What we’re reading: Nancy Campbell, Tana French & Nick Drnaso

Each week we bring you a sample of the books we’re reading, the films and TV shows we’re watching, and the music we’re listening to.


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Lian Hingee is reading The Wych Elm by Tana French (available November)

I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Tana French’s upcoming book The Wych Elm, a great big brick of a novel that stands outside her wonderful Dublin Murder Squad series.

Toby Hennessy lives a charmed life: he’s well off, well liked, with a great job, good friends, and a wonderful girlfriend. That all changes one night after he interrupts a pair of burglars in his living room and gets beaten within an inch of his life. Traumatised by the experience and still suffering from the effects of a brain injury that has left him muzzy and uncertain, he agrees to go and stay with his elderly uncle at the Ivy House – a ramshackle mansion where he and his cousins spent countless idyllic summers. But the tranquillity of the Ivy House comes crashing down when Toby’s seven-year-old nephew discovers a human skull hidden inside the enormous wych elm on the grounds, and Toby and his family find themselves at the heart of a murder investigation.

Even viewed through the lens of Toby’s not-at-all-reliable perspective, French’s impeccable handle on setting and characterisation is evident. The Wych Elm is an absolutely engrossing read that should also appeal to fans of Gillian Flynn, Liane Moriarty and Donna Tartt.


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Paul Barr is listening to Bad Mouthin’ by Tony Joe White

The old ‘Swamp Fox’ is back, with this collection of originals and classic blues covers. All the ingredients for a classic album are here. That deep growl of a voice over a very raw, economical style of rhythm and lead guitar on a vintage Fender Stratocaster makes for a winning musical combination. Tony Joe also plays the blues very convincingly on a nylon string guitar. It’s all very familiar but done extremely well, and White manages to make songs by John Lee Hooker, Charlie Patton and Luther Dixon sound like his own.


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Bronte Coates is reading Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

Last week I picked up the new novel from Robert Galbraith (a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling) and to quote the colleague who lent me her copy – reading this twisty and addictive crime mystery felt very much like ‘taking a holiday from life’. Set against the backdrop of the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics, Lethal White picks up immediately where the last book left out – with a surprise entrance at a wedding! – before delving into a sticky web of murder and politics. Private investigator Cormoran Strike and now partner at the detective agency Robin Ellacott have to contend with their own personal relationship and family drama, as well as the consequences of their recent much-publicised capture of a notorious killer, while also working to unravel a confounding new case.

Rowling’s skill at crafting complex narratives works perfectly within the crime genre and Lethal White may now be my favourite from the series, sitting just in front of book one, The Cuckoo’s Calling. If you want to disappear inside the world of a book this coming weekend, this is an excellent pick.


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Ellen Cregan is reading The Library of Ice by Nancy Campbell (available November)

I’ve just finished reading The Library of Ice by Nancy Campbell, which is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read this year. It’s an account of how Campbell locked away all of her belongings and spent seven years travelling to some of the coldest places in the world, searching for information about humankind’s relationship with ice. This book contains so much information – Campbell writes about ice sports, the building of igloos, exploration of the Arctic and Antarctic, ice mummies (including Ötzi the Iceman), as well as language and culture in the iciest reaches of the earth. This is narrative non-fiction at its very best – super fascinating, beautifully written, and perfectly balanced.


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Paul Goodman is reading Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

While I’m sure I’m not the first person to put up a review of the first Booker-nominated graphic novel, I’ll have a good go at my own.

Calvin Wrobel invites an old friend to stay whose girlfriend has gone missing, and is forced to endure near-unbearable emotional trauma from the outside world. The artwork and dialogue are an exercise in bleakness, which serves to drive home the starkness of loneliness, the struggles of stoicism, the winter in every absence.

In short, I liked it – the novel picked up in intensity as it went and I really appreciated the layers that emerged as the repercussions of Sabrina’s disappearance spill onto the internet, even if once or twice the politics of the book shone clumsily. The characters were familiarly human in their coping with pain – I suffocated as Calvin suffocated, under the assault of an angry world. The artwork is either a missed opportunity or a perfect representation of the disconnect between these characters, their inability to communicate or be there for each other. Some of the dialogue did jar, but it was mostly readable and arresting stuff.

As for the Booker nomination, its suitability over all other amazing graphic novels we’ve read etc., isn’t this a standard response to any nomination process? The selection is subjective and for each nomination most of us could recommend something we preferred. What I will say is it’s interesting and positive to have a graphic novel nominated at all, but like great literary fiction, Sabrina asks things of us. It demands us to make choices, to assess how we deal with technology and the way we connect with the world, and it doesn’t promise answers. If the Booker nomination is a sign that the graphic novel is finally being taken seriously, as a literary form, then I am all for it.

Oh, and I saw Panos Costamos’s Mandy this week. Best film of the year so far, without reservation. For anyone who says ‘they don’t make ‘em like that anymore,” this is for you.

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Lethal White

Lethal White

Robert Galbraith

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