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Archive for the ‘International’ Category

The 2018 Man Booker Prize shortlist has been announced!

The six authors shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize have been announced!

First awarded in 1969, the Man Booker Prize is recognised as the leading prize for high quality literary fiction written in English.

This year’s list features four female writers, among which the 27-year-old British debut novelist Daisy Johnson – the youngest writer ever to be in reckoning for this £50,000 literary award.

The six authors, of which three are from the UK, two American and one Canadian, vying for this esteemed award are as follows:

Anna Burns (UK) for Milkman

Esi Edugyan (Canada) for Washington Black

Daisy Johnson (UK) for Everything Under

Rachel Kushner (US) for The Mars Room

Richard Powers (US) for The Overstory

Robin Robertson (UK) for The Long Take

The winner will be announced on Tuesday 16th October in London’s Guildhall.

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In an exclusive interview, Kate Atkinson talks to Michele Magwood about spying, Brexit, and World War II

Published in the Sunday Times

Transcription ****
Kate Atkinson, Doubleday, R290

Kate Atkinson was immersed in the National Archives in London when a set of documents caught her eye. Part of one of MI5’s periodic releases of historical records, they concerned a WW2 agent with the code name “Jack King” who infiltrated fascist circles. He posed as a Gestapo agent and would meet members of the so-called “fifth column” in an innocent-looking flat with hidden recording devices. Next door a junior agent transcribed the meetings.

On the telephone from the UK Atkinson describes how it sparked the idea for the new novel.

“I have to have a title before I can even think about a book, so as soon as I’d read those transcriptions I had it. And then I looked up the OED definition and found it is also a word for broadcasting so it fitted perfectly, because I wanted to write about the BBC in wartime.”

Atkinson’s last two books Life After Life and A God in Ruins – both winners of the Costa Prize – were set in World War 2 and she’s nowhere near done with it yet.

Transcription is a story about ambiguity and duplicity, about idealism, loyalty and the lifelong price of those.

Juliet Armstrong is just 18 and an orphan when she is recruited by the secret service in 1940.

Initially she is the typist who transcribes the interviews taking place in the flat next door. She’s a sharp young woman with a delightfully derisive interior voice: for example, her boss is describing the fifth columnists. “Our own home-grown evil … instead of rooting them out the plan is to let them flourish – but within a walled garden from which they cannot escape and spread their evil seed.” A girl could die of old age following a metaphor like this, Juliet thought. “Very nicely put, Sir,” she said.

“I never design a character,” says Atkinson. “I write very, very slowly at the beginning of a novel and that helps to get into that interior voice. I’m inside their heads. But I don’t construct them – they simply exist. I don’t understand the neurological process, the imaginative process that helps that to occur.”

Juliet is not particularly ambitious, she is more interested in romance and going to dance halls, but her boss promotes her to undercover agent. At first she thinks it is a bit of a lark but it quickly becomes deadly serious and she learns, appallingly, what the consequences of espionage can be. As the book moves forward to 1950 and even further to 1981, we wonder whether she can ever be free of the war.

“I’m really interested in the postwar period,” Atkinson explains, “the 10 years after the war. It was so dingy and hard, there was no sense of euphoria, no money, no food still.”

Romanian actress Nadia Gray in the BBC studios, London, England, December 14 1950. Picture: Underwood Archives/Getty Images.

 
Juliet goes to work for the BBC where she produces nostalgic history programmes for children. It’s a safe and uneventful life, until the intelligence services reel her in for one last job.

Atkinson is bemused by the prevailing Brexit jingoism, the idea of a brave Great Britain standing proudly alone in the war.

“I think the war makes us very nostalgic, and let’s not forget that our view of the war is filtered through the propaganda of the time: the Blitz spirit and so on. When in fact crime rates rocketed, illegitimacy rocketed, people complained a lot. Everything was destroyed. Also, we fought for Europe and now we want to let it go, that to me is slightly mystifying.”

Is there more to be revealed from archives?

“Yes, I think there is. The MI5 and secret service archives are sealed – it’s not like the public records where everything gets released after 40 or 50 years – they only release to the public what they choose to, so I imagine there’s a great deal more. But in a way it was an untried service in the war. They were still learning. When you think about what it must be like now, just the technological aspect of what they must be doing, we really don’t know.

