Three shorter reviews for you today of three very contrasting books – a psychological thriller, a lovely non-fiction book and a word-of-mouth gem of a novel.
Dishonoured by Jem Tugwell
Tugwell has written two spec fiction crime novels, but turns his hand to a psycho thriller for his third book. Dishonoured follows the rise and fall of Dan, a self-made man with a top broking job in the city. As the book opens, he and his three partners are due to sign over their company which will get them £98M each in a year’s time, with £2M up front. The deal done, they go to celebrate. By the time he gets home though Dan’s life will be turned completely upside down and he’ll have a criminal record. It’s a set up – but who would want to destroy him?
His wife has locked him out, the keys to the Aston are inside, his kids can’t see their father. He’s sacked from the new company, locked out of his bank account. Could it get any worse? Well yes, there’s Gav and Tel to deal with on the community service work detail in his court sentence. But with the help of a hacker also doing her community service, Dan is determined to find out what happened, who is responsible and to clear his name.
This is a fast-moving thriller written in short chapters with twists and turns aplenty and an ‘I-didn’t-see-that-coming’ shock ending. It went so fast that I felt that some of the candidates on Dan’s list got let off very lightly, going on gut feeling after confrontation rather than any real depth of investigation. Although I didn’t like Dan per se, I appreciated how he looked out for homeless ex-soldier Jerry (just like the author wants us to 😀 ). I devoured this book in one sitting, an easy but thrilling read.
Source: Review copy – thank you. Jem Tugwell, Dishonoured (Serpentine Books, Jan 2021) paperback original, 262 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s.
The Secret Life of Books by Tom Mole
My father gave me this book for Christmas last year, so I read it over Christmas this year (as you do). It’s one of those lovely books about books that is full of insight, Mole being Professor of English Literature and Book History at Edinburgh, and it’s the latter part of his job title that informs this book. This book is not about literature, it’s about the book as an object in all the aspects you can thing of, from the beginning he encourages us to ‘focus on the ‘thingness’ of the book.’ From a treasured first edition to a cheap paperback, even to an e-book (To quote Conrad, “The horror! The horror!”), the format offers different reading experiences. I also learned early on from this book that a ‘codex’ is a bound book, not the coded device that Dan Brown used in the Da Vinci Code (OK, that was actually a ‘cryptex’, but my brain mis-remembered it). ‘What codex are you reading?’ Hmm!
In the second chapter, Mole looks at the Book / Self – ‘how books shape our identities and signal them to others’. He admits, like all bibliophiles to making a beeline to look at other people’s bookcases, and he gives us a super funny story involving the Queen…
A couple of years ago, I got a glimpse into another palace library. The Telegraph printed a photograph of the Queen welcoming the Governor General of Canada into the library at Balmoral, her Scottish residence. Comparisons with a photo taken in the same room in the 1970s revealed that the books on the shelves hadn’t moved in the intervening forty years. […] They serve their purpose nonetheless, providing a backdrop to civilised life and a suitable stage set for hosting visiting dignitaries.
In the chapter on technology, discussing e-books, he makes a real case for the print book (which of course as an object captures the carbon within it once manufactured) by looking at the environmental impact of making e-readers and e-books…
The data that makes up the e-books themselves, meanwhile, is stored in massive data centres requiring very large amounts of electricity, some of which is obtained by burning fossil fuels. Far from being immaterial things existing in the clouds, e-books and e-readers leave their own footprint upon the earth.
I could go on quoting at length from this lovely book, but instead will urge you to read it for yourself, it’s new out in paperback now. A book for book-lovers, it was irresistible to put down once I started reading. Just lovely.
Source: Own copy. Tom Mole, The Secret Life of Books (Elliot & Thompson, 2019) hardback, 230 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s in paperback.
Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession
This novel, published by Bluemoose Books in 2019, has become one of those quiet word-of-mouth hits that no-one has a bad word to say about. I finally read it after Christmas as a buddy read with Rebecca. Quite simply, it is the story of best friends, two single men in their thirties, quiet and unassuming, board game enthusiasts, happy to be in each others company.
As the novel starts, life is changing for both men. Leonard, who had lived at home with his mum has recently become an orphan, his evenings with Hungry Paul have become more important than ever. Hungry Paul never moved out either, living in idyllic happiness with his parents Helen and Pete – his sister Grace did move out though, and will be getting married soon, wedding plans are to the fore in their household. Leonard works as a writer of children’s encyclopedia entries, but as ghost writer: Hungry Paul has never had a full-time job, he works as a casual relief postman, but he’s happy. Grace knows that once she’s married, she won’t be able to look after Hungry Paul as much, she wishes he’d get a proper job, allowing their parents to live their own lives as a couple again.
There is a lovely bit near the beginning of the book, where Hungry Paul has to ask Leonard a tricky question regarding the wedding. He does it by a long-winded series of voicemail messages, of which the last goes:
So I, or we, were wondering whether you had any plans for a plus one, because I have already confirmed that I will be unaccompanied on the night concerned owing to a confluence of factors. and if you were in a similar situation then perhaps we could be each other’s plus ones, thereby freeing up two spots which I am assured would be made available to guests without whom the whole wedding would be, I think the word Grace used was ‘tense’. In the circumstances, and given that Grace has never asked me for anything, I’m inclined not to be difficult, so maybe you could think it over and call me back whenever you get the chance. I don’t want you to think–“beep”
As the book progresses, the wedding plans get even more complicated, Leonard is surprised to have feelings for a young woman he meets during a fire drill at work, and Hungry Paul has other challenges, not least of which is buying a new suit for the wedding. Shelley, Leonard’s love interest was lovely too, she reminded me a bit of Rosie from The Rosie Project. Will the pressure from all of these affect their friendship?
This novel is so touching, heart-warming and tender, yet always funny – again in a gentle way, and it’s very quotable – I had to restrain myself. You can’t help but feel for Leonard and Hungry Paul, I loved these guys so much right from the start. If you’re one of the few people who hasn’t yet read this book, you may wonder if Hungry Paul’s name is ever explained too, I couldn’t possibly comment.
Let’s hear it for the quiet ones!
Source: Own copy. Rónán Hession, Leonard and Hungry Paul (Bluemoose Books, 2019) paperback, 241 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s