A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

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I'm jealous of people who get to read this novel for the first time. My first time was one of the most memorable reading experiences I've ever had. 

The novel alternates between two perspectives. Nao, a 16-year-old girl living in Tokyo and contemplating suicide, is writing a diary to demonstrate all the reasons why her life is no longer worth living but also to document the extraordinary life of her beloved great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun. Ruth, a writer living on the Pacific coast of Canada, finds a Hello Kitty lunch box washed up on shore and, inside, Nao's diary. It's a few months after the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Ruth becomes obsessed with Nao and desperately tries to find out what happened to her. Meanwhile, in the past, Nao carries on with her bitter-sweet everyday life. Ozeki masterfully plays with time, fact and fiction to create a story that is immensely satisfying.

- Kate

Autumn by Ali Smith

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Autumn, the first post-brexit book to emerge, is a poetic exploration of love and loss amidst political disarray. It is a meditative novel that effortlessly drifts between the dreams, memories and present-day realities of its two main characters, Elizabeth and Daniel. A deeply humanist book, Autumn delves into the hopes and fears of its two protagonists as they work their way through a politically divided Britain, (simultaneously adding healthy doses of art-history and philosophy along the way, in typical Smith fashion).

Autumn is the first in Ali Smith’s seasonal four-part series, and can be read as a stand-alone or alongside her latest offering Winter. Deeply relevant, and beautifully composed, Autumn is a must-read for anyone and everyone grappling with the current changing climate.

- Alex

All That Man Is by David Szalay

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Can all that one is - all that one's life amounts to - be captured in a single moment? It seems impossible, and yet, with his most recent novel, David Szalay has accomplished something almost as unlikely. He has managed to build a series of seemingly unrelated stories around those equally rare moments at which it feels as though something deeply significant - something life-altering - is at stake; those moments at which the very idea we have of ourselves and what we are capable of is either confirmed, or irrevocably shaken.

The problematic nature (to put it lightly) of contemporary masculinity has been the subject of much debate in recent times, and rightfully so. What this book helps to remind us of, however, is the absolutely crucial role for challenging and ambitious fiction for such discussions. Clear-eyed and merciless in its depiction of male shortcomings, Szalay's book is nevertheless full of empathy for its flawed - but recognizably human - characters. What sets this apart from the typical 'man-in-crisis' novel is the length Szalay is willing to go to to uncover the hidden corners of its protagonists' inner lives.

Bitterness, pathos and a hint of transcendence combine to make 'All That Man Is' essential reading.

- Dan

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

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Grann is a master of narrative non-fiction; his work is deeply researched and his prose so personal and engaging it reads like fiction. His latest book reveals the untold history of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma who in the early 20th Century were the wealthiest people per capita in the world thanks to the oil deposits beneath their reservation. From at least 1918 on, the members of one particular Osage family began dying in strange circumstances and with increasing frequency. It is this family that Grann centres his story on.

 

Around the same time these deaths were finally starting to look suspicious, the FBI was being formed and stepped in to investigate. Grann's history moves beyond their official records, however, to delve into the hundreds of unsolved murders of Osage during this time period that the FBI never touched and to speak with the descendants who to this day are trying to uncover the truth behind these murders. A riveting, pertinent story of the kind of horrific injustice and racist violence that is still rife across the globe today.

- Kate

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

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Peter is a 12-year-old boy with a pet fox, Pax. Peter found Pax as an orphaned cub shortly after Peter's mother died and the two have been inseperable ever since. But when war breaks out in his country and his father must leave to fight, Peter is forced to abandon Pax in the woods. 

The chapters alternate between Peter and Pax and we follow each of them as they face their fears and try their hardest to find one another again. A tender, enchanting read (and perfectly illustrated by Jon Klassen) for animal-lovers aged 9+.

- Kate

We Are Here by Fiona Harari

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Against all odds, the eighteen survivors Fiona Harari interviews for this book are in their nineties, some have reached 100 (although a couple have since died since its publication). Despite the monumental losses, degradations and harrowing living conditions they had faced these people were able to make new lives, begin new families and become successful Australian citizens.

Harari introduces each survivor with a description of their experiences then wisely allows the survivors to speak in their own voices. They talk about luck, the loneliness of liberation, their grief over the loss of family and the spirit that gave them the courage to carry on. Above all they express their gratitude to Australia – land of sunshine and freedom – that allowed them to start all over again.

- Rita

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

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Ruth is 30, her fiance has left her for another woman and her brilliant academic father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. At a loose end, she acquiesces to her mother's suggestion that she move back in with her parents to help care for her father - but only for one year. The novel chronicles this year in spare vignettes, interlaced with records from a journal Ruth's father kept while she was growing up.

Khong's prose demands to be re-read and relished. This novel may be slim but it is jam-packed full of achingly beautiful observations about family, love and uncertainty, balanced perfectly with a shrewd sense of humour that made me smile throughout.

- Kate

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O'Farrell

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In short sharp chapters introduced by 19th century anatomical diagrams (Neck, Bloodstream, Cranium…) Maggie O’Farrell details her sometimes near, occasionally more distant, brushes with death.

