Books read in 2024

1. Number 10, Sue Townsend (Book Club Secret Santa)

Number 10 cover

This was published in 2003 so I was afraid it would seem very dated. It wasn't. It tells the story of an out of touch Prime Minister who gives a car crash interview and, as a result, goes on a journey of discovery around the country. He's accompanied by the policeman, Jack Spratt, who is normally on door duty at Number 10 and who was the blacksheep of his criminal family (Jack is straight). To add farce, the PM disguises himself by wearing his (neurotic) wife's clothes so that Edward Clare becomes Edwina. It's supposed to be funny and, well, it ain't serious, but I didn't find it hilarious. I wasn't able to suspend disbelief as much as is necessary for tale of this kind. Townsend makes a succession of serious points, however. For example: people have disused white goods in their gardens because of the land fill tax (I'm not sure that's true but it was one of the lessons). I was able to read almost all of this on the way back from Edinburgh where we'd been to see Wicked as a New Year treat. And treat it was!

2. Dead Sweet, Katrín Júlíusdóttir

Dead Sweet cover

I saw this advertised in a tweet from the Victoria Bookshop in Haverfordwest who had a few signed copies with sprayed edges. I had to order it by phone and they were, of course, somewhat suprised to be sending to a customer so far away. A very satisfying slice of Icelandic Noir. It has many of the familiar tropes of a detective novel: going against the consensus, getting it wrong at first but clinging on to a hunch - but it's none the less enjoyable for all that. It's interesting, I think, that politicians, like Katrín Júlíusdóttir and Alan Johnson are able to turn their hand to thriller writing so effectively.

3. Machine Vendetta, Alastair Reynolds

Machine Vendetta cover

Dreyfus continues his battle against Aurora and The Clockmaker while Valery continues to be looked after at Hospice Idlewild. This series of Prefect novels, all within the Revelation Space universe, will definitely bear re-reading when opportunity allows. They're all terrific and I whip through them like a hound but I know I'm missing a lot of the nuance because of the gap between reading each novel. There are references to previous events and characters that I can't recall in sufficient detail. This one has a very good ending.

4. The Future, Naomi Alderman

The Future cover

I wasn't going to buy this. We read The Power in book club a few years back and, although I enjoyed that, I wasn't immediately minded to buy Naomi Alderman's next noevl. But there was a signed first edition with sprayed edges on sale when I made my first visit to the new Waterstones in Sudbury. I'm glad I didn't resist. It has thinly-disguised parts for Bezos, Musk and Zuckerberg as they strip-mine the planet of its decency. What they reckoned without was those closest to them were all-too aware of what they were doing and had the means to stop them. Part eco-thriller, part commentary on the world as it has become. A terrific read.

5. The Death of Sir Martin Malprelate, Adam Roberts

The Death Of Sir Martin Malprelate cover

Adam Roberts having fun writing something like an SF novel but very much within the bounds of his day job as a professor of 19th century literature. So we see multiple references to other literary characters (from Dickens especially) and the main protagonst is Sherlock Holmes' father. He also places two of H G Wells' most famous characters at the centre of the story. Not a page-turner, but a very clever 'gothic novel' that's actually rather splendid.

6. Stranger on a Train, Jenny Diksi (Book club, Kate)

Stranger on a Train cover

I'm guessing it's the subtitle: Daydreaming and smoking around America with interruptions that caught Kate's attention.

This wasn't a page-turner but it kept me engaged to the end. Like others in the group, I found the constant talk of smoking to be tiresome after a while. But the people she meets and the experiences she has are certainly engaging and clearly authentic. The book starts with her as a passenger on a cargo ship. Trains only come in later. But it's all about the people she meets and how everyone, Diski herself included, is a stranger.

7. Time Shelter, Georgi Gospodinov

Time Shelter cover

I bought this on a visit to an independent bookshop in Woodbridge. I told the staff some of the books I'd really enjoyed recently and asked if they had any reccomendations and this was their response. An International Booker Prize winner (2023), it's translated from Bulgarian. It's a fascinating idea. The recreation of times past - usually the time when you were young - and living in that time, albeit an idealised version. It starts out as therapy for those suffering from dementia but then becomes more torutous as EU Member States all hold referenda on which decade the entire country should now re-live. And reenactments turn into, well, more faithful than is ideal for the likes of the person playing Archduke Ferdinand, for example. I found the whole section on the referenda very thought-provoking as it seemed entirely plausible given the UK's real-life referendum based on the entirely bogus notion of going back to a bygone age.

8. Day One, Abigail Dean

Day One cover

I have been looking forward to reading whatever Abigail Dean wrote next as soon as I finished Girl A. The danger, of course, is that she might have been a one-idea writer. Nope. This is really good. It didn't quite have the same impact as Girl A did but that's unfair - this is a good and intriguing novel in its own right, irrespective of what has gone before it. The narrative centres on a school shooting in a small Lake District town. Picking up on the kind of activity exposed so well by Marianna Spring where people set out to 'prove' that such disasters never happened and that all the victims are actors, Dean has such a character, Trent, effectively pitted against the lived experience of one of the people deeply affected by it, Marty. Once I got over the irritation of Marty being short for Martha, not Martin, I was able to follow along easily (I read this in a few days while in Newport). I'm not sure why but Marty is written in the first person but all other authorial voices are written in the third. I'm due to go to an author event with Abigail Dean in less than a week from the time of writing this - that'll be my question.

Coda - it was the editor's suggestion. Marty was originally written in the third person but the editor suggested it be changed to make it more inimate. Which worked. So then the question was why the others weren't also re-cast in the first person? It seems that, no, the intimacy of being the first person really only works for one character. Book three is already written. I'll definitely be in the queue for that one too.

9. The Last Murder at the End of the World, Stuart Turton

The Last Murder at the End of the World cover

Another terrific reality-bending mystery from Stu Turton. This one has a mad scientist, a remote island, a world-endling plague (almost certainly man-made), analogues of Eloi and Morlocks and plenty of intrigue. Good stuff.

10. Anna O, Matthew Blake

Anna O cover

One I picked upon a visit to the Victoria Bookshop. I'd not heard of this before but am glad I saw it. An excellent thriller with a solid, twisty plot line. The Patient X story line, which turns out to be central to the whole thing, lost me a few times. As is befitting of a thriller, I was convinced I knew their true identity at multiple times (and ws proved entirely wrong in the end). I looked up several assertions in the book and was pleased at how many turned out to be true. Freud's first patient really was known as Anna O, for example. Wouldn't be at all surprised to see this as a TV drama one Sunday night.

11. Medea, Rosie Hewlett

Medea cover