Tag Archive | debut novel

Shtum – Jem Lester

I must start this review by thanking the wonderful Sam Eades for sending me a proof of Shtumalong with The Versions of Us by Laura Barnet, which has been added to my expanding ‘To Read’ list, as part of a Secret Santa giveaway.

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I had heard so much about this book: on THE Book Club on Facebook, on Twitter, and in the general book world. Since diving into the book world myself on my unwavering hunt for a job in a publishing house, I have become more eager than ever to read proofs before the book is publishing so that I too can rave about them upon publication. Therefore, I knew I had to get my hands on Shtum, if not to see what all the fuss is about really.

And it’s completely worth the fuss.

Shtum tells the story of Ben and his autistic ten-year-old son Jonah, who are forced to move in with Ben’s father Georg in order to further Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal. Thus, three generations of Jewells are thrown together and a tale of family, history, identity and crisis unfolds.

I found the novel initially, not so much challenging, but challenging in its simplicity, in that I kept waiting for the bomb to drop and for it to to become the incredible novel I had read about. I did however, enjoy the opening sections for Lester’s writing similarities with Jonathan Tropper. I found his depiction of Ben to be quite similar to Tropper’s Judd from This Is Where I Leave You, though the two characters are on paper rather different. The way Lester plays with family dynamics and the meaning of family – in that family does not necessarily have to be blood – is incredibly reminiscent of Tropper’s writing, and Lester achieves that same casual elegance in his development of character and character relationships as does Tropper.

The wit and humour in Ben and his father Georg in times of hardship is what keeps the novel afloat and really makes up the heart and the emotion of the novel. The way the three generations interact and share their lives is simply charming and effervescent,

However, once the bomb dropped, and the bombs continued to drop, with more and more punches and twists to the tale that strike right at the heart, I realised just how fantastic this book would really be, and how it exceeds Tropper in so many ways. There is an emotional depth and an authentic sentiment to the closing chapters that really makes you root for the Jewells, despite their, at times, negative qualities, such as Ben and Emma’s dissolving relationship and their own individual demons.

The very end of the novel packs a serious emotional punch, that I was not expecting and really shook me as I read it. I don’t wish to spoil it here, but I will say that I felt it was slightly rushed, and though there were hints of it throughout the novel, I would have preferred a different narrative style, perhaps interweaving the close of the story throughout the novel in a dual narrative style.

I have seen much success with this kind of narrative in the past, though at the same time as it is a common narrative move, I can understand why Lester would choose not to write his story as such. But I really do feel that as impactful as the final note of the story is, it would benefit from more attention throughout.

I have no doubt that this will be a huge seller in 2016, and the success of it is truly down to Lester’s incredible ability to write compelling but relatable characters that really tug on your heartstrings, as well as packing a punch at the end of the narrative. I read it in approximately four hours, and have no doubt that with the right amount of hours in a day, you could too.

 

Shtum is published by Orion books on 7th April 2016 and again, all thanks go to Sam Eades for sending me a copy of this much desired first novel. 

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My Name is Leon – Kit de Waal

Another book that I was so lucky to be given during my work experience this summer at Penguin. I feel guilty that it took me this long to get around to reading it, but then, I did manage to read it before it was even published, so I guess I still win? It took me a mere three days to read, in between essays and journals for uni, it was so nice to dip into under my duvet as the rain poured.

My Name is Leon is a touching, heartwarming story about little Leon who lives with his mum, Carol, and his new baby brother Jake, who only he can really look after. Because Carol is unfit to look after her sons, Leon and baby Jake are taken to live with Maureen, where the adults speak in low voices and make Pretend faces. And one day, Jake is taken to live with strangers whilst Leon gets left behind – because Jake is white and Leon is not.

The story is beautifully written through Leon’s eyes as he struggles to understand the changes in his life, why Jake was taken away from him and why he can’t see him or Carol anymore. de Waal perfectly captures the mind of a 9-year-old, without it becoming too cloying at times; it is perfectly balanced between awareness and imagination, set against the backdrop of racism in 80s England.

It is a truly thoughtful novel and a wonderful debut, which takes a delicate and potentially bleak subject and injects it with enough heart to make it light and warm and perfectly endearing. It is an easy read with simple language, but sensitive prose and descriptions, which for me, as well as a solid and engaging story, is the mark of an excellent writer.

I am so pleased to have read this novel, particularly before the masses, because it means that when everyone else gets around to reading it I can gush and say ‘Oh yes, I’ve read that and it was wonderful!’ I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and immediately recommended it to friends to put on their TBR 2016 list, which I would recommend to all of you as well!

Let me know if you think it sounds good in the comments below and if you’ll be putting it on your TBR list!

My Name is Leon, by Kit de Waal, is published by Viking in June 2016. 

