Books, Reviews

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Ben Lerner – 10:04

23 Dec 20145 stars

‘Like a poem, is neither fiction nor nonfiction, but a flickering between them’

For an avant-garde poet, Ben Lerner’s first novel Leaving the Atocha Station was a surprise commercial success. Self-referential, mordantly funny, it followed a young American poet on a fellowship in Spain, and was animated less by conventional plot…

John Lees and Iain Laurie – And Then Emily Was Gone

16 Dec 20144 stars

Smart plotting, fresh and genuinely creepy, Lees and Laurie have created a distinctive calling card

‘There’s a world of the screaming impossible all around us, something so far beyond our comprehension that most of us just block it out,’ reveals disfigured village sage Mental Jimmy midway through the tale, adding spine-crawling credence to our…

Philip Teir – The Winter War

12 Dec 20143 stars

Despondent portrait of a divorce, with excellent comic moments

Translated from the original Swedish by Tiina Nunnally, this family drama opens with an acknowledgement of divorce before jumping back to explore the causes. The chapters alternate between the perspectives of four Helsinki family members: fiftysomething…

Iain Macwhirter – Disunited Kingdom

8 Dec 20144 stars

An authoritative and peerless sequel to Road to Referendum

While the space between deadlines for Iain Macwhirter finishing and publishing his post-indyref book was clearly a tight one, it still missed the event which perhaps encapsulated his central point most perfectly. With newspapers continuing to struggle…

Porochista Khakpour – The Last Illusion

4 Dec 20143 stars

Take two potentially life-changin­­g events (Y2K and 9/11), throw in an old Persian myth and a delusional illusionist, then add an undertone of behavioural psychology and there, in a nutshell, is The Last Illusion...

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Amanda Palmer – The Art of Asking

11 Nov 20144 stars

A brilliantly frank portrayal of the life and art of the self-proclaimed rockstar

There are many things that Amanda Palmer is not afraid to ask for. Wedding gowns, advice on angry red thigh spots and pianos are all just a tweet away for the self-identified rock star; but when she asked for money to help fund her new record, she…

Emma Beeby, Gordon Rennie & Tiernen Trevallion – Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter

10 Nov 20144 stars

Black humour, smart character work and inventive violence ensure superb graphic novel

A fictional account of Robert Burns’ descent into mortal combat with the supernatural which begins with him being beaten to a drunk and trouserless pulp by a man whose daughter he’s deflowered probably won’t find itself on the national curriculum any…

Philip Kerr – January Window

10 Nov 20142 stars

Murkiest aspects of Premier League football explored in narrative testing bounds of believeability

Edinburgh born-and-raised crime author Philip Kerr has certainly cottoned on to a worthy and unexplored setting for the genre, amidst the backdrop of English Premier League football. A self-confessed Arsenal fan, he’s taken the murkiest aspects of the…

Amy Mason – The Other Ida

7 Nov 20144 stars

Her mother's funeral is the tipping point for Ida Irons. Fast approaching 30, reckless with alcohol and decisions, she has spent her life living in the shadow of her mother – the secretive writer Bridie Adair – and an infamous play which she was named…

William Gibson – The Peripheral

7 Nov 20143 stars

'New novel, as impressive, ambitious and layered as it is, might leave you feeling a little lukewarm

Given how swiftly the world and its technological tools keep changing, it might seem foolhardy to attempt any kind of speculative fiction. But if anyone is going to make a decent fist of this with a crystal ball, it was always going to be the author of…

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Favel Parrett – When The Night Comes

6 Nov 20144 stars

Beautifully poignant split narrative following a family's tie to the sea

The split narrative of Favel Parrett's second novel follows the stories of Bo, a chef on board the polar vessel Nella Dan, and Isla, the daughter of the woman with whom he stays in Hobart when the ship docks. Through this simple relationship she…

Jesse Fink – The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC

21 Oct 20144 stars

'One of the few genuinely good books about a hard rock band'

From 1974 to 1980, AC/DC were sly, funny and feral. But when frontman and self-described author of 'toilet poetry' Bon Scott died, and was replaced by the diligent but charisma-impaired Brian Johnson, the band began the slow process of rigidification…

Chuck Palahniuk – Beautiful You

20 Oct 20142 stars

Satire following the commodification of female pleasure lacks humour and heart of earlier novels

The transgressive fiction author of Fight Club brings us the story of Penny Harrigan, a frumpy law intern seduced by C Linus Maxwell. He’s straight out of the Fifty Shades mould, and Penny is wined, dined and pleasured as the guinea pig to test-run…

