Full Marks for Trying by Brigid Keenan

9781408852279

Prolific film and TV actress, Nicole Sullivan, is quoted as saying, “Once you’re able to look like an idiot and be OK with it, it opens up your potential.”

This could have been the epigram to Brigid Keenan’s new memoir, Full Marks for Trying, an at-times riotous look at her colourful childhood in India and subsequent return to mother England. Keenan keeps it anecdotal, though occasionally pines for the past – but in a way that exhibits gratitude while eschewing sentimentality.

This is personal prose and a personal book. Perfect with a Pimm’s!

Scott

Full Marks for Trying/£16.99/9781408852279

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

JUNE BOOK OF THE MONTH

methode-times-prod-web-bin-3802deb2-21d5-11e6-8644-041f71209e1fLondon 1893. When Cora Seaborne’s husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness: her marriage was not a happy one, and she never suited the role of society wife. Accompanied by her son Francis – a curious, obsessive boy – she leaves town for Essex, where she hopes fresh air and open space will provide the refuge they need. When they take lodgings in Colchester, rumours reach them from further up the estuary that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter…

This stunning novel is one of the best of the year so far, and probably a strong contender for the Booker Prize. It conjures its Victorian setting perfectly, and has vivid, memorable characters and big, interesting ideas as well. It is one of those books that is both pleasurable and thought-provoking, and I will be eagerly pressing it into the hands of customers, friends and family all year!

Charlotte

The Essex Serpent/£14.99/9781781255445

It’s All In Your Head by Suzanne O’Sullivan

imaginary_illness__3338018aThis intriguing and revelatory book by leading neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan recently won the 2016 Wellcome Prize, which recognises exceptional original work addressing medicine, health or illness. It is brilliant written and really draws the reader into to its under-discussed subject matter.

Pauline first became ill when she was fifteen. What seemed to be a urinary infection became joint pain, then life-threatening appendicitis. After a routine operation Pauline lost all the strength in her legs. Shortly afterwards, convulsions started. But Pauline’s tests are normal: her symptoms seem to have no physical cause whatsoever.

It’s All in Your Head is Suzanne’s first book; a focused look at the range of debilitating illnesses that are medically unexplained. We all exhibit physical responses to emotion – from blushing and laughter to palpitations and stomach ache – yet sometimes these expressions can be much more debilitating, causing seizures, paralysis and even blindness, and the stigmatisation associated with such a diagnosis is profound.

Charlotte

It’s All In Your Head/£8.99/9780099597858

Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf

MAY BOOK OF THE MONTH

our-souls-at-night-9781447299356This novel, the brilliant american author Kent Haruf’s last, is written with beautiful and effortless precision and is incredibly moving and memorable for a book of its slender size.

Addie Moore and Louis Waters have been neighbours for years. Now they both live alone, their houses empty of family, their quiet nights solitary. Then one evening Addie pays Louis a visit. They strike up an indefinable relationship that their distant families and confused neighbours instinctively react against.

This book deftly and intelligently raises questions about the nature of love and affection in later life, but will also appeal to lovers of fine writing and illuminating fiction.

Charlotte Colwill

Our Souls At Night/£7.99/9781447299370

This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell

Thanks to Maggie for coming in to Dulwich Books to sign her new novel This Must Be The Place. Here’s Sheila’s take on the book:

this-must-be-the-place-by-maggie-o-farrell-760x1169A captivating gem of a novel that is an engrossing and wonderful read.

The story – set mainly but not exclusively in the present day – crosses time zones and continents to paint an extraordinary portrait of a marriage, a marriage of intense love that when it falls apart your heart breaks for Claudette and Daniel. Although at times I did get a little irritated with Claudette I did forgive her as she is basically a complex character who has been hurt many times. Maggie has developed the characters brilliantly and at times you feel they are your friends.

I loved the scenes she depicts in the kitchen and home life in Donegal conveying the warmth and love, there are wonderful descriptions of life in Ireland and I felt I was in Jardin du Luxembourg when Claudette and Daniel met again. This is masterful storytelling as Maggi effortlessly weaves the complex threads of relationships and loves in what is surely her best novel to date.

