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Found 17 results

  1. I suspect that Tim Lott is a misunderstood man. He writes about grotesque characters in a sympathetic way and people imagine this is because he wants the characters to be admired. In When We Were Rich, we re-encounter the characters from White City Blue - four lads living in and around the White City estate in West London. Frankie Blue is an estate agent; Nodge is a taxi driver who has recently come out as gay; Colin is a computer geek; and Diamond Tony is persona non grata following an incident on a golf course. Picking up almost immediately from the end of White Cit
  2. A Stranger City is an ambitious novel that seeks to draw parallels between recent history and Brexit Britain, using the stories of various members of northeast London’s diverse community to illustrate the situation. The frame on which the novel hangs is the discovery of an unidentified young female body in the River Thames. The discovery is investigated by a policeman and featured in a documentary by a filmmaker. We then broaden out and meet their families and some of the wider community. We find a community that is diverse even within the United Kingdom, including Scots, Irish an
  3. The Outer Circle is set over the course of five days, shortly after the end of the London 2012 Olympics. The story is set on the other side of the city in the very affluent area of Regents Park and Primrose Hill. A man walks into the Regents Park Mosque with a flamethrower...We follow the event and the aftermath through the eyes of five different characters: Saul - an older man who walks through Regents Park to get his daily treatment for prostate cancer Rashid - who works in the bookshop at the Mosque, a recent convert to Islam Deena - a black police officer To
  4. I have always found Alison Kennedy's books a bit dull, which is a shame because in real life she is a live wire with a mordantly dry wit. So I approached Serious Sweet, courtesy of its Booker longlisting, with a bit of trepidation. I needn't have worried. Perhaps it is the basic premise - a middle ranking civil servant working in Tothill Street finds himself out of favour at work and bored by his lonely home life. I was that person, right down to working in Tothill Street, way back 15 years ago. Or perhaps it is the sardonic take on London life in the 21st Century. But whatever it was, I
  5. Capital is so titled as it is an exploration of both life in early 21st century London and some of the effects of the financial crisis on the city, as well as the role money plays in the lives of its lengthy cast list. The novel freewheels chapter by chapter between the residents of several houses on Pepys Road, a street in an unspecified south London suburb, but probably somewhere in the vicinity of Clapham Common. The houses sell for 7 figure sums. Residents include wealthy banker Roger Yount and his recklessly extravagant wife Arabella. Further down the road is elderly widow Petunia How
  6. The Busker promises three cities, two years, one chance. Yes, the cities bit is correct, and I’ll take Liam Murray Bell’s word for it that it takes place over two years – although it is difficult to gauge the passage of time – but “one chance” is a bit misleading. We open the book to find Robert Dillon, homeless on the streets of Brighton, having pawned his guitar to buy a bit of food and some drugs to help him sleep. Since Robert – or Rab – is a busker, this seems to reflect some pretty short term thinking. Rab seems to be a stereotypical Glaswegian junkie, having incoherent arguments wit
  7. There's no easy way to say this: The Faithful Couple is pretty boring. AD Miller's first novel, Snowdrops, succeeded by holding up a mirror to a world that was little understood: post Communist Russia, and supported this with a cracking story. His characters and situations were credible and interesting. In The Faithful Couple, we still see an intriguing reflection of a society - 1990s and 2000s London - but it is a world that many of us already know well. AD Miller doesn't really tell us anything we don't already know. There is what appears to be some inside dope on the Immigration Depar
  8. Readers of Will Self’s previous (Booker shortlisted) novel Umbrella will find Shark more than a little familiar. We revisit psychiatrist Zack Busner, running an experimental Concept House, offering psychiatric patients a communal living arrangement without wards, locks and restraints. The style is similar to Umbrella, with long slabs of text, eschewing conventional paragraphing, punctuation or linear style. It’s like stream of consciousness on acid. In fact, very specifically, it *is* stream of consciousness on acid. One of the particularly impressive feats of this style of narration is that
  9. Layla takes poor decisions. She’s 19 years old, living in a shared flat in London and earns her living as a dancer in a strip club. The subject matter tends to channel people’s thinking down pre-conceived channels. Perhaps Layla is a poor innocent, being exploited for men’s pleasure. Perhaps she is a drug addict. Perhaps she is really a lovely person just waiting for the right man to rescue her. Perhaps she hates men. But Layla is way more subtle. There may be shades of these preconceptions that apply, but basically Layla is a selfish and headstrong woman who is trying to earn enough money t
