Tag Archives: Emma Forrest

Royals by Emma Forrest: The Princess and the pauper

Cover imageRoyals is Emma Forrest’s fourth novel. I’d not read anything by her before but was attracted by the idea of a working-class Jewish boy drawn into the orbit of a poor little rich girl set against the background of London in 1981, the summer the city, or rather the entire country, found itself caught up in Royal wedding fever. Not me, I have to say.

Eighteen-year-old Steven is the son of a cab driver who regularly takes his frustrations out on his wife until Steven starts to take the punches for her. The day of the royal wedding, Steven’s father hits him so hard he wakes up on the children’s emergency ward. In the bed next to him is Jasmine, brought in after her fourth suicide attempt and loudly complaining that she should be with the adults. Jasmine’s a beauty but that’s not what attracts Steven who’s clearly gay despite his repeated declarations that he hasn’t made up his mind yet. She’s a fabulous creature who charms everyone with her dazzling attention and her generosity. These two instantly click, forming a friendship so deep it’s as if they’ve known each other for years. Steven experiences more over the next couple of weeks than he has in a lifetime, luxuriating in an unaccustomed intimacy. He also comes to understand what lies beneath Jasmine’s desperate need for company and for love. By the end of the novel, Steven will have taken the first step in attaining his ambition to produce clothes that flatter and cosset the women whose pain he longs to ease.

Almost within the first five minutes of starting it, I found myself thinking what a great film of the good old-fashioned variety Royals would make. The period detail is spot on; earworms abound for those of us of a certain age. Forrest unfolds – or perhaps unreels – her story through Steven’s voice as he looks back on the brief few weeks his shy, awkward teenage self spent with the sophisticated yet vulnerable Jasmine. It’s not a particularly original story, no real surprises, but it’s one that keeps your attention with its vivid cinematic scenes.

I got some dirty looks and some interest and that’s how it’s continued for the rest of my life

Both Steven and Jasmine could easily have been hackneyed caricatures, each representative of their class and background, but Forrest succeeds in bringing them sharply to life: Jasmine’s manipulation of anyone she needs on her side contrasts with her generosity of spirit while Steven’s clear-eyed perception of her worst behaviour cannot inure him to her charm and need. It’s a thoroughly entertaining and absorbing novel. Forrest knows how to turn a striking phrase, telling her story with wit, humour and insight.

Can you imagine a life where we just look at pictures of ourselves? It would be unbearable says Jasmine, explaining her encyclopaedic knowledge to Steven. How true, and how prescient.

Bloomsbury Books: London 2019 9781408895214 336 pages Hardback

Books to Look Out for in October 2019: Part Two

Cover imageOctober’s first batch of new titles began with several novels bound up with art. This second instalment kicks off with a couple of cinematic connections starting with The Crossed-Out Notebook by Nicolás Giacobone who co-wrote the screenplay for Birdman. An Argentinean screenwriter is imprisoned in a basement by a director determined that his captive will produce a world-changing screenplay. Every evening, the writer crosses out his writing from the previous night. ‘The clash between the two men and their different approaches leads to a movie being made, a gun going off, an unlikely escape, and a final confrontation. In the end, The Crossed-Out Notebook is a darkly funny novel full of intrigue and surprise about the essence of the creative process; a short, crazy ode to any artist whose brilliance shines through strangeness and adversity’ say the publishers which sounds promising to me.

I’m sure Werner Herzog has never indulged in a spot of kidnapping or coerced his screenwriting son, Rudolf, whose short story collection Ghosts of Berlin is my next choice. Herzog’s stories are all set in Kreuzberg, the city’s gentrified hipster district, which formed the border between the old East and West. They offer what the publishers are calling a ‘macabre and madcap vision of Berlin… … conjuring tech bros, acid-tripping artists, and forsaken migrants, each encountering the ghosts of the city’s complicated past’. Intriguing.

We’re staying in Berlin with Adrian Duncan’s Love Notes from a German Building Site which tells the story of Paul, a young Irish engineer who has followed Evelyn to the city and begins work on Cover imagerenovating a building in Alexanderplatz. ‘Set against the structural evolution of a sprawling city, this meditation on language, memory and yearning is underpinned by the site’s physical reality’ according to the publisher. I rather like the sound of that, and Berlin is an irresistible setting for me since visiting the city.

Mahir Guven’s Older Brother takes us over the border to France with its story of a Franco-Syrian family trying to find a way to integrate. The taxi-driving father and his eldest son are pitted against each other when the son takes up work with an app-based car service. Meanwhile the youngest son joins a Muslim humanitarian organization, helping wounded civilians in Syria and returning a changed man.Guven alternates between an ironic take on contemporary society and the gravity of terrorist threats. He explores with equal poignancy the lives of “Uberized” workers and actors in the global jihad’ say the publishers of a book much acclaimed in France, apparently.

We’re moving on to London and back to the ‘80s with Emma Forrest’s Royals. Unsure of his sexuality, eighteen-year-old Steven ends up in hospital after being beaten up by his father. There he meets the glamourous, anarchic Jasmine, an heiress from a very different background to his own. Their mutual love of fashion leads to friendship, opening up a hedonistic life of glittering parties for Steven. ‘Devastating, dazzling, queer and radical, Royals is a love story between unlikely friends from completely different worlds. It’s about the power of art to transform lives and the power of families to destroy them. It’s about working out who you are and what you want’ according to the publishers which sounds like a good read to me.

Cover imageI’m rounding off October with Pursuit, a collection of short stories compiled by Alex Preston with contributions from the likes of Max Porter, Kamila Shamsie Daisy Johnson, Michael Donker and David Szalay to name but a few. These are stories that ‘tell of determination, endeavour and perseverance against the odds. They range across wildly different contexts and cultures, from the epic to the intimate, in fiction and non-fiction, illustrating and illuminating the outer limits of human character and achievement’ say the publishers which sounds enticing enough even without that roll call of literary names.

That’s it for October’s new fiction. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more, and if you’d like to catch up with the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks soon…