Sheila O’Reilly

This Must Be The Place/£18.99/9780755358809

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Zero K by Don DeLillo

UnknownPull the curtains, turn off the TV, hunker down and devour this outstanding new novel by one of the American greats at a sitting. In a tour de force DeLillo forces us to explore the great themes of the 21st century – the elusive search for eternal life, the ethics and philosophy of euthanasia, the hurt caused when families fracture through death and divorce, the role of language in a post-nation-state globalised world, the ability of power and money to control human life, all set against a background of immigration, famine, terrorism, self-immolation, disasters natural and unnatural. If you only buy one novel this year make it this one.

Susie Nicklin

Zero K/£16.99/9781509822850

Arab of the Future by Riad Saffouf

riad-sattouf-arab-of-the-futureCaptivating, compelling and informative is how I’d describe this graphic memoir from Riad Saffouf, translated into English by Sam Taylor.

Using his voice as a child Saffouf deals with topics such as the regional tensions between Jews and Arabs, America and the Western Influence, the madness of Gaddafi, racism in France and the general treatment of women. One might think that it’s a heavy read, but the format is ingenious and powerful.

We get glimpses of how Libya and Syria were as Riad grew up, the stresses on Riad’s father as he tried to live the life between what was expected of him and what he was capable of. There are chilling scenes such as the treatment of a dog or how the children treat each other, even playing at war between Jews and Arabs.

The cartoons are enjoyable, make you laugh whilst not taking you away from the view of life in the Arab world in the 1970’s, a world that set the stage for today’s situation.

It was thanks to Federico Andornino at Two Roads that I came across this important book and I am so glad he brought it to my attention. I heartily recommend it

Sheila O’Reilly

Arab of the Future/£18.99/9781473638112

The Path by Professor Michael Puett and Christine Gros-Loh

coverHarvard Professor Michael Puett makes a bold claim that ‘if you take the ideas in this book seriously they will change your life’. His course on ancient Chinese philosophy is the third most popular at Harvard (after economics and computer science) and he now writes for a wider audience on how the ancient Chinese philosophers – Confucius, Mencius, Lazoi et al – offer a way of living that can still be relevant today, and how if we follow their wisdom we can improve our relationships, deal more easily with life’s up and downs and better conduct our lives. It’s thought-provoking, inspiring writing – a new-old way of thinking about how we see the world and how to behave in it.

Camilla Ferrier

The Path – Puett and Gros-Loh – 978-0241004494

A Life Discarded by Alexander Masters

Untitled-1How do you reconstruct the life of an anonymous person whose diaries you find in a skip? When you have to guess at gender, age, height (at one point a fail-safe formula concludes seven metres tall is the right answer), character? And why would you, when their privacy has presumably been invaded just by scooping 148 notebooks out into the world? Masters’ previous exceptional title, Stuart: A Life Backwards won the Guardian First Book Award and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize and the Hawthornden Prize, brings his forensic skills and emotional intelligence to bear on a life full of passion and pathos. Meet Alexander on 12th May at The Bedford Pub in Balham to hear him discuss his approach to life writing.

Susie Nicklin

A Life Discarded – Alexander Masters – 9780008130770

A House Full of Daughters by Juliet Nicolson

A House Full of Daughters hb copyThis is a beautifully-written, honest and accomplished group biography of seven generations of women of the Sackville-West family. Featuring the flamboyant and alluring Pepita, the formidable creative genius Vita, the chatelaine par excellence Victoria, the inferiority-complex-riddled Philippa, and of course Juliet herself, an Oxford graduate and child of the Swinging Sixties, it is story of money, privilege, class and luxury, as well as of addiction, repression and emotional deprivation. Meet Juliet on 12th May at The Bedford Pub in Balham to hear her in person on the skill of writing biography & autobiography.

Susie Nicklin

A House Full of Daughters – Juliet Nicolson – 9780701189303