Once a fortnight, or thereabouts, I head over to my local library, re-usable bag in hand, to stock up with a fresh pile of books for my commute. (When you devour two or three books a week, it’s hard, if not impossible, to justify paying £7.99 for a book that you’ll finish in a couple of train journeys.) True to form, I’ve read a lot of crime fiction over the past few months – but I’ve also squeezed in a (token) classic (which reminded me why I usually avoid them, sorry F. Scott Fitzgerald), crossed a few books off my lengthy TBR list and finally got round to reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Touching the Void – Joe Simpson
In 1985, Simon Yates and Joe Simpson conquered the previously unclimbed West Face of Siula Grande, a 6,344 metre high peak in the Peruvian Andes. Worsening weather conditions and dwindling supplies forced them to make a hasty descent, during which Simpson fell and broke his leg. Yates resolved to lower him down the ridge using a makeshift belay, formed of two lengths of rope knotted together; unbeknownst to them, a cliff far higher than the length of their rope lay in wait. Simpson was lowered over the cliff and couldn’t climb back up the rope; Yates was unaware of what had happened, and unable to communicate with his climbing partner. As the minutes, then hours, ticked by, one truth emerged: if neither of them moved, both would die. Yates was left with no choice but to cut the rope, a decision which was widely criticised in the mountaineering community at the time. Simpson plummeted into a deep crevasse. Yates continued his descent alone. Touching the Void is Joe Simpson’s poignant account of how, against all odds, he battled for survival in one of the harshest environments on earth and emerged alive. It’s a truly remarkable memoir, and one I would thoroughly recommend.
Before I Go To Sleep (S.J. Watson)
S.J. Watson’s debut has all the hallmarks of a spine-tingling thriller: a hauntingly ordinary setting, buckets of suspicion and an electrifying plot. Christine suffers from a rare form of amnesia. When she wakes, the past twenty years are a blank, and she inevitably has more questions than answers. Who is she? Where is she? What happened to her? It falls to her husband, Ben, to answer the whats, whys and hows of Christine’s existence. But what if he’s holding something back? Prompted by her therapist, Dr. Nash, she puts pen to paper, in an effort to piece together her fragmented past. Her diary becomes her lifeline – it’s all she has to connect her yesterdays to her todays – and gradually reveals there’s more to her past than others are letting on . . .
Inside the O’Briens (Lisa Genova)
Still Alice is probably Lisa Genova’s best-known novel, but Inside the O’Briens is my favourite (to date). Joe O’Brien’s a family man and a respected copper; he’s spent the best part of twenty-five years on the beat, and can’t imagine his life without his job. He’s always been diligent, but, recently, his composure has slipped, his memory has lapsed and his limbs have begun to move involuntarily. Joe puts it down to stress; Rosie, his wife, isn’t so sure. Concerned, she presses him to have tests, and when he finally agrees, he is handed a diagnosis that none of them saw coming: Huntington’s disease, a genetic, neurodegenerative disease with no cure. Worse, each of his four children has a 50:50 chance of inheriting the disease. Narrated by Joe and his daughter Katie in turn, Inside the O’Briens is a compassionate exploration of the lived reality of Huntington’s for both the sufferer and their loved ones.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman)
I began Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine with little idea of what to expect from it, and quickly found myself drawn into the eccentricities of its protagonist. Eleanor Oliphant is peculiar yet endearing, a character who has no qualms with saying exactly what she’s thinking and who thinks nothing of her non-existent social circle. Eleanor ‘aspire[s] to average’ – and yet, despite her nine-to-five routine punctuated by meal deals, crosswords and bottles of vodka, she proves herself to be so much more than that. Gail Honeyman tackles loneliness, mental health and self-care with tact, and highlights how small acts of kindness have the power to turn people’s lives around. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was funny, sad, touching and thought-provoking in equal measure, and I enjoyed every moment of it. Few characters stay with me after the final page, but I can safely say I won’t be forgetting Eleanor Oliphant anytime soon.
Titles | April – June 2018
Touching the Void (Joe Simpson) / The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) / The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) / Before I Go to Sleep (S.J. Watson) / Catching a Serial Killer (Stephen Fulcher) / Find Me (J.S. Monroe) / The Dry (Jane Harper) / Swing Time (Zadie Smith) / Panic (Lauren Oliver) / Lone Wolf (Jodi Picoult) / Still Alice (Lisa Genova) / The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Agatha Christie) / Inside the O’Briens (Lisa Genova) / Long Time Lost (Chris Ewan) / Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman) / Stringer (Anjan Sunjaran) / The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon) / Blood Sisters (Jane Corry) / Left Neglected (Lisa Genova) / The Blind Side (Michael Lewis) / The Book of You (Claire Kendal) / The Color Purple (Alice Walker) / If You Knew Her (Emily Elgar) / Then She Was Gone (Lisa Jewell) / You (Caroline Kepnes)