Book Reviews – July 2018
by Elizabeth Kay
Elizabeth Kay offers Sussex Living readers her thoughts on recent reads that have caught her attention. She gives her views on a selection of books from different genres which may capture your interest.
THE FALL GUY
by James Lasdun
This starts very slowly, but it is well worth sticking with, as the first part is a series of clues about the psychology of the narrator, Matthew. Nothing is obvious, and the plot doesn’t really take off until two thirds of the way through. The setting is just too perfect, so you know something will go wrong with the triangular relationship of Matthew, his cousin Charlie and Charlie’s wife Chloe. As Matthew is a failed chef, there’s a lot of detail about the food he cooks, but it isn’t boring and I learned a lot. Before long, you’re screaming at Matthew to do the obvious thing and tackle the right person about his suspicions. But he’s oh so good at avoiding the issue, and it all comes home to roost in the end. It’s hard to review this without giving away any spoilers. The writing is of a high standard, and all the characters are awed in one way or another. The background detail that explains some of the events comes rather late in the tale, but it’s enough to make the damaged teenager that Matthew used to be behave the way he does. It’s not a long read, but it becomes more compulsive towards the end.
THE LAST TUDOR
by Philippa Gregory
This is written in the three very different voices of the Grey sisters, granddaughters of Henry VII. Lady Jane Grey is the familiar one – Protestant queen for only nine days after the death of fifteen- year-old Edward VI, and beheaded by Mary, who brought back the Catholic religion. Jane was the academic one, one of the most learned young women of her day despite being only seventeen at the time of her death. The next sister, Katherine, is the most ignorant and gullible, who will bend with the prevailing religion and thinks more of dresses and jewels than theology. The youngest sister, Mary, is described as very small with a twisted spine, but is probably the most realistic of the three. The girls are pawns in the political life of the times, and after Queen Mary dies and Elizabeth succeeds to the throne Katherine and Mary are next in line. Consequently, they cannot marry without the queen’s permission, and when they both do so they are imprisoned and treated very cruelly. It’s a long book but a fascinating one. None of the girls are particularly likeable but their motivations and actions are believable and well described.
A STORY LIKE THE WIND
by Gill Lewis
This tale of refugees adrift in an inflatable boat is endorsed by Amnesty International. Each person offers some of what they have to the others – bread, lemonade, a shawl. But Rami, the narrator, has only brought his violin with him, so he refuses to take anything. All he has to offer is music, and stories. The story he tells is of the origin of the violin as a descendant of the horsehead fiddle, which is debatable but doesn’t really matter because he’s a good storyteller. The setting is Mongolia, where wild horses run free on the steppe. I’ve been there, and listened to traditional musicians. It’s a haunting sound, and the story of the rescued horse and the tail-hairs used for the bow suit the situation, at sea, miles from anywhere. I’m not really sure what age-group this is aimed at, as the language can be very sophisticated and the story doesn’t really have a beginning or an end – it’s an episode in the life of a group of refugees which could represent any set of displaced persons. The illustrations by Jo Weaver, however, are wonderful, and the hardback book itself is beautifully made and a delight to hold.