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Welcome to the latest episode of The Readers. This week Simon has been joined by Gavin, hoorah, to record the latest in their biennial look at the books they are looking forward to in the next 6 months, so what does the first half of 2016 hold?
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Simon and Gavin’s Books for The First Half of 2016 () This week Simon has been joined by Gavin, hoorah, to record the latest in their biennial look at the books they are looking forward to in the next 6 months, so what does the first half of 2016 hold?
Occupy Me – Tricia Sullivan
A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world. Breathtaking SF from a Clarke Award-winning author. Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over. And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.
Mr Splitfoot – Samantha Hunt
Nat and Rose are young orphans, living in a crowded foster home run by an eccentric religious fanatic. When a traveling con-man comes knocking, they see their chance to escape and join him on the road, proclaiming they can channel the dead – for a price, of course. Decades later, in a different time and place, Cora is too clever for her office job, too scared of her abysmal lover to cope with her unplanned pregnancy, and she too is looking for a way out. So when her mute Aunt Ruth pays her an unexpected visit, apparently on a mysterious mission, she decides to join her. Together the two women set out on foot, on a strange and unforgettable odyssey across the state of New York. Where is Ruth taking them? Where has she been? And who – or what – has she hidden in the woods at the end of the road? Ingenious, infectious, subversive and strange, Mr Splitfoot will take you on a journey you will not regret – and will never forget.
Human Acts – Han Kang
Gwangju, South Korea, 1980. In the wake of a viciously suppressed student uprising, a boy searches for his friend’s corpse, a consciousness searches for its abandoned body, and a brutalised country searches for a voice. In a sequence of interconnected chapters the victims and the bereaved encounter censorship, denial, forgiveness and the echoing agony of the original trauma. Human Acts is a universal book, utterly modern and profoundly timeless. Already a controversial bestseller and award-winning book in Korea, it confirms Han Kang as a writer of immense importance.
The Book of Speculation – Erika Swyler
Simon Watson lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, works for a travelling carnival and seldom calls. On a day in late June, Simon receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian bookseller; it has been sent to him because it is inscribed with the name Verona Bonn, Simon’s grandmother. The book tells the story of two doomed lovers who were part of a travelling circus more than two hundred years ago. The paper crackles with age as Simon turns the yellowed pages filled with notes and sketches. He is fascinated, yet as he reads Simon becomes increasingly unnerved. Why do so many women in his family drown on 24th July? And could Enola, who has suddenly turned up at home for the first time in years, risk the same terrible fate? As 24th July draws ever closer, Simon must unlock the mysteries of the book, and decode his family history, before it’s too late.
The High Mountains of Portugal – Yann Martel
To suffer and do nothing is to be nothing, while to suffer and do something is to become someone. He must strike onwards to the High Mountains of Portugal! In Lisbon in 1904, a young man named Tomas discovers an old journal. It hints at the location of an extraordinary artefact that – if it exists – would redefine history. Travelling in one of Europe’s earliest automobiles, he sets out in search of this treasure. Some thirty-five years later, a Portuguese pathologist finds himself at the centre of a murder mystery. Fifty years on, a Canadian senator takes refuge in northern Portugal, grieving the loss of his beloved wife. But he comes to his ancestral village with an unusual companion: a chimpanzee. Three stories. Three broken hearts. One exploration: what is a life without stories? The High Mountains of Portugal takes the reader on a road trip through Portugal in the last century – and through the human soul.
This Census-Taker – China Miéville
In a remote house on a hilltop, a lonely boy witnesses a traumatic event. He tries – and fails – to flee. Left alone with his increasingly deranged parent, he dreams of safety, of joining the other children in the town below, of escape. When at last a stranger knocks at his door, the boy senses that his days of isolation might be over. But by what authority does this man keep the meticulous records he carries? What is the purpose behind his questions? Is he friend? Enemy? Or something else altogether? A novella filled with beauty, terror and strangeness, This Census-Taker by China Mieville is a poignant and riveting exploration of memory and identity.
The Sympathiser – Viet Thanh Nguyen
A profound, startling, and beautifully crafted debut novel, “The Sympathizer” is the story of a man of two minds, someone whose political beliefs clash with his individual loyalties. It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. “The Sympathizer” is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, “The Sympathizer” explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.