Tim Minchin – Storm

13 Oct 20142 stars

Comic book based beat-poem drips with pointlessness and proves inconsequential

Is there anything Tim Minchin refuses to have a stab at? Already an award-winning musical comedian (he took the Best Newcomer prize at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe), acclaimed composer of musicals (for West End powerhouse Matilda), and hairy actor (taking…

Dawood Ali McCallum – The Final Charge

13 Oct 20143 stars

Engaging fourth novel from human rights expert set in 1950s Kenya

In his fourth novel, human rights expert Dawood Ali McCallum has turned his attention to Kenya, where British doctor Tom Miles is arrested for a war crime alleged to have been committed in 1954 during Kenya’s battle for independence. Centred around…

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Kevin Bridges – We Need to Talk About . . . Kevin Bridges

9 Oct 20143 stars

Autobiographical self-awareness and emotional honesty from Glaswegian stand-up

While it's virtually taken for granted that an arena comic will pen an autobiography sooner rather than later, Kevin Bridges appreciates that he's ridiculously young to be reminiscing about his life. Now 27, more than a third of this book passes with…

Marilynne Robinson – Lila

8 Oct 20144 stars

Third novel set in Gilead is moving exploration of existence, love and inevitability of loneliness

Lila is the third of Marilynne Robinson’s novels to be set in the fictional Iowa town of Gilead and tells the story of the ageing Reverend John Ames and his much younger wife. Readers first met this pair in Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel…

Tina Sutton – The Making of Markova

26 Sep 20144 stars

Meticulously researched and dynamically written homage to Britain's first ballet star

When journalist Tina Sutton was handed the boxed-up archives of prima ballerina Alicia Markova by Boston University, she could scarcely have guessed the treasure trove that lay inside. Decades of letters, diaries, press clippings and theatre programmes…

Emily St. John Mandel – Station Eleven

26 Sep 20144 stars

Expert storytelling sets this provocative tale of societal apocalypse apart

When the Georgia Flu hits, the age of electricity comes to an abrupt end. 99% of the world’s population die, taking with them the knowledge mankind used to create everything from aeroplanes to running water. For the few that survive the collapse, life…

Kate Mosse - The Taxidermist’s Daughter

11 Sep 20144 stars

Subtle and seductive tale of murder and mystery from the Labyrinth author

The sodden marshes and thunderous skies of the small village of Fishbourne near Chichester – and Kate Mosse’s home – provide a suitably gloomy setting for the Labyrinth author’s new Gothic tale of murder and mystery. Mosse pulls that landscape in…

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Kate Saunders - Five Children On The Western Front

11 Sep 20142 stars

A disappointing sequel to E Nesbitt's wonderful, immersive and humorous Five Children and It series

Five Children and It is the first of a much loved trilogy from writer E Nesbit about five children and the Psammead (sand fairy) who grants wishes. It has since been adapted for TV and film and has inspired various takes on the story including books by…

Samantha Harvey - Dear Thief

11 Sep 20143 stars

Exquisite writing and a poignant story fail to be truly exciting in the long run

The art of letter writing is almost lost, but it's a tool used by Dear Thief's narrator as some form of catharsis. ‘In answer to a question you asked a long time ago,’ she begins, moving off on a journey through friendship, love and betrayal. The…

Adam Roberts - Bête

11 Sep 20144 stars

Dryly funny sci-fi novel about food that can talk back to the eater

Imagine if your food could talk back to you? That’s the extremely high-concept opener much-decorated sci-fi author and academic Adam Roberts plays with in his latest novel, opening on a bizarre but starkly amusing sequence in which a cow tries to reason…

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera discusses Story of a Death Foretold at 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival

29 Aug 20144 stars

Colombian historian delivers thrilling talk on Salvador Allende's last stand

In Story of a Death Foretold, Columbian historian Oscar Guardolia-Rivera chronicles the rise of Chile's socialist president Salvador Allende and the brutal CIA-supported coup which ousted him. In this electrifying hour, Guardolia-Rivera describes…

Letters Home

27 Aug 20143 stars

Four snapshot stories of exile at 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival

Consisting of four short scenes and an unnecessary epilogue set 'backstage' where the actors turn back into civilians, Letters Home is surprisingly slight for a two hour flagship production at the Book Festival. Only Grid Iron's own Ben Harrison deals…