Tag Archives: The Imperfectionists

Paperbacks to Look Out For in April 2015: Part 2

Cover imageMy second April paperback selection begins with a book whose jacket which will either charm you or make you feel as if you’ve stumbled into a Barbie nightmare. You might also be forgiven for thinking that there’s nothing new or original to say about the Kennedy assassination but having already read and enjoyed Nicole Mary Kelby’s The Pink Suit in its more restrained hardback incarnation, I’m happy to recommend it. By telling her fictionalised story of the infamous suit through Kate, a back room girl at Chez Ninon, Kelby niftily avoids the well-trodden Kennedy path with its apparently endless power to fascinate.

Louise Levene’s The Following Girls is a satire on  schoolgirl life in the 1970s, stuffed full of pitch-perfect period detail. It’s a novel which will have women of a certain age and education both squirming and cackling in recognition. Levene’s sharpest skill is her ability to signal the pain beneath her narrator’s witty rejoinders.  I’m already looking forward to rereading this one.

Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists was one of those novels that caught the affections of many readers including me. His second, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, begins in a Welsh bookshop run by Tooly Zylberberg who finds a message on her Facebook page – her father is in trouble, can she come and help? As far as Tooly’s concerned she hasn’t seen her father since she was eleven, abducted in Bangkok by a women called Sarah who promptly disappeared leaving her with Humphrey, the Russian chess-playing bibliophile who brought her up – and it’s Humphrey who’s in trouble. Rachman’s second novel is as absorbing and entertaining as his first.Cover image

Joseph O’Neill made a similar splash with his first novel, Netherland. HarperCollins must have hardly believed their luck when Barack Obama announced he was taking it on holiday with him. The Dog didn’t meet with quite the same brouhaha but I still plan to read it. Needing a fresh start, a New York attorney accepts his old friend’s offer of a job in Dubai but begins to wonder if it’s quite the gift horse he’d thought.

Edan Lepucki’s California also had a little celebrity stardust sprinkled on it when US comedian Stephen Colbert suggested his viewers buy it from their local indie during the Hatchette/Amazon debacle. Set in the near future, it’s one of those post-apocalyptic novels that have sprung up since 2008 in which Cal and Frida have fled a ruined Los Angeles when they find that Frida is pregnant. They’re faced with a choice – fend for themselves or seek out the help of a paranoid community which may not be worthy of their trust. I’m not usually a fan of this kind of novel but there’s something about the synopsis that attracts me.

Cover imageI’ve been looking forward to Tim Winton’s Eyrie for some time. I first came across Winton through Cloudstreet, an odd, vaguely mystical novel about a family living in a ramshackle house in the ’30s – hard to characterise but this Time Out quote may give you an idea: ‘Imagine Neighbours being taken over by the writing team of John Steinbeck and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and you’ll be close to the heart of Winton’s impressive tale’. In Eyrie, Tom Keely, living in self-imposed isolation in a high-rise, allows his solitude to be penetrated by a woman he once knew leading him into a dangerous, destructive world

That’s it for April paperbacks. If you missed the first part but would like to catch up here it is, and if you’d like to check out my hardback choices they’re here.

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers: Storytelling that pulls you in

Cover imageI loved The Imperfectionists. Funny, poignant and thoroughly entertaining it was stuffed full of engaging characters caught up in their own lives seemingly oblivious to the fact that the newspaper for which they worked was being pulled inexorably down the tubes by the brave new world of the internet. Expectations were high, then, for Tom Rachman’s second novel which begins in a Welsh bookshop run by Tooly Zylberberg who finds a message on her Facebook page – her father is in trouble, can she come and help? As far as Tooly’s concerned she hasn’t seen her father since she was eleven, abducted in Bangkok by a women called Sarah who promptly disappeared leaving her with Humphrey, the Russian chess-playing bibliophile who brought her up – and it’s Humphrey who’s in trouble. So begins Tooly’s story in which many of the players are far from what they seem.

Three narrative strands, each separated by a decade, alternate through Rachman’s novel, slowly – a little too slowly at first – beginning to mesh with each other as small details are slipped in answering some of the many questions that Tooly’s story throws up. Tooly has spent the first part of her life with her father, an itinerant IT specialist, donning a new personality each time they move and obligingly watching the wrestling videos he buys for her as treats. When a smiling woman takes her out of school one day, she’s a little puzzled then charmed by Sarah and her boyfriend Venn. Sarah disappears telling Tooly she’ll be back and leaving her with Humphrey, who will look after Tooly for the next ten years. Venn pops up now and again, a romantic figure, full of ideas who invents a game in which Tooly knocks on apartment doors and asks to use the toilet under instructions to find out as much as she can about the people who live there, a variation of which she carries into adult life. One day, following a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig and its owner, she meets the awkward, introverted Duncan whom she charms, spending more and more time in his flat getting to know his roommates. Cue Venn, now running Brain Trust, a cooperative for bright young things with big ideas. Tooly’s unguarded remarks lead her to make a sharp exit and she doesn’t see Duncan again until his Facebook message summons her back to the States where she finds a much reduced Humphrey speaking in an English accent, his memory cobwebbed by a stroke. Tooly sets about filling in the gaps, making some surprising discoveries along the way. It ends where it began in a small Welsh village, in a bookshop pulled back from the brink of bankruptcy. Always the observer, never entirely involved, the scales have fallen from Tooly’s eyes and she finally knows who she is.

Hmm..  rather a lot about plot there but there’s an awful lot of story telling and Rachman takes his time about it, saying much along the way about both history and how we live our lives now, often in arresting, seemingly throwaway, comments  – Venn’s assessment of progress as ‘those double clicks that turned everyone into rodents pressing buttons for the next sugar pellet’ was particularly striking. It’s full of colourful characters, which seems to be a speciality of Rachman’s: the pontificating Fogg, widely travelled in mind if not in body; volatile Sarah, hopelessly unreliable but charming with it; the mysterious Venn, master of the zeitgeist and Humphrey, lover of facts but not of fiction or so it seems. The only weak link for me was Tooly’s father, who never quite came alive. Altogether, a book to be drawn into and take your time over.

It also has one of the best lines about keeping books that I’ve across as Tooly surveys Humphrey’s tattered collection: ‘People kept their books, she thought, not because they were likely to read them again but because these objects contained the past’ Certainly true for me – looking at a book’s spine can summon up both the world within it and what I was doing when I read it. Is it the same for you?