THIS WEEK’S NEW BOOKS REVIEWED | FEATURE
Harry Sword (White Rabbit)
The essential theme of Monolithic Undertow seems obvious, once you’ve been introduced to it, but in practise is evidently not, as it appears to be the first book of its kind. Subtitled In Search Of Sonic Oblivion, debut author Harry Sword posits the drone – as in the sound – to be the element underpinning a vast swathe of music, dating back thousands of years and crucial to the ritualistic, mind-altering or otherwise emotionally moving properties of sonic art.
Beginning in an ancient underground chamber in Malta whose acoustics suggest it was built to facilitate extreme reverb, from here it’s a short conceptual step to the use of drones in religious ceremonies: think church organs, or the vocal “om” employed by Hindus and Buddhists. This has been widely appropriated by what you might call secular music, at all given levels of renown up to the Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows. Psychedelia foresaw heavy metal, Krautrock, punk and techno, to varying degrees, and all possess the relevant “dronal” (Sword’s apparently self-coined adjective) quality.
Verbose and effusive when assessing recordings, Monolithic Undertow’s scope is large enough that any reader will likely discover something. The beauty of an element that by its nature flows through music, untethered, is also the cause of my only real issue: the book could have gone on endlessly, but a stricter edit would have sharpened its focus. In the preface, Sword says his initial idea was an overview of the doom metal genre, and a potted history of one of its flagship bands, Electric Wizard, is engaging but veers away from the stated premise somewhat. This, though, is forgivable in the context of a sound which, in the right circumstances, can offer infinite possibilities, and exists within more music than you might think.
Price: £20. Info: here
words NOEL GARDNER
THE NOTEBOOKS OF SERAFINO GUBBIO
Luigi Pirandello [trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff] (Dedalus)
“I am the man who turns the handle.”
Serafino Gubbio is an isolated spectator of life, not a participant. A cameraman on a film set, he remains desensitised and unaffected by whatever action may unfold before him, be it a woman driving a dagger into her chest or a tiger mauling an actor to death. Amidst the glitz and glamour of this set, Gubbio acknowledges the disagreeable traits of the humans surrounding him, and returns home each evening to unload his honest, unfiltered thoughts into his diary. Grappling with the overwhelming advancement of modernity, Gubbio writes an uncomfortable mockery of human habit, weakness and existence.
Written by Nobel Prize-winning Sicilian playwright, Luigi Pirandello, this book is a conglomerate of scathing sarcasm and uncomfortable existential truths. In rather a philosophical microcosm for life itself, Pirandello merges moments of unremarkable repetition with scenes of tense excitement as our impersonal narrator navigates his isolation and the constant oscillation of reality and fantasy that he perceives all around him.
Though Pirandello first published this book on the heels of the Edwardian era, it remains curiously relevant to the modern-day reader – who, like Gubbio, will likely be familiar with the numbness of discerning the world through a lens or a screen.
Price: £9.99. Info: here
words NAOMI GRIFFITHS
A PLACE LIKE HOME
Rosamunde Pilcher (Hodder & Stoughton)
After the sad passing of esteemed and internationally bestselling writer Rosamunde Pilcher in 2019, publishers Hodder & Stoughton have released A Place Like Home, a collection of 15 of her best and most beloved short stories. While the title may seem a tad unfortunate – after a year characterised by interminable lockdowns and endless hours spent staring at the same four walls, you cannot help but feel that Anywhere but Home would have made for a more enticing one – luckily for readers in desperate need of a change of scenery, Pilcher’s stories act as a series of miniature holiday brochures.
With her lyrical turns of phrase and uncanny eye for detail, Pilcher will whisk you away on a whistle-stop tour of glittering Mediterranean islands, brooding Scottish highlands and leafy Cotswold villages, and all for a price that even Ryanair would struggle to beat. Once deemed “Britain’s most underrated novelist” by the Sunday Times, Pilcher’s prose is reassuringly gentle and unexpectedly profound. Her stories follow relatable, conflicted female characters as they navigate the often rocky road between the heady freedom of love and the pressing demands of everyday life.
Though her plots could prove a little too trite for some, for those seeking a romantic escape, A Place Like Home may ironically prove the perfect ticket out of it.
Price: £16.99 Info: here
words RACHEL REES
Tristan Hughes (Parthian)
First published in 2008 and put back into print by Parthian, Revenant tells the story of three childhood friends who reunite in adulthood to revisit scenes that have haunted them since their youth. Set in familiar Tristan Hughes territory, the seaside terrain of Ynys Mon, the novel flits between the perspectives of the friends, Ricky, Neil, and Steph. They have not seen each other since the disappearance of Del, the free and fearless ringleader of their friendship group.
Through the friends’ memories, Hughes does an excellent job of showing how Del’s absence has cast a shadow over their lives. The characters are well drawn, Ricky’s voice in particular feeling authentic, and the prose is often evocative and lyrical. However, Revenant does not feel quite as accomplished as Hughes’s brilliant 2017 novel Hummingbird. The descriptive passages are occasionally over-written, lacking the precision of Hughes’ more recent work.
The plot is also too reliant on exposition, especially in the early chapters. The focus on backstory dampens the momentum of the present-day scenes. It’s a shame: Revenant offers a moving meditation on memory and what we leave behind when we cross the bridge from childhood to adulthood. A good book, with a better book hidden in it.
Price: £8.99. Info: here
words JOSHUA REES
WE ARE ALL BIRDS OF UGANDA
Hafsa Zayyan (#Merky)
With themes covering racial and generational tension, while also examining the meaning of ‘home’, We Are All Birds of Uganda is a novel that doesn’t shy away from topical issues. Published by #Merky Books, an imprint launched by Stormzy and Penguin in 2018 as a platform to showcase underrepresented voices, Hafsa Zayyan [pictured, top – credit Bhavin Bhatt] was co-winner of #Merky’s inaugural New Writers’ Prize, this novel resulting from that commission.
Following the story of Hasan, a Ugandan businessman trying to make a living in the 1960s after a tragic family event, you see how quickly personal lives can be engulfed by politics. As the country’s leadership changes, prejudice and suspicion mean Hasan’s life – and everything he’s built – threatens to come crashing down. Hasan’s story is juxtaposed with the contemporary-set one of Sameer, a London lawyer with an empty life. It is only when Sameer returns to the family home that he discovers, through heritage, history and family ties, what he’s been missing.
Sure to be a best-seller, this debut novel looks set to make big waves and is the perfect read for people looking to hear a familiar story told from an entirely new and fresh perspective.
Price: £14.99. Info: here
words ELOUISE HOBBS