THIS WEEK’S NEW BOOKS REVIEWED | FEATURE
Natasha Pulley (Bloomsbury)
The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street and Bedlam Stacks author Natasha Pulley is back with another magical story that twists and turns as it moves backwards and forwards in time. Suffering from amnesia, Joe Tournier finds himself in 1898, stepping off a train in London – renamed Londres 93 years earlier, after France had won the battle of Trafalgar. As a result of which Tournier is a British slave within the French Empire.
After being reunited with his wife Alice and daughter Lily, Tournier still feels that something is amiss as his memories of the past become more lusciously vivid – of a different time, when English rather than French is spoken, and his partner is someone different from Alice. His life is thrown further into confusion when he receives a postcard which sat in a sorting office for nearly a century – yet the Eilean Mòr lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides, pictured on the front, had only been built in the previous six months. The postcard is signed by a mysterious ‘M’.
On visiting the lighthouse, Tournier meets one Missouri Kite, a mysterious renegade Naval Officer from 1807 – and discovers a portal enabling him to travel back in time. Tournier and Kite have the technological clout to go back and change the outcome of the battle of Trafalgar, but with history altered, Tournier’s beloved Lily will not exist. What is he to do?
The Kingdoms is a complex, beautiful and engrossing story, rich in historical detail. Those who enjoyed The Watchmaker…’s fantastical steampunk journey will not be disappointed.
Price: £13.49. Info: here
words DAVID NOBAKHT
Mary Dixie Carter (Hodder & Stoughton)
A chilling and suspenseful debut from American author Mary Dixie Carter [pictured, top – credit Beowulf Sheehan] provides a unique take on the notion of wanting what you can’t have. A children’s birthday party photographer for the elite of New York, narrator Delta Dawn is highly successful in her day job. When she is booked to photograph a birthday party at the Straub family home, she takes an instant liking to their lifestyle and manages to integrate herself into their family by babysitting for daughter Natalie. Her talent in editing photographs enables her to manipulate different situations to her advantage and opens up different opportunities that enables her obsessive behaviour.
An entertaining and fast-paced read, The Photographer does lack the character inquisition I would usually associate with psychological thrillers. It felt as though I was on the periphery looking in, without discovering enough information about each of the character’s background to fully invest in them. Conversely, this may be intentional to provide the right atmosphere to portray the disquieting situations instigated by the novel’s protagonist.
With keen observations throughout, this is an addictive and gripping psychological novel that will leave you slightly unsettled – and questioning others for a few days following the ending.
Price: £18.99. Info: here
words RHIANON HOLLEY
Dara Kavanagh (Dedalus)
An amalgam of feelings rose up in me when reading this book, its subject matter – the Czech capital in the brink of falling to the Nazis – difficult to grasp through the eyes of a privileged reader, yet nestled within moments of unexpected joy in all senses of the word. Prague 1938 feels as if stepping into a heightened reality, which one supposes it was.
Centring on a delicately broached romance between young protagonists Guido and Leah, the narrative has echoes of Dickens’ band of thieves in Oliver Twist. The portrayal of 1930s Czech society, and its detailed exploration of Prague, is full of dark realities and upheaval. With upsetting discoveries as well as difficult decisions about where their loyalties lie, Dara Kavanagh’s dialogue gives a profound sense of the fear of incoming war. The novel reminded me of the diaries of Anne Frank, in its honest bildungsroman quality.
Price: £9.99. Info: here
words BILLIE INGRAM SOFOKLEOUS
PROJECT HAIL MARY
Andy Weir (Del Rey)
Ryland Grace wakes up from a coma in a spacecraft, alone, with no idea who he is or why he is there. As his memory slowly returns, it becomes clear that he is the only survivor of a last-ditch mission designed to save the earth. Why? An algae-like substance is demolishing the sun’s energy, causing the planet’s temperature to plummet and with it heralding an ice age that will destroy humanity unless it is stopped.
Project Hail Mary’s high-stakes end-of-the-world premise might sound preposterous, but Andy Weir’s trademark attention to detail and obsessive commitment to the ‘sci’ element of sci-fi give it real depth and lend it just enough plausibility to keep suspension of disbelief to a minimum – although the dizzying scientific explanations will probably soar over the heads of most. The novel’s apocalyptic undertones are also tempered by the protagonist’s knowing, wry humour.
Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, was turned into a cinematic smash hit, and indeed his latest offering feels like reading a film; no surprise to learn that a movie adaptation starring Ryan Gosling is already in the pipeline. With its space-marooned scientist and encyclopaedic recitations of high-concept physics, it does all feel a bit like The Martian: Reloaded, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, especially when it’s as much fun as Project Hail Mary.
Price: £20. Info: here
words ALICE HUGHES
WHEREVER WE ARE WHEN WE COME TO THE END
Richard Barnett (Valley Press)
Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is a terse, aphoristic exploration of reality’s foundational truths, and the potential for human knowledge within it. In attempting – partly as a celebration of Wittgenstein’s work – to match the form and structure of the Tractatus whilst also constructing a poetic narrative of Wittgenstein’s own experiences in World War I and life beyond, Barnett is assaulting an ambitious task indeed: one which he rises to repeatedly throughout this short book.
By balancing poetry, biographical exposition and Wittgenstein’s philosophy, whilst leaving space for a sense of narrative development, it would be easy for this book to have become a loose collection of disparate elements competing for attention. As it stands, Barnett’s extensive knowledge of Wittgenstein’s ideas and history shines through, and he deftly avoids the pitfalls entailed by such a devoted exposition of another’s work; the reader isn’t regularly condescended with clunky expositional passages, leaving more room for the poetry of both writers to speak for itself.
Early passages juxtaposing the realities of war with the clinical mathematical necessities of artillery fire and the physics of field guns paint a precise, evocative picture of the logician at war, and offer ample opportunity for poetry. There is plenty to ruminate on here for casual readers and philosophy aficionados alike.
Price: £8.99. Info: here
words JOHN MCLOUGHLIN