Under the Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta
One day in 1968, at the height of the Biafran civil war, Ijeoma’s father is killed and her world is transformed forever. Separated from her grief-stricken mother, she meets another young lost girl, Amina, and the two become inseparable. Theirs is a relationship that will shake the foundations of Ijeoma’s faith, test her resolve and flood her heart. In this masterful novel of faith, love and redemption, Okparanta takes us from Ijeoma’s childhood in war-torn Biafra, through the perils and pleasures of her blossoming sexuality, her wrong turns, and into the everyday sorrows and joys of marriage and motherhood. As we journey with Ijeoma we are drawn to the question: what is the value of love and what is the cost? A triumphant love story written with beauty and delicacy, Under the Udala Trees is a hymn to those who’ve lost and a prayer for a more compassionate world. It is a work of extraordinary beauty that will enrich your heart.
Six Four – Hideo Yokoyama, trans Jonathan Lloyd-Davies
SIX FOUR. THE NIGHTMARE NO PARENT COULD ENDURE. THE CASE NO DETECTIVE COULD SOLVE. THE TWIST NO READER COULD PREDICT. For five days in January 1989, the parents of a seven-year-old Tokyo schoolgirl sat and listened to the demands of their daughter’s kidnapper. They would never learn his identity. They would never see their daughter again. For the fourteen years that followed, the Japanese public listened to the police’s apologies. They would never forget the botched investigation that became known as ‘Six Four’. They would never forgive the authorities their failure. For one week in late 2002, the press officer attached to the police department in question confronted an anomaly in the case. He could never imagine what he would uncover. He would never have looked if he’d known what he would find.
Where Love Begins – Judith Herman
tella is married, she has a child and a fulfilling job. She lives with her young family in a house in the suburbs. Her life is happy and unremarkable, but she is a little lonely-her husband travels a lot for work and so she is often alone in the house with only her daughter for company. One day a stranger appears at her door, a man Stella’s never seen before. He says he just wants to talk to her, nothing more. She refuses. The next day he comes again. And then the day after that. He will not leave her in peace. When Stella works out that he lives up the road, and tries to confront him, it makes no difference. This is the beginning of a nightmare that slowly and remorselessly escalates. Where Love Begins is a delicately wrought, deeply sinister novel about how easily the comfortable lives we construct for ourselves can be shattered.
Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh
The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop, an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s carer in his squalid home and her day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison, filled with its own quotidian horrors. Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen tempers her dreary days with perverse fantasies and dreams of escaping to the big city. In the meantime, she fills her nights and weekends with shoplifting, stalking a handsome prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes. When the beautiful, charismatic Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counselor at the prison, Eileen is enchanted and unable to resist what appears to be a miraculously budding friendship. In a Hitchcockian twist, her affection for Rebecca ultimately pulls her into complicity in a crime that surpasses her wildest imaginings. Played out against the snowy landscape of coastal New England, blending true noir and the the eerie, unforgettable books of Shirley Jackson and Flannery O’Connor, this mesmeric, terrifying, sublimely funny debut novel enthralls and shocks, and introduces one of the most original new voices in contemporary literature.
The Sunlight Pilgrims – Jenni Fagan (Simon also wanted to choose this one)
Set in a Scottish caravan park during a freak winter – it is snowing in Jerusalem, the Thames is overflowing, and an iceberg separated from the Fjords in Norway is expected to arrive off the coast of Scotland – THE SUNLIGHT PILGRIMS tells the story of a small Scottish community living through what people have begun to think is the end of times. Bodies are found frozen in the street with their eyes open, euthanasia has become an acceptable response to economic collapse, schooling and health care are run primarily on a voluntary basis. But daily life carries on: Dylan, a refugee from panic-stricken London who is grieving for his mother and his grandmother, arrives in the caravan park in the middle of the night – to begin his life anew.
Fellside – M.R Carey
Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to end up. But it’s where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life. It’s a place where even the walls whisper. And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess. Will she listen?
Hotels of North America – Rick Moody
Reginald Edward Morse is a man in need of an outlet. And he finds it in a very twenty-first century place: the internet. Specifically, RateYourLodging.com, where Americans go to find out the truth about hotels, motels and, horrors, bed and breakfasts. But the real joy of those sites is not so much the advice they offer, but the people who offer it. Reginald Edward Morse is one of those people.
