Last month was a bit crazy with college deadlines etc. I’ve condensed two months reviews into one!
The old cliche goes that truth is stranger than fiction, and no-one proves that better than journalist Jon Ronson. Like his broadcast contemporary Louis Theroux, Ronson searches out the weird, bizarre and marginalised fringes of society. Lost At Sea is a collection of his best magazine and newspaper features, featuring the much-derided hip-hop duo Insane Clown Posse, “Indigo” children and cruise ship psychics. Some of it has been overtaken by events; the piece on Jonathan King, a pop impresario who was convicted of abusing teenage boys, would be written very differently following the revelation of Jimmy Savile’s crimes. Allowing for the natural passage of time, the pieces are still fascinating. Ronson covers the Major Charles Ingram trial; the man who was convicted of deception following a suspicious coughing fit on ITV’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Our writer has a personal investment in this trial; he vaguely remembers Major Ingram’s in-laws causing scandal in Cardiff’s small Jewish community when he was around ten. If only Ronson and his mother could remember what exactly they did…
Ronson brings his wit and dry humour into his work, but that’s not to say there aren’t emotional and important articles here. The “Everyday Difficulties” section details the terrible impact that credit card debt is having on many ordinary British people, and what could drive a man to kill his family. Irish readers will also be interested in an interview with the Reverend George Exoo, who was wanted by Irish authorities after assisting in the suicide of Dublin woman Rosemary Toole.
Richard Ayoade is a director and actor, best known for his role in The IT Crowd as Maurice Moss. He’s also author of the surreal and hilarious Ayoade on Ayoade: A Cinematic Odyssey. The book is basically Ayoade (the journalist) interviewing Ayoade (the brilliant, vain artiste). Apart from that it defies description, but it’s full of gloriously silly humour. Plus I read the whole thing in his voice, which just made it even better.
The Silkworm is the second Cormoran Strike book by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling). While the first installment, The Cuckoo’s Calling, was a highly enjoyable mystery, the second is even better. This time around, private detective Strike is called to investigate the disappearance of the selfish and arrogant writer Owen Quine. Nobody’s worried about Quine, as he’s disappeared before, but when his mutilated corpse is found in an empty London house, Strike finds himself at the centre of a dangerous murder mystery. Rowling’s gift for plotting is evident again, and it’s a compulsive read.
Perhaps because April and May were such hectic months, I did spend a lot of time reading serial books. Another second installment I devoured was Moon Over Soho, the sequel to Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. This time PC Peter Grant has to investigate a series of strange magical deaths affecting jazz musicians, and there’s also a lady with vagina dentata prowling London’s clubs. This is personal for Peter, as his father is a famous jazz musician. A bit less rollicking than Rivers of London, this tale captures the seedy underbelly of London’s past, as befitting a book centred on Soho. There’s also a rather heartbreaking callback to the Blitz, but to say more would spoil the end. I’m officially addicted to these books, and I have the next installment, Whispers Underground, ready to go.
Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series don’t necessarily need to be read in order (which is a good thing, as I’m not doing so), but When Will There Be Good News? is a must read. I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering how some people get up in the morning; those whose families who have been killed, or lost children in terrible circumstances. This book is all about those kind of people. Joanna Mason was only six when a madman cut down her mother and siblings on a quiet country lane; decades later, she is married and living in Edinburgh with her husband and baby. Sixteen year old Reggie babysits for the family; her father was killed in the Gulf War and her beloved mother drowned on holiday in Spain. Jackson Brodie, a private detective, comes crashing (literally) into Reggie’s life. Reggie is worried; the man who killed Joanna’s family is out, and she has disappeared with her child.
Despite the constant death, the novel is in no way depressing. Atkinson’s gallows humour lifts it from misery porn, and the end is oddly uplifting. When Will There Be Good News? shows us exactly how those faced with unimaginable pain and tragedy get up in the morning; with fortitude and courage.
Lastly, I raced through The Girls At The Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine. This is a retelling of the old Grimm fairytale The Twelve Dancing Princesses, set in 1920s New York. The Hamilton sisters are kept under lock and key by their cruel father. He wanted a son, and kept trying until their mother was worn out by childbirth and died. The girls are his shame, and they are not allowed to go to school, or anywhere. But the eldest, Jo, or The General as her sisters nickname her, sneaks them out for dancing at speakeasies.
In the original tale the sisters are the villains, but they’re very much the heroines here. We spend the most time with Jo, but the narration is dreamy and fairy-tale like, which can create a disconnected effect. It’s a beautiful book, capturing the magic of the Jazz Age and the promise of freedom.