Book choice for January 2010

The Other Hand [suggested by Cate Hughes]

front cover

We don't want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this: It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn't. And it's what happens afterwards that is most important. Once you have read it, you'll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.

So runs the blurb on the book's cover, which many reviewers have complained over-hypes the story and sets expectations that the book doesn't fulfil. Others disagree, such as Helen Cleaves writing on Waterstones' website:

The Other Hand is not an easy read. It is emotionally challenging, laugh-out-loud hilarious and demanding. It is also one of the most compelling books I have read for years. Not only is the plot strong and the characters convincing, but the writing itself grabs hold of you and refuses to let you go. Written with an intense energy and sparing precision where every word is made to work, Cleave's description is startlingly fresh, free from any of the usual cliches. This book provides a new way to look at life in England in 2008 - through the eyes of a refugee who as an outsider is well-positioned to question our assumed values and aspirations. And Cleave is not kind on the middle classes - I read this with some discomfort as he exposed the hollowness of suburban life. I won't give away the plot as the blurb is deliberately evasive. I would have preferred to have the story left unresolved. But this book's strength lies in the characterisation and quality of the writing. Like the first breath you take when you step outside on a freezing day from a warm cosy house this is a power shower of a book. It will wake you up. I have told people about this book and will be doing so for some time.

About the Author

Chris Cleave's website is largely a blog, and its frontpage is devoted to his Guardian column. If you dig around you can find this brief biog:

Chris Cleave is 35. He is a novelist and a columnist for The Guardian newspaper in London. He is only 5'7" tall.

His debut novel Incendiary won a 2006 Somerset Maugham Award, was shortlisted for the 2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize, won the United States Book-of-the-Month Club's First Fiction award 2005 and won the Prix Spécial du Jury at the French Prix des Lecteurs 2007.

Inspired by his childhood in West Africa and by an accidental visit to a British concentration camp, Chris Cleave's second novel is entitled The Other Hand in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It is entitled Little Bee in the US and Canada.

Chris Cleave has been a barman, a long-distance sailor, a teacher of marine navigation, an internet pioneer and a journalist. He lives in London with his French wife and two mischievous Anglo-French children.


Shortlisted for this month

The nominator can bring one, two, or three books to be chosen by the group (or mandated in the case of only one book being selected). This month, Cate's other suggestions were:



For a novel whose title has entered the language, it's no surprise there's a Wikipedia page, from which comes this:
Catch-22 is a satirical, historical novel by the American author Joseph Heller, first published in 1961. The novel, set during the later stages of World War II from 1943 onwards, is frequently cited as one of the great literary works of the twentieth century. It has a distinctive non-chronological style where events are described from different characters' points of view and out of sequence so that the time line develops along with the plot.

The novel follows Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier, and a number of other characters. Most events occur while the airmen of the fictional Fighting 256th (or "two to the fighting eighth power") Squadron are based on the island of Pianosa, in the Mediterranean Sea west of Italy.

'There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. 'Orr' was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
"That's some catch, that Catch-22," Yossarian observed.
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.'

There are also 257 reviews of the work on Amazon, if you're interested.

About the Author

Joseph Heller (May 1, 1923 - December 12, 1999) was an American satirical novelist, short story writer and playwright. He wrote the influential novel Catch-22 about American servicemen during World War II. The title of this work entered the English lexicon to refer to absurd, no-win choices, particularly in situations in which the desired outcome of the choice is an impossibility, and regardless of choice, the same negative outcome is a certainty.

Heller is widely regarded as one of the best post-World War II satirists. Although he is remembered primarily for Catch-22, his other works center on the lives of various members of the middle class and remain exemplars of modern satire.

The above taken from the author's Wikipedia entry. Heller doesn't seem to inspire the kind of fan-boy dedication to the upkeep of his online presence that some authors enjoy. For instance this page doesn't even acknowledge that he's dead, despite it being almost ten years ago.

Small Island

Small Island

Small Island was first proposed in April 2008 by Amy, and you can read all about it, and author Andrea Levy, at that link.

Since then though, filming has been completed on an adaptation for BBC1 television starring Naomi Harris as Hortense, David Oyelowo as Gilbert, Ruth Wilson as Queenie, Benedict Cumberbatch as Bernard and Ashley Walters as Michael Roberts. The first of two 90 minute episodes will be shown at 9pm on the 6th December, and there's a sneak preview on YouTube.


Previous Months' Book Choices

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November 2008
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