The baited breath that awaits each new book from our most polarising, arguably brilliant living writer, is palpable. Yet in recent years that breath has been let out in a deflated sigh rather than a sharp exhalation of excitement, following the publication of his more recent political writings and quasi-novels.
But The Pregnant Widow is a return to form, perhaps not to the glory days of London Fields, Money or even the early Rachel Papers (his first novel), but to form nonetheless. As ever, the stylistic pyrotechnics of the prose are overwhelming and probably not for everyone – “The clock, once in a blue moon, ticked. Or tocked. Or clocked. Or clicked, or clucked, or clacked,” or “They walked down the steep alleyways, scooter-torn and transacted by wind-ruffled tapestries...”
It’s 1970 and the women’s revolution is under way – society and gender relations are about to be turned inside out. But for the moment, 21-year old Keith Nearing is thinking about breasts and sex and not much more, and is in seventh heaven at a posh girl’s Italian castle for the summer, caught between his ok-looking girlfriend Lily and the supersonically-attractive, wonderfully-breasted Scheherazade.
The first portion of the book is a comedy of manners and satire as sharp as only Amis can make it, detailing the sexual revelations of this group of youngsters. But there’s a tragedy lurking for Keith Nearing, and it comes over 20 years later, as his life unravels in the London of 2003. It’s payback time for a boy that didn’t take feminism seriously.
This is Amis’s best book in years, fusing a richness of ideas and a complexity of motifs with the kind of linguistic riffs that are sure to make lovers of the English language weep for joy. Don’t miss it.
Kernick’s rather generic life – a humanities degree at Brighton Polytechnic followed by a career in sales at an IT firm – did not hamper his appetite for writing crime fiction. He kept at it until finally he secured a publishing deal with 2001’s The Business of Dying. His persistence paid off – his 2007 thriller Relentless topped the Sunday Times bestseller list and got him pride of place on Richard and Judy.
Now this oh-so-British writer is back with another crime novel that revolves around the simple triumvirate of undercover cop, killer and policewoman. The undercover cop, Sean Egan, has recently infiltrated one of London’s most dangerous criminal gangs and now he’s needed to solve the daring abduction from custody of a serial killer known as the Night Creeper. The Night Creeper has earned his status as highly dangerous in a fairly standard way – by torturing young women to death. Meanwhile, Dr Tina Boyd has an instinct for trouble. She was the policewoman who charged the Night Creeper and now she’s got to find him before danger explodes in all their faces. Justice must be served.
It’s not the most sophisticated story out there but there’s a satisfying simplicity to its structure. Kernick’s not a bad writer, and in a market dominated by Americans, it’s nice to have a home-boy writing thrillers. His style’s tight enough and while the book won’t set you alight, it’s not a bad way to pass the time on the train home.
DAVID Nicholls, the author of best-selling Starter for Ten, is a TV writer as much as a book writer. Indeed, he trained as an actor before making the switch to writing, a career whose high points include scripts for Cold Feet and Rescue Me.
Well, he writes like he understands the need to keep the customer happy. His prose style is perfectly literary, but it’s light and easy, hauling you in so that you don’t realise that you’re actually sitting there reading.
The scene is set in an Edinburgh university room in 1988. Emma and Dexter have met on the night of their graduation, and the next day are fated to go their separate ways. The question is: where will they be on the same day in a year, in two years, in three? Together, apart, happy, sad, with someone else?
One Day revisits Emma and Dexter on this day, St Swithin’s Day, over the next 20 years. They remain friends but their lives become drastically different – Emma is waitressing at a bad Mexican and living with an awfully unfunny comedian boyfriend, while Dexter drifts into the media, winding up with his own third-rate late-night show and an addiction to drugs, sex and his own fame. What emerges is that the two are happier, funnier and better people when they are together than when they are apart. It becomes clear that they are meant to be together; that they are in love. Yet as the years tick by and the chance for each to redeem the other becomes both more pressing and less likely, the book takes on a less cheerful air. Lots of political comedy in here, too – the Labour government is an unwitting bystander – making it an all-rounder that is equal parts social history, comedy, satire and a love story gone wrong.