I know it doesn’t count for much Lucy said, but at least it’s a beautiful night.
—Glen Duncan ‘By Blood We Live’, said to be the perfect eulogy
Dark, brooding, bloody… Jo Nesbo’s writing and Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Could be the perfect combination.
This is the strange news that Hogarth Shakespeare, a major international publishing initiative across the Penguin Random House Group has commissioned the crime writer Jo Nesbo to re-tell the story of Macbeth as he sees fit.
Jo says: ‘Macbeth is a story that is close to my heart because it tackles topics I’ve been dealing with since I started writing. A main character who has the moral code and the corrupted mind, the personal strength and the emotional weakness, the ambition and the doubts to go either way. A thriller about the struggle for power, set both in a gloomy, stormy crime noir-like setting and in a dark, paranoid human mind. No, it does not feel too far from home. And, yes, it is a great story. And, no, I will not attempt to do justice to William Shakespeare nor the story. I will simply take what I find of use and write my own story. And, yes, I will have the nerve to call it Macbeth.’
I am already looking forward to reading it.
The tale of a young British actress asked to spy on the wives of the top ranking Nazi officials, Black Roses by Jane Thynne is a truly inspired novel.
Aspiring actress Clara Vine leaves London in 1933 to play a part in a German film called Black Roses. Nazi officials take over the running of the film studios and she finds herself at their parties and being introduced to their wives. Magda Goebbels is setting up a fashion bureau and asks Clara to model. Clara meets undercover British intelligence worker Leo Quinn who asks her to feed him information on the habits of her new friends.
Thynne excellently mixes real facts that seem utterly unbelievable with her own fictional embellishments. Clara Vine is an excellent invention and a character of true substance and moral fibre who guides the reader through Berlin life with almost twenty first century attitudes.
Black Roses is a joy to read with a real sense of thrill. Thynne keeps you forever on the edge, fearing for the safety of the characters as if you really could sense the fear of the German people at this time when storm troopers patrolled the streets.
Thynne plays with the sense of paranoia of the average German citizen letting it seep into Clara’s life as she becomes a spy constantly worried that she is being watched or followed.
Black Roses treads carefully through Nazi Germany showing both the monstrous side of Nazism and the basic humanity of some of the party’s members. There is an unusual vulnerability there and it makes a fair representation of that society as a whole.
The relationship between Clara and Leo develops nicely as they begin to fall for each other slowly. Thynne avoids the cliché of a great war time romance by letting it develop at it’s own pace and both characters keeping their strength and independence.
This book is exciting, heartfelt and always on the edge. It captures the romance and luxury of the city and carries the reader on Clara’s wave of enthusiasm for life and for the charms of Berlin. It oozes the glamour and excesses of high society and emphasises the ability to take whatever you want if you are prepared to pay the price.
This is Jane Thynne’s fourth novel and the first in a planned trilogy featuring Clara Vine. The next book, The Winter Garden, is set to be published later this month.
A telling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from the servants Hall, Jo Baker’s Longbourn is an intriguing new take on a well known classic.
Longbourn is the home of the Bennett family and the setting of this novel. Mr and Mrs Hill, the housekeeper and butler, have helped to raise Sarah the maid who they took from the workhouse as a child. Another young servant comes to work at Longbourne and after a fraught beginning the two fall in love but it is only a matter of time before James’s dark past means he is forced to leave again.
Longbourn can be easily divided into two sections, first where the lives of those above stairs rule the plot and the second, longer section which becomes a story in it’s own right. Baker deals well with keeping the upstairs characters as readers of Pride and Prejudice would expect them to be. There are also new and interesting character developments occurring such as Wickham who appears to wish to ruin James and the other maid Polly simply for the pleasure of it.
However, other characters such as Mr Bennett and Mr Hill change beyond all recognition for what seems to be only to produce a twist or a shock in the reader.
Jo’s prose style feels natural and she easily takes you with her to the house and grounds. She quickly establishes a warm friendliness between characters, particularly Sarah, Mrs Hill and Polly which pulls the reader in as well. These women have formed their own family downstairs and are protectively fond of each other.
The relationship between Sarah and James is touching and beautifully mirrors the fraught relations between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy upstairs. Baker frequently illustrates that the temptations are just the same upstairs as down and that they are all as equally likely to succumb to them.
Longbourn is full of twists and turns, some of them fairly obvious and some more inventive but it does not disappoint. It is just as good a read whether you already know the characters or not. It compliments Austen’s work and it is also a well written novel in it’s own right.
On a personal note I am thrilled to see Jo getting such recognition and praise for her writing as she has been for Longbourne because she was one of my creative writing tutors at Lancaster University and a thoroughly nice and talented lady.
A young adult thriller with gothic overtones, Vengeance by Megan Miranda is an intriguing mix of the supernatural and human killer instinct.
Schoolboy Decker pulls his girlfriend, Delaney, out from a frozen lake and makes a deal. ‘Anyone but her. Everyone but her.’ She survives after eleven minutes under the ice but soon other people begin to die as if the lake is claiming them in her place.
This book drips gothic with it’s supernatural feel and cursed lake. No-one is quite what they seem and everyone is harbouring a dark secret. Delaney even develops the power to sense when someone is dying which leads to huge rifts between characters and threatens to split her from Decker for good.
