‘What a treat – hard on the heels of Jack Messenger’s Farewell Olympus comes Take the Late Train, a quite different but no less engrossing read. Weaving between the present day and a vivid, in some ways AS present, past, the story is a deliberation on choices made, including what to know and what to be complicit in ‘unknowing’, and action over inaction. The book’s considerable cast of characters is deftly drawn, and even those with walk-on parts tend to trigger a degree of identification or empathy in the reader. The author inhabits the thoughts of central character, middle-aged academic Stephen, but is equally convincing in his portrayals of a teenage daughter and elderly mother. The sets of couples who variously reveal themselves to be anything but, are juxtaposed with more isolated figures (and indeed, isolation occurs devastatingly within couples). While melancholy – and for some characters, tragedy – is a motif, so too is love. Stephen’s own story includes no small degree of hope, and is ultimately a celebration of free will. With overt and less obvious allusions to Shakespeare and other writers, and prose which blends precision with poetry – elderly, frequently drunk Audrey is ‘dishevelled bedevilled’ and two greyhounds are perfectly evoked by their ‘clipping’ in and out of rooms – this is a work to be savoured on many levels. Highly recommended.’ (Amazon UK review)
Satire flourishes in desperate times and is often the last refuge of a desperate writer. If that is so, Jeffrey Perso, the author of Water Bodies, is as accomplished as he is perhaps desperate. If satire can be broadly defined as that which mocks human vice or folly by means of derision, irony or wit, then Water Bodies is satire par excellence. Its targets are specifically American, yet its reach is truly global, for stupidity and wilful ignorance care little for national boundaries.
Another Excellent Goodreads Review for Farewell Olympus
‘Farewell Olympusis an enjoyable and elegantly constructed romp around fraternal rivalry, family dynamics, literary aspiration, self-definition and the stories we tell ourselves and others. Someone should snap up the film rights.’ See the complete review atGoodreads Review
Somewhere, surely, a psychologist has written at length on the significance and symbolism of humanity’s baggage. In particular, handbags and tote bags can carry us as much as we carry them, and their fetishization as objects of desire and aspiration means we perform our cherished self-identities every time we drape them lovingly over our shoulder or grasp them warily at arm’s length.
The central character in Laurie Levy’s The Stendhal Summer, Alison Miller, carries a lot of baggage on her trip to Europe. She struggles to wrangle her luggage on and off trains, in and out of taxis and hotels, up and down stairs. Alison, 54, is a professional PR writer from Chicago. Her husband George has left her for his latest young conquest, their twins Abbie and Dan are concerned for her happiness, her mother worries Alison will be mugged or worse. Alison has taken the risk of blowing her life savings in pursuit of her great love, the French author Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle, 1783–1842), whose biography she plans to write. Her travels take her from Grenoble to Milan, Civitavecchia, Rome and Paris; along the way, she meets old friends, encounters new ones, and is reawakened to the possibilities of life and love.
I loved reading Farewell Olympus. It was a page-turner with humor and insight, the characters were complicated and fun, and the story started simply and played out in a more complicated way with Paris as the setting. But Paris as a place to live and work and not the romanticized faux version of baguettes or berets. Although easy to read, I had to look up several words which were seamlessly woven into the narrative but were new to me. Amazon US review
Reykjavík is a novel of the Cold War and its aftermath which takes as its starting point the Reykjavík summit in October 1986 between US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.
Dylan Rose, aged 24, is the foreign correspondent for a New York paper. While in Iceland to cover the summit, he unexpectedly encounters Professor Nathalie Campbell, his former teacher of Russian at Berkeley, who herself meets and falls in love with Russian scientist Andrei Heilemann. Over subsequent decades, their lives criss-cross against the backdrop of the dissolution of the Soviet Empire and the rise of oligarch mobsterism in the new Russia. Andrei’s brother Mikhail is one such oligarch, and his personal/political vendetta with Andrei leads to espionage, danger, persecution and murder.
In Someone Else’s Conspiracy: a book review of Crowd of One, a novel by Filip Severin
The epigraph to Crowd of One is taken from Edward Bernays, one of the least-known and most influential figures of the modern era: ‘Men are rarely aware of the real reasons which motivate their actions.’ Bernays pioneered what eventually became known as public relations (aka propaganda) by applying crowd psychology to control the ‘herd instincts’ of the ‘irrational masses’. What he termed the ‘crystallizing’ of public opinion rapidly evolved over the course of the twentieth century into the manufacturing of consent to the political and commercial imperatives of society’s managers and elites. Like it or not, we all live in Bernays’ world.