I binge-read this beautiful book in 24 hours and wished I’d paced myself a bit more, it’s definitely one to linger over. Bitter tells the story of Gilda, a mother who is desperate to repair her relationship with her grown up son, Reuben. When Reuben marries Alice, claiming at their wedding that she ‘taught him how to love’, it triggers the beginnings of a dangerous obsession in Gilda. She wants to know everything about her beautiful, blonde daughter in law and soon her casual snooping on her son and his new wife tips over into something more sinister. In Gilda Francesca Jakobi has created a character who is jealous, snobbish and judgemental at times and who makes some seriously questionable decisions in the course of the story; yet she is also funny and vulnerable and the reader is completely on her side. I love character complexity of this sort.
The story flits effortlessly between the present day (in the late sixties) and Gilda’s marriage as a young, unhappy Jewish wife during the second world war. It’s a mark of such great writing that both timelines are completely absorbing. As the story gathers pace and secrets from the past are revealed, you desperately hope that Gilda will earn the love of her cold and distant son.
Jakobi examines the fragility of the parent child relationship, the foolish mistakes which can cause lifelong scarring on both sides. It’s a powerful, heartbreaking, unputdownable read that stays in the mind and Gilda is set to become one of literature’s most memorable characters. Perfect for fans of Maggie O Farrell or Zoe Heller. I absolutely loved it. Anatomy of a Scandal
Sarah Vaughan wrote Anatomy of a Scandal, where a high ranking Tory MP stands accused of assault, before the shocking Harvey Weinstein revelations and the ensuing global sexual harassment scandals, including various Westminster MPs. By the time the novel was published in January, it was almost insanely topical. That aside this is a brilliant, gripping and complex story. There are three main voices – James Whitehouse, the handsome, old Etonian junior cabinet minister, his besotted wife Sophie and Kate, the barrister who is prosecuting him. Part courtroom drama, part thriller Anatomy of a Scandal never loses its pace and sweeps the reader up into a world of privilege and power, with the inner workings of Westminster under scrutiny. Vaughan, a former journalist, worked as a court reporter and the authenticity of the story sets it apart.The novel flits skilfully between the present day and two decades previously where Sophie and James were at Oxford. James is a member of the elite but spoiled and utterly puerile Libertines, a dining club loosely based on the Bullingdon Club (of Johnson and Cameron fame) - their exploits are cringeworthy and hard to read at times but all too believable. This is a fantastic, timely and fast paced read. Fans of Apple Tree Yard will love it. The Lido
There’s been a lot of talk about The Lido which publishes this week and has been predicted to be one of the biggest debuts of the year. It tells the story of an unlikely friendship between unhappy, lonely reporter Kate, 26, and Rosemary, 86, who has lived in Brixton all her life and their fight to stop the local Lido from being turned into a private gym for a block of luxury flats. It’s a heartwarming David v Goliath tale of friendship and community that has the reader rooting for protagonists Kate and Rosemary all the way through.
But there are deeper themes here, skilfully handled by author Libby Page, which stay in the mind. With Rosemary, Page captures perfectly the dichotomy of old age, the pleasure of reflecting on a life lived with love, the enduring sadness of loss and change and the slow erosion of physicality. Through Kate’s character she tackles the loneliness of life a big city, the feeling of shame that arises from being a young twentysomething who is not enjoying the ‘best years of her life’ – in fact, the opposite is true. Depression amongst young people is more prevalent than ever and Page describes Kate’s panic attacks with real authenticity. Generally though this is a feel good, upbeat tale and, to me, reminiscent of Kit de Waal’s My Name is Leon, both have a strong sense of place and supporting cast of local characters. It cries out to be made into a film – good news, then, that one is already underway. Touching, life affirming and a salve amidst the gloom of modern politics. My Absolute Darling
This book blew my mind, it’s quite unlike anything else you’ll read this year. It tells the story of Turtle, a whip-smart, gun-toting 14 year old living in the wilderness of northern California with her adoring, if psychotic father. Martin thinks the end of the world is coming and has trained Turtle to be a crack shot survivalist – from catching eels with her bare hands to shooting, skinning and frying up a rabbit, there is nothing she can’t do. It’s an abusive love, though, and very hard to read at times – in that sense this book reminded me of A Little Life – but what Tallent brilliantly portrays is the confusion of a young girl who loves her father and struggles to understand the malevolence of his ways. It’s only when she meets and falls in love with Jacob, a regular, surfing Mendocino teenager with parents who converse around the dinner table and offer sips of their expensive wine, that Turtle starts to perceive the raw, strangeness of her home life. Half way through the book turns thriller as Turtle gears herself up to distance herself from her father’s toxic love and it becomes impossible to stop reading. The writing is extraordinary, lyrical, poetic and energetic in a way that transcends the brutality of the story. It’s an utterly compelling and heartbreaking tale. I thought about Turtle for weeks afterwards.The Woman in the Window
Described as the Girl on the Train meets Hitchcock’s Rear Window, this much talked about bestseller 100% lives up to its hype. The story centres around an agoraphobic, drunken, pill popping child psychologist called Anna Fox, who is funny and tragic by turn and the perfect unreliable narrator. Estranged from her husband and daughter and too frightened to set foot outside, Anna spies on the wealthy neighbours in her street of brownstones, self soothing herself with huge glasses of expensive Merlot throughout the day. She becomes obsessed with the new family living across the park and one day she hears a bloodcurdling scream and is convinced she sees a murder through the zoom lens of her camera. Naturally, with her out of control drinking and heavy medication, she is the last person the police will believe. This is such a clever book. It defines the plot twist with hidden shocks which come out of the blue, a story to read right through the night. The Woman in the Window is a slick, intelligent, beautifully written thriller that is engrossing to the very last page.