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.

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

On the surface, Rachel, the girl on the train, appears to be the ordinary commuter. Catching the same train every day, she observes life and in particular, the life of those who live in the trackside houses. Her journey provides an escape, it allows her to break away from her compulsive drinking, self-pitying and relentless thoughts of her ex-husband, Tom, and his new family – living in their old home.

‘Jess and Jason’, a beautiful couple whose terrace balcony can be seen from the train, provide much entertainment for Rachel’s imagination – she feels as though she knows the intricate details of their perfect life at 15 Blenheim Road. Staggering through each day, Rachel provides an obsessive account of the couple’s life, as she images it. One day, she is shocked by what she sees. Shortly afterwards, she recognises the face of ‘Jess’ on the front of a newspaper – she has vanished. Between her alcoholism and blackouts, Rachel becomes knotted in the lives of the couple, attempting to tell the police everything she knows:  the blue dress, the red-haired man, the underpass, her bleeding lip.

Emulating Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Hawkins demonstrates the gripping nature of juggling perspectives, including the flawed and undependable protagonist. The Girl on the Train builds unanticipated empathy, alluring characters, enthralling twists, guesses and second guesses.

One Day – David Nicholls

One day is an outside-the-box romance. It is an account of the synonymous friendship and romance of Emma and Dexter. Set on one day (15th July), it depicts snapshots of the protagonists’ lives over twenty years. David Nicholls’ creative writing style and adept judgement of what-to and what-not-to include, lends itself well to the piecing together of the missing years.

Classically, this is a story of opposites attracted. It is the definition of will-they-wont-they? It is a brutally honest characterisation of the complexity of relationships and is an education of the vulnerability that love brings.

 

The book deals with missed opportunities and dysfunctional relationships. I often laughed at Dexter and Emma and found the book had a clever balance between heartbreaking and humorous.It is a tormenting story and the premise of only seeing one day a year is rivetingly irritating.

P.S. The hopeless Ian and his ‘tracky botts’ definitely deserve a mention. I was rooting for you Ian (kind of)!

The Help – Kathryn Stockett

The Help is an illustrative tale of the racial tensions in Jackson 1962, it illuminates segregation, prejudice and the hurtful truths of the past. Set around the time of the Civil Rights Movement this story ties together historical fact and fiction.

Kathryn Stockett, a white author, bravely took the challenging task of writing and presuming what life would be like as ‘The Help’, raising young white children who would inevitably grow up to discriminate and affiliate with the blinkered opinions of their society. The author draws upon her experiences of growing up in Mississippi to create a revelatory story of injustice, discrimination and relationships.

Each chapter of the story is written from the perspective and narrated in the voice of one of the three main characters. It follows the intertwined lives of these women, two of whom are black maids (Aibileen and Minny), and one a young white lady (Skeeter) who recognises the unjust nature of her society. The main hook in this story highlights the choking fear and tradition that trapped many women in their role as the help.

Though it is important to note that this story not only evokes sympathy but is also riotously funny with doses and doses of humour. Notably, rebel Minny’s ‘terrible awful’ insurance pie. This book is simply a warm and beautiful read. It is a truly vivid account of historical-fiction.