THIS WEEK’S NEW BOOKS REVIEWED | FEATURE
Roisin Kiberd (Serpent’s Tail)
A Personal Journey Through The Internet, the subtitle of this scalpel-sharp collection of essays, does it a disservice. True, the internet plays a prominent role throughout the book, but it is often only a starting point from which Roisin Kiberd [pictured, top – credit Tessy Ehiguese] then explores many other aspects of modern life.
The Disconnect is a blend of memoir and cultural commentary, covering topics such as loneliness, online dating, tech billionaires, Monster energy drinks, and the trappings of social media. It is also a brutally honest, almost diaristic account of Kiberd’s personal search for true connection and love in a culture increasingly dominated by temporary acquaintances and the late-night glow of laptop screens.
Aside from a quibble about the subtitle, there are other minor problems; the essays are occasionally so digressive that the links made within them border on tenuous, and there are a couple of clunky sentences that are crying out for a comma. But overall, the writing is smart, clear, and unfussy: lines such as “you’ll never be free if you live on a screen” hit their mark. Despite this technological specticism, the book ends on a moving and genuinely hopeful note. Kiberd is a humane voice in a culture that is trying its best to dehumanise us.
Price: £12.99. Info: here
words JOSHUA REES
Michael Moss (WH Allen)
An in-depth study of a public health crisis generated by food industry marketing campaigns, designed to appeal to our cravings for sugar, salt and fat and manipulating our food choices while doing so. Michael Moss begins Hooked: How Processed Food Became Addictive by exploring smoking, however: its journey from being fashionable and glamourised, to the latterday consensus of its addictiveness and harm. Food, says Moss, can be similarly addictive.
Scientific studies indicating how our relationship with processed foods develops into a harmful catalyst of dependence are cited; goings-on behind closed doors in laboratories is explored, how flavours are manipulated to engage our olfactory system and stimulate our appetites. However, Moss posits, as the brain orchestrates our decisions to eat certain foods, it is possible to retrain that same brain into following healthy patterns of eating. Which, in turn, means we should show less interest in the advertising industry’s nefarious reaches.
Ultimately, Hooked encourages the reader to recognise how simple it can be to break free of dietary dependence on processed foods, by making healthy food choices – yet also, conversely, how difficult the myriad voices which surround us make it, selling us an easy food fix. But we can dig deeper in our memory banks, paying mind to the negative effects on our health, sense of self-esteem and wellbeing.
Price: £20. Info: here
words EMILY EDWARDS
Charlie Carroll (Two Roads)
Teenage girl Melody Janie Rowe lives a lonely existence in a caravan on a protruding cliff edge at Bones Break, Cornwall. Close by is her father’s rundown café – a father who Melody Janie lost in a car accident. Her mother, prone to mental illness, has disappeared.
Charlie Carroll’s first piece of fiction writing – he’s previously written a few non-fiction titles, including No Fixed Abode, about his own experience of homelessness – The Lip portrays a flipside to the more usual depiction of Cornwall’s idyllic beauty. In the aftermath of the closure of mines and with a fishing industry in tatters, it’s a county largely reliant on tourism for its seasonal income and all the problems that come with it; communities have been unseated by holiday lets and second homes, with deep-seated paranoia and resentment setting in regarding invading outsiders, “emmets” to use the Cornish term.
Melody Janie relies on her independence and quick wit to survive. She breaks cover when she meets a shadowy character called Richard and his rescue dog Archie – both Melody Janie and Richard have something to hide. A novel as much about isolation as it is grief, mental health and enforced change, it builds to a moving conclusion with a mighty twist.
With The Lip now added to his repertoire, Carroll is proving to be very much like a modern-day Orwell, with social awareness and humanity at the core of what he writes.
Price: £16.99. Info: here
words DAVID NOBAKHT
Annie Ernaux [trans. Tanya Leslie] (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Now in her ninth decade, Annie Ernaux [pictured, front page – credit Catherine Hélie © Éditions Gallimard] occupies an immovable niche in modern French literature, without which the existence of a book like Simple Passion would seem implausible. This edition, titled Passion Simple in the original French, runs to 48 pages and, I would think, not much more than 10,000 words: a less venerable writer might be advised to pitch it to some old-guard longform outlet like the New Yorker, but not a book company. It helps, no doubt, that Fitzcarraldo have already published several UK editions of Ernaux’s other works – but still, this meditation on the eccentricities of half-requited love, crisp and cool when outlining its absurd mental gymnastics, feels correct in this slim-volumed form.
The narrator – who Ernaux, predominantly a memoirist, occasionally makes vague suggestions might be fictional but who we essentially suppose is the author herself – is having an affair. It seems to be sex-centred and convenient: the man, known as A., is from Eastern Europe and speaks limited French, with a drink problem to boot. This matters little to her obsession, A. stalking through her dreams and causing her waking thoughts to be reconfigured towards his aura.
First published in 1991, the timeline is date-specific, taking in stories such as the Ceaușescu assassinations and ending at the outbreak of the first Gulf war, but at root these descriptions are eternally contemporary, with millennia of writing on the brainfog of romance in Simple Passion’s slipstream.
Price: £8.99. Info: here
words NOEL GARDNER
Helen Fisher (Simon & Schuster)
When you pick up a book with the title and front cover artwork showing one of your favourite childhood toys, then your attention is directed to it. Being a debut novel with a storyline whose foundation is connected to time travel around an era very familiar to this reviewer at least, Space Hopper sounded too far out – but, on reading it, I got it, I really did.
Centred on the loss of a mother whilst very young (again, I can relate to this), main protagonist Faye is happily married with two beautiful children, but it’s that bereavement she has still not dealt with. Whilst in the attic one day, she discovers an empty Space Hopper box that somehow transports her to the 1970s and the chance to see her mother again – and again, and again. And to give any more away would spoil the book for you.
This book played with my heartstrings; it made me think “if only” many, many times. Written with such emotion, it deserves to be read by everyone that misses someone or something – even a pet – which has passed away. Now, where is my empty Space Hopper box?
Price: £14.99. Info: here
words CARL MARSH