Tag Archives: Theft

Theft by Luke Brown: ‘An exhilarating howl of a novel’

Cover imageThat subtitle is a quote from the press release for Luke Brown’s smart, funny new novel and it’s what made me want to read it. I tend to find the A4 sheets that accompany review copies a wee bit over the top but I loved that phrase which turned out to fit Theft very well. Of course, if I’d known that its main protagonist was a bookseller and reviewer, I’d have needed no such persuasion.

Paul lives in the dilapidated Dalston flat he’s shared for years with various friends and acquaintances. He’s worked part-time in a Bloomsbury bookshop for a decade, trawling clubs at night for fetching haircut shots to post on the magazine page whose hits far outstrip his book reviews. He’s on the edge of London’s literary milieu, managing to land himself an interview with a reclusive novelist with whom he sparks a connection. Emily invites Paul to lunch at the Holland Park house she shares with her partner Andrew, a well-known historian several decades older. There he meets Sophie, Andrew’s daughter, busy cultivating her rebelliousness via her Guardian pieces on sexual politics. Holland Park is a world away from the small Northern seaside town where Paul was raised with his sister Amy. Their mother has recently died in a car crash, leaving them the family home. Amy’s keen to sell, planning to plough the proceeds into a flat currently just out of her financial reach and thinks Paul should do the same but he’s reluctant to let go of the life he’s led since he left university, despite having reached his mid-thirties. Over a year which sees the EU referendum, Paul continues to flirt with Emily’s world until he takes an irrevocable step and is cast out.

What I did to them was terrible, but you have to understand the context.

With its snappy opening sentence Brown sets his readers up for mischief in this novel which explores the intergenerational divide, London’s literary life and the state of our divided nation. Paul is an engaging narrator – a bookish party boy, falling in love here and there, caught up in his obsession with Emily, seemingly unable to fully acknowledge his mother’s death and how angry it’s made him. Brown’s characters are astutely drawn – Sophie’s constant public yanking of her father’s chain in her Guardian pieces and her cynical virtue signalling are particularly well done – and it’s very funny at times, underpinned, as all good social comedy should be, with some acute observations. Paul’s London life is in stark contrast to the lives of his old schoolmates in the seaside town where the fishing industry has long since dwindled, replaced with nothing. A hugely entertaining novel with a pleasingly acerbic edge, I loved it.

And Other Stories: London 2020 9781911508588 320 pages Paperback

Books to Look Out For in February 2020: Part Two

Cover imageThis second batch of February’s new titles begins with one I’m eagerly anticipating although a novel set against the backdrop of the Thirty Years’ War wouldn’t usually appeal. Daniel Kehlmann’s Tyll is based on the German legend of the eponymous trickster, born in an ordinary village but destined to expose the folly of kings and the wisdom of fools, apparently. ‘With macabre humour and moving humanity, Daniel Kehlmann lifts this legend from medieval German folklore and enters him on the stage of the Thirty Years’ War. When citizens become the playthings of politics and puppetry, Tyll, in his demonic grace and his thirst for freedom, is the very spirit of rebellion – a cork in water, a laugh in the dark, a hero for all time’ say the publishers. I’m not at all sure about that but I’ve yet to read anything by Kehlmann I’ve not both enjoyed and admired.

If the historical setting of Tyll is a little outside my literary territory, thrillers are practically on a different continent but I enjoyed A. D. Miller’s The Faithful Couple, a favourite holiday read in Palma, a few years back. With Independence Square, Miller returns to Ukraine where his bestselling first novel, Snowdrops, was set, a country whose turbulent recent history he covered as a journalist. Once a senior diplomat in Kiev, Simon Davey spots a woman on the Tube he’s convinced is the person who unwittingly brought about his downfall and decides to follow her. ‘Independence Square is a story of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary times. It is a story about corruption and personal and political betrayals. It is a story about where, in the twenty-first century, power really lies’ say the publishers. William Boyd is a fan, apparently.Cover image

Not entirely sure this one is up my street either but the stories that make up Escape Routes by Naomi Ishiguro were apparently inspired by her stint at the lovely Mr B’s Emporium here in Bath. Her pieces are speculative ranging from a musician who befriends a flock of birds to two newlyweds inhibited by a large, watchful stuffed bear in their lives. I wonder if it’s the Orvis bear which disappeared mysteriously from outside our local branch. ‘Stories that start like delicate webs and finish like unbreakable wire traps’ according to Neil Gaiman.

I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every book by Colum McCann I’ve read but I’m an admirer of his writing. His new novel, Apeirogon, sounds extremely ambitious. It follows the friendship of two men – one an Israeli, the other a Palestinian – both of whom have lost their daughters – one killed in a suicide bomb attack, the other shot by a border guard. ‘Colum McCann crosses centuries and continents, stitching time, art, history, nature and politics into a tapestry of friendship, love, loss and belonging. Musical, muscular, delicate and soaring, it is a book for our times from a writer at the height of his powers’ promise the publishers. Finger crossed for this one.

Cover imagePetina Gappah’s Out of the Darkness, Shining Light sounds just as ambitious as Apeirogon, following a procession of sixty-nine Africans carrying the remains of a white man 1,500 miles to the sea so that he can be buried in his own country. The body is David Livingstone’s but Gappah concentrates on the funeral procession, apparently, giving voice to his cook and three of his most devoted servants. ‘Their tale of how his corpse was borne out of nineteenth-century Africa – carrying the maps that sowed the seeds of the continent’s brutal colonisation – has the power of myth’ say the publishers of what sounds like a novel that deserves the rather over-used description ‘epic’. I still haven’t got around to Gappah’s short stories despite being so impressed by The Book of Memory back in 2015.

Painted on a much smaller, twentieth-first century canvas, Luke Brown’s Theft sees a journalist granted an interview with a cult author who welcomes him into her London home. There he meets Sophie, celebrated for her controversial political views. Meanwhile, his sister has disappeared after their falling out over their dead mother’s house. Paul‘s life becomes increasingly fraught as he travels back and forth between his rundown northern home town and the Nardinis’ rather grand London house in what the publishers are describing as ‘an exhilarating howl of a novel’. Couldn’t resist that line.Cover image

My final choice is Ben Halls’ The Quarry which offers a small twist on state-of-the-nation fiction in the form of a collection of interlinked short stories rather than a straightforward novel. Set on the eponymous West London estate, Halls’ stories explore contemporary masculinity and changing gender roles through a diverse set of working-class men, apparently. That state-of-the-nation theme is catnip for me and this take on it sounds intriguing.

That’s it for February’s new fiction. As ever a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that have snagged your attention, and if you’d like to catch up with the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks soon…