Tuesday, 23 November 2010


Special treat today. I couldn’t leave you with only my book as a festive recommendation, so I asked super-talented Jonathan Lee to tell us about five books he’s enjoyed this year. And, fortunately for us, he did.


This is a small, perfect little book that is fast-becoming a word-of-mouth classic. Despite being ignored by all of the mainstream reviewers, it has found champions in the likes of Scott Pack's influential 'Me and my big mouth' blog and sites such as pulp.net. I'd call it a love story, but that might give you the wrong idea. It's unusual, inventive, cliche-free, funny and - at a mere 108 pages - a blissfully enjoyable train-journey of a book.


A perfectly judged short story collection. If I were a bad critic who fell back on lazy cliches (which I am) I'd call it 'laugh out loud funny'. Full of great ideas and lovely sentences. In each story, Viscovitz is a different animal. One minute he’s a love-struck cuckoo, the next he’s a chameleon suffering from an identity crisis. It’s a clever, poignant, playful book that deserves a wider readership.


My second novel is going to contain a number of competing voices propelling the central narrative, and as part of my preparation I've been digging through as many novels as possible that use clashing perspectives to interesting effect. This is one of the best of them. The still centre of the book is Philippe Petit’s breathless 1974 tightrope walk between the uncompleted twin towers. Spinning out from that centre are the lives of various New Yorkers, each with their own sadnesses and ambitions, told in a mix of engaging first and third person narratives. I like the way McCann resisted the temptation to force too many links and neat parallels between the stories - the book's looseness of form gives it a truth many '9/11' novels haven't managed.

HARPER REGAN by Simon Stephens

A play that I've sadly yet to see performed (I missed the 2008 National Theatre run), but recently read with great enthusiasm. In her late forties, Harper Regan suddenly leaves her family in the suburbs of West London and sets off on a mission to see her father before he dies. Her journey allows the author to explore the humour and sadnesses inherent in sex, death and love. Just when you think you know a character, have managed to flatten them into a nice little two dimensional summary in your own head, they do something unexpected. I think great plays have to have qualities which many novels don't - the action and the dialogue has to be so sharp and focussed as to withstand the scrutiny of being read or viewed in one sitting. Stephens is a very exciting writer and his new play, Wastwater (coming to the Royal Court in March) promises to be deeply interesting.

HER NAKED SKIN by Rebecca Lenkiewicz

Another play, this one exploring militancy at the height of the suffragette Movement, with thousands of women from different walks of life serving time in Holloway Prison for their attempts to win the right to vote. There are some beautifully wry, zinging lines of dialogue: "Love is just fear I suppose. Masquerading as a fever. Then you explore each other and suddenly you have licence to become totally pedestrian. And ultimately abusive." The thing I love most about the play is the way it conjures a whole universe off stage. You get a real sense of wider society, class war and racial tensions in London, 1913.

Jonathan's first novel, Who Is Mr Satoshi?, is out now with Heinemann. You can find out more at Jonathan’s website and buy a copy here.


Rachel Fenton said...

Thanks for the suggestions, all sound good enough to order now, like the sound of the last one, too!

TOM J VOWLER said...

I dunno, Rachel, I've heard it's a little dark!