Death visits her in many different forms which she brings to life with vivid and visceral prose. At the age of eighteen she encounters a murderer on a remote path; against all odds she survives a childhood illness; with deep sorrow she mourns the IVF babies she lost and she watches her daughter like a hawk constantly alert to the allergies which can cause fatal anaphylaxis. These are just some of the harrowing stories of human vulnerability lived by the author in this memoir – her first non-fiction book after seven highly successful novels.

- Rita

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent  

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This debut novel is like a kick in the groin but also like a hand to hold. An unlikely combination but it's true. Turtle is a 14-year-old girl living on the fringes of Mendocino with her survivalist/philosopher father, who sexually and pschologically abuses her. Turtle has internalised and adopted her father's misoginy so deeply that her narrative is drenched in a confronting self-hatred. But when she grabs a glimpse of what a normal adolescence is like, she begins to realise that she cannot continue to be possessed by her father. 
 
The simmering tension throughout this novel is incredibly arresting - I read this within 24 hours. Comparisons have been drawn to A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara as this novel also requires a trigger warning for sexual abuse and childhood trauma. The author has said, "I wanted to write her so that the damage we do to women would appear to you, as it appears to me, real and urgent and intolerable." I believe he has achieved this. So if you're comfortable with psychologically preparing yourself for some harrowing scenes then I urge you to give this one a go. One of my favourite fiction reads of 2017.
 
Kate
 

The Passage of Love by Alex Miller

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A brilliant book, this is a fictional autobiography by multi-award winning novelist, Alex Miller. 

Commencing with Robert Crofts as an old man pondering whether he will write again, he thinks about his youth and the memories flood back…Originally from London, Robert arrives in Melbourne as a penniless stockman from the Queensland outback looking to find his real purpose in life, which is to be a writer. He meets Lena Soren, beautiful, educated and wealthy. Complex and passionate, she recognises in him a freedom, which she desires and immediately falls in love with.

The story chronicles their challenging relationship over the years as he struggles to establish himself as a writer and she struggles to break free from her restrictive middle-class upbringing and to find her own creative identity.

Written with deep insight and intelligence this is a wonderful novel exploring the complexity of relationships, love and the need to find individual creativity and identity with in that. 

A truly great and fulfilling read.

- Sue
 

A New England Affair by Steven Carroll

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A beautifully written novel by multi-award winning author Steven Carroll about love, life and what might have been. It tells the story of Emily Hale - muse, confident and friend but never wife of TS Eliot. The story takes place one day as Hale, in her old age, remembers and reflects on key events in her life with TS Eliot.  How they fell in love in their twenty’s when he was just ‘Tom Eliot’, and were meant for each other but time, place and social history kept them apart.  
This is the third novel in Carroll’s ‘Eliot Quartet’, each evolving around one of the Four Quartets by TS Eliot, it follows The Lost Life and the award-winning A World of Other People.  Perfectly capturing an earlier period in time when emotions were repressed and things left unsaid, this is a poignant and moving novel about love and memories of how different things might have been. 

- Sue
 

Book Review: Flâneuse by Lauren Elkin

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When I look up the oxford dictionary definition of flaneur it reads “A man who saunters around observing society”, but, when I search for the feminine flaneuse I’m left with “no exact matches.” Elkin, a self-identifying ‘flaneuse’, takes up issue with the lack of recognition for the female-flaneuse, who has seemingly been written out of the history books, and looks to the difficulties and questions of visibility that obstruct the freedom of women desiring simply to ‘saunter’ the streets as their male counterparts are allowed to do. Looking to Virginia Woolf, George Sand, Agnes Varda and Sophie Calle amongst others, Elkin endeavours to carve out a space for the modern-day flaneuse by recognising those that came before her. There are easy parallels to be made between Elkin and Rebecca Solnit as Flaneuse carefully weaves together topics of feminism, art and culture, historical events, and personal anecdotes, with travel writing in an ode to city-dwelling and city-strolling. “Space is not neutral. Space is a feminist issue.” 

- Alex

Half Wild by Pip Smith

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If your recent reading has been mediocre then here is a cracking story to restore your faith in books.Half Wild is an utterly absorbing fictionalisation of the fascinating 'lives' of convicted murderer Eugenia Falleni.  

Pip Smith's lyrical, hypnotic, rousing writing is the perfect match for such a piquant personality, so at no point can you look away! Yet this is a story of great pathos and poignancy, devastating at times, told with delicacy and rare perception. It is an unforgettable meditation on the nature of identity. A remarkably beautiful novel
from  an award-winning author.

- Chad

Book Review: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman 

In the lead-up to Philip Pullman’s highly anticipated prequel trilogy to His Dark Materials, The Book of Dust (book one, La Belle Sauvage hits shelves in October) let’s take a moment to appreciate the glory of the originals, Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

A contemporary classic in every sense, Pullman shocked and delighted readers young and old with the adventures of Lyra Belacqua and her shape-shifting daemon, Pan, in their quest to rescue their missing friends and take down the almighty Magisterium. With his spellbinding prose, rich worlds, and incredible cast of characters (including the ruthless Mrs Coulter, the powerful Lord Asriel, and -– of course -– Iorek Byrnison, the talking armoured polar bear), Pullman blends religion, science, philosophy and hefty dose of good old-fashioned adventure to create one helluva stunning read.