The book provides a clever and at times entertaining narrative. It is an intriguing who or what dunnit and has depth as a novel when Miranda explores how this close group of friends deal with losing each other.
Vengeance has a strong set of secondary characters in the form of Decker and Delaney’s school friends. Living in a small town they have known each other since childhood and are fiercely protective of each other. Miranda does well to give them all their own distinct personalities and not to let them blend into the category of generic friends.
The descriptions of the deep hole of loss that the death of Carson, Decker’s best friend who dies before this novel begins, has left on the group is both touching and a constant reminder throughout that death is all too close for this group of young people.
The small town setting is so essential for the atmosphere of the book. It creates a real them and us between the outsiders who enter the town and the residents. It gives the novel it’s creepy edge as people can be shown as something ‘other’.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book from start to finish but it did seem to lose it’s way a little in the middle when the plot of the cursed lake is sidelined for a look at whether Decker and Delaney’s relationship can survive the events of the novel. This goes on for ever so slightly too long but is worth ploughing through.
This novel is officially for young adults but can be enjoyed by anyone. It is also a sequel to Miranda’s earlier novel, Fracture, but you do not have to have read that to appreciate Vengeance.
This book is an enjoyable and often funny read that offers up just the right amount of darkness and hope for the future. It is well written and suggests a successful writing career to come.
Vengeance is available in the UK from 13th February and is also available in the US.
One year, three months and 141 job applications later and someone has finally offered me a job in publishing
It’s been a long wait and taken some hard work but I can finally say that I work in publishing.
It’s fair to say that there have been a lot of ups and downs in my search for a publishing job and I have been admittedly lucky in the mean time and had a wonderful ten months working in a library (a job which I will now be keeping on a Saturday by way of saying thank you to the wonderful library ladies who would employ me when it felt like no-one else would.) But publishing has seemed to me for the past few years, as it does for many literature graduates, like a dream job. So being offered a job as a Digital Editorial Assitant was of course a big moment. Did I feel a sense of joy and relief at no longer having to search for jobs? No, quite frankly my initial reaction was terror. Thankfully I had a few weeks over Christmas to get used to the idea before I started.
Now I have finished my first month in publishing and it is definately for me. I have done all kinds of strange things already. I have built interactive workbooks, tested apps for the Brazilian market and even witnessed the introduction of office slippers to be worn daily for the comfort of all staff.
It is really hard to get into publishing, I know. I was lucky. So really what I want to say is that if you are trying to break your way into the industry as well, my advice is to keep going. It may seem sometimes like however much you do you’ll never get there but if you keep trying, it really will happen. Don’t give up because what you just might end up with really is worth it.
Darragh McKeon’s All That Is Solid Melts Into Air - due for publication 6th March
Darragh McKeon’s All That Is Solid Melts Into Air is a moving tale of the aftermath ofChernobyl.
The novel follows a doctor sent to clear up the disaster zone, a young piano prodigy and his aunt and a boy whose family is evacuated from a nearby farm. All are dealing in their own ways with the sheer scale of the disaster and the oppression of the government where even mentioning that there is a problem could have you arrested.
The story starts a little slowly as it jumps around from character to character but soon it becomes obvious that they are all connected and the novel really takes off. McKeon’s book excellently shows how unprepared the government was for such a disaster. There was no plan for if things went wrong and even once it has the majority of people seem to have no concept of how much danger they are in. The doctor, Grigory, provides an insight into the situation for characters and readers alike with his expert eye as he does his best to lead the clear up operation.
Grigory is a steadying force in the book, a surgeon who remains calm at times of great stress. He pours himself into helping the victims of the disaster and pays the price for doing so. His romance with his ex-wife Maria breaks up the story and brings hope of a brighter future as well as a tinged sadness of a love that has been lost.
Maria, the aunt of the piano prodigy, epitomizes the waste present in the novel. A bright young woman who wishes to teach at the university but who has been forced to work in a factory. But it is only through her and her sister’s sacrifices that Yevgeni can be the shining light who will escape to something better. His music is his way out but only through sacrifice will he make it.
Families are ruthlessly destroyed in this book. Very few fathers make it to the end of the book and sisters shut each other out. Families are held in compounds alarmingly similar to concentration camps and treated with appalling indignities. Artyom loses his father in the most horrible and graphic way to radiation poisoning but is shielded from the very worst of it by his mother.
This is not a happy book but nor is it miserable. McKeon seems to know the moments when his readers need pulling away from the distress and he provides gestures of basic human kindness that blow you away.
This novel is a comment on society as much as it is about a particular disaster. It leads to wider questions about how our own culture might deal with such an event. Would we really be any different when it actually came down to it? Whatever we may feel McKeon provides an authoritative air throughout, his research clearly showing.
This book can move a reader to tears and horrify them but it also leaves a feeling of the basic goodness of people even though that seems to have been lost in some places in the story. The imagery is vivid and there are some images from this novel that I know I will never forget.
This book is brilliantly written, moving and provides a small glimmering suggestion that even in times of disaster there is still hope and the chance of something better.
I have been extremely lucky to get to read this before the publication date. I actually had it in October last year but the official publication date is 6th March.
Darragh McKeon talking about his upcoming book for Waterstones at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival