To Be Read

*Next book to be read
*How to Build a Boat (Elaine Feeney)
The Stranger’s Child (Alan Hollinghurst)

Martyr! (Kaveh Akbar) Published 2024 
Cyrus Shams is a young man grappling with an inheritance of violence and loss. His mother’s plane was shot down over the skies of the Persian Gulf in a senseless accident and his father’s life in America was circumscribed by his work killing chickens at a factory farm in the midwest. Cyrus is a drunk, an addict and a poet, whose obsession with martyrs leads him to examine the mysteries of his past – towards an uncle who rode through Iranian battlefields dressed as the angel of death to inspire and comfort the dying, and towards his mother, through a painting discovered in a Brooklyn art gallery that suggests she may not have been who or what she seemed.

I, the Divine (Rabih Alameddine) Published 2001 
Named by her grandfather after the ‘divine’ Sarah Bernhardt, red-haired Sarah Nour El-Din is feisty, rebellious, individualistic – a person determined to make of her life a work of art. In I, the Divine she tries to tell her story, sometimes casting it as a memoir, sometimes a novel, full of sly humour and dark realism, always beguilingly incomplete. 

Lucky Jim (Kingsley Amis) Published 1954 
Regarded by many as the finest, and funniest, comic novel of the twentieth century, this is the story of Jim Dixon, a hapless lecturer in medieval history at a provincial university who knows better than most that ‘there was no end to the ways in which nice things are nicer than nasty ones’. Amis’s presents a gallery of English bores, cranks, frauds and neurotics with whom Dixon must contend in order to hold on to his cushy academic perch and win the girl of his fancy. 

So He Takes the Dog (Jonathan Buckley) Published 2006 
On a beach in southern England, a dog returns to its owner with a human hand in its mouth. The hand belongs to Henry, a homeless eccentric who has been wandering the south-west of England for the last thirty years, most recently living rough in the town. A local policeman and his accomplice, in piecing together his movements prior to his death, uncover an extraordinary life, but their investigations also shed light on the town itself. The story of Henry and those who tell it begins to affect the narrator-policeman’s own life in ways he never expected.

The Harpole Report (J.L. Carr) Published 1972
George Harpole is the acting head of a primary school. Determined to climb the career ladder, he is none the less hampered by his honesty and fair-mindedness – and his fellow teachers. This entertaining story is told through a stream of log books, notes, letters and memos.

Nights at the Circus (Angela Carter) Published 1984 
Courted by the Prince of Wales and painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, Sophie Fevvers is an aerialiste extraordinaire and star of Colonel Kearney’s circus. She is also part woman, part swan. Jack Walser, an American journalist, is on a quest to discover the truth behind her identity. Dazzled by his love for her, and desperate for the scoop of a lifetime, Walser has no choice but to join the circus on its magical tour through turn-of-the-nineteenth-century London, St Petersburg and Siberia. 

Small Country (Gaëlle Faye) Published 2016 
Set amidst the beautiful scenery of Africa and based on a dark chapter in Burundi’s history, Small Country – which won France’s most prestigious literary award – is a powerful, important story about family, cultural differences, and war. Gaby is a boy of ten living in Burundi with his French father and Rwandan mother. The book is a beautiful but harrowing tale of coming-of-age in the face of civil war.  

How to Build a Boat (Elaine Feeney) [Dec 2023] First published 2023
This is the story of how one boy and his mission transforms the lives of his teachers, Tess and Tadhg, and brings together a community. It is about love, family and connection, the power of imagination, and how our greatest adventures never happen alone.

Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons) [Sep 2023] Published 1932
Flora Poste, orphaned at 19 when her parents are both carried off by the 1919 Spanish flu epidemic, is penniless. Her only option is to throw herself on the charity of her remote Sussex relatives, the Starkadders – Judith, her preacher husband Amos, their sons Seth and Reuben, several other cousins (Harkaway, Urk, Ezra, and Caraway) including the dominant matriarchal figure of aunt Ada Doom – all living, or partly living, in Cold Comfort Farm, Howling, Sussex. 

The Stranger’s Child (Alan Hollinghurst) [Oct 2023] First published 2011
A minor poet, Cecil Valance, visits a Cambridge friend in 1913, in Stanmore, Middlesex. There, he writes a poem that goes on to become famous. The novel charts the progress of the poem’s reputation over the decades and also follows the lives of those who were present at that visit and their ancestors.

The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho (Paterson Joseph) Published 2022 
Actor Paterson Joseph’s debut novel, chronicling the life of the first Black man to vote in Britain, began life as a one-man play. It opens in 1775 with Charles Ignatius Sancho declaring his intent to revisit his diaries and set down his life for his son, Billy. Sancho is born and orphaned in 1729 on board a slave ship. On returning home, his master gifts the small boy to three maiden aunts in Greenwich, who treat him like a pet. The story ignites with his description of Sancho’s short-lived attempts to tread the boards as Othello.

Demon Copperhead (Barbara Kingsolver) [Oct 2023] Published 2022
This was inspired by Dickens’ novel David Copperfield. Damon Fields is born to a teenage mother in a trailer home. He is raised in the Appalachian Mountains and nicknamed Demon Copperhead for the colour of his hair and his attitude. Demon must use his charms and wit to survive poverty in the American South.

Death and the Penguin (Andrey Kurkov) Published 1996 in Russian, 2001 in English 
The novel follows the life of a young aspiring writer, Viktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov, in a struggling post-Soviet society. Viktor, initially aiming to write novels, gets a job writing obituaries for a local newspaper. The source of the title is Viktor’s pet penguin Misha, a king penguin obtained after the local zoo in Kyiv gave away its animals to those who could afford to support them. Kurkov uses Misha as a sort of mirror of (and eventual source of salvation for) Viktor.

Harsh Times (Mario Vargas Llosa) Published 2019 
The novel portrays the ins and outs of the military coup that, in 1954, ended the government of Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala and elevated Carlos Castillo Armas to the presidency of the country. With a mixture of real and fictitious characters, it reveals the power of manipulation and its capacity to direct public opinion and turn lies into truth.

Mating (Norman Rush) Published 1991 
This is a first-person narrative by an unnamed American anthropology graduate student in Botswana around 1980. It focuses on her relationship with Nelson Denoon, a controversial American social scientist who has founded an experimental matriarchal village in the Kalahari Desert. 

The Mountain Lion (Jean Stafford) Published 1947 
Eight-year-old Molly and her ten-year-old brother Ralph are inseparable. One summer they are sent from the Los Angeles suburb they call home to backwoods Colorado, where their uncle Claude has a ranch. This is a haunting, unnerving portrayal of a close but volatile brother–sister relationship, laced with an undercurrent of menace as adolescence beckons on the horizon.

Decline and Fall (Evelyn Waugh) Published 1928 
This is a social satire based on Waugh’s own experiences as a teacher. The protagonist, Paul Pennyfeather, accepts passively all that befalls him. Expelled for indecent behaviour from Scone College, Oxford, he becomes a teacher.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (Gabrielle Zevin) [Oct 2023] Published 2022
Taking place over 30 years, this novel examines the nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play and our need to connect and to be loved.

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