This month I review two of the books on the long-list for this year’s Man Booker Prize and look at one of the most important and impressive young adult (YA) novels to come out of recent years.
Did You Ever Have a Family? by Bill Clegg starts off on the morning of the wedding of June Reid’s daughter. But all does not go as perfectly as hoped when the house catches fire and June loses her entire family in the blaze. After the funerals June, consumed by grief, gets in her car and drives away until she finds herself in a motel room by the ocean hundreds of miles away.
With each chapter showing the perspective of a different character what is slowly built is an understanding of some of the people who perished in the fire and the relationships and dynamics of those who were left behind. It really reaches in to the true darkness of grief and displays it in the slow and painstakingly detailed way that only those who have lost a loved one would understand. Bill Clegg has captured the regrets and pain of no longer having the ability to make amends or decisions with prose. But perhaps the thing I enjoyed the most about this book was the way it ended, there was no solution or relief from the emotional pain June was experiencing, but instead an understanding from newfound friends, and old, that these things take time. It’s no surprise this has made the Longlist for the Man Booker Prize, a true beauty of a novel.
Did You Ever Have a Family? is published by Jonathan Cape and is available on the Kindle from Amazon.co.uk (RRP £8.02) The print edition is available in all good bookshops (RRP £12.99)
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler this is the second book I have read this month that has made the Longlist for the Man Booker Prize. The book centres round the Whitshank family and starts with Abby and Red and their somewhat strained relationship with their difficult son Denny. A boy who always seems to be losing in interest in something whether it’s his job, his studies or his sexuality. Denny seems to be the one child of the Whitshank family Abby and Red lose the most sleep over. But as the novel develops you begin to realise that this novel is about finding our place in the world.
Anne Tyler sections off the books and looks back on the history of Abby and Red and how their relationship began and goes back even further to Red’s father Junior and his wife Linnie Mae. There is something so comforting about the novel and humorous that you almost feel as though you’re having a cup of tea with your Aunt whilst she gossips to you about family members. It is Anne’s honest and beautiful observations of family life that make this a delightful read. She peels back the layers of frayed relationships, family secrets and scandal and just when you think you have one character figured out she reveals a whole new depth to them. This book is perfect in helping people appreciate not just to take something at face value and understanding the importance of the old saying ‘there’s more than one side to every story’.
A Spool of Blue Thread is published by Vintage and is available on the Kindle from Amazon.co.uk (RRP £3.99) The print edition is available in all good bookshops (RRP £7.99)
I don’t tend to read a lot of YA novels, but when I saw the synopsis of Asking For It by Louise O’Neill on a recent Buzzfeed article, my interest was piqued. Asking For It focuses on a girl called Emma O’Donovan she’s beautiful, she’s popular, she’s the kind of girl other girls want to be like. But underneath all the artificial exterior is a girl who feels under pressure. Her peers expect her to be a certain way all the time so when she goes to a party with her friends and is doing her best to try and get the attention of one of the most popular boys on the football team, things begin to take a vicious turn.
When Emma is found outside her house by her parents the day after she can’t remember half of what’s happened. All she knows is that she’s in pain and her friends seem to be ignoring her texts and calls. But things soon become clear when a Facebook page pops up with explicit photos of Emma at the party. Photo’s that detail the cruel sexual abuse Emma has suffered at the hands of the town heroes, boys who have potential to be signed as the next big footballer in Ireland.
What ensues is an unflinching and heart-breaking look at the culture of victim blaming, the brutality of life after such a life changing moment and the fear and thought process that goes with it. Frustrating, compelling and raw, Louise O’Neill has written one of the most important YA novels of our time, this novel could educate the society and the world so much.
Asking For It is published by Quercus and is available on the Kindle from Amazon.co.uk (RRP £6.99) The print edition is available in all good bookshops (RRP £7.99)