Books


Ask the book buyer about his top 10 reads in 2018

 

Christmas is over and so, very nearly, is the year. Jarrold book buyer Chris Rushby looks back over the best of twelve months of reading.

Dear Reader,

I hope Christmas was all you wanted it to be and that you got - and gave - plenty of books as presents. If you didn't, or if that book token is burning a hole in your pocket, here are some suggestions for reading in 2019. These are my top ten favourite reads of 2018, the books that have meant the most to me, one way or another, the cleverest, most moving, most entertaining and which I guarantee - no, make that 'believe strongly' - will repay reading.

Happy reading in 2019,

Chris

Mrs Bridge

Evan S. Connell

£8.99

I hadn't come across this wonderful 1959 novel until local author Emma Healey cited it as one of the inspirations for her own new book, Whistle In The Dark. It can justifiably be described as an overlooked modern classic. The central character is an upper middle class American housewife and the novel follows her from youth to middle age in a series of short, funny, moving chapters. The reader sees the pretension and emptiness of Mrs Bridge's world, but somehow the author makes that emptiness moving, the character matters to us.

Instore in the book department, lower ground

A Gentleman In Moscow

Amor Towles

£8.99

A bestseller in 2017, the sales of this book continued in 2018 through word-of-mouth recommendation - not least from me recommending it to anyone who'd listen. It's an unlikely subject for such success: the central character is a Russian nobleman sentenced, after the 1917 revolution, to house arrest in the hotel in which he's previously been a guest. But this is a story about humanity and civilised values pitted against the forces of bureaucracy and darkness - the kind of story the world would seem to need right now - and it's a captivating read. 

Instore in the book department, lower ground

Towards Mellbreak

Marie-Elsa Bragg 

 

£8.99

This beautiful first novel (by Melvyn Bragg's daughter) is set firmly in the Lake District and is brilliant at evoking the lives of those who farm that unforgiving landscape - as distinct from those of us who go there as tourists. I have to declare an interest: I've been going regularly to the Lakes, walking, for more than thirty years. When I saw the hand-drawn map in the front of this book and realised it was set in the exact same fells I've been walking for decades I was, inevitably, hooked. The effects of the passage of time, of the modern age bearing in on traditional ways of life, are handled perfectly in this gem of a book. 

Instore in the book department, lower ground

Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret 

Craig Brown

£9.99

This biography of Princess Margaret is structurally fascinating: not a conventional linear narrative, but a series of short chapters that combine to paint a picture of a strange, haughty, fascinating, arrogant, hilarious character. There's endless gossip and a walk-on cast of famous characters from Picasso to Princess Diana, from Elizabeth Taylor to Marlon Brando. I wouldn't have believed such a laugh-out-loud - and at the same time insightful - book could come from this source material, but Craig Brown has managed it. 

Instore in the book department, lower ground

Melmoth

Sarah Perry 

Now £12.99

 (RRP £16.99)

Norwich-based author Sarah Perry's previous novel, The Essex Serpent, was a huge, prize-winning bestseller. Her latest is an even better book, I'd say. The central character, Helen Franklin, is living with something she has hidden for decades. She is given a strange manuscript filled with narratives from the darker chapters of history, all which all record sightings of a tall, silent woman in black... If this sounds like gothic fiction, well, it is. But it's so much more than that. This is one of the few books I've finished in the past year when I wanted to start back in straight away and read it again. 

Instore in the book department, lower ground

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The Unfinished Palazzo: Life, Love and Art in Venice 

Judith Mackrell 

£9.99

The name Palazzo Venier dei Leoni may not ring a bell, but if you've visited Venice (as I have, often and slightly obsessively) you've probably been there - to the Guggenheim Museum, housing Peggy Guggenheim's wondrous collection of modern art. Although the most famous, Peggy Guggenheim wasn't the only fascinating woman to call the palace home, though: before her, the massively wealthy Marchesa Luisa Casati made the palace a belle epoque aesthete’s fantasy and herself a living work of art. Later, a notorious British socialite, Doris Castlerosse (née Delevingne), welcomed film stars and royalty to glittering parties between the wars. This fascinating book tells the story of the palazzo and its three idiosyncratic owners.

Instore in the book department, lower ground

We Have Always Lived In The Castle

Shirley Jackson

£8.99

The author may now be better known through the TV adaptation of her novel The Haunting Of Hill House, but this book deserves to be better known. The opening paragraph - one of the most intriguing in literature, I'd say - ought to be enough for you to decide whether this is your kind of book:

 My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.

Instore in the book department, lower ground

Rock And Roll Is Life: a Novel 

DJ Taylor

£18.99

Local author D.J. Taylor's brilliant new novel has been described as 'Spinal Tap for literary types'. The central character, Nick du Pont, is born and raised in Norwich, before playing his part in the rise and fall of the Helium Kids, a band that rubs shoulders with the Beatles and the Stones (without ever being quite that successful) and continues on through the seventies, before eventually falling victim to the excesses that felled many a British supergroup. This is a perfectly crafted romp, for the many of us steeped in the rock and pop of the past half century. 

Instore in the book department, lower ground.

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Kate Atkinson

£20

Kate Atkinson is sometimes said to be that unusual thing, a 'literary' novelist who is also highly 'readable' (as if those things are generally agreed to be mutually exclusive). We don't have time to get into that argument here, but suffice to say Atkinson always seems to write interesting, challenging, satisfying books irrespective of the genre or setting she settles on. Her latest is no exception: a spy novel set largely in wartime London, in some ways it outdoes the best thriller writers of our times, whilst always being more than a genre thriller.  

Instore in the book department, lower ground.

Tombland

C.J. Sansom

Now £15

 

(RRP £20)

Finally, a novel that needs little introduction in this part of the world: the latest in CJ Sansom's brilliant series of historical thrillers featuring the hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake sees the central character arriving in Norfolk just in time to be caught up in the events of the 1549 Kett's Rebellion. Shardlake and his associates stay in the Maid's Head Hotel, walk out onto Tombland, visit the Cathedral, Castle, Market and Guidlhall - in short, this is in some ways the ultimate 'local' book. Even if you haven't read the rest of the Shardlake series there's plenty in the new book to allow you to enjoy it on a stand-alone basis. 

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