What Belongs To You – Garth Greenwell (Picador)
On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. And so begins a relationship that could transform his life, or possibly destroy it. What Belongs To You is a stunning debut novel of desire and its consequences. With lyric intensity and startling eroticism, Garth Greenwell has created a indelible story about the ways in which our pasts and cultures, our scars and shames can shape who we are and determine how we love.
The Trees – Ali Shaw (Bloomsbury)
There came an elastic aftershock of creaks and groans and then, softly softly, a chinking shower of rubbled cement. Leaves calmed and trunks stood serene. Where, not a minute before, there had been a suburb, there was now only woodland standing amid ruins…There is no warning. No chance to prepare. They arrive in the night: thundering up through the ground, transforming streets and towns into shadowy forest. Buildings are destroyed. Broken bodies, still wrapped in tattered bed linen, hang among the twitching leaves. Adrien Thomas has never been much of a hero. But when he realises that no help is coming, he ventures out into this unrecognisable world. Michelle, his wife, is across the sea in Ireland and he has no way of knowing whether the trees have come for her too. Then Adrien meets green-fingered Hannah and her teenage son Seb. Together, they set out to find Hannah’s forester brother, to reunite Adrien with his wife – and to discover just how deep the forest goes. Their journey will take them to a place of terrible beauty and violence, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness inside themselves.
Moskva – Jack Grimwood
Moskva is a brilliantly written, chilling and sophisticated début serial killer thriller set in Cold War Moscow. Makes Kolymsky Heights look like a walk in Gorky Park. Christmas Eve 1985. The shaved, exsanguinated body of a young man is found in Red Square; frozen solid – like marble to the touch – missing the little finger from his right hand. A week later, Alex Marston, the fifteen year old daughter of the British Ambassador disappears. Army Intelligence Officer, Tom Fox, posted to Moscow following the death of his own daughter, is asked to help find her. It’s a shot at redemption. But as Fox’s investigation drags him deeper towards the dark heart of a Soviet establishment determined to protect its own so his fears grow, with those of the girl’s father, for her safety. A flayed cat, hung by its hind legs from the ceiling of Fox’s flat is just a warning. And if Fox can’t find Alex soon, it looks as if she could become a sadistic killer’s next human victim.
The Witches of New York – Ami McKay
The Witches of New York invites you on a journey from high society Manhattan to the hidden voices of the budding suffragette movement, and on to the web of secrets that connects them all. Nurse Connie Byrne has lived and worked through the Second World War, has celebrated its ending with friends and patients in London’s East End, and is now enjoying a fresh new chapter in her life and preparing for her wedding. But, as many a young bride-to-be has proved, the course of true love never did run smooth. Within the candlelit walls of a room near Madison Square, three witches are alive and well. Eleanor St Clair, Adelaide Thom and Beatrice Dunn have gathered to prepare for an evening in the drawing room of a grand mansion on Fifth Avenue. Without the aid of a medium’s cabinet or false knocks on table or wall, they’ll peer into the future and call upon the dead. They have no need for the trappings of spiritualism. ‘Ready or not, it’s begun . . .’
The Fireman – Joe Hill
Harper is pregnant. Only the day she finds out is also the day she learns she has a terminal disease. Known as dragonscale, it’s sweeping the country in an epidemic which leaves people and infrastructure alike destroyed in its wake. And those people who contract it have an average life expectancy of four months. The brightest flames start with a single spark. Harper needs longer. She’s determined to live.
The Doll Master & Other Tales of Terror – Joyce Carol Oates
Six terrifying tales to chill the blood from the unique imagination of Joyce Carol Oates. A young boy plays with dolls instead of action figures. But as he grows older, his passion takes on a darker edge…A white man shoots dead a black boy creating a media frenzy. But could it be that it was self-defense as he claims? A nervous woman tries to escape her husband. He says he loves her, but she’s convinced he wants to kill her…These quietly lethal stories reveal the horrors that dwell within us all.
