Elizabeth Harrower’s In Certain Circles – my review on Necessary Fiction

 My review has just gone live on Necessary Fiction – read it here

In Certain Circles was written in 1971, the last novel Elizabeth Harrower would write to date. By then she was the author of four other novels, including The Watch Tower, all very successful and well-received, and Harrower was being likened to Patrick White and Christina Stead. But In Certain Circles was to have a different fate. Harrower withdrew it from publication at the last minute, explaining in an interview later that the book had felt forced and had been written because a grant had become available. “There are a lot of dead novels out in the world that don’t need to be written,” she said about the novel. Read more

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The Thrill Of It All by Joseph O’Connor

Some might read The Thrill Of It All as the memoir of a fictional band. It seems to me instead, or more so, to be a story of love, friendship and loneliness.
Robbie is a second-generation Irish teenager growing up in 80’s Luton. He has a brother and a dead sister, an absence that is present throughout the book as if a character of its own. Soon after starting his studies at The Poly, Robbie meets Fran, the future lead singer of their future band. Meeting Fran brings focus to a life that until then largely consisted of winding up Robbie’s parents whom he defiantly calls Jimmy and Alice. ‘My hobby became Fran-watching,’ he says, and later he quotes Montaigne: ‘If you press me to tell why I loved him, I can only say very little. It was because he was he, and I was I.’ As it often happens, the main events of Robbie’s life come as a giant wave when he is barely out of childhood, and after the wave has receded, the rest of his life is spent dealing with the aftermath. Fran and Robbie, plus Robbie’s crush Trez and her brother Sean, form a band, spend ages getting it off the ground, tour for free, sleep in the car to save money, play to audiences who couldn’t care less. They hit success, life seems to be about to start. And then Fran leaves. Gone to pursue his own fame.read on

I Refuse by Per Petterson

I Refuse was first published in Norway in September 2012 under the title Jeg Nekter and became an instant hit there, just like Per Petterson’s previous novels Out Stealing Horses and I Curse The River Of Time. Its English translation is by Don Bartlett.
The frame story of the novel is the friendship between Tommy and Jim. Years ago, they were as close as brothers. Now they meet by accident on a bridge, after decades of absence from each other’s lives. It is evident that they both still live in the past, are still trying to make sense of the trajectory that their childhoods had forced onto the rest of their lives. Tommy is the eldest of four siblings, and it had to be up to him to deal with their violent father after their mother had walked out of their lives one winter morning. Jim had never known his father, and still longs for him to appear in his life which feels empty as he picks up strangers at a local hotel bar and struggles to remember their names afterwards. There was one that Jim would probably like to see again but he has forgotten her address, and no matter how many times he drives out to Hemnes, the area where she lives, he cannot find the right house. He isn’t even sure that he hasn’t dreamt her up.read on

Double Negative by Ivan Vladislavic

Double Negative is one of those novels that you keep thinking about long after you’ve read them. Not for some shocking storyline or a bizarre setting but because it has so many layers that it takes a while to understand them. We follow Nev, a dropout university student at the start of the book and a photographer at the end of it. By then, he is just starting to get known, and spends some time with a blogger cum journalist Janie driving around Johannesburg and taking photographs of walls and letter boxes. Rewind back to Nev’s younger days, and we see him in a reversed situation, spending a day – arranged by his father who is worried about Nev’s future – with a famous photographer Auerbach, following him as he shows the city to a British journalist.
The day with Janie is post-apartheid. The day with Auerbach – when the apartheid regime is still in full swing, albeit amongst protests and demonstrations that Nev had taken part in, although not as actively as some. Shortly after the day with Auerbach Nev leaves Johannesburg for London. Read more here

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

 ‘Jhumpa Lahiri’s second novel, The Lowland, tells the story of two brothers from Tollygunge, in Calcutta. Subhash is calm, sensible and conventional. Udayan is rebellious, political in his views. As he becomes more and more involved in the Naxalite movement that is emerging in India, his views get more radical, until one day he is arrested for acts of terrorism.Subhash is by then a PhD student in America and has no idea of what’s happening at home. His own life is far from exciting, his only act of rebellion his orderly affair with an American woman. But when Udayan is killed…’ read more