“But we don’t know what we don’t know, do we?” @michelemagwood

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An African refugee finds her struggle is not over once she makes it to the US, writes Margaret von Klemperer

Published in the Sunday Times

Clemantine Wamariya says being reunited with her parents on TV, with no warning, made her feel like the subject of an experiment. Picture: Julia Zave.

 
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After
****
Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil, Hutchinson, R320

Clemantine Wamariya’s story opens in 2006. She was an 18-year-old high-school student in the US and a finalist in an Oprah Winfrey essay competition. As one of the finalists, she set off for the filming of an episode of Oprah’s show on Holocaust survivor and Nobel peace prize winner Elie Wiesel, as her essay was about Wiesel’s book, Night. But Wamariya is also a survivor – in her case, the Rwandan genocide.

Wamariya attended the shoot with her sister, Claire, who, nine years older than the six-year-old Clemantine, had protected her through six horrific years in the refugee camps of seven African countries. By 2006, they knew their parents had also survived, although they had not seen them for 12 years. With no warning, Oprah reunited the family on screen, in front of a worldwide TV audience – and of course there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Oprah had done an amazing thing, reuniting a family after years of devastation, death and loss. And she had raised awareness of a terrible event. But when I read about it, I could only see it as the commodification of grief and suffering, calculated to load the disengaged watchers with warm fuzzy feelings, but shattering to those to whom it mattered.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads is partly an articulation of what that evening in a television studio meant. Wamariya says she was grateful to Oprah, of course, but goes on: “But I also felt kicked in the stomach, as though my life were some psychologist’s perverse experiment.”

Claire and Clemantine Wamariya on ‘Oprah’.

 
Wamariya tells her story with almost unbearable honesty and a palpable anger as she describes the refugee years with Claire, a survivor who was always on the hustle. In that time Claire had two children who Wamariya made it her mission to keep alive, clean and attractive – because clean, attractive infants score better in the hand-to-mouth refugee existence.

Once the sisters were granted refugee status in the US, Wamariya was taken in by a family who saw to her education so successfully that eventually she was accepted to go to Yale. But her main struggles were never going to be academic: Wamariya had to deal with people who wanted, often from the best of motives, to see her as a kind of “genocide princess”, particularly after Oprah. She tried to live up to that, but boiling away beneath the surface was distrust of people’s motives, learnt in her years trailing around the eastern side of Africa.

Then there was the difficulty of forming a relationship with the family she had been torn from at the age of six. Wamariya is honest about her problems and the loss of a sense of self that came from her horrendous childhood. She writes of her hatred of the word “genocide”, because it is an easy catch-all. Each person caught up in it has their own personal story, a private horror that can become lost in the general.

We all know the compassion fatigue that stories of refugees and their situation can engender. Wamariya lays her experience before us without asking for pity or even understanding, but simply for the time it takes to read her book. And it is well worth every minute.

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RIP V.S. Naipaul (17 August 1932 – 11 August 2018)

Via Times Select

By Andrew Donaldson

There has been a flood of tributes and career appraisals following the death at the weekend of VS Naipaul, arguably the greatest and most infuriating figure in post-colonial literature. For more than five decades he gave his readers often searing and withering portraits of societies in the developing world.

That honesty earned him severe criticism – and not just for his particular point of view on the colonialism and post-colonialism so unequivocally detailed in his novels and travel writing. He was just as brutal when it came to his own failings as a man, so much so that his violent behaviour threatened to overwhelm his literary reputation.

He spared his biographer, Patrick French, nothing – so much so that the latter’s The World Is What It Is: The Authorised Biography of VS Naipaul (Vintage, 2009) is a gobsmacking page-turner.

Naipaul was fairly open about the humiliation he caused his first wife, Patricia Hale, and the 20-year affair he conducted with Margaret Gooding, a women he regularly assaulted. When the affair began, his editor Diana Athill rebuked him for his behaviour. He told her: “I am having carnal pleasure for the first time in my life, are you saying I must give it up?”

