High Fidelity – Nick Hornby

After breaking up with Laura, Rob’s most recent ex, he asks himself the big questions about love and life. He also makes top-five lists about them, from his most memorable split-ups to Dustin Hoffman films and records made by blind musicians. Now, he is free to spend his time reorganising his record collection, arguing with Dick and Barry at the shop and daydreaming about recording artistes who look like Susan Dey. Soon, he reaches his own conclusions about love and marriage and it becomes clear where he’s been going wrong.

High Fidelity is upbeat and observant, it is an account of male self-pity and forgiveness from an instantly recognisable character. It is a charming story about people, full of reflections and brilliant glimpses into the male psyche.

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The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

It is 1686 and Amsterdam is a prosperous and flourishing port. For eighteen-year-old Petronella Oortman, the city and her new Herengracht house are important pieces of the new life she will have as wife of Johannes Brandt, a wealthy merchant. Far from the secluded country life of her childhood, the city of narrow houses and elaborate canals is Nella’s new home.

Though her married life does not start off well. She is welcomed only by Marin, Johannes’ ascetic frosty sister, who runs the Brandt household, with the help of their fiesty maid Cornelia and former slave Otto, whose skin was the darkest Nella had ever seen. Nella’s only company in the house is Peebo, her pet parakeet. Whilst the elusive Johannes is absent, she struggles to understand the husband she barely knows.

As Johannes avoids her, life progressively gets stranger, starting with an indulgent wedding gift – a scaled down replica of their own home. The eerie miniature uncovers secrets, puzzles and betrayals, it is the premise for a compelling and climactic story of relationships, fixation and retribution.

Dispatches – Michael Herr

A compelling account of war, capturing the normalities and nightmares of the American soldiers, as reported by war correspondent Michael Herr. Originally written as front line notes for Esquire Magazine, Dispatches is a searing and subjective reflection of the Vietnam War.

Much of Dispatches highlights the futility of many missions, the significance that was placed on ‘kill counts’ and the damaging and captivating effects on the minds of men. It emphasises the distinguishing environment that the men are placed in and draws attention to the chaos and confusion of war.  Powerful and honest snippets of conversation, abundant in slang and racial tension, draw on soldiers coping mechanisms and humour to illustrate a candid image of military life in South East Asia at this time.

Herr’s internal monologue is established by a myriad of 1960’s pop culture references along with heavy doses of philosophy. Whilst some of his thoughts and feelings relate cruel behaviours to the soldiers, they are alongside many stories of compassion and bravery and Herr clearly equates both to the context and setting of the war.

 

Anna of the five towns – Arnold Bennett

Anna of the five towns follows the seemingly ordinary life of the humble and dutiful Anna Tellwright, who as a young woman learns of her coming-of-age inheritance, reserved for her by her mother. Despite her wealth, she remains under the control of her father, in both the real and financial world. Money aside, the novel follows Anna’s first stirrings with love, struggles with religion and her father’s wrath.

Arnold Bennett’s writing is marked by vitality of style, giving an insight into the harshness of life and providing a perceptive portrayal of Victorian communities in Staffordshire. His regard for the small scale aspects of life create a humble and compelling story.