Book news

  • The Circle review – Emma Watson and Tom Hanks face off in empty techno-thriller
    Benjamin Lee

    The Harry Potter alumna missteps after the $1bn success of Beauty and the Beast with a Dave Eggers adaptation that swaps initial intrigue with vapidity

    There’s something quite perfectly pitched about the release of The Circle. First, in a landscape overflowing with headlines proclaiming that “this is the BLANK we need right now”, an adaptation of Dave Eggers’ cautionary tale about the dangers of a life consumed by an over-reliance on one’s digital footprint remains ever prescient. Second, it’s anchored by Emma Watson, coming off the back of the phenomenal success of Beauty and the Beast, and she’s joined by John Boyega, his first role since his charming breakout turn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Finally, it’s arriving on the edge of the summer season, aiming to engage our brains before they get pummeled into submission by a parade of shiny effects-driven epics with little interest in raising questions other than: wasn’t that explosion, like, totally sick?

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  • See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt review – inside the mind of Lizzie Borden
    Justine Jordan

    One of America’s most notorious murder cases inspires this feverish debut about family resentments and frustrations

    Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41 …” A century and a quarter after Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered with a hatchet on a sweltering Massachusetts morning, the skipping rhyme still resonates and the case of Lizzie Borden – arrested, tried and acquitted by a jury unable to believe a woman could do such a thing – continues to fascinate. It has been immortalised in countless books, a TV series, a short story by Angela Carter; a film starring Chloë Sevigny and Kristen Stewart is due to be released this year. The house where the killings took place is now a B&B-cum-museum, with the most requested room the one where Abby was murdered. Tours run every hour; free for children six and under. You can buy a Lizzie Borden doll.

    Sarah Schmidt’s debut novel is a feverish reimagining of the day of the murders, the leadup and aftermath, told by four voices: Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the maid Bridget, and a dangerous stranger called Benjamin, who is linked to the family by Lizzie and Emma’s maternal uncle John.

    Nouns are twisted into verbs as blood 'rivers' down necks; heat rises, everything that was once fresh rots

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  • Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag review – a masterful English-language debut
    Deborah Smith

    This stunning Bangalore-set family drama underlines the necessity of reading beyond our borders

    Ghachar Ghochar is the English-language debut of a writer already established as a leading figure in both the pan-Indian and Kannada-language literary scenes. Once again, reading beyond our tiny borders shows us what we’ve been missing, and proves the necessity of translation for a dynamic literary culture: Ghachar Ghochar is both fascinatingly different from much Indian writing in English, and provides a masterclass in crafting, particularly on the power of leaving things unsaid. In fewer than 28,000 words, Vivek Shanbhag weaves a web of suggestion and implication, to be read with a sense of mounting unease.

    The opening chapter demonstrates how the short novel is the perfect form for Shanbhag’s particular talents: precise observations, accumulation of detail, narrative progression by way of oblique tangents. It opens in a Bangalore coffee shop, whose name hasn’t changed in a hundred years, andwhere the unnamed narrator unburdens himself to laconic waiter Vincent. The latter is splendidly outfitted in cummerbund and turban, and Coffee House’s tasteful oak-panelled walls are decorated with old photographs showing “just how beautiful this city was a century ago”. The narrator has no reason to be there, he confesses, “but who can admit to doing something for no reason in times like these, in a city as busy as this one?”

    Related: The subtle art of translating foreign fiction

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