In January I read eight books, all of them fiction:
Shtum by Jem Lester (Orion Books) – Sure to be a big hit when it is published in April, Shtum is a wonderful, moving story of a family raising a young boy with autism. As he reaches his breaking point, Ben Jewell and his wife Emma fake a separation to try and further son Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal to decide his future. Ben and Jonah move in with Ben’s elderly father Georg resulting in three generations under one roof, and plenty of family stories to tell. It is a sad, yet beautiful and at times humorous story about fathers and sons and coping with the everyday challenges of living with autism.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Virago Books) – The first of Robinson’s Gilead trilogy, Gilead is a subtle, touching story in which an elderly reverend begins a letter to his son as he reaches the end of his life. It is a novel about life and death and everything in between. It explores faith, and how we cope with the challenges of getting older and facing death. Along the way we begin to learn more about the family’s history as the reverend recalls memories and stories from over the years. It is a relatively simple premise, but one that is beautifully written and moving.
Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume (Windmill Books) – Perhaps one of my favourite novels from recent years, Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a beautiful, poignant debut. It follows a year in the life of Ray, a lonely man who forms a remarkable relationship with One Eye, a former badger baiting dog that he adopts following a routine trip into town. Unfortunate events cause Ray and One Eye to hit the road where we begin to see the world as Ray sees it, a world he has shared with no-one else until now. An extraordinary tale of loneliness and the restorative power of companionship.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Faber & Faber) – Kingsolver’s much loved novel tells the story of an evangelical Baptist who moves his family to the Belgian Congo in 1959. Narrated by his wife and four daughters we see how they each adapt to their new life and all the challenges it brings. An interesting glimpse into a different culture and the impact the Western world had on it, it is a well written novel packed with detail.
The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb by David John Griffin (Urbane Publications) – A weird and wonderful gothic tale based in the sinister surroundings of Muchmarsh. Eleanor Stubb leaves a mental asylum where she was sent following delusions she had of her stillborn son, Alastair. On her arrival at the manor house, a frightening incident involving her father in law Theodore leads to the arrival of a second son called Alastair. Thirteen years later his life is overshadowed by his mother’s illness and all manner or disturbing goings on occur. It is an unusual, disturbing tale with a fascinating cast of characters.
The Shadow Hour by Kate Riordan (Penguin) – A wonderful , atmospheric novel about life at Fenix House and the secrets within it which connect two families across almost fifty years. Grace Fairford follows in the footsteps of her grandmother Harriet when she becomes a governess at Fenix House to the Pembridge family. On arrival it transpires that the stories Harriet passed on of her time at the house were not quite true. But why would she lie? It is a story that had me hooked from the opening page with numerous surprises along the way as secrets begin to emerge and the extraordinary history begins to unravel.
All The Birds In The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (Titan Books) – Unlike anything I’ve ever read before, Anders’ exciting debut novel is a story of two remarkable people that combines the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. Patricia is a witch who has the ability to talk to animals whilst Laurence is a scientist who invents a time machine in his bedroom. The pair gravitate towards one and other and form a friendship that resumes ten years later when there are events afoot that could spell disaster for the world. But will it be magic, or technology, or both to save the day? It is a surprising, unpredictable, imaginative debut.
Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter (Faber and Faber) – A beautiful portrayal of grief that is part novella, part fable. This is the story of a Dad and his boys as they struggle to come to terms with the loss of their mother. A crow visits them and threatens that he will not leave until they no longer need him anymore. With the narration alternating between that of the Dad, the boys and Crow we begin to watch this family slowly heal. Along the way it raises interesting points about how we deal with grief. It is both beautiful and moving, and dark and humorous. A remarkable book.
You can read full reviews of all of my January reads by clicking the links above and they can also be found in my January archive. Thanks for reading!