Inspector Minahan Makes a Stand

by Bridget O’Donnell (Picador) ISBN 9780330544641


The title led me to think I was about to discover another fictional hero detective. Instead I was pulled into a fascinating historical account. It tells how the courage of one man was a catalyst for the 1885 turning point in a Victorian revolution that saw the rising middle class wrest influence from the aristocracy.
Inspector Minahan’s report about the corruption at his station, including the blind eye turned to Mrs Jeffries’ brothels where underage girls are offered to the nobility, leads to his demotion and resignation. He takes the issue to Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt, who turns out to be his nemesis. His fight crests a wave of developments that leads to the change of the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen. It was scary to read how themes of the 1880s like child trafficking, beliefs that sex with virgins cures disease, arrogance of a privileged class and poverty breeding crime are still alive today.
Bridget O’Donnell’s story is thoroughly researched. Her writing is fast paced and entertaining. I liked her references to authors like Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson showing how much they were chroniclers of that time. Inspector Minahan did not get a happy ending like our present day fictional detectives but I think he was more heroic than most of them.

Josine Overdevest 
4/5

Book Review - Lost At Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries

by Jon Ronson (Picador) ISBN: 9781447223900


I am a Jon Ronson fan. I am as fascinated by strangeness as he is. In Lost At Sea, Ronson explores the things people are willing to believe. And we are willing to believe a lot. 

Ronson, like Malcolm Gladwell, has perfected the art of entertaining non-fiction writing. Gladwell is more serious and leaves you with lots of ‘aha’ moments. Ronson, an investigative journalist, is satirical, but non-judgmental, and at times almost childlike in his observations. 

Ronson finds the oddest, most outrageous true stories and manages to tell them in a compelling way. The book is an easy-to-read collection of stories. From Indigo ChildrenInterviews with RobotsThe Man who tried to Split the Atom in his KitchenPhoning a Friend, to Alpha Courses at church, you will be entertained, alarmed, and sometimes rendered speechless. 

Ronson is a relentless observer of the human condition. I would recommend Lost At Sea for anyone. I loved it. 

Amanda Patterson
www.writerswrite.co.za 
5/5

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The Silver Linings Playbook

by Matthew Quick (Picador) ISBN 9781447219897

 

Meet Pat Peoples.

 

Pat is having a rough time. He’s just been released from a mental institution. He has to move in with his parents when he is in his 30s, he is separated from his wife, and he does not remember what has happened in the last few years of his life, including what caused his breakdown.

 

Pat has only one goal: to be reunited with his wife Nikki because he thinks it was his fault that they are going through 'apart time'. This leads him to do self-improvement activities such as obsessively exercising and practising the art of being 'kind instead of right'.

 

Then his friend's sister-in-law, Tiffany is introduced to him, which leads to Pat becoming a dancer, getting a friend, and discovering the truth.

 

This well-written book has been made into a film with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as the two main characters. I thoroughly enjoyed this thought-provoking read.

 

Amanda Blankfield

4.5/5

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The Picador Book of 40

(Picador) ISBN 9781447219040

 

It is fitting that my last review of the year is this book with a selection of 40 interpretations of the number forty by some of the authors whose books I have discussed in 2012, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Picador.

 

Kevin Wilson (from The Family Fang) wrote an eccentric story about a family with forty children, the peculiarity of the family Fang ringing through.

Naomi Wood, known for her dystopian novel The Godless Boys, describes, in a thought-provoking way, a woman travelling back through the day of her 40th birthday.

 

The author of The Sea on Fire, Howard Cunnell, wrote a story about a memorable experience when scuba diving 40 metres down in the Baltic Sea.

Other contributors are Alice Sebold (Lovely Bones), Ellen Feldman (Next to Love) and Stuart Evers (Is this Home).

 

The authors have each interpreted the number forty in a different way, with poems, a reflection on working for Picador, or a list of forty parties in forty weeks. My favourite one was Emma Straub’s ‘Gifts I would like to receive for my 40th Birthday’, with ‘one butter sculpture, preferably in the shape of a horse,’ on her list.

 

The book is entertaining and good for a holiday break.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

3.5/5

 

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The Bees

by Carol Ann Duffy (Picador) ISBN 9780330442459

 

British poet Carol Ann Duffy, winner of the Costa Prize for poetry 2011, has produced a gem. There are no other words for it.

 

She knows how to capture rhythm (Echo). She has an eye for composition. Her poems are accessible. There is synchrony in the lightness and intensity of her poems. The Bees is delicate and hard hitting, poignant poetry.

 

Duffy deals with a variety of subjects in a broad cross section of life: grief over a mother’s death (Water), the life of a soldier told backwards (Last Post), the lament of the world’s suffering (Atlas) or a poem written for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (Rings).

 

And bees: weaved through all her poems is the spirit of the bees. They stray into a poem or hover at its edge. The bees are a metaphor for grace and for what is valuable and for what needs to be protected.

 

I can’t remember the last time that I was moved so much by poetry. Duffy’s poems have left me longing for more.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

5/5

 

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The City of Abraham: History, Myth and Memory

a Journey through Hebron by Edward Platt (Picador) 9780330420273.

 

Jews, Christians and Muslims all claim to be descendants of Abraham. The city of Hebron, according to the Book of Genesis, houses the holy shrine where Abraham's wife Sarah is buried in the Machpela Cave. The name of the shrine changes according to people's religious beliefs.