Pleasure meant degrading Gooding in bed. As Naipaul told French: “I was very violent with her for two days with my hand; my hand began to hurt … She didn’t mind it at all. She thought of it in terms of my passion for her. Her face was bad. She couldn’t appear really in public. My hand was swollen. I was utterly helpless. I have enormous sympathy for people who do strange things out of passion.”

What to read, though, of the 29 books that Naipaul produced? His first collection of short stories, Miguel Street (1959), details the lives of ordinary Trinidadians in a run-down corner of Port of Spain. The novels A House for Mr Biswas (1961), The Mimic Men (1967) and A Bend in the River (1978) are pretty much essential. Of his non-fiction work I recommend The Loss of El Dorado (1969), his India travelogues, An Area of Darkness (1964), India: A Wounded Civilisation (1977) and India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990), Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981) and Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples (1998).

He was particularly scathing about South Africans in The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief (2010). An uncomfortable experience, you could say.

The World is What it Is

Book details
The World is What it Is: The Authorized Biography of VS Naipaul by Patrick French
EAN: 9780330455985
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Miguel Street

Miguel Street by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780435989545
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A House for Mr Biswas

A House for Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522892
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The Mimic Men

The Mimic Men by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522922
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A Bend in the River

A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522991
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The Loss of El Dorado

The Loss of El Dorado by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522847
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An Area of Darkness

An Area of Darkness: His Discovery of India by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522830
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India: A Wounded Civilization

India: A Wounded Civilization by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522717
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India: A Million Mutinies Now

India: A Million Mutinies Now by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330519861
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Among the Believers

Among the Believers by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522823
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Beyond Belief

Beyond Belief by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330517874
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The Masque of Africa

The Masque of Africa by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330472043
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“The MeToo movement has allowed people to speak in a heightened, sharpened way that they couldn’t do before.” Meg Wolitzer on her new novel, feminism, and meaning-making

Published in the Sunday Times

Meg Wolitzer, author of The Female Persuasion. Illustration by Kate Gavino.

 
The Female Persuasion
*****
Meg Wolitzer, Chatto & Windus, R290

Meg Wolitzer is finally getting the recognition she deserves as a powerful author who has big things to say. It’s her moment. She has two major things happening. The film The Wife will hit the screens this month and it’s based on Wolitzer’s 2003 novel of the same name. Starring Glenn Close, everyone is pitching it as an important film that will at last net the star her Oscar.

Close plays the angry wife of a famous author who is going to receive the Nobel literature prize. In the film, her character tells her husband, “everyone needs approval”. This is also the theme that runs through Wolitzer’s new book The Female Persuasion, the other major thing to happen to Wolitzer this year.

The Female Persuasion, her 12th book, is receiving rave reviews for its keen perception of being a woman in today’s MeToo world. It centres on two women: Faith Frank, an older second-wave feminist who encourages Greer Kadetsky, a younger fourth-wave feminist. It is about female empowerment, women mentoring women and the dangers of placing our mentors on pedestals.

In a phone interview from New York, Wolitzer explains why she chose to write about this.

“I’m somebody who has been helped and encouraged by older women and that feeling of being heard, being respected, perhaps for the first time, is very powerful. It’s important to be seen. To believe in yourself and an outside person giving you this permission. I have a friend who calls these people permissionaries.”

Her character, Faith, is a permissionary. In the early ’70s, Faith was one of the founders of Bloomer magazine – filled with acerbic columns and sharp articles about women’s rights. Faith is described as “a couple of steps down from Gloria Steinem in fame”.

Faith gives Greer permission to own her own story. Greer is innocent and green when she goes to college with no guidance from her stoner, uninterested parents. On her first night at Ryland she goes to a frat party where Darren Tinzler sexually assaults her. Greer wants to see him punished. Other young women too, as “other Ryland students had their own Darren Tinzler moments”. Unfortunately, the story follows a familiar narrative – he apologises for his inability to read signals from the opposite sex and gets off with a stint of therapy. It is 2006.

Greer’s need for justice grows. She and her friend Zee buy cheap T-shirts and print Darren’s face on it with the word Unwanted beneath it. They are wearing them the night they meet Faith, who comes to the college for a talk. Greer uses what she calls her “outside voice” to ask Faith a question. Faith is impressed. Greer finishes college and starts to work for Faith and her female-empowerment organisation called Loci. We see a clash of different types of feminism.

