Our Wives Under the Sea

Another debut novel, this time from Julia Armfield, who I heard speak about Our Wives Under the Sea at a literary event in March 2022. Her reading from the novel and her discussion of the strangeness within its pages captivated me.

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I’m A Fan is Sheena Patel’s debut novel. On the surface, it’s about online culture and how it impacts young women, and a story about one woman’s relationship experiences on the road to maturity. Deeper than that, it’s about certain kinds of sickness present in Western society: overconsumption, obsession, structural racism, inequality.

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Piranesi is Susanna Clarke’s second novel. It is the story of a man of uncertain sanity, lost inside a labyrinthine house, who knows only the bones of the dead and a man he calls the Other. It is a detective story of sorts, with Piranesi simultaneously the mystery to be solved and the person investigating the mystery. It won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2021.

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Best of Friends

Best of Friends was a Xmas present last year from one of my sisters-in-law. She has good taste in books so, despite having appreciated rather than enjoyed Shamsie’s previous novel, Home Fire, I was curious about her latest outing. My curiosity was rewarded with a beautifully observed exploration of female friendship that I found compelling.

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Tokyo Redux

I waited 12 years for David Peace to write the final installment in his Tokyo Trilogy, plus an extra year for it to come out in paperback, and somehow another year after buying it to actually read it. Sometimes anticipation makes me wary. I loved Tokyo Year Zero and Occupied City. Peace’s writing in this trilogy draws from the style of Japanese authors, particularly Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. It’s a dark and unsettling series, meticulously researched so that his fiction feels like it fills the gaps in the historical record with truth.

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Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist

Kate Raworth is an economist who works in the area of environmental change and the junction of economic and ecological issues. I came across her in a reference to Doughnut Economics in Mariana Mazzucato’s Mission Economy. In a nutshell, Raworth believes that the pursuit of constant economic growth is outdated, a factor in the degeneration of the planet and the gulf between rich and poor, and a more distributive, doughnut-shaped economic model focused on thriving rather than growing is the future for the 21st century.

There’s a 15-minute TED talk on Raworth’s website that explains the theory. The book is the detail that underpins Raworth’s eloquence on a stage. You don’t need to know any economics to read the book as Raworth explains everything you need to know clearly and simply. You do need to have more than a passing interest in economics and how it affects your life, though, because there’s a lot of economics between the covers.

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Six Degrees of Separation: From Born to Run to Dangerous Liaisons

Is it really April already? That means it’s time for Six Degrees of Separation, the book meme hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite And Best where we start with the same book and then create a chain of six books that link to the one before. Sometimes kismet allows you to link all of the books to each other, but it’s okay if it doesn’t. You don’t have to have read any of the books in the chain, either. Which is handy for me because I’ve rarely read Kate’s starting book.

This month, Kate’s starting book is Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run. I haven’t read it. I’m not that interested in Bruce.

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Flesh and Blood: A History of My Family in Seven Maladies

Flesh and Blood, Stephen McGann’s medical memoir of his family, is a book I was convinced that I had read, but I hadn’t. I’d read about it because of McGann’s work as a science communicator who has spoken at the Cambridge and Cheltenham Science Festivals, and bought it on Kindle where I promptly left it languishing in the digital doldrums.

McGann is from Liverpool, part of the troupe of acting brothers that includes Joe, Paul and Mark. The family traces its origins to Ireland, with an earlier generation emigrating to Liverpool in the mid-19th century as a result of the Great Famine. McGann appears in the tv show Call the Midwife, which I’ve never watched. His role as Dr Turner, alongside a childhood full of illness, sparked an interest in medical science, leading to him undertaking a Master’s degree in Science Communication. The introduction to the book is a wonderful combination of McGann’s artistic, actorly brain and his science brain. As an actor, his job is to tell stories by imagining himself into the character he is portraying, feeling his way into that character’s being. When he began researching his family history, he says he did the same, imagining what might fill the flesh and blood gaps in the documentary data to try to form an idea of a recognisable personality for each ancestor he will never truly know. For this book, he has married that storytelling with his academic interest in the relationship between health and society.

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