Tag Archives: Tigerman

Paperbacks to Look Out for in January 2015

The MiniaturistSurprisingly, all but one of the paperbacks that catch my eye this January have already been reviewed here which gives my credit card a welcome break, if nothing else. I’ll start with one of my books of 2014: Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, much-hyped before, during and after its publication but deservedly so. Set in seventeenth-century Amsterdam, it was inspired by. Petronella Oortman’s cabinet house in the Rijksmuseum. A love story, a mystery, a portrait of a great city in which greed, betrayal and corruption seethe beneath a pious Calvinist surface, it’s the perfect winter read.

Set two centuries on, Sarah Moss’s Bodies of Light is very much about women making their way in the world and the challenges – sometimes mortal danger – that they faced in doing so. It’s the story of Ally and May whose mother, intent on helping the Manchester poor, has little time and no inclination to indulge them. In her desperate effort to please her mother Ally finds her vocation while May takes a more rebellious route. It’s impossible not to cheer Ally on as she grows from a fragile young woman into a feminist unafraid to speak her mind.

Next is Anna Hope’s Wake, still with the same gorgeous jacket as the hardback edition. Set in 1920, it shows us awake battered Britain through the eyes of Ada, Evelyn and Hettie, deftly conveying the complicated mess and aching loss of the war’s aftermath. It’s an accomplished, often very moving, piece of work which ends on a note of hope.

Harriet Lane’s Her couldn’t be more different. A fine psychological thriller – hard to avoid those tired old clichés like ‘gripping’ and ‘riveting’ – it’s the story of Nina and Emma told in their alternating voices. Nina recognises the harassed, ragged toddler-toting Emma from her past but Emma fails to make the connection. What follows is a tale of revenge in which Lane expertly handles the tension between Nina and Emma’s narratives.

Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman is a thriller of a very different stripe (sorry). Suffice to say that there’s a flying superhero tiger and another who purrs like an avalanche; a sergeant, wise in the ways of war, longing for a child; a comic-book obsessed, internet-mad boy who seems not to have a family; a volcanic island poisoned by chemical waste on the verge of being blown up to purge it from bacteria; a bomb made of custard powder; good guys, bad guys and a few in between – with a superb twist at the end.

I remember Brian Payton’s The Wind is Not a River most for its beautiful writing but it’s also an intriguing story. Set in 1943, it’s narrated by John Easley – marooned on the Aleutian island of Attu after his plane has gone down – and his wife, Helen, so convinced that he’s still alive that she sets out to find him no matter how hard the journey.

What Was PromisedFinally, the one that I haven’t yet read: Tobias Hill’s What Was Promised which begins in London just after the Second World War and follows three immigrant families across forty years, charting the changes in both their lives and the life of the city. I remember Tobias Hill’s brilliant thriller  Underground  and The Love of Stones which followed three lives linked by one jewel, both of which I enjoyed very much but his later novels have not appealed. The framework of What Was Promised is an immensely appealing one for me and I’m hoping for a return to form.

That’s it for January – a click will reveal a full review on this blog on all but What Was Promised which will take you to Waterstones website for a more detailed synopsis, and in case you’re interested, here are January’s hardbacks. This will be my last post for a week or so – H and I are off to Hamburg to see what we can see. Best wishes for an enjoyable break to all, and particularly to those working in retail or catering – I hope you get some rest.

Tigerman: A thriller with a sense of humour and a heart of gold

Cover imageThere was a great deal of marketing hoo-ha around Nick Harkaway’s first novel which always makes me wary, so much so that I avoided it but when Angelmaker was published so many readers whose opinions I respect jumped up and down proclaiming it a masterpiece that I though I’d better take a dekko. It’s a science fiction thriller so regular readers of this blog will understand why I wasn’t so keen but more fool me for prejudging what turned out to be a riveting novel of startling invention. Tigerman isn’t quite in the same league for me – it was the sheer wackiness of Angelmaker that was so captivating and this one’s more conventional if that’s a word that could ever be applied to Harkaway’s work – but it still had me gripped, amazed at one point by its twistiness.

It’s a thriller so to dwell too much on plot would be to ruin it. Suffice to say that there’s a flying superhero tiger and another who purrs like an avalanche; a sergeant, wise in the ways of war, longing for a child; a comic-book obsessed, internet-mad boy who seems not to have a family; a volcanic island poisoned by chemical waste on the verge of being blown up to purge it from bacteria; a bomb made of custard powder; good guys, bad guys and a few in between. Over it all looms the presence of the Fleet engaged in all sorts of dodgyness – floating brothels, slave ships, torture vessels – taking advantage of the international legal limbo in which Mancreu exists. It’s told from the point of view of Sergeant Lester Ferris, designated the British representative in this old colony after tours in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, part of whose brief is to keep an eye on law and order. Life ticks along in an unchallenging kind of way until a shootout in the café which Lester and the boy he’s befriended frequent sees the death of their dear friend. Not knowing where to start in his murder investigations, Lester begins with three seemingly unrelated mysteries – some stolen fish, a missing dog and the recurring appearance of a joyous ghost-woman. By the end of the novel all three will be solved in ways you never would have conceived.

There’s serious stuff wrapped up in all this albeit with a nicely satirical, comic edge. Harkaway swipes away at peace-keeping forces, international law and the language of diplomacy – ‘Hearts and minds, bollocks. It was amazing how often that expression was used to describe what had already gone and could not now be clawed back’ – to name but a few. Lester is an endearing reluctant hero, resourceful and used to the hair-raising experiences of war but with a great aching hole where a child should be. Harkaway is given to entertaining little digressions always neatly sewn into his narrative and has a nice line in throwaway rants. ‘Bugger Marathon. And then, irrelevantly: And they call them ‘Snickers’ now, anyway. Old anger. Chocolate bars should not take on new identities. They should be content with who they are’ seems like a heartfelt annoyance in the midst of Lester’s frantic chase. You also get the feeling that Mr Harkaway spends a good deal of his time looking up esoteric facts on the internet – how else would you know that custard powder is combustible – all put to good use, though. Altogether, it’s a virtuoso piece of entertainment which hurtles satisfyingly towards its conclusion after delivering a startling, didn’t-see-that-coming sucker-punch of a twist.

If you’d like to read about how Nick Harkaway sets about his writing, and what prompted him to write Tigerman, Annabel’s House of Books has a lovely account of an evening with him. He sounds like a jolly nice chap to me!