Wolitzer says the only way we can navigate this difference is for women to talk and listen and understand where we all come from.

“Women of second-wave and third-wave feminism grew up in a different world and their experiences of when they were young were different and this shaped how they have come to perceive being a feminist in the world. All we can do is inhabit our own lives, know about the past, learn about our mothers and their lives.

“There’s been valid criticism about inclusiveness as an important need for feminism. There are angry voices. I think we are in a moment right now; so much has happened, so much has been set into release. The MeToo movement has allowed people to speak in a heightened, sharpened way that they couldn’t do before. The idea of being believed and heard; these are fairly new things. We are in the middle of a change. I don’t know how it will shake down, nobody knows.”

Even though the book delves into all these issues it’s not a feminist manifesto, rather it’s telling a bigger story with many different layers. This is where Wolitzer excels – her novels are big in scope – in themes as well as in the time frame. The Female Persuasion is epic; Greer and Faith’s entire lives are on display.

Wolitzer explains: “I don’t think I can say for definite that this is only a bildungsroman. Without a doubt it’s a coming-of-age story but it’s not only about that. It’s also about how we make meaning and find our way and that’s not only about young people. For instance, Faith has to decide what legacy she wants to leave the world. I do want to say something about how we live and how we do good in our lives. I think in this way it is a big story.”

She didn’t try to write the quintessential MeToo novel.

“When I wrote this book (except for the last chapter), I assumed that we would have our first woman president. Assumed that it would be meaningful and lead to other things. Then my notion of feminism shifted. The notion that maybe sometimes in feminism things are a little bit worse or a little bit better and you keep on working. It got pulled away like a tablecloth in the magic trick. I then added the next chapter of the ‘big terribleness’ – after the Trump election. Now the need for the fight is stronger than ever.” @jenniferdplatt

Wolitzer’s Best Books

Mrs Bridge by Evan S. Connell
This is a 1959 American novel about a Kansas City housewife’s life right before WW2, and it’s brilliant, hilarious, tragic. A perfect, compact masterpiece.
 
 
 
 
 
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
What a shattering exploration of voice, among all its other gifts.
 
 
 
 
 
 

What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
This recent collection of stories by a gifted writer moves from vivid depictions of Nigerian life into the fabulisitic.
 
 
 
 
 

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
As a writer and reader, I return to this book again and again for its language.
 
 
 
 
 
 
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
This slender, devastating book about a long-ago wedding night is economical and deeply emotional.
 
 
 
 
 

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A boy finds redemption with a disgraced priest in a magnificent new novel by Tim Winton, writes Michele Magwood

Published in the Sunday Times

Tim Winton. Picture: © Lynn Webb.

The Shepherd’s Hut
*****
Tim Winton, Picador, R290

In Tim Winton’s 2017 memoir, The Boy Behind the Curtain, he describes his upbringing in an evangelical church. His parents were latecomers to religion, joining the church only after Winton’s father, a traffic cop, nearly died in an accident. They made up for lost time. The author remembers the twice-on-a-Sunday, “no-frills, bare-knuckled” services where they bellowed hymns “until we saw spots and our limbs tingled”. But mostly he remembers the epic sermons.

“It was church that taught me the beauty and power of language,” he writes. “Recited and declaimed from the pulpit week after week and year after year, these stories and their cadences were deeply imprinted.”

It was here, too, that Winton became aware of the notions of grace and redemption, faith, sacrifice and mercy. Though his books are never overtly religious, these are recurring themes in his writing, gleaming just under the surface.

Another of his overriding themes is masculinity, especially in the form of young, damaged proto-men who he sends on physical or metaphysical journeys. And in every one of his books the landscape is paramount, less a backdrop than a character itself.

In The Shepherd’s Hut all of these themes are rendered down into a hot ingot of a story, forged by elemental forces as blinding as the saltpans in which it is set but utterly transcendent. This is ur-Winton.

