Where the Wild Things Are
‘The book is hard to categorise, and I’m often asked if it is poetry or prose, or a fable or a memoir and I cheat and say all of them, anything you like.’
So writes Max Porter, the rather exceptional talent behind our fiction Book of the Month for September, Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Like our companion non-fiction choice for the month, Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun, Porter’s book is a debut that describes a hinterland where the natural world surges in as a much-needed salve toward the challenges life sometimes puts our way. They are both works which suggest our fundamental connection with a wild realm that exists just as much on the inside as it does on the out.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
A mother prematurely passes, leaving a London family – two boys and their devastated father – reeling in grief’s wake, their home suddenly invaded by well-meaning but non-comprehending family and friends. Strange salvation arrives in the form of an enormous bird, a wise but sometimes inscrutable talking raven, who gradually nudges the trio toward the light. The turbulent spirit of Poet Laureate Ted Hughes looms large over this moving and sometimes fiercely witty novel by ex-bookseller Max Porter, described by Kirsty Gunn in The Guardian as ‘…a profound meditation on the difficulty of writing about love and loss.’
The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
It was probably to the surprise of few of us here at Waterstones Towers that Amy Liptrot’s properly extraordinary The Outrun bagged this year’s Wainwright Prize, the award that celebrates the very best of the year’s nature and travel writing. If Max Porter’s book is about external loss, then in a sense Liptrot’s is about the inner – the loss of oneself in a very post-millennial blizzard of work, pressure and the all-too available release of drink. A chance return to childhood Orkney (and specifically the remote island of Papa Westray) becomes the author’s touchstone, its wilderness becoming a healing mirror to Liptrot’s acute distress. ‘The Outrun may even be a future classic. Wherever she journeys next, you will want to go with her.' – Ben Myers, The New Statesman
The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell
Slightly scarily, it’s now over two years since Katherine Russell clinched the annual Waterstones Children's Book Prize with her second novel Rooftoppers, a vivid, Paris-set adventure that became the talk of booksellers across the country from the moment it landed. Now Rundell is back with The Wolf Wilder, exchanging French intrigue for the fabulously deep, forested snows of Russia. At the tale’s centre sits Feodora, a young wolf wilder in training, her task being to re-wild wolves so they can survive beyond the hand of man. Revolution, however, is in the air, and the sudden savage intervention of the Russian Army sets Feo on a treacherous but life-affirming journey of hope and survival. As Rundell puts it, ‘I wanted to suggest to the children who read it that, in the tumultuous world they are growing up in, there is more space for change than we might think.’
SS-GB by Len Deighton
Len Deighton is up there in the absolute elite of world thriller writers. His 1962 debut The Ipcress File heralded a new standard in genre writing, combining the kind of factual detail we associate with Ian Fleming with a certain, almost lyrical, sense of language and place. Deighton’s subsequent career as a writer was littered with breadth and success, including the brilliant Bernard Samson sequence (beginning with Berlin Game in 1983) and several notable histories of the Second World War, including the supreme Fighter: The True Story of the Battle of Britain. In SS-GB, Deighton deftly combines his eye for historic reality with the sure hand of a master storyteller at the peak of his powers. Described by Rob Mallows of the Deighton Dossier website as ‘one of the outstanding counter-factual history novels’, this fresh edition of 1978’s SS-GB paints a starkly-accurate portrait of a Britain under Nazi occupation, underpinned by a seemingly-conventional police procedural. All, however, is not what it seems, and soon sinister discoveries lead policeman Douglas Archer to the very heart of the new establishment’s dark powers.
It’s been our pleasure to assemble this month’s selection of literary gems and we look forward to bringing you more discoveries in October.