  10. A great premise – walk every London Underground line in its entirety, on the surface, and report all the weird and wonderful sights you see and people you meet. Throw in a bit of map trivia and Tube trivia and what could go wrong? Well, for a start, you could find that most of what you saw was not very interesting. Just endless housing estates and main roads threading through industrial estates – interspersed by visits to the same central London locations you have visited on your previous three lines. You might fail to meet interesting people and instead have to pad out an entire line’s narra
  11. The Embassy of Cambodia is ultra-short - perhaps only a tenth of a standard novel. But it's not a short story or even a novella. It stands, structurally, as a novel with both character and plot progression, chapters and backstory. But all in miniature. The novel opens with some observations about Willesden and the Cambodian Embassy in a general, everyman point of view. Very soon, however, the focus narrows to Fatou, an Ivoirean migrant who is working as, it seems, trafficked labour for a wealthy Pakistani family. Fatou has a naturally optimistic and phlegmatic disposition that means she te
  12. It's Monday morning and Mr Phillips puts on his suit, takes his briefcase and heads off for the station for his daily commute into London. The thing is, Mr Phillips lost his job on Friday. Mr Phillips is a man caught in the wrong era. He was perfectly crafted for the 1970s - sexist, lazy, conservative. Unfortunately, he finds himself out-evolved in the 1990s, 50 years old and trained in yesterday's accountancy skills. He has spent his life wearing blinkers, going to work, coming home, reluctantly raising children and avoiding his neighbours. In this novel, John Lanchester lets us see the M
  13. It seems some members of London's Orthodox Jewish community didn't like The Marrying of Chani Kaufman. I'm guessing they weren't meant to. This is a (mostly) very funny novel that is, literally, about the marriage of Chani Kaufman to her approved fiancé Baruch Levy. Chani is excited about the wedding but in fear of the wedding night. She has led a sheltered life, the daughter of a Rabbi in a strict Orthodox community. No television; no boys; no trendy clothes; no university. The novel then pans back and we see how Chani came to be getting married; we see into the lives of her family and the
  14. Living in London is a strange experience. There's a feeling of loneliness and isolation, coupled with a belief that everyone else you see is coping much better. Everyone else seems to be busy, in company, with enough money and contacts to access a social life. In Londoners, Craig Taylor interviews 80 people who live or have lived in London (plus a Geordie) and gets their very different perspectives. But for most of them, there is a common sense that they are struggling to survive in a city that is bigger than them. The isolation and loneliness comes through in many of the interviews. Perh
  15. G. K. Chesterton’s ‘The Napolean of Notting Hill’ was one of those free books that I downloaded in the first enthusiastic flush of having a Kindle. I enjoyed ‘A Man called Thursday’ a while back so decided to give this a go. For me, it didn’t measure up to ‘A Man Called Thursday’ but it has its place in time. Written in 1904, Chesterton set the book in the future, in 1984. He is reputed to have given George Orwell (Eric Blair) a break by publishing an essay in in his magazine. Most of us are familiar with Orwell’s 1984. Chesterton’s future, though, includes no major technological diffe
  16. I have always liked Ruth Rendell and a friend of mine just finished the book and recommended it very highly. It is not a classic mystery or the portrait of a psychopath in the typical Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine mold. Instead, it is the ultimately-interwoven story of many different people who live just off the Portobello Road in London. The main characters occupy two different ends of the financial spectrum: Eugene Wren is a very affluent art dealer with an all-consuming addiction to a particular brand of sugar-free sweets called "Chocoranges." Lance Platt is a young man living off the
  17. Long Walk to Wimbledon was first published in 1978 and it is very much of its time. The second world war was still a real memory and doom-mongers predicted a breakdown of law and order whenever there was a strike or a riot. Post apocalyptic novels abounded. This is very much of the JG Ballard ilk - High Rise or Concrete Island. We have a semi-deserted London populated by the last few, frightened residents scavenging for food and warmth, packs of hunting dogs, rats, army checkpoints, psychos... Our hero Mark has to negotiate the terrain on a mission to say goodbye to his dying ex-wife, rout
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