Jaxie Clackton is just 15, a rough, punching, furious boy whose whole life has been one of loss and pain. His mother has died, as if in self-defence against the endless beatings of her drunken husband, the local butcher in their fly-blown, one-pub West Australian town. With her gone, “Captain Wankbag” as Jaxie calls him, turns his fists into his son. There is only one good thing in Jaxie’s life, his love for Lee, the only one who understands him. But Lee is his cousin, their love is taboo. Broken and barely surviving in a community that turns a blind eye to his predicament, Jaxie prays to God to “kill this c**t off once and for all”.

But when his father is, indeed, killed off in an accident of his own making, Jaxie knows he will be blamed for it.

Gathering a few provisions he flees to the bush. He has no plan other than to hide and eventually reach Lee hundreds of kilometres away.

From the arresting opening paragraph we know he will make it out: “When I hit the bitumen and get that smooth gray rumble going under me everything’s hell different. Even with the engine working up a howl and the wind flogging in the window the sounds are real soft and pillowy. Civilized I mean. And that’s hectic. But when you’ve hoofed it like a dirty goat all these weeks and months, when you’ve had the stony slow prickle-up hard country right in your face that long it’s bloody sudden. Some crazy shit, I tell you. Brings on this angel feeling. Like you’re just one arrow of light.”

Deep in the wilderness, when he is half-starved and hallucinatory, “burred up and narky as a feral cat”, Jaxie stumbles upon an old man in a hut on the edge of a salt lake.

This is Fintan MacGillis, a disgraced Irish priest, cast out by the church. He is no abuser, though; he is more of an ascetic, an anchorite, and the reference to John the Baptist is clear. He feeds Jaxie, clothes him, bathes him and restores him.

The boy is leery of him, and rude. They have to learn to trust each other but they settle into a fitful companionship.

“A couple times I had to tell him to go and get himself fucked. Then he got all pursy and red and said I was an uncultured ingrate. I said he was a knobjob and he called me a juvenile delinquent. But he never flogged me. So I figured I could put up with his stupid nonsense.”

Gradually Jaxie sheds his spikes and begins to alter. The brutal landscape shapes him too. He becomes minutely attuned to nature and stripped to the core of his young being. MacGillis sees something in him, a base material of goodness.

“When you do right, when you do good,” he tells Jaxie, “well, then you are an instrument of God. Then you are joined to the divine, to the life force, to life itself.”

And an instrument of God is what he becomes when the narrative erupts in a hideous violence. Jaxie will be tested beyond what he could ever have imagined.

At that moment “All the birds landed, the sunlight landed. The song landed. All the decent things in him landed. On me. On my head. And I knew where I was, and who I was, and what I was. Yes, what I am. And it was just like he said. What I laughed at him for. It was like the sun and the moon going through me. I was charged.”

Everything of Winton lands in this book, his preoccupations and perceptiveness, and his matchless writing.

Harrowing but tender, it is profoundly charged. @michelemagwood

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Glen David Gold’s mother has overtaken the field in the Mad Maternal Stakes, writes Michele Magwood

Published in the Sunday Times

Glen David Gold became a successful writer despite his pitiable, maddening mother. Pic: supplied.
 
I Will Be Complete
****
Glen David Gold, Sceptre, R300

In the Flaky Mater Olympics – a hotly contested subsection of memoirs – Glen David Gold’s mother is the new leader. She’s overtaken Jeannette Walls’s mother in The Glass Castle, who was free-spirited to the point of criminal neglect, and has nosed past Augusten Burroughs’s mother who gave him away as a child to her psychiatrist, as he described in his memoir Running With Scissors.

Gold, best known for his bestselling novel Carter Beats the Devil, was born and raised in California as the ’60s swung into the ’70s.

The family was wealthy for a while, living in a vast ranch house in a shiny new suburb, with “a living room conversation pit with hidden television cabinet, executed by contractors who’d worked on the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland”.

His engineer father was proud of his success, showing off his smart modern art and his ethereal British wife who used to be mistaken for the actress Linda Evans.

Gold was an anxious, precocious child who his parents labelled as gifted; so serious that someone commented “that’s not a child, it’s a 36-year-old midget”.