My personal favourite: book two, The Subtle Knife. Read them all ASAP.

- Jeremy
 

Book Review: A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

Dovaleh Greenstein, a stand up comedian, invites a childhood friend to his final performance at a comedy club. His humour is quick and abrasive, and the reaction of his audience and his friend who almost unwillingly sit through the performance is palpable. But then Dovaleh senses the mood and lifts it with his quick wit.

Grossman is so talented with his wordmanship that the reader is readily swept along with this story of the effects of grief. Certainly worthy of the Man Booker International Prize.

- Barb

Book Review: Tin Man by Sarah Winman

in Man is a story of close emotions, of heartache, pain, love and friendships. It is a lifelong friendship of two young boys who discover and explore their young
lives as they grow and life engages and changes. They have a deep understanding of each other which promises a long friendship.

It is presented as a narrative moving in time slots slowly unfolding to reveal the painfulness and the joy of family lives and the real issues that have led Ellis to
his current situation.

The story flows smoothly with skilfull simplicity crafting a memorable read.

Five stars.

- Barb

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

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Ghachar Ghochar is the best novella you'll read this year. 
Small but perfectly formed.
Vivek Shanbhag writes about the way in which a Bangalorean family falls apart when new-found wealth alters the dynamics.
It feels real, and is therefore very moving. It isn't cool to say this about anything today... but this is a warm and wise book. Classy, understated, and perceptive.
It has exquisite structure, masterful pacing and a knockout ending. What a writer! There's no greater pleasure for a reader than discovering such a generous, intelligent, subtle craftsman. Full of dry humour and colourful characters, this is a rich and rewarding joy of a novel!

- Chad Mandermann

A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter

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It would be fair to say that melancholy ruminations upon first love and sexual awakening are not exactly an under-represented genre in literary fiction. That said, what makes the unnamed narrator of James Salter's early masterpiece, A Sport and a Pastime, a rather more intriguing prospect is the fact that the most significant love affair of his life happened to someone else. Through the recollections of its aforementioned narrator, Salter's novel tells the story of a torrid affair between Anne-Marie, a poor young French woman, and Phillip Dean, a charming but arrogant young American, amidst the backdrop of early 60s Paris. In a voice tinged with loss and frustrated desire, Salter's narrator viscerally recalls each detail of the affair... including those he could never have been present for. This blend of forensic recollection laced self-consciously fictional elements makes the book more than a simple tale of doomed love; indeed, at its best this brilliant novel offers an insightful examination into the way memory falls prey to the inevitable distortions of a certain kind of romantic fiction.

Salter is often described as a 'writer's writer', but don't let that put you off. There is nothing precious about these glorious sentences, at once so effortlessly beguiling, and so deeply resonant. Read this book and you will immediately want to search out and savour every one of Salter's novels. This is as good a place as any to start.

 - Dan   

Book Review: The Idiot by Elif Batuman

Readers familiar with the author's bestselling literary memoir "The Possessed" (as well as her frequent contributions to the New Yorker) will already be aware that Elif Batuman is one of the purest comic talents going around. The good news is that the transition to fiction has done nothing to diminish her characteristic mix of dry observation and bemused self-deprecation. Beginning as a fairly straightforward take on the 'campus novel', "The Idiot" tells the story of Selin, a bright but somewhat naive Harvard undergraduate, and her developing relationship with Ivan, a moody and often inscrutable young mathematician. In cataloging the missed connections and nagging self-doubt of their initial furtive encounters, Batuman mines these familiar situations for every ounce of their comedic potential. As the relationship between Selin and Ivan develops, however, Batuman's book becomes something more: a deeply insightful - and often touching - rumination on idealisation and the limits of language. In the character of Selin, Batuman has created one of the more genuine and memorable literary protagonists in recent memory; mingling a taste for flights of abstract reasoning, with clear-eyed and minutely detailed attention to the matters of the heart, Selin will quietly occupy a corner of your mind and will remain there long after the final page has been turned. 

Verdict: "The Idiot" is far more enjoyable than a novel about linguistic philosophy, Russian literature, and Hungarian public transport has any right to be.

- Dan
 

Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

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This is an unusual novel of romantic slippages and the sort of halting, awkward connections that pass for many familial relationships in the twenty-first century. The characters orbit around the peculiar event that was Marina Abramovic's 2010 endurance performance, The Artist is Present. Abramovic's daily practice of doggedly gazing into her audience's eyes becomes a fascination for an art-obsessed widow, procrastinating composer, art students and even a ghost. Heather Rose's unique novel not only imortalises the srange effect Abramovic had on the mood of New York during her performance, but interrogates what art should, can and does do for the lost and lonely.
 
- Pip