Reading for pleasure
This month's selection of leisure reading chosen by the Journal's Book Review Editor
22 Britannia Road
Amanda Hodgkinson (Penguin: £7.99; e-book £3.99)
Polish couple Janusz and Silvana Nowak and their young son Aurek are separated by the outbreak of World War II. When they are reunited after six eventful years, they find it difficult to reconnect with each other. Each is haunted by a troubled past that they cannot share, yet if they are to build a life together in a new country, they have to understand and forgive each other.
This is a well written, pacy first novel which is easy to read, yet difficult to forget. Though meticulously researched, the author has managed to convey the spirit of the times without resorting to pages of unnecessary detail and modern anachronisms. The plot is character driven, and moves between the couple’s new home in post war Ipswich (the 22 Britannia Road of the title) and episodes from their past lives. Together these move the story forward to a climax which is as moving as it is believable. On this showing, Amanda Hodgkinson is definitely an author to watch.
The Eyes of Lira Kazan
Eva Joly and Judith Perrignon (Bitter Lemon Press: £8.99; e-book pre-order £6.40)
This is the first novel of Eva Joly, a French judge specialising in anti-corruption cases. It was first published in 2011, the year before she took part in the French presidential race. Her co-author, Judith Perrignon, is a journalist, writer and novelist. Not entirely surprisingly, one of the main characters is a fearless French judge, investigating international corruption. The eponymous heroine is a fearless Russian journalist involved in the same field. Their paths intertwine through characters and incidents in the Cote d’Azur, Nigeria and the Faroe Islands. From a legal point of view there is some interest in the insight into the very different role of the judge as investigator on the continent. Beyond that, this is not an inspired entry into the genre. The characters are fairly flat. The plot does move along at a fair pace, but the denouement lacks credibility. OK for your last day on the beach or at the pool, when you’ve finished all the good stuff.
The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life
William Nicholson (Quercus: £7.99; e-book £5.22)
The story opens with Laura, married to Henry with two children, receiving a letter from her first love while at university 20 years previously, when she "liked it better before it was better", as "again and again her fragile equilibrium was rocked by some chance encounter of her lost happiness". Diligent, intelligent Henry, a director and script writer of TV documentaries, is frustrated at work and reflects on whether he has the type of life he wanted, in particular as he seeks another financial handout from Laura's wealthy father. Their son Jack is forced for want of acceptance to mix with a bad lot at school, while Alan, the drama teacher, struggles to get his work produced. Rev Miles Salmon has lost his faith but is kindness itself, providing comfort to his parishioners, until he too needs it.
This is a beautifully written story of a snapshot in the week of largely middle class life in the South Downs, where with unnerving insight and with the most graceful of touches, Nicholson captures the tensions between town and country, family life and work, family dynamics, lost, present and future relationships, and love.
Summer with my sister
Lucy Diamond (Pan Books: £7.99; e-book £3.67)
Polly and Clare are sisters who have grown apart as they have grown up. Polly has made her way in the high financial dealings of the City, while Clare has remained in the same town, bringing up her family. Their lives diverge until unexpected circumstances bring them back together. Over the course of a summer they each confront their troubles and emerge as better people for it. The characters are very credible and many of the scenarios will strike a chord. Sometimes it is good to go back to where we started off, and to be open to change and new opportunities. As a summer read, it’s a sound option whether the sun is shining or the rain is lashing down.
Keeping up with the Germans: A History of Anglo German Encounters
(Faber and Faber: £12.99; ebook £7.59)
In 1996 at the age of 15, Philip Oltermann moved with his parents to live in Mortake. Drawing on his experience, Oltermann compares and contrasts the approach of the British with that of the Germans over eight encounters from football, humour and culture. Oltermann has a sharp eye and sharper wit; illuminating the varying approaches to life such as to car building, the VW Beetle and the Mini in the UK, he writes: "The Germans had become very good at putting together their poorly thought out car, while the British had become very poor at putting their ingenious design into action."
Anyone who has ever spent New Year in Germany will have observed the almost national obsession with the hilarious "Dinner for One", which appeals to German humour and UK music hall but never aired on UK TV. On German language structure, he beautifully describes the joy of that language where a sentence has subclauses and eventually turns back in on itself! Oltermann offers an illuminating insight to the German character that helps explain why Germany has an export market in manufacturing second only to China, the largest per capita level of savings, and cautious investors placing Germany (and Frau Merkel) as the drivers of the EU economy.