The Gustav Sonata – Rose Tremain
It is the tutor who tells the young Gustav that he must try to be more like a coconut – that he needs a hard shell to protect the softness inside. This is what his native Switzerland has perfected – a shell to protect its neutrality, to keep its people safe. But his beloved friend, Anton, doesn’t want to be safe – a gifted pianist, he longs to make his mark in the world outside. On holiday one summer in Davos, the boys stumble across a remote building. Long ago, it was a TB sanitorium; now it is wrecked and derelict. Here, they play a game of life and death, deciding which of their imaginary patients must burn. It becomes their secret. The Gustav Sonata begins in the 1930s, under the shadow of the Second World War, and follows the boys into maturity, and middle age, where their friendship is tested as never before.
The Many Selves of Katherine North – Emma Geen
Kit has been projecting into other species for seven years. Longer than anyone else at ShenCorp. Longer than any of the scientists thought possible. But lately she has the feeling that when she jumps she isn’t alone…Since she was twelve, Kit has been a phenomenaut, her consciousness projected into the bodies of lab-grown animals for the purpose of research. Kit experiences a multitude of other lives – fighting and fleeing, predator and prey – always hoping, but never quite believing, that her work will help humans better understand the other species living alongside them. But after a jump as an urban fox ends in disaster, Kit begins to suspect that those she has trusted for her entire working life may be out to cause her harm. And, as she delves deeper into the events of that night, her world begins to shift in ways she had never thought possible.
The Lost Time Accidents – John Wray
Every moment that passes is a Lost Time Accident. Close your eyes, Children, when you want to stop Time …Haunted by a failed love affair and the darkest of family secrets, Waldemar ‘Waldy’ Tolliver wakes one morning to discover that he has been exiled from the flow of time. The world continues to turn, and Waldy is desperate to find his way back. In his ambitious and fiercely inventive new novel, John Wray takes us from turn-of-the-century Viennese salons buzzing with rumours about Einstein’s radical new theory to the death camps of the Second World War, from the golden age of post-war pulp science fiction to a startling discovery in a modern-day Manhattan apartment packed to the ceiling with artefacts of contemporary life. The Lost Time Accidents is a bold and epic saga set against the greatest upheavals of the twentieth century.
Everyone Is Watching – Megan Bradbury
- Robert Mapplethorpe knows he is an artist. He yearns for the heat and excitement of the city, the press of other people’s bodies. He wants to be watched, he wants to be known. 1891. Walt Whitman is – despite his age – still childlike, still passionate as he travels to the city he has always adored, the scene of his greatest triumphs and rejections. 1922. Robert Moses is a man with a vision. Standing on the edge of Long Island he knows what it could become. Walking down a street in Brooklyn he sees its future. 2013. Edmund White is back in New York. It’s the city of his youth, of his life and loves. He remembers days of lazy pleasure, nights of ecstasy and euphoria. Drawing on teh stories of numerous creative figures and works of art, Everyone is Watching is a novel about New York. Complex, rich, sordid, tantalizing, it is a city that is constantly changing and evolving, a place defined by its people – past, present and future.
Fen – Daisy Johnson
Daisy Johnson’s Fen is a liminal land. Real people live their lives here. They wrestle with familiar instincts, with sex and desire, with everyday routine. But the wild is always close at hand, ready to erupt. This is a place where animals and people commingle and fuse, where curious metamorphoses take place, where myth and dark magic still linger. So here a teenager may starve herself into the shape of an eel. A house might fall in love with a girl. A woman might give birth to a – well what? English folklore and a contemporary eye, sexual honesty and combustible invention – in Fen, these elements have come together to create a singular, startling piece of modern fiction.
Smoke – Dan Vyleta
‘The laws of Smoke are complex. Not every lie will trigger it. A fleeting thought of evil may pass unseen. Next thing you know its smell is in your nose. There is no more hateful smell in the world than the smell of Smoke …’ If sin were visible and you could see people’s anger, their lust and cravings, what would the world be like? Smoke opens in a private boarding school near Oxford, but history has not followed the path known to us. In this other past, sin appears as smoke on the body and soot on the clothes. Children are born carrying the seeds of evil within them. The ruling elite have learned to control their desires and contain their sin. They are spotless. It is within the closeted world of this school that the sons of the wealthy and well-connected are trained as future leaders. Among their number are two boys, Thomas and Charlie. On a trip to London, a forbidden city shrouded in smoke and darkness, the boys will witness an event that will make them question everything they have been told about the past. For there is more to the world of smoke, soot and ash than meets the eye and there are those who will stop at nothing to protect it…