My aim on this blog has always been to write at least a little about every book I read whether I loved them or DNF them. But, just occasionally, I read and love a book, but can’t find the hook to base my review on right away and the books then sit there waiting for my inspiration. Eventually that turns to guilt on my part and I don’t review the books at all. I have three such titles languishing on my review pile – all of which were destined for a longer form Shiny review. They are all such cracking good reads that deserve sharing, so here they are.
Iron Curtain by Vesna Goldsworthy
Vesna Goldsworthy’s previous two books each took a classic as inspiration and then did something comptemporary with them: Gorsky transferred Fitzgerald’s Gatsby to wannabe Russian oligarchs in London, and Monsieur Ka was a kind of modern-day sequel to Anna Karenina, again set in London. Her third novel doesn’t have an obvious antecedent, evocatively subtitled ‘A Love Story’, Iron Curtain isn’t exactly the romance you might expect! We begin at the fall of the Berlin Wall, a British poet is receiving a major prize there and dedicating it to his two sons.
He stared into the TV camera as though straight into my eyes. His hair was tamed in a smart cut and his Nehru jacket was too obviously bespoke to be borrowed., but he seemed unchanged otherwise, every centimetre his dishonest self, spooling out cliches unworthy of the award he was about to receive.
I used to love this man. […]
I switched the television off.
As you can imagine, we then go back to when Milena met Jason. It’s the 1980s at the height of the Cold War. Milena is a ‘Red Princess’ living in a Soviet Satellite state. She can have everything she wants within her limited freedom, but when she meets Jason, they fall in lovelust and she’s soon plotting her defection to London. Life there in a nasty rented flat and with little money is not up to scratch, and Jason, of course, will father two sons and philander his way around the world over the course of their deteriorating relationship. But, as Cole Porter’s song went, ‘My heart belongs to Daddy’ – not a sugar daddy in Milena’s case, but her father who has had an eye kept on her all along in case she should wish to return home.
I particularly enjoyed the early chapters where Milena and her best friend MIsha live it up in Moscow, but Misha has to do national service and it breaks him. What happens afterwards is a reaction to Misha’s fate and Milena’s coming of age. Goldsworthy’s protagonist is a sparky young woman who gets to experience life with and without privilege, pushing her way through grief, love and betrayal. Her prose is always interesting and elegant and her dissection of the contrasts between life in the East and West, makes for a fascinating human drama. I love all her books and adored this one.
Source: Review copy – Thank you! Chatto & Windus hardback, 304 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P) )
Children of Paradise by Camilla Grudova
The Canadian author’s first novel, after an acclaimed set of short stories, follows the crew of the Paradise, one of the unnamed city’s oldest independent cinemas. Grudova now lives in Edinburgh, where she is an usherette – so the reader can be sure she knows what she’s talking about! This is how the novel opens:
The Paradise cinema had a gaudy interior and a pervasive smell of sweet popcorn and mildew. […]
I would’ve passed the Paradise without looking if it weren’t for the handwritten ‘We’re Hiring’ sign on its big dusty glass doors. I had just arrived in the city, and in the country, by train, and needed a job.
The films the cinema programmes are mainly arthouse, foreign, or retro, and the cinema itself is in need of doing up, and its staff are a team of oddballs, steeped in film school lore – or not, and Holly will have to earn their respect to be accepted as a colleague, and admitted to the after work scene. As is so often the case these days, the future of the Paradise is not assured, and drama will ensue.
To describe Grudova’s prose and characters, I’d direct you to a mix of Nicola Barker’s wit from I am Sovereign combined with Lydia Yuknavitch’s unflinching world view in The Chronology of Water, and add a bit of the warped team aesthetic of Hanna Bervoets’ We Had to Remove This Post and you’ll find something close. It’s in-yer-face, but at its heart it is full of love for old movies – each chapter is headed with a classic movie title, which alludes to the themes within. A great discovery, I will surely read more by Grudova.
Source: Review copy – Thank you! Atlantic Books, hardback 436 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)
Two Nights in Lisbon by Chris Pavone
I first read one of Pavone’s earlier thrillers back in 2016, really enjoying The Travelers, which I’d class as a reluctant spy and fish out of water type. Sadly, although I know I enjoyed it from reading my review, I can’t remember anything about it which, given its apparent labyrinthine plot is probably not surprising.
Two Nights in Lisbon is more of the same in a way. A few months on from reading it I can hardly remember anything about it, but know I loved it at the time – which is probably no bad thing.
The little I remember is that a woman wakes up in a Lisbon hotel to find her husband gone and he appears to be uncontactable – his phone isn’t there, but everything else, passport etc is still in their room. Eventually Ariel Price contacts hotel security, then the police who aren’t really bothered at first, then the US embassy. Why were they in Lisbon? She was ostensibly accompanying him on his business trip for a holiday – recent newly-weds, she is still getting to know her new, second husband, John.
Obviously something fishy is going on. Is it spies? Is it gangsters? Is it John, or is it Ariel, or are both involved? 435 pages later of twists and double-crosses and a convoluted plot, and some – we find out. I remember being fairly gobsmacked at the outcome, but can’t remember what it was! That’s not to say that the book wasn’t engaging, because it really was, it just hasn’t stayed with me.