Friday 24 September 2021

Just Like You by Nick Hornby

 There's a theory that what you're looking for in a partner is someone just like you - someone who shares your interests, your outlook on life, your politics. But Lucy's tried that already - and it didn't work out.

Now, over the butcher's shop counter she's met Joseph. She likes him. He likes her. That's about as far as their similarities go. Lucy's an English teacher in her forties with two children, a white 'Remain' voter.  Joseph's twenty years younger, black, still undecided on so many things from career to which way to vote over Brexit. Can their mutual attraction be enough to base a relationship on?

I rather liked this book. It's the quiet gentle love story of a very unlikely couple. Insightful and funny it depicts a middle-aged woman and young man drawn to each other despite their differences. This isn't a case of Anna Karenina falling head over heels for dashing young  Alexei Vronsky, or vice versa. Neither Lucy nor Joseph appear to be whisked away in a flood of passion - in fact one thing they do have in common is a gentle, cautious approach to their affair. Lucy's attitude is one of sensible middle-age, Joseph's of uncommitted youth, but somehow they fit together.

Something I particularly liked was that, although obviously not intended to be deep political analysis, it captured the confusion over Brexit well, giving an insight into why so many voted for an idea that others thought was idiotic.  

On the whole it's light and fun, not a great love story or tragedy, but just as enjoyable in its way.

I haven't read any Nick Hornby for a while, though I have a well-stacked shelf of his novels. This I feel might send me back to rediscover them.

Thursday 9 September 2021

The Earthspinner by Anuradha Roy

Studying English Literature at a British university, Sara feels adrift - cut off from her family back in India, disoriented by the familiar, yet unfamiliar, language around her, even the strangeness of English seasons. She finds comfort and familiarity in the students' pottery studio, exploring an art she first encountered many year before as a child.

Elango the local potter is a man straggling two worlds - the huge terracotta pots he makes have drawn interest from art galleries and buyers beyond his small town, but he prefers to remain in his backwater and create practical, 'everyday' pots of use to everyone. One day he finds (or is found by) a lost dog, which, opening his heart to companionship and affection, seems to lead on to other developments. After long being in love with a local Muslim girl, he begins to think that she reciprocates his feelings, despite the impossibility of their relationship. And at the same time another passion takes hold. Sparked by a dream in which he sees a horse breathing fire under the sea, he begins to create a huge terracotta statue - what will happen to it when finished he doesn't know, but something is driving him on, and he cannot rest before it's completed. Daring to dream of something different isn't easy though, and there are always people waiting to destroy those dreams.

This is a beautifully written and crafted novel about the burning desire to create beauty from a very basic substance - mud - and the perils of daring to love or live in a different manner to those around you.

The story moves from England to India, back and forward between Sara's teenage years and her 'present day' almost ten years later, always showing how difficult it is for an outsider who doesn't wish to conform. It's threaded through with themes about the unpredictability of love, of coming of age and self-discovery, and the demands that art puts upon its creators, and I think everyone will have their own 'focus' to the story. For me though the emphasis lies on the 'daring to be different', to brave society's or parental expectations and follow one's heart - whether this is shown through Elango and Zohra's forbidden love, or Sara's fellow student following a career that wasn't planned out for her..

The Earth Spinner is the first fiction title from new imprint Mountain Leopard Press, which specialises in literary fiction and nonfiction from around the world. Anuradha Roy's previous novels have been listed for prestigious literary prizes and translated into over fifteen laguages.

Wednesday 1 September 2021

Five Minds by Guy Morpuss

In a dystopian future, innovative ways have been found to cope with Earth's still growing population. Natural lives are limited to 80 years, but if you want to live for longer there are options - one of which is to become part of a 'commune' sharing one body between five minds, each of which 'lives' for only an allotted period of each day. Alex, Ben, Kate, Mike and Sierra have already spent 25 years in what was Mike's body - not always amicably but near enough - and it's become time to think about their next body, and earning the credits to obtain an upgrade. That's where the Death Parks come in; here games of chance or skill can help you accumulate more time or lose it all. They expect, playing to each others strengths, to do well, but when Kate accepts a dubious challenge things start to go very wrong, and one of the commune disappears. It's soon clear that someone is trying to kill them off - but how and why? And most important 'who'?

Set in a dystopian future Five Minds is a thriller with a difference. It's a fast-paced addictive read with five personalities in one body, trying to work out who is intent on killing them, set against the backdrop of the Death Park where, in games ranging from the purely physical to more intellectual games of out-psyching one's opponent, time and lives are gambled away - and that's without the threat of gangsters and the illegal games they operate. Unputdownable is often used about thrillers, but this one definitely is!

 The world-building is well thought-through, and explained enough to give it credibility without over-shadowing the story with explanations, the plotting is ingenious, the characterisation great. I loved it. If you love sci-fi or speculative fiction read this book before everyone else does.
There are echoes of various sci-fi films like Andrew Niccol's In Time (with Justin Timberlake) - where time is won or lost - or James Mangold's psychological thriller Identity, starring John Cusack, but ultimately Five Minds is new and original, and like nothing I've read before. This is an astounding debut, and I look forward to whatever Guy Morpuss comes up with next.