thriller fiction. Nevertheless, this is a sharply written, expertly paced novel, which made me look forward to the next in the series.

David Roche
I know Lucy reviewed this properly a couple of weeks ago but I am completely gripped by American Dirt (Headline) by Jeanine Cummins and have to endorse it too. Everyone who has anything to say about migrants should read this first, along with Gulwali Passarlay's remarkable true story of his journey to the UK as a 12 year old in The Lightless Sky (Atlantic). Anyone who wants to learn more should also consider visiting The Migration Museum in its new home as it moves from Lambeth to Lewisham Shopping Centre next month on Valentine's Day.

Neill Denny
Boy meets girl at school, they become lovers, go off to university, meet other people, get back together - that is how far I have got with Sally Rooney's Normal People (Faber). They say there are only two basic plots in fiction, we go on a journey, or a stranger comes to town, and Normal People is very much we go on a journey. Well, so far anyway. The ear for dialogue is sharp, the characters well drawn (if a little too idealised for my liking) and the voyeuristic sense we are peering inside two real people's actual relationship is strong, addictive. Apart from the irritating lack of speech marks, a sure sign of a literary fashion victim at work, I am very much up for the ride.

Jo Henry
I've been listening to Colin Firth read Graham Greene's The End of the Affair (Vintage Classics, available on Audible). It's a really excellent recording that won Audiobook of the Year in 2013, but I'm not enjoying the book itself as much as some of Greene's others (The Quiet American is one of my top 10). Based on an affair the author had during the war, the novel features an inordinate amount of anguished Catholic guilt from Sarah (in her diary, snaffled for the narrator by a private detective he hires), as well as a lot of wandering around in the rain on Clapham Common. The strange, symbiotic relationship the narrator forms with the husband of his ex-lover is, however, intriguing and as always with Greene there are many brilliantly realised minor characters.

Lucy Nathan
I've been seeing a lot of buzz on Twitter about Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession (Bluemoose Books) so I had to get myself a copy - and I loved it. It's a quietly charming book about two men who are best friends, who love board games and eating biscuits and spending time together. Although there are strands of plot running through the book - Hungry Paul's sister is getting ready for her wedding and Leonard falls for the office fire warden - it focuses mostly on characterisation, which is formed through conversation and inner dialogue that feels real and is always full of warmth. It is an incredibly kind and gentle book that's infused with humour.

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