Book news

  • Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne review – compulsive reading
    Molly McCloskey

    An encounter on a Greek island between rich holiday-makers and a migrant stranger leads to jeopardy

    It’s another summer on the Greek island of Hydra, another summer among the rich – specifically, the Codrington and Haldane families. Jimmie Codrington is a British airline owner and art dealer who keeps a “famously ironic” bust of Hitler in his front room. Jimmy’s first wife died when their daughter Naomi, now in her 20s, was a teen, and now he’s married to an absurdly snobby Greek woman. The Haldanes are American, less ridiculous and a little more opaque. Their daughter Sam, feeling bored by her own independence, falls quickly under the spell of the slightly older Naomi, who is dominant, naughty, cynical.

    Early in the novel, Sam thinks: “A thousand summers could be like this, each one as beautiful as the last, and still nothing worth reliving a second time.” The pair aren’t alone in noting the lack of heft to their lives. Jimmie – not the most authentic of persons – wonders if you can make your children authentic against their will. Puzzling over why the young adopt political positions that don’t quite square with their own material conditions, Jimmie concludes that the problem with them is that they hardly come into contact with the real world. “Their consciousness had been created by the media, not by life.”

    Related: Hunters in the Dark by Lawrence Osborne review – edgy, gripping and beautifully written

    Related: The Forgiven review – Lawrence Osborne's macabre and compelling tale

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  • Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe review – mischief amid bleakness
    James Smart

    Troubled playwright Andrea Dunbar is brought to life in an affectionate, unsentimental debut novel

    Andrea Dunbar’s teeth weren’t black. “Brush ’em every day, twice,” she indignantly says while scanning a tabloid profile that paints her as “a genius from the slums”. Dunbar, a playwright whose raw tales of working-class life took her from a Bradford estate to the Royal Court and the multiplexes, is never comfortable with the attention her talent brings; Stripe’s affectionate, unsentimental debut novel reveals a young woman who struggled constantly with her writing and the people around her. Dunbar grows up on the Buttershaw estate, a place of gossip, daytime drinking and waiting for the giro. Even Bradford feels like another world, but Dunbar’s early writing, encouraged by a teacher after she has a miscarriage at 15, is impossibly exotic to the London literati. Stripe tells of her success via Rita, Sue and Bob Too, as well as alcoholism, domestic violence and self-sabotage. Stripe’s narration can feel a little flat compared with her dialogue, which snaps and prickles and brings a talented, troubled woman to life. But she gives an important story a real spark: Dunbar’s energy and mischief bubble in the bleakness.

    Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile is published by Wrecking Ball. To order a copy for £10.20 (RRP £12) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

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  • I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell review – 17 brushes with death
    Fiona Sturges

    An encounter with a murderer, a plummeting plane and severe illness are among the episodes detailed in this elegant, thought-provoking memoir

    We are all, in one way or another, just moments from death. Catastrophe lurks wherever we care to look. Most of us tend not to dwell on our mortality since that way madness lies, but many have stood on the precipice, often several times over, and stared it squarely in the face.

    The writer Maggie O’Farrell has chronicled 17 of her own near misses in I Am, I Am, I Am (the title is taken from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar). These include a haemorrhage during childbirth, miscarriage, childhood encephalitis, amoebic dysentery and an ill-advised leap off a harbour wall into the sea as a teen. Written in self-contained essays, the events recalled here are blips, coincidences, flashes of folly or plain bad luck. Some are startling but later shrugged off; others are lingering and life-changing.

    Related: Maggie O’Farrell: 'I've revealed the secrets I’ve spent my life hiding'

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