 

Platt, who lives in London, visited Hebron between 1999 and 2009. He interviewed many people in Hebron, mainly Muslims and Jews, where he was searching, through their stories, for some semblance of the truth.

 

Palestine in King David's time was the 'area of the Philistine settlement on the coast from Gaza to Jaffa. It was a Phoenician settlement, unconnected to Israel, Judea or Galilee'. This extract explains some of the history of that era. Modern Israel came into existence in 1948. After a war with surrounding Arab states a year later, the 'green line' of accepted borders were formed. This book covers ancient and modern history in Israel and Palestine, predominantly in Hebron.

 

The story is complicated by politics, religion, history and human emotions. The reader needs to find his or her own take on the interviews regarding the conflict. A very difficult situation, although I felt the author empathised more with the Palestinians. Quite a disturbing read, but certainly food for thought.

 

Dawn Blankfield

3.5/5

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Mr Foot’s Other Leg

by Ian Kelly (Picador) ISBN 978-0-330-51783-6 

Mr Foote, producer, writer, and actor was known for his wit on stage-mostly by people he knew. ‘I was obliged to lay down my knife and fork and fairly laugh myself out...Sirs, he is irresistible,’ said Samuel Johnson. 

The extraordinary true story of the most famous man you have never heard of, the irresistible Samuel Foot, one-legged wittiest superstar of the Georgian stage. He wrote the first true crime best seller. He coined the phrase Tea Party. 

He lost his leg after a bet with the Duke of York. The operation of the day, after a hideous fall from a horse was an unusual success. Doctors knew amputation would lead to changes in the psyche. However his wit improved and he had several wooden legs made for the stage. 

This is a hearty read that describes Mr Foot’s successful career. The story will be most enjoyable to readers who have had an interest in Georgian times. 

Dee Andrew
5/5

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The Line of Beauty

by Alan Hollinghurst (Picador) ISBN 978-0-330-48321-6

 

The title of this 2004 Man Booker Prize winner refers to the aesthetics theory by William Hogarth on the Line of Beauty, the S-shaped curved line that signifies liveliness and activity and excites the viewer.

 

In the early eighties middle class Nick Guest moves in with Tory MP Gerald Fedden and his wealthy wife. At the same time he embarks on his first homosexual relationship with Leo, a black council worker.

 

Over the years Nick becomes quite involved with the Feddens; he even joins them in their French holiday home accompanied by his secret lover, a young millionaire. By the end of the decade the tragic developments concerning his lovers and the Feddens’ secrets are exposed. Somehow the consequences for the rich and privileged seem to be less severe than for Nick.

 

Intellectually I get the contrast between material wealth and aesthetics that Hollinghurst exposes, but I never felt it. In 501 pages Nick hasn’t come any closer to me than on the first page. Not being British I might have missed the satire about the eighties that some critics rave about.

 

The writing is beautiful; the story flows along and although nothing much happens it is somehow easy to keep reading. It feels aesthetically pleasing; Hollinghurst must have found a way to incorporate Hogarth’s Line of Beauty in it.

 

Josine Overdevest 

3.5/5

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Mateship With Birds

by Carrie Tiffany (Picador) ISBN 978-1-4472-1986-6

 

Set on a dusty farm in the rural town of Cohuna, Australia in the 1950s, this novel is really a reflection on what makes a family.

 

Harry is a dairy farmer with a keen love of birds. He keeps a journal on a family of Kookaburra that he observes on his farm. Carrie Tiffany uses this to parallel Harry’s experience of the family he has with Betty, a single mother and her two children.

 

Sex, lust and desire are firmly meshed into this book. It is heavily present within the language and direct descriptions of the characters’ sexual desires. Sexual desires which never seem to be fully realized.

 

If elegant prose and intricate description comes first over plot for you, you will enjoy this novel. The strength of the book lies in the language and description. The parallels drawn between the human characters and the birds create a fragmented storyline, which can be confusing. The same subtlety in the descriptions creates characters that feel one-dimensional. Harry’s poetry about his bird family is well written, but does slow down an already slow story.

 

The book could be interpreted as brilliant or boring. I found it a bit of both.

 

Victoria Malakou

2.5/5

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How to be a good wife

by Emma Chapman (Picador) ISBN: 978-1-4472-1618-6

 

You’re advised to make time to read this wonderful debut novel by Emma Chapman in one sitting. It is an amazing roller coaster ride with few rest stops along the way and an ending that has you gasping for breath.

 

Marta keeps a clean home and is a good wife following the rules of the book How To Be a Good Wife, her mother-in-law’s wedding present. Her memory doesn’t go back further than the circumstances around meeting and marrying her husband, circumstances that he portrays differently to the outside world.

 

Her son leaving home creates an emotional upset. Martha decides to stop taking the pills that her husband insists she takes to keep her sanity. She wonders whether the presence she starts to feel in her home and the flashbacks she experiences are hallucinations or signs of her mind recovering memories of an earlier past. For different reasons, her husband and son become very concerned about Marta’s increasingly unsettled behaviour.

 

Marta realises that should the memories about her past be true, revealing them would have a great impact on her family. A difficult decision lies ahead.

 

Written in present tense and from a first person perspective this story grabs a strong hold of you and doesn’t let go until the very last word.

 

Josine Overdevest 

4/5

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