If you’re facing increased Covid restrictions, a new book is the perfect way to wile away the weekends…
At Night All Blood Is Black is an extraordinarily powerful short novel by French Senegalese novelist David Diop, giving a voice to the Senegalese men who fought for France on the Western Front during World War I. After watching his close friend Mademba die slowly and painfully in no man’s land, Alfa absorbs the brutality of war and lets it consume him. Diop’s hypnotic prose traces Alfa’s journey into madness and grief, his mind whirring through the tumult of his life as a young boy with his mother, and as a young man with Mademba. We see the contrast of Alfa experiencing physical love, then inflicting pain on men behind enemy lines. Rooted in eternal friendship and the destructive impact of war, At Night All Blood Is Black is a tragic glimpse into what anguish and trauma can do to a young man’s mind.
(Review by Rebecca Wilcock)
Jonathan Coe’s comic novels – from What A Carve Up! to his Costa Prize-winning Middle England – have been steadily wooing readers for decades. His latest is the story of Calista, an Anglo-Greek film composer who faces a looming empty nest. In her latest composition, she reflects on Billy Wilder, the real-life Hollywood director who she briefly worked for as a young woman. We see Calista learn about cinema and fall in love, while Wilder relates episodes from his own career – including the film he made about the death camps, where he fears his mother died. His later films – like Sunset Boulevard and Some Like It Hot – took the business of entertainment as a moral duty, offering elegant tonics for mid-century despair. Mr Wilder And Me is an homage to a great director, a meditation on fame and posterity, and a slice of pure pleasure for our troubled times. It has all the wit, economy and grace of a Wilder movie.
(Review by Dan Brotzel)
Bridget Collins’ debut, The Binding, was an intriguing take on a world where books are mythic, dangerous, not to be trusted objects. The Betrayals holds books in similarly dark and confused regard. At its centre is a prestigious school, Montverre, and the grand jeu – a game of spiritual and emotional significance that’s never fully explained. Another game is being played out by Claire – who holds the highest office within the grand jeu – and Leo, a disgraced, exiled Government minister, who slowly circle one another, each haunted by a tragedy that still grips them. Largely enchanting, The Betrayals lacks when it comes to exploring the wider political landscape Montverre sits within. Books are being banned, Catholics hunted, women suppressed – but these aspects are merely touched on, and the richness their exploration could add is lost. It’s a curious and touching read, but it could do with a little more heft.
(Review by Ella Walker)
You might recognise award-winning actor Gabriel Byrne from movies like The Usual Suspects and Miller’s Crossing. He’s also a dab hand at writing, showcased in this excellent memoir. This isn’t the kind of autobiography that wants to chronicle milestones and lay testimony to a life lived in the limelight. Instead, Byrne jumps between anecdotes of growing up in Ireland and his life in Hollywood, teasing out themes and learnings along the way. His easy delivery, devoid of any self-consciousness, has the feel of a chat with an old friend, meandering through the past, present and future over a drink or two. His humour, sorrows and acceptance of life’s twists and turns, provide a bittersweet depth.
(Review by Nicole Whitton)
Children’s book of the week
Sally Nicholls, winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, is back with The Silent Stars Go By. Set just after World War I, it’s the story of Margot, whose fiancé has returned from war. She must now decide whether to expose the secret of their son James; born out of wedlock and being raised by Margot’s parents as their own. There are many issues at play: the pressures faced by unwed mothers, the quest for feminine identity, the grief of war and the search for purpose in life. Despite these heavy subjects, Nicholls’ tone is light and thrilling, keeping us wondering where Margot’s cards will fall. Details about the era are effortlessly wound into the narrative, providing a glimpse into a very different, if not too distant, life. It’s a consuming read, and will no doubt inspire conversations around weightier topics.
(Review by Nicole Whitton)
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