Reading group: what should we read to celebrate the Windrush generation?


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This month, we’re looking for books by and about the postwar Caribbean immigrants to the UK and their descendants – what will you choose?

This month on the reading group, we want to celebrate the Windrush generation. This was a reader suggestion – and it’s a fine one.

Now is a very good time to acknowledge the debt we owe to this essential part of UK community, and the many fine things the Caribbean diaspora has brought the world, enriching both literary culture and our daily lives.

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Not the Booker: Three Dreams in the Key of G by Marc Nash review – curiously impressive


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This fiendishly complicated story is made even tougher by its tricksy prose, but it’s not hard to admire its daring

Hold tight. Because I’m now going to try to explain what I think is happening in Three Dreams in the Key of G. As the title hints, there are three narrative strands, although they are not particularly dreamy. The first contains the journal entries of Jean Ome, a mother of two children living in Ulster and married to a man who has connections to violent Protestant paramilitaries. These journal entries have been written infrequently and with no definite purpose by an intelligent and frustrated woman trapped by circumstances who is prone to prolixity. Just to make things extra difficult, they have all been muddled up and are presented out of order.

The second strand is made up of internet messages from ...

Not the Booker: Three Dreams in the Key of G by Marc Nash review – curiously impressive


This post is by Sam Jordison from Books | The Guardian


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This fiendishly complicated story is made even tougher by its tricksy prose, but it’s not hard to admire its daring

Hold tight. Because I’m now going to try to explain what I think is happening in Three Dreams in the Key of G. As the title hints, there are three narrative strands, although they are not particularly dreamy. The first contains the journal entries of Jean Ome, a mother of two children living in Ulster and married to a man who has connections to violent Protestant paramilitaries. These journal entries have been written infrequently and with no definite purpose by an intelligent and frustrated woman trapped by circumstances who is prone to prolixity. Just to make things extra difficult, they have all been muddled up and are presented out of order.

The second strand is made up of internet messages from ...

Not the Booker: The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan review – thriller lost in plot


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Opening with a powerful, sensitively drawn portrait of two bereaved children, this book’s drama soon becomes mechanical

Dervla McTiernan’s path to publication has been unusually smooth. That’s not the same as easy. She clearly had to put in plenty of hard yards, writing at nights after finishing up at her day job and putting her children to bed. But still. She says she started writing in earnest in 2014, having given herself five years to make a go of it – but that within just two years (by early December 2016) she found herself the subject of publishing auction and signed up for a two-book deal.

“It helped,” she has said, “that I had a story, or at least the beginning of one. It was a single image, really. A girl, 15-year-old Maude Blake, sits on the stairs in a ...

How Chaucer weaves high-minded poetry with low comedy


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The Canterbury Tales manage to combine the most solemn chivalric concerns and bright lyric poetry with bawdy gags about bums and red hot pokers

The thing that most people know about The Canterbury Tales is that it’s full of good old-fashioned filth. The storytellers may be on a religious pilgrimage, but they’re just as interested in matters earthy as they are celestial things. For every religious reference, there’s a bum joke; scatology always follows eschatology.

The Knight’s Tale is a case in point. It is a story full of high-minded sacrifice, courtly love, complex delineations of rank and honour, and examples of chivalry in action. It’s set in an Athens ruled over by the legendary Theseus, but the account of Palamon and Arcite and their rivalry for the love of the “fair” Emily doesn’t feel particularly classical. If you wanted an archetypal story from the days of olde when knights ...

Not the Booker: Sweet Fruit, Sour Land by Rebecca Ley review – post-apocalyptic confusion


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Political incompetence and male entitlement speak to our times, but it’s not enough to make up for an obscure setting and laboured prose

There’s no faulting the timeliness of Sweet Fruit, Sour Land. It’s set in a Britain destroyed by famine and shortages of material goods. The leader of the country is a woman who churns out meaningless slogans but achieves nothing. The men beneath her – judging by a minister we meet called George – are deceitful, selfish, violent abusers of truth and seducers of women. You don’t need me to draw the parallels.

Rebecca Ley’s novel is given urgency by the mess of Brexit and revelations of #MeToo – but it isn’t a straightforward future projection of our current problems. The prime minister turns out to be some kind of socialist who says she has nationalised power supplies and ...

The Canterbury Tales: Chaucer’s ‘plein speke’ is a raucous read


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Newcomers to the Canterbury Tales may expect piety – but this trip with Chaucer’s motley crew is more like a blowout in Magaluf

The opening lines of the Canterbury Tales are among the most famous in English literature, but they are also far from the easiest to say out loud. It isn’t just that you’ve got to have some idea how to pronounce the Middle English (here’s a valiant attempt), it’s also that Chaucer kicks things off with a breathtaking 18-line sentence:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen ...

