What we’re reading: 6th May, 2014

Hot books – reviewed by our expert booksellers.

The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins by Irvine Welsh

The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins by Irvine Welsh reviewed by Pete Renton at Nottingham

Reviewed by Pete Renton at Nottingham

Grotesque and self-absorbed characters? Check.

Inventive and prevalent profanity? Check.

A dark and fearless sense of humour? Check.

Gratuitous and queasy sex scenes? Check.

There can be no doubt; we are diving deep into Irvine Welsh territory. But while some aspects of Welsh’s work haven’t changed, The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins breaks new ground for the author. It is his first novel to only feature point-of-view narration from female characters, and also his first novel from a fully American perspective. It’s a raucous ride through the world of fitness in the sweaty underbelly of Miami, and a look at the nature of co-dependence and the power of self-image and repression.

Lucy and Lena run in very different circles in Miami. Lucy is a hard-line fitness trainer, despising her clients, hooking up at anonymous nightclubs and obsessively tracking her calorie intake and expenditure on her phone; while Lena is an overweight and shy but talented artist who has fallen into bad habits after a breakup. Their paths cross when Lucy foils an attempted murder on the highway which Lena films, making Lucy a minor celebrity. In an attempt to get away from the intrusive press, Lucy makes Lena her pet project, determined to do whatever she can to break those bad habits, even if that means kidnapping and chaining her to a pillar like an animal.

Lucy’s disgust for her clients manifests itself in a desire to pull everything about them apart and then raise them from the ashes as a sleek, fully improved machine. In some ways, this is how Irvine Welsh deals with his own characters. He has a great way of introducing a thoroughly repellent character, bringing them to breaking point and then rebuilding them into a better or more sympathetic human. As Welsh piles various stresses and situations onto his creations, the cracks in their brittle facades start to appear, revealing their past and insecurites.

There is none of the supernatural flavouring that energised Filth and The Bedroom Secrets of the Master-Chefs (certainly his most underrated work) but there is a similar fable-esque framework, with the middle act in particular pulling no punches. The news reports in the background about the titular siamese twins serves as an uncomfortable mirror for Lucy and Lena, while Lucy’s vitriol-fuelled emails are neatly interspersed and track her mindset as she slowly loses control. The balance of power works as an effective seesaw, as Lucy starts to fall apart, Lena emerges from her shell and starts to rebuild her life. It ties up a little too neatly at the end for my tastes; but this simply serves to make it his most redemptive and surprisingly optimistic book since Trainspotting, even if the route to get there is an uncomfortable and unsettling one.

Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates

Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates reviewed by Orna at Liverpool One

Reviewed by Orna at Liverpool One

A slap in the face for people who say that full equality has been reached, and that feminism is now surplus to requirements. Bates examines several areas of society (school, public spaces, the media, the workplace) and women’s place in them. She thoroughly demonstrates, with fact and figures and impassioned writing, how sexism still is a massive problem; not yet a thing of the past.

The book is a follow on from an internet-based campaign which includes a twitter page (@EverydaySexism). Bates uses many tweets and stories that were sent in by women who have experienced sexism first hand, which break up the text, make the book more readable, as well as lending it a personal, relate-able dimension.

Bates highlights throughout the book how even small incidences are, by definition, assault and should not be swept under the carpet. She answers her critics on the idea that she is making a fuss over what can be passed of as banter (or ‘just a bit of fun’, as Lynda Bellingham describes men pinching women’s bums in a club) by arguing that if you let the smaller things go, you make way for more serious incidences to be acceptable. Bates even included tweets and messages she’s had from people telling her she is creating problems were there are none, and exposes them as the straw-man arguments they are.

Everyday Sexism it is a vibrant, eye-opening attack on sexism that is still rampant in modern society. The passion and anger Laura Bates feels comes across in spades in her writing, which is sparkling; her sense of humour is not absent despite the serious issues she writes about. An important book that everyone, whether they doubt the existence of ongoing inequality or not, should read.

& Sons by David Gilbert

& Sons by David Gilbert reviewed by Cal at Liverpool One

Reviewed by Cal at Liverpool One

David Gilbert’s second novel & Sons follows the life of A.N. Dyer; a Salinger like author of enormous literary success, and his estranged sons. Written from the point of view of Philip Topping, a family friend, we are given a voyeuristic insight in to the workings of a dysfunctional family trying to make amends after many years apart.

Gilbert’s ability to write prose is staggering. His talent for observation is second to none but he writes in a way that never feels overbearing. The New York he has written is rich in detail and full of energy. There are times when pages give way to beautiful descriptions of the city making it feel like a character in its own right. Likewise each member of the Dyer family is crafted with such mind blowing detail that it is hard to believe that they are fictional.

& Sons explores the themes of art, love, growing up and, most importantly, family. It is an ambitious novel that swings wildly between raucous comedy and crippling heartbreak. Gilbert has perfectly captured the relationships between father and son and all the baggage that comes with them. Competitiveness, jealousy and fear of failure are prominent themes within each relationship but underneath all of these lie the threads of love that make each family somewhat relatable.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anybody who enjoys reading the literary fiction that usually pops up on big prize lists such as the Man Booker or Pulitzer because I’m sure this one is going to make it on to those lists very soon.

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson reviewed by Emma at Walton on Thames

Reviewed by Emma at Walton on Thames

I loved Jonasson’s first book, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, and his second novel is just as strange, funny and exciting. The story is full of unexpected twists and turns, and eccentric characters that are grounded by real historical figures and events. The imaginative and witty style makes this an enjoyable read that you won’t want to put down.

Under your Skin by Sabine Durrant

Under your Skin by Sabine Durrant reviewed by Emma Smith at Bedford

Reviewed by Emma Smith at Bedford

This is an absolutely brilliant read! Gaby Mortimer discovers a body one morning whilst running and it turns her life upside-down. If you like your stories full of twists you will love this! I can’t say too much without revealing spoilers but it’s a fantastic psychological crime novel that plays on the fear of your world crumbling away. Perfect for Sophie Hannah fans.

Toast & Marmalade and Other Stories by Emma Bridgewater

Toast & Marmalade and Other Stories by Emma Bridgewater reviewed by Jo Turner at Lincoln High Street

Reviewed by Jo Turner at Lincoln High Street

This is a beautiful book that combines the history of Emma Bridgewater’s pottery & designs with heart-warming tales of her family life and some tasty recipes to try along the way.

It is a very personal account and you feel like you’re being welcomed to share amusing anecdotes and tales with an old friend. The photography is beautiful and helps give life to the words on the page.

A charming book that should find its way onto the bookcase of every Emma Bridgewater fan.

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson reviewed by Kerry Meech

Reviewed by Kerry Meech

When I read the synopsis for this book I was a little dubious, I mean, how does a shanty town toilet cleaner from Soweto go about saving the king of Sweden? With the aid of identical twins (one of whom doesn’t exist), a girl with anger management issues, an eccentric baroness and Han Dynasty Pottery fraudsters, of course. This is a charming and mischievous rollicking yarn of a read, which deserves to be every bit as popular as the author’s previous book, the phenomenally successful The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride reviewed by Tom Mandall at Leeds

Reviewed by Tom Mandall at Leeds

A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing is an utterly astonishing novel. The style is fractured and fragmented, depicting our protagonist’s (un)conscious experience of her life. Once you tune into this unique voice, this bleakly beautiful novel begins to shine. I don’t want to give away the plot, but the involvement between the Girl and the reader that McBride achieves draws you deeper into the novel, propelling you to the end of the novel. It’s a stunning, devastating, and visceral reading experience I’ll not forget any time soon.

What do you think?