Elizabeth Is Missing

What a novel. Elizabeth is Missing is the debut novel by Emma Healey, broken by Penguin General in 2014 to rave reviews, incredible debut sales and went on to win The Costa Book First Novel Award . I myself swallowed it in half a day and couldn’t read it fast enough.

Simplistically, it tells of Maud, a charming old lady suffering from dementia who can’t remember buying food, never mind where her friend Elizabeth is. As her dementia worsens, so too does her determination to discover what happened to dear Elizabeth and even more dramatically what happened to her sister Sukey when she mysteriously disappeared after the Second World War.

Having a narrator who can’t remember her own daughter’s name sometimes adds a depth unexamined in previous literature. Not only is the narrator unreliable and questionable, one can never guarantee exactly what is happening in the novel.

The novel comes alive with Maud, her characterisation and Healey’s flair for language. The beautiful way in which she constructs Maud’s past and interweaves it with her disjointed present allows you to really feel for Maud and her snatching attempts to grasp at something to answer her questions.

Whilst she fails to obtain more answers, the reader begins to have more questions. I thought I had guessed the ending about three quarters of the way through the book, but unfortunately, I found that by the time the ending had come around, I actually preferred the one I had invented in my own head.

Perhaps this novel is an example of exactly that: the life and stories in our heads are more interesting and more obtainable than those in real life. Is Elizabeth really missing? Or is Maud just missing some marbles?

I found it an incredibly satisfying read and rather refreshing from the usual crime thriller. Healey’s unreliable narrator is comparable to another unreliable narrator of another novel I read on holiday, The Girl on the Train. Though Rachel in the latter is a drunk forgetful, whilst Maud is merely forgetful, both delay the progression of the novel by forcing the reader to ask questions of the narrator, rather than just the story.

Despite my misgivings about the ending, I was wonderfully impressed by Healey’s narrative and her skills as an author. The book was funny, warm, heartbreaking at times, and had an element of old Hollywood drama in the flashbacks to the past, which I thought were beautifully constructed.

Maud is a refreshing voice in the canon and as I said, not often do we get a narrative from an elderly lady, especially one who can’t even remember her own daughter at times.

I would indeed recommend the novel, though do take it with a pinch of salt. It’s a fabulous debut from an author with much promise, and if you are disappointed by the end as I was, remember the beauty of the middle. The construction is an art in itself.

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The Good Liar – Nicholas Searle

This book is being talked about as one of the biggest books of next year, indeed it is sure to be one of Penguin’s (more specifically Viking’s) biggest debuts of 2016. The author, Nicholas Searle, was a Senior Civil Servant for many years before turning his hand to fiction and writing a novel that is so sharp and clever that it was unlike anything I’d ever read before.

I was lucky enough to receive a proof copy of this novel during my work experience with Penguin, and knowing that it was set to be one of the biggest novels of 2016 and published in January, I made it my priority to read it on holiday.

I finished the novel as the plane hit the tarmac in Santorini, and was so enraptured and captivated by its ending that I was reading the final pages whilst holding onto my best friend’s hand as she was terrified by landing.

It’s hard to describe the true beauty of the novel whilst keeping it spoiler free, because that which makes it so incredible are the twists that keep twisting. Reading this novel was like stepping into a Tower-of-Terror style rollercoaster: slow to begin, a slow build, before hurtling through twists, turns and unstoppable page-turning moments.

It begins with conman Roy Courtnay who is about to pull off his final steal, robbing an old woman, Betty, of her life savings by inserting himself into her life.

Interweaved with the present-day events of Roy and Betty, Searle offers glimpses of Roy’s past life, his life encounters and misdeeds, which offers insight but not true clarity into Roy’s character, until the final third of the novel, which completely flips the perspective and shoots the reader into a whirlwind of truths, clarity and earth-shattering revelations.

On the proof copy I received, one line of the blurb reads: This book will lie to you.

Indeed, the final conclusion leaves you with a taste of doubt and deception and pure thrill at what you have read, assumed and believed. Like those that Roy deceived during his lifetime, I too felt deceived by Searle, but was oh-so pleased to have been.

He is a master of deception, thrills and unforeseen twists, which make this novel a classic and a winning debut for an author.

It is an extremely satisfying read, and as a reader, I felt privileged to have read this before others, just so that I could recommend it to many other readers. I would definitely recommend it, and advise you to stick with it and persevere. Despite its slow build, the thrilling conclusion makes each turn of the crank to send the Tower up (or each chapter of Roy’s life) worth reading.

Again, this was an incredibly difficult novel to review without giving anything away and it has become so hard to express the pleasure and fulfilment I felt after reading, that I feel like I’ve been reduced to saying: ‘Just read it. Just read it.’

So that’s my only advice really: Just read it. When this novel comes out in early 2016, you will want to rave about it, just as I am, and when you do, pingback to this review and let me know what you thought! If this review intrigues you, comment below!

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