I’m a smidge ashamed to admit I’m new to Denis Johnson and that a huge part in my decision to read this was the glorious cover photo from Richard Mosse’s The Enclave exhibition. Glad I did.
Ronald Nair is a shady Scandinavian obviously ex-intelligence services operative drawn back to Freetown by an African former friend/colleague/associate Michael Adriko. Michael has a plan for a heist and a new fiancée. I don;t want to reveal any more as usual.
I’ve read a fair few reviews online of people taking this far too seriously or presuming Johnson should be writing far more seriously. Read it on the top and it’s a swift, occasionally vicious sometimes nonsensical trawl across half of Africa in what feels like the dying days of an empire.
As someone who’s never been to West Africa it nonetheless feels impossibly evocative of time, place, people, resources. It’s was worth it for me ever just for that. There’s more than a hint of a far more extreme version of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American here. Still well worth your time, though.
I’ve read George Monbiot before, both in book form and in newspaper columns, so what I expected before I started the book and what I got were surprisingly different.
It’s a very human and personal story leading to the much larger idea and movement based around the concept of allowing tracts of the countryside around the world to rewild themselves or be rewilded with bison, bears and wolves amongst other species (there are very good reasons for this, far too longform for a short review) and the oceans too.
I ended up slightly depressed actually at how little time I spend interacting with “nature” of any kind and my almost complete lack of knowledge of anything that happens there. He fishes from a kayak off the coast of Wales, spends time living with people in the Masai, walks the hills of Scotland, all beautifully evocative and thought provoking in the end.
Look, I know I’m not doing a proper sell on this – it’s a vast, sweeping book about the very nature (no pun intended) of what the planet will look like for generations to come and about how sometimes, (again no pun intended) we can’t see the wood for the trees.
A head-turner of a book. I’ll never look at the countryside in the same way again.
It was one of the most surreal days I’ve ever spent working for RTE. Me, David McCullagh, Keelin Shanley, Seán Rocks and Miriam O’Callaghan in Wynn’s Hotel dressing up as we would have a century ago.
You should come along and bring the family, it’ll be a brilliant free day out.
I’ll be there as The Poetry Programme, my other little baby over on Radio 1, will be recording a live show in the Peacock.
EDIT – Seems a few of the papers took up on it
EDIT 2 – And how could I forget the behind the scenes photos…?
So, how was it for you?
Unlike last time I lasted 4 hours (I am a complete lightweight!) by taking it very easy and eating well. Met some lovely people, spent a great evening, was at home at a sensible hour…
Among other things I liked on the night included:
And then there’s this baby. It’s a top-notch beer in bottles, on tap it comes very, very close to being as good as I’ve ever had for my palette.
You should try Polar Vortex…
freida lives in a dystopian future in which girls are no longer born naturally but are bred and schooled specifically to become companions for the few thousand powerful men left in the world and their sons to come. Her class is getting ready for the arrival of the boys they will either marry and bear children with or become sexual concubines for.
The pressures exerted on them to look perfect, stay the right weight, dress appealingly and be submissive to the young men they will be “wives” to are a sickening funhouse mirror for the real expectations put upon young women of 2015 by media and commerce but Only Ever Yours goes deeper and plays more viciously than any book of its type usually has the balls to.
Yes, of course, it takes more than a little inspiration from The Handmaid’s Tale but it leaves you with an ending even more daring than Margaret Atwood did. Rarely do I come across a book so willing to finish by smacking you across the head with a sack of doorknobs.
Only Ever Yours was not only my favourite book on the list but one of the best books I’ve read in the last year. If you’re the sort of person who might possibly turn your nose up at YA as “kids stuff” it’s as brutal, real, honest and crushing as anything else you’ll get your hands on at the moment.
It’s not just YA, it’s top-grade speculative fiction and social commentary on 21st century media and how it pressures teenage girls.
Top of the class.
(Only Ever Yours is one of the books I judged for the UK & Ireland YA Book Prize 2015)
This is one of those books that you come across every now and them that stands in a category all of its own.
On the surface it’s the story told by Claire, a teenager growing up on Newcastle, about her friend Ella, the boy she meets and the events surrounding her “disappearance”. I use quotation marks because huge tracts of what you’re reading are a retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Euridyce writ large in modern day Tyneside.
Put simply, this is a stunning piece of work, something that defies categorisation and deserves to be read far beyond the traditional YA audience (I mean that with no disrespect).
It is at times chilling, entrancing, dizzying and always, always compelling stuff. He has written something quite special here.
(A Song For Ella Grey is one of the books I judged for the UK & Ireland YA Book Prize 2015)
Wow. This is a special one.
Nathan is seventeen, his father is a hated, reviled, seemingly invincible black witch in hiding who appears to have killed his mother along with many others. When we first meet him he’s locked in a cage for months on the side of a mountain somewhere in the middle of nowhere being held captive trying to escape.
The story tells scrolls back, tells us how her got there and leads us into a very, very interesting world that pans out and out and out into something that could become absolutely top drawer as the series unfolds.
There are huge subtexts in the story as in all great YA. Everything from the nature of being fostered and adopted to absent parents right down to the nature of racial relations.
The last 100 pages reads almost like a cross between one of the more action filled Harry Potter moments and The Bourne Identity. Can’t wait for the next book in the trilogy…
(Half Bad is one of the books I judged for the UK & Ireland YA Book Prize 2015)
This is very much the real deal. 4 stories that the author says you can read in any order (I tried it the old fashioned front to back way and that worked for me) set from the palaeolithic era through witch hunts and an asylum in the 1920s all the way into the far future and deep space.
All 4 are connected by the shape of a spiral. I’m not telling you anything else as I think you should read the rest for yourself.
My immediate thought on finishing is that it’s a smaller, more simplified sort of Cloud Atlas narrative linking vastly different eras of human history deftly and with ease. Like with Only Ever Yours and A Song For Ella Grey, Ghosts Of Heaven pushes the boundaries of what I presume non-YA readers would consider the genre to be. That’s only a good thing.
Thrilling stuff in places, smart, beautifully written at times, challenging and wonderful.
(The Ghosts Of Heaven is one of the books I judged for the UK & Ireland YA Book Prize 2015)
Renée and Flo live on Guernsey in another coming of age story told in the last year before college. They have complicated family lives, questions as to whether they’re going to college together and subplots with boys, religion and tragedy.
A solid story, well told but not my favourite on the list by a long shot.
(Goose is one of the books I judged for the UK & Ireland YA Book Prize 2015)
Hannah is the teenager that finds herself pregnant, Aaron is the loner new lad in school who finds himself volunteering to pretend to be the father of her child, but why?
This one is definitely in the top half of the list, the characters read true, quirky and unusual. Just like real teenagers. The story is non-conventional too – Hannah is pregnant but not by who we think, Aaron steps in even when he’s not sure why and the fledgeling relationship that develops between the two of them is quite sweet.
Sharp, funny, touching, as it says on the cover.
(Trouble is one of the books I judged for the UK & Ireland YA Book Prize 2015)