Not the Booker: Raising Sparks by Ariel Kahn review – coincidence unbound


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Any reader will need to be spiritually inclined to love this interesting, tender-hearted novel

Late on in Raising Sparks, the thoughtful lead Malka considers the idea that “there is no such thing as a coincidence”. It’s an interesting point to raise 250 pages into a story that’s kicked into action by a moment of pure happenstance – and subsequently booted along by fortuity after fortuity.

Ariel Kahn’s story begins when Malka follows a cat into a house in her native Jerusalem that turns out to have been the former home of Reb Zushya, an expert on Kabbalahwho conducted a rite with Malka’s own parents in order to help them conceive their children. Following the cat further in, she finds it is now the home of a young man called Moshe, a pupil in Malka’s father’s yeshiva who is madly in love ...

The Canterbury Tales is our reading group book for September


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A big one this month – Chaucer’s 14th-century masterpiece. Please join me for a long but much revered pilgrimage

The Canterbury Tales has come out of the hat and will be the reading group choice for September. First off: don’t be alarmed! I admit that my initial thoughts could be roughly translated into Middle English as “develes ers” – but the more I think about it, the more I like this challenge. I’ve overcome my initial disappointment that I was going to have to tackle a massive slab of foundational literature instead of sinking into a light holiday read. Now I think it’s going to be a blast as well as an opportunity to experience an important cultural milestone.

You don’t need me to tell you that it doesn’t get much bigger than Chaucer: a poet who didn’t just inspire everyone who came after him, but who also ...

Not the Booker: Dark Pines by Will Dean review – icy thriller does the job


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The body and cliche count clock up in a tiny Swedish town – but a complex protagonist elevates this debut above other Nordic noir

This second novel on our Not the Booker 2018 shortlist is about a serial killer in rural Scandinavia. If you’re like me, that knowledge may make you feel slightly cynical. I’ve no way of verifying this, but I have a hunch that, in the decade or so since Stieg Larsson popularised Nordic noir, more people have been murdered in novels about Sweden than in the whole history of that famously safe country.

With dozens of post-Larsson Nordic noir novels out (and even a couple post-Larsson-Larsson novels out), the cliches of the genre are becoming tedious. At first glance, Dark Pines doesn’t escape them. There’s blood, snow, long dark nights, deep empty forests, people with wholesome exteriors covering ...

Reading group: which novel set on holiday should we read this month?


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Whether we’re being taken on vacation by Ernest Hemingway or Esther Freud, this month’s reading is likely to be melancholy, hedonistic or both

This month, the Reading group is asking for recommendations about vacations. Summer’s on the wane in the UK, but that simply makes me want to cling to the last vestiges of sunshine, take one more dip in the sea and feel the warm glow on my skin before the cold sets in. And read or reread summer classics.

Choosing reading material so late in the season works for me because so many of my favourite books about holidays are infused with the melancholy of passing time and deal with pleasures that feel all the brighter because they are brief. In fact, it is often better to read these books at home rather than on the beach, in case they leave you feeling painfully mortal (Thomas Mann’s Death ...

An Untouched House by Willem Frederik Hermans review – shocking Dutch classic


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In this brutal novella set amid the bloody churn of the second world war, a partisan finds himself living alongside Nazis


It won’t surprise anyone who reads this remarkable Dutch novella, set among the bloody churn of partisans, Russians and retreating German forces towards the end of the second world war, that it has long been regarded as a classic in the Netherlands. In a sharp new translation, the first standalone English-language edition arrives more than half a century after the book first appeared in Dutch.

But be glad that it has finally emerged. It remains a shocking read, even if you have to imagine the impact it must have had when it was published in its home country in 1951, exploding the prevailing postwar discourse of brave resistance to the Nazi occupation with a story of selfish opportunism and amoral nihilism.

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Not the Booker: Sealed by Naomi Booth review – a promising debut


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This pre-apocalyptic novel about a condition that seals people in their own skin is tense and admirably gory – but occasionally clunky

The world is becoming unbearably hot. The authorities are detaining people in camps. The companies that run the camps are more interested in profit than the people in their care, and inmates are treated with casual brutality. The government lurches between incompetence and mendaciousness, and can only be relied on to lie about its own mistakes.

Naomi Booth’s pre-apocalyptic debut Sealed has been reviewed as science fiction, but there are enough real-world parallels to make it a bracing, discomforting read – especially after the fiery, crazy summer of 2018. The elements of speculative fiction, meanwhile, are given an interesting edge because they are shown through the eyes of a woman who is heavily pregnant – and hugely paranoid.

