Set in a fort on the edge of a neglected desert, the tale of one man’s torture as a soldier waiting for an attack from an unseen and unknown enemy. A psychological novel about expectations and how we spend our precious time on earth. Dino creates a cold, silent world and fills it with apprehension, regret, fear and death.
Epic New York crime saga set around Wall Street, a Bronx courthouse and Upper and Lower Manhattan’s contrasting wealth districts. The lifestyles of characters across classes and wealth barriers are depicted perfectly as decadence and despair clash together. Their fears and desires as isolated people in a hectic city are well-observed. Brilliant storytelling.
Dahl’s second biography, beginning as he leaves for Africa to join an oil company and follows his adventures throughout WWII as an RAF pilot. At first humorous, Dahl’s stories from the war become frightening, poignant and vicious, capturing the absurdity of war perfectly. He writes as if he is right there telling you the story himself, with verve and passion. An immensely adventurous man, a fantastic series of tales.
A short biography by Roald Dahl on his early life. From his birth in Wales, through his private schooling and as he left England behind to find adventure overseas, the book is a series of amusing and terrifying tales of childhood. Dahl was a master in capturing in vivid detail the incomprehension children often have of the behaviour of adults around them. Typically of Roald, the tales are tall.
Written in Russia in 1924 before Stalin took power, this is a striking piece of fiction set in a mechanised, totalitarian future state. Zamyatin was the unofficial inspiration for George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, setting a high precedent for future dystopian fiction. The pyschological nightmare he created was truly prescient given the coming horrors of the 20th Century, and for that it’s a seminal piece.
A simple premise: organised religion has many good ideas on leading a fruitful and happy life that can be stripped away and assimiliated into secular society. Alain explains how religious techniques and ideas like original sin and giving sermons can be comforting and useful for atheists. Its philosophy is simple to understand, and his choice of imagery is majestic.
Five short mystery novels in a single book, shifting between Western Europe and a Mexican border town. Bolano wanted each novel to stand alone, but his posthumous editors were reluctant to edit too viciously, and packaged it together. Pace slows to a repetitive crawl in the middle, but the final 300 pages will satisfy the reader by tying the narrative to the start again.
Set in occupied France in ‘43, a writer involved in the French Resistance pulls together a series of desperate tales from the ‘shadow army’ fighting underground. Short set-pieces create a novel that follows a few key characters. Exceptionally poignant history of the bravery and losses of the few normal men and women forced into horror. Life was brutal, and more than any person should expect to have to take.
A mighty Japanese novel that steps between a gritty, real world of revenge and mistrust and a fantasy world of control and secrets. Although the size of the novel is intimidating, the corkscrew movement of the two protagonists’ stories keeps the writing fast, and as one plot dips, the other maintains the pace. It repeats itself a little, but I didn’t notice the writing too superfluous.
In zombie-vampire literature, Cronin mixes two genres that have been dead on both sides for a few years, but manages the unthinkable and creates an absorbing storyline based around a government experiment gone wrong. Imaginative set-pieces and ideas breathe life into the subject. At 900 pages the story develops at a perfect pace – anticipation is strong for the second in the series.
Set in the waters between Libya and Italy, a busy stretch of ocean for a disillusioned coastguard captain fighting a growing influx of desperate immigrants. The author intertwines the tales of both the people taking the journey, and those paid to stop them. Intelligent commentary between the lines on the nature of illegal asylum and immigration, in a story which leads to a thought-provoking ending.
Broad philosophical work by a famed French writer. The author begins from the moment of conception, both of humanity and the universe, and the major questions we ask of life and our world. He wonders if we are no longer searching for answers to the questions that are important. Thoughtful, introspective piece of work from a writer towards the end of his career.