His father’s business tanked and his parents separated when he was 10. His father quickly met and married a much younger woman and moved to Chicago to start a new family. Gold’s mother (she is never named) dreamed of being a novelist but slipped into a life of spiralling failure, starting off with a decadent conman in San Francisco then an abusive fashion designer in New York and a violent, illiterate meth addict who dragged her through various states.

Even when reduced to living in a woman’s shelter she always believed her ship was about to come in. She is a pitiable figure, but a maddening one. The faultline in Gold’s life was the day she went off to New York for a few days and left him in their apartment in San Francisco to fend for himself.

She was gone for months. He was 12 years old.

And fend for himself is what he did, making himself fit in, first at boarding school, then at college, working in a rackety bookstore to make ends meet and trying to fill in the emotional chasms that his adolescence had opened in him. How many times could he rescue his mother? How much longer could he believe she just had bad luck rather than that she was the architect of her own failure?

It would be years of rejections (from both publishers and women) before Gold achieved success with Carter Beats the Devil and he married the novelist Alice Sebold (they have since divorced). It would be years before he could revisit his fractured past with the clear eyes that he does in this superb memoir.

“I’m looking for my mother, or what remains of her,” he writes. “There is not going to be redemption here; nor am I going to indict her as a monster. There is another way to go for those of us who can no longer love our mothers.”

One needs to stay with him through his neuroses and compulsive emotional auditing which slow things down. When he finally reveals, at the end of the book, the faultlines he uncovers in his mother’s own life, it’s like a physical blow. @michelemagwood

Book details
I Will Be Complete by Glen David Gold
EAN: 9781473620179
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Crime and derangement: William Saunderson-Meyer reviews Dirk Kurbjuweit’s Fear

Published in the Sunday Times

Fear
****
Dirk Kurbjuweit, Orion, R275

The theme is as old as the psychological thriller. An ordinary man commits what he persuades himself to be a rational, morally justified killing and gets away with it. Afterwards, he is wracked with anguish, remorse and a need for repentance, confession and punishment. Think of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Then fast forward 150 years and turn Dostoyevsky’s impoverished St Petersburg student into a middle-class Berlin architect, and there you have the basics of Dirk Kurbjuweit’s Fear.

Randolph Tiefenthaler, his beautiful wife, Rebecca, and their son and daughter live in a large suburban house converted into a few apartments. This is the quintessential existence of the successful professional: fine food, fine wine and fine friends to complement the ideal family.

The snake in paradise comes in the form of Dieter Tiberius, who rents the basement flat. Initially, they have a pleasant, nodding acquaintance, but soon Tiberius starts making lascivious comments about Rebecca and writes her love letters. His actions escalate and he falsely reports the parents to the police and social services for abusing and molesting their children.

The societal supports that the bourgeoisie take as a given fail the family; the police and lawyers can do little.

The allegations are persistent and insidious, undermining family cohesion. Though they rationally know it to be absurd, in the minds of both Randolph and Rebecca there spring seeds of doubt. Could their spouse just possibly be doing something vile?

We already know how this ends. Fear opens with the incarceration of Herman – Randolph’s father, a lifelong firearm enthusiast – for killing Tiberius with a bullet to the head. But as in Crime and Punishment, the book is not a whodunit but a whydunit. A clever exposition of how violence lurks just below the veneer of even apparently the most civilised, intellectually sophisticated person. William Saunderson-Meyer @TheJaundicedEye

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Author interview: Peter Swanson

Published in the Sunday Times

Peter Swanson, author of All The Beautiful Lies. (Author photo: unknown.)

 
What’s the one book our world leaders should read?

I’d have them read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s the bleakest vision I’ve read about a post-apocalyptic world. Maybe it would do its part in preventing one of our leaders from reaching for the nuclear button. If not, it’s still riveting fiction.

Which book changed your life?

The first Agatha Christie novel I read was Sleeping Murder. It’s not her best, but I fell in love with mystery novels because of her, and I’ve never turned back.

What music helps you write?

I listen exclusively to movie soundtracks when I write. They create a mood but they also fade into the background. Lately, I’ve been listening to Jonny Greenwood’s score for Phantom Thread and James Newton Howard’s score for Red Sparrow.

The strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

I’m always looking up information on Google about how to murder someone, questions such as “How long do you need to hold someone under water for them to drown?”.

You’re hosting a dinner with three writers. Who’s invited?

Stephen King, Kate Atkinson and David Mitchell. If I was allowed to invite dead writers it would be Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett and Kingsley Amis.

What’s the best book you’ve received as a gift?

On the occasion of the UK publication of my second novel, The Kind Worth Killing, my wife bought me a first edition of Darker than Amber, my favourite Travis McGee novel by John D MacDonald. I love the book, but I also love the memory of that night.

What books are on your bedside table?

I’m reading The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson. The next book I’m hoping to read is James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss and then next on the pile is Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, because I never like to be too far from my favourite novel.

What would you tell your younger writing self?

Stop trying to be the next Hemingway and start writing thrillers. Another way of phrasing this would be to tell myself to write the books that I’d want to read.

What did you edit out of this book?

I write extensive histories for all of my main characters. Sometimes those histories make it into my books and sometimes they don’t.

How do you select the names of your characters?

I have used multiple ways to select names, including baby name books, genealogy sites, plus just scanning my own bookcase. Lately, I’ve found a couple of good surnames by taking walks through cemeteries and reading the headstones.

All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson is published by Faber & Faber, R275

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An imagined extension of a real past makes for a riveting novel, writes William Saunderson-Meyer of Anton Svensson’s The Sons

Published in the Sunday Times

The Sons
*****
Anton Svensson (Sphere, R295)

Anders Roslund and Stefan Thunberg, authors of The Sons. Picture: Supplied.

 
This powerful epic of a Swedish family whose lives are blighted by crime is riveting. Though this is part of the Made in Sweden series and is following on Svensson’s earlier book The Father - an enormous critical success – it can be read as a stand-alone.

Anton Svensson is the pseudonym of Stefan Thunberg and Anders Roslund. Thunberg is a celebrated screenwriter, responsible for the Wallander television series, based on Henning Mankell’s novels. Roslund is an award-winning investigative journalist and crime writer, who is also half of the Roslund and Hellstrom writing duo, whose books have sold more than five million copies.

The novel takes strands of fact from the past and with aplomb weaves them into a tapestry of what might have happened next. What constitutes the past in The Sons is inspired by the real events that form the basis of The Father.

The impetus for The Father came directly from Thunberg’s life. Though he and his mother lived conventional lives, his father and three brothers moonlighted as Sweden’s most notorious bank robbers. Dubbed the Military Gang for their precision strikes and their readiness to use violence, they netted millions of kronor before being captured.

It was only then that their mother discovered that the apparently successful construction business that the family ran was, in reality, a front. Stefan, though privy to some of their crimes, never participated.

The Sons, which is now fiction and not based on real events, begins with the eldest brother, Leo, being released from prison and trying to reconstitute the gang for one last heist.

Much of the psychological tension comes from the interplay between the innocents of the family and the father, Ivan, and Leo, who take familial loyalty as an absolute given. Failing it being given voluntarily, they are willing to enforce it with unflinching brutality.

Stefan, centre, with his brother Carl and his father, Boris. Picture: Anna-Lena Ahlström.

 
A seminal event in their early lives is when Ivan beats his wife nearly to death, if not for then 14-year-old Leo’s intervention. Leo washes out the blood and explains to his brothers: “What happened here has to stay here. That’s how it works in a family.”

Here is the core of this family’s tragedy: domestic and child abuse, alcoholism, violent crime and terrible secrets. The surprise is not that the family is shattered by a tsunami of pain, but that any of them later manages to pick up the pieces of their lives.

The theme is of the father’s sins being visited upon the sons. Leo’s plan is to steal, for a second time, the millions seized during their arrest, which is now housed in the Stockholm police station.

John Broncks is the detective who put the gang behind bars in the first novel and now suspects Leo of planning another job. But Broncks is to discover that it is his own brother, Sam, also freshly released from prison, who is Leo’s key accomplice.

Broncks is now in a quandary, as he owes his brother an enormous debt – a life-saving intervention that protected Broncks from their abusive father. @TheJaundicedEye

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