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‘The MacGuffinest MacGuffin of them all’: what do you think of The Moonstone’s ending?


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We’re in spoiler territory here – but Wilkie Collins’ bizarre grand finale is both ludicrous and wonderful

As we come to the end of The Moonstone, we must ask a very important question: what the hell?

Here – and this is spoiler territory, so please go and enjoy the end of the novel for yourself before reading the following paragraphs – is how things conclude.

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How Wilkie Collins found sensation in ordinary life


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The Moonstone certainly has elements of breathless storytelling, but some of its thrills derive from the precision of its down-to-earth details

In 1871, Thomas Hardy approvingly described “the sensation novel” as a “long and intricately inwrought chain of circumstance” that involved “murder, blackmail, illegitimacy, impersonation, eavesdropping, multiple secrets, a suggestion of bigamy, amateur and professional detectives”. Give or take a bit of illegitimacy, this could be a direct description of The Moonstone.

Except that’s only half the story. It is not just strange events that make The Moonstone so compelling: Wilkie Collins wrote just as well about the everyday world as he did about the extraordinary. In his famous attack on sensation novels in the Quarterly Review, HL Mansel inadvertently explained the appeal of this thrilling realism:

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‘A tour de force’: wildcard novel completes Not the Booker prize shortlist


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Last year’s judges have finalised the 2018 shortlist, adding Marc Nash’s Three Dreams in the Key of G. Now we’re on the hunt for three new judges ...

We now have a complete shortlist for the 2018 Not the Booker prize. Our excellent panel of judges from last year have added Three Dreams in the Key of G by Marc Nash, as our wildcard entry. It sounds like a daring experimental novel that should add considerable interest to our list – but don’t take it from me, take it from our three judges:

Hannah Bruce calls it “a truly unique book – a tour de force of advanced literature. Nash manages to intertwine three interesting narrators, while also expressing the emotion of science. Three Dreams is a book capable of standing out in any collection or shortlist, and will likely not be forgotten.”

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Serial chiller: Wilkie Collins, master of the cliffhanger


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When it was first published 150 years ago, The Moonstone came out in weekly instalments. Read as a novel today, Collins’ page-turner has lost none of its power

Wilkie Collins wrote The Moonstone at a time of personal trauma and physical agony. But his professional life was going much better: with four bestsellers published in a decade, Collins was one of the best-paid writers working at the time. When The Moonstone came out in 1868, he netted a tidy £750 for the UK serial rights, plus the same again in the US. This was already a much larger sum than most literary novelists can expect today – equivalent to about £168,000 in 2018 – with more to come from sales of the complete edition. Collins was as acclaimed as he was popular, fully aware of his powers and thoroughly enjoying them. In an 1871 preface to The Moonstone he said: ...

Not the Booker prize 2018 shortlist announced: time to start reading!


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In a very close public vote, five novels have emerged as contenders, with one final choice still to come from the judges

The votes have been cast and counted and we have an almost complete Not the Booker prize shortlist for 2018. Here are the five books moving through to the next stage of the competition, ranked by vote:

Raising Sparks by Ariel Kahn (110)
Dark Pines by Will Dean (83)
Sweet Fruit, Sour Land by Rebecca Ley (69)
The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan (67)
Sealed by Naomi Booth (64)

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Not the Booker longlist: vote now to decide the 2018 shortlist


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Our intitial poll has put more than 140 novels in contention. We need your learned opinions to winnow this down to a shortlist next week

It’s time for the Not The Booker longlist. Just like every year, it feels like we need it. As you might have seen, the actual Man Booker longlist was released last week and, well … Let’s try not to be rude. At least there are some admirably unusual choices on there. It’s also inevitable that the judges of that prize are going to miss off some beauties, because they only get to choose 12 books. And that’s where we come in. Our longlist is actually genuinely long. Thanks to all the nominations we’ve received, we’ve got a giant roster of more than 140 novels – and plenty of them are superb.

It’s very pleasing to see so many books get some time in the ...

Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone is our reading group choice for August


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Dorothy L Sayers called it ‘probably the very finest detective story ever written’ – so get cracking early on this substantial Victorian sensation

We briefly interrupt our ongoing coverage of Moon Tiger to announce the subject of next month’s reading group: Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone.

The Moonstone is a wonderful page-turner of a novel – but there are quite a few of those pages to turn. I’d advise getting cracking early, if you can. I’d also advise starting to read it as soon as you can for the sheer, exhilarating fun of it.

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