This Little Bag of Dreams

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,/How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Month: March, 2017

The People at Number Nine by Felicity Everett

Meet the new neighbours. Whose side are you on?

I have to confess: on first receiving The People at Number Nine, I was worried that I was about to read The Girl on the Train (TGOTT) No. 2.  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, as I enjoyed TGOTT very much, but it’s hard to miss the number of thrillers which have been released in its wake, as publishers hope to capitalise on the success of its literary forebear.  Thanks are due to Everett, however, who not only has chosen to branch out and use the term ‘The People’, as opposed to ‘The Girl’, in her title, but who has also written an unmistakably great thriller.

What I love about this book is the buzz it has already generated on Twitter (think what will happen come publication day: there will be a whole swarm of booky bees gunning for Gav and Lou, or slagging off Neil and Sara!).  Just last night, I was debating with several people about which side I was on, and it was so interesting to see who supported whom, and the topics which came up: parenting, home education, pretentiousness.

So we have two couples: firstly, Sara and Neil, a copywriter and a housing association CEO respectively.  Secondly, we have Gav and Lou, and their lovable children, Dash, Arlo and Zuleika. (Yes, Zuleika, last seen in the title of a Max Beerbohm novel circa 1910.) Gav and Lou are artists, darling: Gav’s medium is plaster, and possibly paperclips, and Lou’s is short film.  In their favour, they bring joy and vitality to Sara’s and Neil’s lives; previously, the only friends they had were dull Carol and duller Simon.  But that, to me, is their only plus point.  Reader, they are UNBEARABLY pretentious.  Their kids’ names, their jobs, their deliberately shabby house all suggest  that they think they are better than everyone else.  What’s more, they see nothing wrong with using Sara and Neil for free childcare and a loan for Lou’s film, and as a substitute school.  Their behaviour, quite frankly, borders on child abuse at times.  And it gets worse……

Many people have come out and said on Twitter (listen to me, talking about these characters as though they were real!) that they think Sara and Neil are worse people than Gav and Lou.  They feel that the former couple are, in fact, the pretentious ones, whereas at least the latter do not lie about just how crap they are.  But reader, it doesn’t really matter whose side you’re on…..as long as you pick one, and get talking about this book!

My only criticism about The People at Number Nine is that, at times, the writing felt a bit self-conscious.  But otherwise, this is a very fine thriller.

Many thanks to Kate Mills at Story HQ for the review copy.

 

The Trophy Child by Paula Daly

UK edition

Rewind four years, back to when I was a Waterstones assistant manager, and I remember cheerleading Paula Daly’s debut, Just What Kind of Mother Are You? (JWKOMAY). Well, Daly has done it again with her latest novel, The Trophy Child.  Once again, missing persons is her theme, but do not fear: this is not the same novel.  Despite being as compelling as JWKOMAY, you are in for a treat with some brand new characters and story lines.

All the same, familiarity is a nice foil to crime.  So it is good to see old faces reappear from JWKOMAY and Keep Your Friends Close, including DC Joanne Cunliffe (as likeable as ever and now a DS) and her weight-obsessed aunt, Jackie.  That said, despite this continuity in characters, there is no need to read Daly’s work in order.  (Yes, reader, you are free to read whichever one you like first.  And in this world, with its increasing lack of freedoms, THAT is a privilege.)

So, just to confirm:

  1. The Trophy Child does not ruin your fun by being the third novel in a series.
  2. But Daly does have some other fab novels to discover once you’ve read it.

Right, then.  Let us resume the task at hand.

US edition

The Trophy Child, as the title suggests, explores the effects a pushy mother can have on a child.  Bronte Bloom – and let’s face it, no ordinary parent would christen her child BRONTE – is ten years old and her mother, Karen, has imposed on her harp lessons (yep, you read that correctly), extra Maths, dance, drama and a veterinary degree (ok, one of those is incorrect).  Karen’s husband, Noel, is a GP who not only works long hours, but also prefers to extend his working day by doing overtime (read ‘going to the pub’ for ‘doing overtime’).  Noel tends to leave the parenting to Karen, and poor Ewan, Karen’s 19 year old son from a previous relationship, tends to get forgotten altogether.  The novel starts in the aftermath of Karen’s stepdaughter, Verity, attacking her, and oddly enough, relations between the two are a bit frosty.

But The Trophy Child is not about Verity’s attack on Karen.  Rather, it is about Karen’s relentless ‘attack’ on Bronte, seeking constantly to improve her instead of letting her enjoy her childhood.  And when it is perceived that this tiger mothering has gone too far, Bronte suddenly goes missing……..and soon afterwards, so does Karen.

I enjoyed this novel immensely.  Daly’s style of writing is so natural, and she has the ability to notice the quirks of human behaviour which go unobserved by most authors.  Some people may identify with Karen, although most will find her unbearable, both as a wife and a mother (I know that I was hoping for her downfall, but maybe that’s just me….).  As usual, the other characters are harder to place in terms of morality, which is what makes Daly’s work so true: they are all human and they all make mistakes.

Thank you to Alison Barrow at Transworld for the review copy.

 

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

 

lily-and-the-octopus

UK edition

Do you like talking dachshunds?  Is your evening incomplete without a furry companion with whom to while away the evenings, devouring pizza and fighting over who gets to pick the Monopoly car?  Have you been heartbroken recently, or enough that the mere thought of that person still makes you shiver in remembrance?  Well, then Lily and the Octopus is for you.

To be honest, you don’t even need a pet to appreciate this fantastic debut, which has style as well as the all-important substance (check out the gorgeous moody sky blue ribbon bookmark on the hardback).  Granted – and I don’t want to give too much away here, so no spoilers! – it took me a while to get on board with Rowley’s inventiveness, but stick with it.  Trust me, the ride is worth it.

lily-and-the-octopus-2

US edition

I want to tell you just enough to make you want you to read this, and not so much that I ruin it for you.  So meet Ted, a single lonely screenwriter, for whom company consists of his dachshund Lily and a tub of peanut butter ice cream (I presume that there are elements of autobiography here). Ted is trying to get back in the dating game after splitting with his partner, Jeffrey, but his attempts are unsuccessful, and it is telling that much of the novel consists of flashbacks.  Indeed, it is only when the octopus appears that Ted is forced to start giving some real thought to his future, and who might be in it.

So, what is this octopus?  Wrong question, reader – you must discover it yourself.  But suffice it to say, that if you like funny books (and if you don’t, that’s pretty weird) and cute dogs, then you will love Lily.  I’m just debating whether or not it’s wise to lend it to my dachshund-devoted cousin (she had six at one point)……..

Many thanks to Sara-Jade Virtue at Simon & Schuster for the review copy.

P.S.  I want a dachshund now.  Damn you, Steven Rowley.