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Book Bites: 20 November 2016

Published in the Sunday Times

Heroes of the FrontierHeroes of the Frontier
Dave Eggers (Hamish Hamilton)
Book Buff
****
Egger’s latest book is an absorbing road trip novel, and in that genre’s best tradition it focuses on the personal but reflects the zeitgeist of uncertainty and discontent pervading the US. Josie, a single mother who “used to be a dentist”, packs her young children – Paul, gentle and wise, and Ana, almost feral – into a rented RV and heads for Alaska, the final American frontier: “At once the same country but another country.” On the face of it, Josie is escaping her spineless ex-boyfriend and a malpractice suit, but she is also searching for people of substance, “a plain-spoken and linear existence centred around work and trees and sky”. Her haphazard parenting style and the dilapidated state of the RV, in conjunction with the perils of the wild landscape and threatening locals, charge the novel with a sense of danger that is almost unbearable. But our protagonists are miraculously kept from harm. All Josie knew where she had come from, Eggers writes, “were cowards”. She never finds the land of magic and clarity she was looking for, but Heroes of the Frontier is a celebration of a rare moment of bravery. – Jennifer Malec @projectjennifer

The Pigeon TunnelThe Pigeon Tunnel: Stories From My Life
John le Carré (Penguin Random House)
Book Real
***
I don’t think I’ve ever come across anyone who has led a more remarkable life than David Cornwell – alias John le Carré. Leaving his English private school for Switzerland to study German, he was recruited by British intelligence at 17. Writing from his chalet in the Swiss Alps, Le Carré, now 84, is back in his beloved home from home after a career that took him from Beirut to LA and, of course, Bonn. Few people can boast of having met two heads of the KGB, as well as luminaries like Richard Burton and Alec Guinness, who starred in his films. An entertaining bunch of stories by a consummate storyteller. – Yvonne Fontyn

The PrintmakerThe Printmaker
Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (Umuzi)
Book Buff
*****
There’s a faint dolour that seeps through this quiet, precisely calibrated novel, the melancholy of lost love and loneliness, of dislocation and neurosis. At the heart of it is the compulsion of making art, specifically printmaking, with its persistent repetition, persistent perfecting of an image. Law-Viljoen employs several voices in the telling of this affecting story that flicks backwards and forwards over the years. There is the reclusive artist March; his lifelong friend and executor Thea; his single mother Ann, a respected Johannesburg milliner; and Stephen, a refugee from Zimbabwe who pierces March’s isolation. When he dies, a young gallerist must draw together the leaves of his life. – Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

The CallThe Call
Peadar Ó Guilín (David Fickling Books)
Book Fiend
***
It’s a hodgepodge of all the young adult/sci-fi faves. The premise is like The Hunger Games, only in this series (this is Book 1), all the teenagers have to fight for their lives – not just a chosen few – including Nessa, who has a disability due to contracting polio. And like the TV show Stranger Things, they have to go to a grim underworld full of monsters, called the Grey Land – a place where the Irish folk banished all the fairytale folk. It’s bloody and sadistic, with loads of gore. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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