Let me introduce you to three books I particularly enjoyed reading back in 2006 …
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Life in a travelling circus was hard, and when anything happened to upset the equilibrium it became brutal, as this well-researched novel details. These crises come one after the other here making this book a real page turner.
Set against the ‘show must go on’ gloss of the ring, there is a rigid division between performers and working men – they shouldn’t mix, but do once our hero and young vet Jacob jumps the train. Although he didn’t finish his training, he got hired to look after the animals.
The novel is told through the eyes of the old Jacob who at 93 is spurred into action when a circus comes to town and pitches the big top opposite his old people’s home. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and really felt for the characters, particularly Walter the dwarf clown who befriends Jacob, and of course, Rosie the elephant.
Every Man For himself by Beryl Bainbridge
This novel is a masterpiece, and infinitely more rewarding than the film ‘Titanic‘ with which it shares its subject matter. The fateful voyage is seen through the eyes of Morgan, a rich, young man related to the owner of the shipping line. Concentrating mainly on the first class passengers, to which set Morgan belongs, it paints a portrait of an insular group with an impressive array of vices.
The title of the novel says it all – “Every man for himself” – and there is plenty of selfishness, silliness and snobbery on display here. However Morgan is basically a decent young chap, and does his best to look out for his friends as the disaster unfolds its course; ultimately he manages to save himself too. This is not a long novel, nor does it need to be, as every word has its place.
Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre
A truly excellent first novel and high-octane crime thriller. Imagine Quentin Tarantino relocated to Scotland and crossed with Iain Banks and you’ll get the picture.
Consequently, the novel is extremely violent and moves at an unputdownable pace as well as making you laugh out loud all the way. The dialogue is tremendous and involves you right from the very first two words of the book, (which are totally unrepeatable here – you have been warned!).
I’ve since read several other Brookmyres and they’ve yet to disappoint. The Sacred Art of Stealing – is my favourite of his so far. It features a central romance between a bank-robber and a cop and nods towards Elmore Leonard’s magnificent Out of Sight (remember George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in the film – both never better).