In the Florida Everglades, gator-park Swamplandia! is in trouble. Its star performer, the great beauty and champion alligator-wrestler Hilola Bigtree, has succumbed to cancer, and Ava, her resourceful but terrified 13-year-old daughter, is left in charge with her two siblings. But Ava’s sister has embarked on a romantic relationship with a ghost, her brother has defected to a rival theme park, and her father is AWOL. And then a mysterious figure called Bird Man guides Ava into a perilous part of the swamp called the Underworld, promising he can save both her sister and the park…
The choice of: Sakura
Revolution is brewing outside the palace walls, and the Three Fat Men who rule the land with an iron fist are getting fatter as the news gets worse. Led by the tightrope walker Tibul, the revolutionary forces, made up of ordinary citizens and the palace guard, embark on a mission to rescue Prospero the gunsmith from his imprisonment in the tyrants’ zoo, and to save the life of brave young circus girl Suok, who has been unmasked from her disguise as the favourite doll of the childless Fat Men’s heir, Tutti.
The choice of: Armen
They spend their days – and too many of their nights – at work. Away from friends and family, they share a stretch of stained carpet with a group of strangers they call colleagues. There’s Chris Yop, clinging to his ergonomic chair; Lynn Mason, the boss, whose breast cancer everyone pretends not to talk about; Carl Garbedian, secretly taking someone else’s medication; Marcia Dwyer, whose hair is stuck in the eighties; and Benny, who’s just – well, just Benny. Amidst the boredom, redundancies, water cooler moments, meetings, flirtations and pure rage, life is happening, to their great surprise, all around them. “Then We Came to the End” is about sitting all morning next to someone you cross the road to avoid at lunch. It’s the story of your life and mine.
The choice of: Mark
Eimear McBride’s debut tells, with astonishing insight and in brutal detail, the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour. Not so much a stream of consciousness, as an unconscious railing against a life that makes little sense, and a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist, to read A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing is to plunge inside its narrator’s head, experiencing her world first-hand. This isn’t always comfortable – but it is always a revelation.
The choice of: Dom
T.S. makes sense of his chaotic family life by drawing beautiful, meticulous maps kept in innumerable colour-coded notebooks. He is brilliant, and the Smithsonian Institution agrees, though when they award him a major scientific prize they don’t suspect for a moment that he is twelve years old.
So begins T.S.’s life-changing adventure, travelling two thousand miles across America to reach the awards dinner, the secret-society membership and the TV interviews that beckon. But is this what he wants? Do maps and lists explain the world? And why are adults so strange?
We liked the beginning and the end, but the middle of the book dragged, except for the interesting story of Great Grandmother. Quirky annotations in the margins were sometimes delightful and at other times just distracting. Our hypotheses at the meaning of some of the plot lines were unfulfilled as many points were left unresolved. Enjoyable enough, but failed to charm as much as we hoped!
The choice of: Claire
Young Jaffy Brown never expects to escape the slums of Victorian London. Then, aged eight, a chance encounter with Mr Jamrach changes Jaffy’s stars. And before he knows it, he finds himself at the docks waving goodbye to his beloved Ishbel and boarding a ship bound for the Indian Ocean. With his friend Tim at his side, Jaffy’s journey will push faith, love and friendship to their utmost limits.
A real adventure with the serious action seemingly compressed into the second half. Twists and turns that we didn’t expect and surprisingly grim. Beautifully and compelling novel with a dark heart.
The choice of: Polly
– no group this month
The hauntingly prophetic classic novel set in a not-too-distant future where books are burned by a special task force of firemen.
Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.
The choice of: Sakura
In Elective Affinities Goethe conducts an experiment with the lives of people who are living badly. Charlotte and Eduard, aristocracts with little to occupy them, invite Ottilie and the Captain into their lives; against morality, good sense, and conscious volition all four are drawn into relationships as inexorably as if they were substances in a chemical equation.
The novel asks whether we have free will or not; more disturbingly, it confronts its characters with the monstrous consequences of their repression of any real life in themselves.
The choice of: Carl
Thirteen-year-old Tom Curdie, the product of a Glasgow slum, is on probation for theft. His teachers admit that he is clever, but only one, Charles Forbes, sees an uncanny warmth in his reticence and in his seemingly insolent smile. So he decides to take Tom on holiday with his own family . . .
This powerful novel explores one of Jenkins’s consistent and most fruitful themes – how goodness and innocence is compromised when faced with the pressures of growing up and becoming part of society.
The choice of: Kim
Any Other Mouth’ is a gut-wrenching and shockingly frank account of sexual misadventure, familial disintegration, bereavement and self-discovery, in the vein of David Vann’s ‘Legend of a Suicide’, Susanna Kaysen’s ‘Girl, Interrupted’, and Miranda July’s ‘Nobody Belongs Here More Than You’.
In this highly personal work, Anneliese Mackintosh has taken the most intense episodes of her life so far, and reimagined them in these profound, playful and poignant tales.
The choice of: Dom