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Thursday 26 June 2008


by Joe Dunthorne

Fifteen year old Oliver Tate is the narrator in this first novel by an author who is already known for his poetry. I don’t know why, but I have a sense that he – the author – would be irritated to have his creation compared with Adrian Mole; but that character does provide a useful point of reference. The difference is that, some years on, it’s Oliver’s parents who are of the same generation as Mole, and are just as ineffectual, and filled with the same self-doubt and angst. Not so Oliver, whose patient attempts to nudge them into line comprise one of the many irresistible and perfectly judged threads of comedy.

While Oliver is not scouring the dictionary for obscure words to add to his already outlandish vocabulary, he is cutting a swathe through the life of his staid provincial town, armed with a lethal combination of knowingness and naivety. He is nothing if not candid, and some readers may feel there is too much information on offer in places – particularly in his determined campaign to rid himself of his virginity, “before it becomes legal.” But his shell of adolescent cynicism is never quite opaque enough to hide an attractive character. In the presence of a girlfriend’s parents, he describes himself as “appalled by my inability to seem anything other than pleasant.” I found his teenage preoccupations authentic and sharply funny, and the writing wincingly observant. I’ll be looking out for more from Joe Dunthorne.

reviewed by Christopher Bazalgette

Thursday 19 June 2008

Book news - chick lit prize

Chick lit has been rapidly growing in popularity ever since the publication of Bridget Jones's Diary, as a quick look around any book store will testify. Described as a 'guilty pleasure' by a BBC reporter yesterday, chick lit now has its own awards ceremony, just as other genres such as crime or science fiction do, with a prestigious panel of judges including Joanna Trollope, Jo Brand and Alan Davies. Joanna Trollope's take on the genre can be read here.

The Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance was inaugurated in 2007, in memory of the best-selling chick lit author who sadly died of cancer at the age of 36 the previous year.

This year's winner, announced last night, is Lisa Jewell's novel, 31 Dream Street.

Monday 16 June 2008

Tangled Roots

by Sue Guiney

The myth of first novels is that they are autobiographical, coming of age stories about young people, with lots of domestic detail, dysfunctional families, and not much room for ideas. Sue Guiney’s first novel, Tangled Roots, has families, kitchens and coming of age moments, but beyond that it is a book about mortality, about the criss crossing of histories and the ways in which they flow together and apart. It is a book in which time itself is a central character. To quote the book’s epigraph: ‘If there is symmetry in our universe then who is to say that the stories of the past cannot coexist with the present, that the arrow of time can move in one direction only…’

John is a scientist who has come to a crisis point in his life, a point at which he must travel back in order to move forward. His story alternates with that of his mother, Grace, who re-lives her personal history and the history of her time. She is a woman who ‘survived tragedies and infidelities only to cheat death and rediscover life.’ These stories are intertwined in crystal clear prose that allows the reader to be the more moved in that it dos not dictate the response. The theme of mortality is present in both stories: the understated but heart wrenching death of a child, the end of a marriage, the maiming of a young woman. It is there in a rush of tenderness, a surge of anger, the inability to say the right words until the moment has passed. Grace says ‘ …everyone has a childhood. But you see perhaps it is not in the having. Perhaps it is in the remembering. Perhaps history is nothing more than everyone’s childhood all linked together.’ And in the remembering, time shifts again.

The minor characters are beautifully drawn, the settings , of Boston, Russia, London, Martha’s Vineyard and New York are skilfully and economically evoked, the Russian scenes being particularly vivid. I also enjoyed the descriptions of baseball, which are among the best pieces of writing in the book; the game creates a vivid sense of life and acts as both mirror and metaphor of the lives of the characters . This book engaged me on many levels, both as an engrossing story and as a thought-provoking meditation. An outstanding debut.

reviewed by Kate Beswick

Friday 6 June 2008

Book news - Orange Broadband Prize

The winner of the 2008 Orange Broadband Prize has just been announced... Rose Tremain for The Road Home.

The winner of the Award for New Writers is Joanna Kavenna for Inglorious

Tuesday 3 June 2008


by Melvin Burgess

A scorcher of a novel aimed at teenagers and young adults, this is an honest, pull-no-punches account of homelessness and the descent into drug addiction. It blew me away from the first page.

I had heard about this novel a long time ago, but avoided reading it because I thought it might be sensationalist and upsetting. Then I read some books by Melvin Burgess aimed at younger readers and admired the clear, lucid prose and the unsentimental heart beneath the stories. Junk turned out to be a very realistic and believable account of the adoption of a very different kind of lifestyle for two underage runaways. The writing is so textured you can smell the incense and the fag smoke. You can feel the sticky floors beneath your feet. The prose is sharp and edgy, totally compelling.

Tar is escaping an abusive, drunken household, Gemma is bored and seeking thrills. Their relationship begins unevenly, with shy innocent Tar adoring his spiralling-out-of-control 14 year old girlfriend. What follows is utterly compelling, full of amazing character and place detail. It is at once heartbreaking and full of hope. It is the anatomy of a relationship between maturing teens, between kids and drugs, between responsibility and danger. It is searing. I can’t recommend it highly enough to kids or adults.

reviewed by Annie Smith