What We're Reading 

Hidden gems, hot favourites, slow burners and the odd guest columnist.

July 2018

 - Tuesday, July 03, 2018
Andrew: Never Mind and Some Hope by Edward St Aubyn.  (Gathered together in The Patrick Melrose Novels Volume 1)
I remember  trying to ready At Last by Edward St Aubyn several years ago, not aware that it was the very last in a sequence of five novels. I found Patrick Melrose such a vile, black star of acerbic disdain for what seemed like everything and everyone coming into his purview, that I chucked it away after a chapter or two. Thankfully I have finally returned to the series in (most crucially) the correct order, with the first and second novels—and am now an evangelical convert. These are indeed dark dark novels, of abuse, addiction and predation, but imbued with a terrible pathos, written with a tightrope walker’s precision, and a corrosive wit. One moment we are privy to a childhood summer in Provence; figs dropping and spoiling in the sun; ants marching in the sun along  ancient stone walls; lounging dinner guests with too-clever conversation  avoiding the whiff of anything déclassé — this collides in the second novel with a desparate dash by our hero through the lower eastside in Manhattan twenty years later, in a quest for smack and cocaine of a decent enough purity to hit up, and the comedic, exhaustingly forensic account of the  binge that ensues, taking in its stride a funeral parlour, swanky restaurants, grubby diners and the Mudd Club. Dark dark humour with a terrible core understanding of human frailty. An acclaimed television adaptation with Benedict Cumberbatch has just hit our screens, but I implore you to read the books first. A  secret of Patrick's childhood, as revealed in the first novel, is so astoundingly revelatory and written of with such a terrible beauty that for a moment or two the whole world lurches off it axis.

John: I’ve been slow in getting to Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie—which was one of our most popular literary fiction books last year. We learn of three siblings—British with a Pakistani heritage, orphans whose father, a jihadi, died in custody. The young twins Aneeka and Parvaiz are bought up by their older sister Isma, who has taken up a scholarship at an American university, so the 19 year old twins are on their own. Aneeka is academic and studies law while her brother, Parvais, is a bit of a dreamer who is radicalised and recruited by ISIS. Aneeka begins a relationship with the Home Secretary’s son, but is it love? Home Fire is a novel about the nature of love and power. It works on both a personal and national scale while maintaining a taut plot that leads to an unexpected climax. If, like I, you’re late to Home Fire, I highly recommend you pick it up.