THIS WEEK’S NEW BOOKS REVIEWED | FEATURE
Llorenç Villalonga (Fum d’Estampa)
Described as the “best dystopian literature ever written in Catalan,” Andrea Victrix is a gripping novel of ideas that occasionally gets bogged down by the minutia of imaginary politics. It is set in 2050, in a world in which the unemployed are paid for not working, waiters are considered “the crème da le crème of high society” and drivers are encouraged to kill pedestrians. This is a place of plastic trees and synthetic fruit, where the importance of consumerism has transcended all else.
Our narrator has woken up from a cryogenic slumber that he had been in since 1965. We meet him sat in the passenger seat of the “red Rolls” of the eponymous Andrea Victrix, a mysterious symbol who encapsulates the best and worst of this new world. Their relationship is the heart of this powerful story of dehumanisation. There are some flaws – chapters are told rather than shown, dialogue is often bookended by exposition, and it is unclear how the narrator has learned so much about a future he has only just arrived in. But it remains compulsive reading, ending on an ambiguous note, leaving us to ponder its questions long after the last page is turned.
Price: £13.99. Info: here
words JOSHUA REES
THE ENDS OF THE EARTH
Abbie Greaves (Century)
In an intriguing plot opener, The Ends Of The Earth begins with an introduction to protagonist Mary, who is stood at Ealing Broadway Station holding a sign that reads “come home Jim”. We subsequently learn that Mary is looking for her partner, Jim, who disappeared seven years ago. As her station vigil gains prominence on social media, the story develops: Alice and Kit, acquaintances of Mary from a local charity, become amateur sleuths in an attempt to find Jim and bring him home.
As their relationship blossoms this also provides an additional element to the plot. Despite the repetitive nature of the narrative at times, discussing situations that had previously occurred, the author strikes the right balance between the past and present, delving back into the lives of the characters and capturing their essence and the motivations and reasoning behind their actions.
Another important strand to the story is that it raises important questions regarding mental health, which in a sense becomes a character in itself underlines the suffering caused to those afflicted and their loved ones. As the past and present collide, this amounts to a thoroughly immersive and engaging novel, and ultimately a heartwarming read.
Price: £14.99. Info: here
words RHIANON HOLLEY
THE SUMMER JOB
Lizzy Dent (Viking)
Lizzy Dent’s [pictured, top – credit Kerstin Weidinger] debut novel The Summer Job is a breezy but heartfelt tale about finding yourself after you’ve lost your way in life, washed down with a sweet, heady helping of fancy wines and even more fanciable men. It introduces us to Birdy, a vivacious, unfulfilled thirtysomething who struggles to maintain relationships, jobs and the faintest grasp of the truth.
It’s that last factor which sees her life rapidly spiral out of control, when she pretends to be her flatmate Heather so she can take up the hotel job her sommelier best friend has decided to turn down. Leaving the bright lights of London for the windswept highlands of Scotland, Birdy initially struggles to find her feet in the fast-paced, demanding environment of a luxury hotel’s dining room. There to make her feel more at home are an eclectic band of castaways, from a fiery head chef with serious Marco Pierre White delusions to a friendly bartender who secretly consumes more alcohol than the customers.
Though billed as a fresh take on the romcom, the novel treads largely familiar ground. While it may prove a little predictable for some, for those who enjoy the pleasures of a tried and tested recipe, there is much to savour here.
Price: £12.99 Info: here
words RACHEL REES
TROEON : TURNINGS
Philip Gross, Cyril Jones & Valerie Coffin Price (Seren)
This collaborative collection manages to combine an expansive sense of the epic with a lively, lighthearted approach to language. This admixture of playfulness and profundity makes the book at once intelligent and engaging, giving it depth yet also keeping it accessible. I like that the poets, throughout, ask questions, and never presume their own authority – although, as extremely accomplished writers indeed, it would be within their right to do so.
This querying also means that they don’t presume to know the land, a fault I find with some nature writers and indeed with humans generally. We tend to view green places as a ‘known’ and project our own understanding – our own natures – onto them. Instead, these poets are seekers: from “Mountain? I doubt” in an early poem to “here you have… what?” in a later one, we track the writers’ steps, follow them on their journeys, flow from river to river, reflecting with them and fully engaged as they observe and openly quiz.
Some of the poems are haiku-like, some struck me with the force of koan; there are influences, too, from cynghanedd and from other lyrical forms. A series of stunning englynion paint pictures of gorgeous birds and the form combines, later, with Japanese renga to create some vivid, very striking images. Valerie Coffin Price’s letterpress works are stark, expressive, and beautiful, too, making this a particularly stimulating and exciting collection as the forms and ideas, words and artwork, wind and weave together. A very thoughtful and thought-provoking book, and one that I would recommend to anyone.
Price: £12.99. Info: here
words MAB JONES
Jay Griffiths (Penguin)
The question of why we – human beings who, supposedly, want to keep living on the earth we inhabit – need to rebel has arguably never been so important. If you’re not sure you agree, this book is likely to inspire a shift. Libertarian fascism reigns supreme, fuelled by its loyal cronies of racism, violence and misogyny. It’s time we all woke up to the fact that nature can’t wait very much longer for us to start rebelling.
This Penguin Special is both a series of pleas to its reader on behalf of the natural world, as well as a powerfully written work of non-fiction which inspires and informs. Why Rebel is not a tool to elicit guilt in a reader who, by nature of picking it up to read in the first place, might already feel conflicted by the life they lead and the changes which need making. Instead, it is a manifesto which, if taken seriously, might just start paving the way for a community-driven rebellion to protect our planet.
Jay Griffiths has used language in a way that drifts on the line between poetry and academia, if such a line even existed before now, and her dedication to sharing such thorough research and insight with the world is an example of the sort of collaboration she believes us capable of as a species.
Price: £7.99. Info: here
words MEGAN THOMAS