From the Restoration to Stalin
Your Waterstones Books of the Month for January
It’s our pleasure to wish you a very happy New Year and we hope that Christmas brought you at least one or two welcome new additions to your library.
Rather like last year, straight out of the gates, January is already looking pretty robust for fresh publishing (with new entries from both Paul Auster and Michael Chabon, it’s quite a start – more information on our revamped New Books page) and of course for your delectation we have the regular delights of our Books of the Month.
Fiction Book of the Month
It’s probably fair to say that a Man Booker contender evokes a doorstopper of a novel: the near-700 pages of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, say, or the good 650 pages of Anthony Burgess’ 1980 near-miss Earthly Powers.
Julian Barnes, by contrast, is the master of brevity: his novella-length win in 2011, The Sense of an Ending, probably has more to say about our relationship with the past than many books three times its length.
The Noise of Time, his new, equally-compact masterpiece, does much the same for the terrible pressures of political and artistic compromise. An eternally-conflicted Dmitri Shostakovich sits at the novel’s heart, the tale split between three moments of intense personal pressure as the composer confronts the full power of the Soviet state.
‘This novel, like its predecessor, gives us the breadth of a whole life within the pages of a slim book.’ – The Guardian
Non-Fiction Book of the Month
Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air found print in just under two years of the neurosurgeon’s passing. It is, as Craig Brown put it so succinctly in the Mail on Sunday, ‘a book of two halves: the first is about becoming a doctor and saving life, the second about becoming a patient and facing death.’
Kalanithi’s account of his battle with stage IV metastatic lung cancer takes a long, intelligent, unblinking look at life’s finality, eschewing cultural taboo to really forensically question how we prepare for the inevitable.
The result is as moving as you’d expect – the coda, written by Kalanithi’s wife, is almost unbearable to read – and, almost paradoxically, perhaps the most life-affirming memoir of its kind.
Children's Book of the Month
As a Hollywood ‘elevator pitch’, Lisa Thompson’s much-heralded debut is perhaps best described as a Rear Window for younger people.
Aged just twelve, Matthew Corbin is already hopelessly compromised by chronic obsessive-compulsive disorder. Self-confined to his bedroom, his window becomes a theatre to all manner of largely mundane incidents – mundane, that is, until the toddler who lives next door goes missing and Matthew swiftly finds himself turned detective.
The Goldfish Boy has already attracted comparison to Mark Haddon’s ground-breaking The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time but Thompson emerges with her own, authoritative voice to craft a story that is both sensitive and filled with immersive invention.
Thriller of the Month
Andrew Taylor has been a firm fixture in the firmament of crime writing for some years, paralleling a Diamond Dagger-winning output as an author with his work as a superb critic of the genre.
Ashes of London, though, does feel like a shift in gears, the mark of an experienced hand suddenly finding their pace and delivering something rather exceptional.
The apocalyptic devastation of The Great Fire of London forms the backdrop of this hugely absorbing Restoration thriller, where James Marwood – a youthful Whitehall clerk and reluctant government informer – is set upon the trail of a murderer. The resourceful and razor-sharp Marwood is a simply brilliant creation – a ‘new Shardlake’ as The Times put it – who skilfully weaves his way into a mystery of really stunning ambition.
'Unforgettable… Andrew Taylor’s previous historical crime novels have won numerous well-deserved prizes. Read this one to understand why.' – The Literary Review
All in all, a start to the year rarely comes with more power than this – the Barnes alone is simply an effortless masterclass in how it is done.
We’ll be back next month with February’s bounty and - from all of us at Waterstones Towers - we wish you an entirely rewarding 2017.