So the last time I wrote about books was back in February, and I’m now sitting on 44 books read so far this year; which is so much better than what I managed in 2017. Rather than try and re-cap every book I’ve read in this time, I thought I’d write about the ones that have really stuck out for me.
Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton (2018, Fig Tree)
I love Dolly Alderton, having read her articles and obsessively listened to the podcast she shares with Pandora Sykes (The High Low) for months. Everything I Know About Love is a memoir of her teenage years and twenties growing up and falling in (and out) of love in London; and the female friendships that have got her through. Alderton is a great writer, and this is instantly relatable and I’ve never laughed so much at a book (the section on living out romances via MSN messenger felt very true) and then sobbed in a few chapters time. So many of my friends have read and adored this book too, and I’m so excited to see what Dolly does next.
Hired by James Bloodworth (2018, Atlantic Books)
Hired follows journalist James Bloodworth in an exploration of the low-wage, zero-hour jobs that many people in Britain have found themselves in. He works in one of Amazon’s warehouses in the West Midlands, as an Uber driver in London, in a call centre in Wales and as a personal carer in Blackpool. In doing so he shines a light on the cost of convenience; and on how job insecurity has impacted communities across the country, and contributed to our massively divided political sphere. He writes with real empathy about his co-workers, and about his clients during his time in Blackpool. This really should be required reading to understand in-work poverty and how the ‘gig economy’ is far from cool when you’re not a tech bro. This has also stopped me shopping on Amazon.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (2017, Doubleday)
This was a book that was definitely enabled by the internet and I’m so glad that I picked it up. The novel follows Cyril, who is born to a single young woman in rural Ireland and who finds himself adopted by a well-off, but distant, couple in Dublin. The story follows him growing up, and attempting to figure out his identity against a backdrop of Irish and global history. Cyril makes many poor decisions, and there are moments when I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him; but he was a character I grew very attached to and was very sad to say goodbye to him at the end. Boyne, who is possibly best known for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, is excellent at creating fully-fledged, complicated characters and writes about them with deep empathy, and despite a lot of tragedy taking place within The Heart’s Invisible Furies it never felt exploitative. I’m so glad to have read this, and to have lots of Boyne’s back catalogue to get stuck into.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2017, Little Brown)
I really liked Everything I Never Told You, so I was very excited to read Little Fires Everywhere. This follows two families in Shaker Heights, a town that has been planned to be perfect. The novel opens with the wealthy Richardson’s family home being burnt to the ground by their teenage daughter. We then track back to when single artist Mia Warren moves to the neighbourhood with her daughter, and rents a home from the very proper Elena Richardson who likes to feel like she’s ‘giving back’ to those in need; and the Richardson and Warrens’ lives being to intertwine-before a cross-cultural adoption in the town tears them apart. Much like her first novel, Ng is just so good at writing characters and relationships, in particular her teenage characters are perfect. This is becoming a television series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, and I cannot wait.
Fall Out by Tim Shipman (2017, William Collins)
Tim Shipman is a long-time UK political journalist, and is currently the Political Editor of The Times, and this book takes full advantage of his connections. Fall Out is the story of the…fall-out…of the EU referendum and the ensuing Brexit vote, following the various political parties through to the 2017 election. It’s a fascinating, entertaining and slightly depressing exploration of the political class, and all sides come out looking less than rosy. I would really recommend this if you want to try and gain an understanding of what goes on in Westminster-and then get very depressed at the fact they’re the ones in charge of one of the biggest changes to the UK in many, many years.
Conversations with Friends (2017, Faber & Faber) and Normal People (2018, Faber & Faber) by Sally Rooney
I’m including both of Rooney’s novels here because they are both just so good. Both these novels explore young people attempting to find their way in the early 20s in Ireland, making bad decisions and hurting each other in the process. Conversations with Friends follows Frances and Bobbi who are best friends and ex-girlfriends now performing spoken word poetry together. They get sucked into the world of older journalist Melissa and her jobbing-actor husband Nick. The way Rooney writes these twisted, pointed relationships is excellent, and the relationship between Frances and Nick is really interestingly developed. Normal People is on the surface more straight-forward, following wealthy friendless Marianne and popular Connell whose Mum cleans Marianne’s house; a chance encounter in her kitchen sparks a change in their relationship and the novel then explores it through their last year at secondary school into university. However, Rooney plays with your expectations of characters and relationships and again it is excellent. I’m so excited to read Rooney’s next work.
How to Survive a Plague by David France (2016, Knopf)
I’d been thinking about this book since I saw Angels in America at the National, and I am incredibly glad I picked it up. This is the story of the AIDS epidemic, and the scientists and ordinary people who teamed up to defeat it. This is a period of history I feel like the majority of us know too little about, and this book made me incredibly angry but also ultimately hopeful at what we can achieve when we work together.
Transcription by Kate Atkinson (2018, Bloomsbury)
Kate Atkinson is one of my favourite authors so a new book by her is always exciting time for me; and this isn’t an exception. Spies! Lady spies! World War! A flamingo on the cover! Transcription is the story of Juliet who accidentally becomes a typist for an espionage unit focused on thwarting right-wing sympathisers at home during WW2; a role that follows her many years later into her work at the BBC. Whilst this is potentially not the most Serious Historical Fiction book you will read this year, it is great fun and Atkinson’s writing is a favourite. I’d read this if you fancy a bit of an espionage romp, and Life After Life if you’re after something more complex.