Kinky Boots – Adelphi London

Kinky Boots is an amzingly sparkily musical, flicking between a shoe factory (with behaviour around “workshop equipment” that made me wince during the dance scenes, and Lola’s world. Then gradually the two mix, and Lola is brought in to save a gradually closing factory from disaster.

I saw this the day after For the Love of the Game, on our annual trip to London. Despite both outwardly having very different themes, they are both about boys trying to live up to what their families’ and communities want without losing their own dreams.

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Everything Under – Daisy Johnson

Everything Under is slightly surreal, set mainly in the world of canal boaters. Gretel is trying to understand her childhood, and how her mother became who she is as she fades into dementia.

Exploring family ties and the impact of poverty, Gretel works writing dictionary entries into she finally find her mother and brings her to her own home. The narrative swirls as her mother moves through time, and pieces gradually fall together to create a whole story. It took me a long time to place Gretel correctly in this web.

I look forward to rereading this and seeing how the hints build up now I know what the correct perspective is

Washington Black – Esi Edugyan

Washington Black is definitely an imagination-capturing book, with George Washington Black, or Wash, finding his path away from slavery. Starting as a field-slave in a plantation on Barbados, he catches the eye of the owner’s brother, Titch. From there he develops as an artist and scientist.

“I myself will will always go by carriage, even when it ceases to be fashionable and other men accept strangr means of conveyance – steam engines and such. Unholy aerial contraptions.”

The Cloud-cutter, which Wash and Titch use to escape Barbados, is very steam-punk, We’re in 1830 and trialling a hydrogen barrage-balloon. Wash’s role is to sketch the balloon and landscapes through which they will travel. But ultimately Titch’s tendency to walk away from everything results in him leaving Wash without a support network in the Arctic.

“Oh, child, it like nothing in this world. When you free, you can do anything.”

An inspiring story about choosing your own consequences and dreams. About chasing stability, family and memories across the world and through the years.

Of the four I’ve read so far, my favourite of the Man Booker shortlist.

The Long Take – Robin Robertson

One of two books in this year’s Man Booker list that touch on Novia Scotia, but in here is is a pristine place that Walker does not feel able to return to, rather than a place of healing.

As someone who wants to read literary fiction, I approached The Long Take with a degree of trepidation. But although this is classed as a poetic narrative, it generally reads more as a slightly choppy novel: reminisent of short scenes in films.

This is not an easy read, with Walker acknowledging his suffering from PTSD whilst he works his way through life, and poor communities are built with painstaking sacrifice, and destroyed at the whim of a bureaucrat’s pen.

Robertson brings emotions and relationships to life as Walker tumbles through his life, trying to find a way past World War Two, but ultimately turning to embrace friendships with fellow veterans rather than seeking to escape.

Milkman – Anna Burns

Its Man Booker season and I again have my hands on the shortlist.

First out of the pile was Milkman, a novel about an unnamed character in an unnamed city. However I read it as Belfast, as I felt it was meant to be read. Our heroine, middle sister, is navigating a complex social structure where failure doesn’t just impact friendships, but is a matter of life and death.

But as she wanders through her life, trying to remain detached, the milkman takes an interest in her. From that moment onwards she discovers that the safety of her detached life is a facade, and begins to learn who within the community can and can’t be relied upon. The threat of violence is ever-present, and divisions between areas are strongly felt.

But just as the tension ramps up, the mother becomes a figure of light relief, as she courts the real milkman whom she has loved for years.

Not one I would have picked up, but definitely worth reading, especially against the current political backdrop with changes to the Irish border being considered.

The Silk Roads – Peter Frankopan (Audiobook)

With a long roadtrip planned, we borrowed an eaudiobook from the library to listen to on the journey. Going through the non-fiction options, this history looked likely to teach us something new.

The Silk Roads promises to provide a new history of civilisation with a focus away from the West and instead focus on the “centre of the world”, stretching from the Mediterranean across Asia. Given that, I was expecting little mention of Europe. However there was constant framing against European history, and Persia’s history was nearly all described as a struggle with Rome.

At least the Age of European Empires gives agency to non-European actors, and acknowledges mistakes and atrocities committed by the powers. The realisation of the confidence trick of empire along with the view of World War One as the conflict between empires and the trigger for the unraveling of the same empires.

The shifting power balances and growth of anti-Americanism throughout the second half of the twentith centenary is also examined through the prism of short-term decision making: nearly every decision being made for the correct immediate reasons, but without consideration for long-term impacts.

The conclusions were bizarre. After China had been mostly ignored for the body of the book, it was suddenly vital in  setting the new agenda. If so important, why had it been left out for so much of the previous 24 hours?

Overall, an interesting history, but much more West-focused than the blurb suggests.

Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure – Cédric Villani

Villani is a charismatic character who, contrary to the popular image of a mathematician, owes much of his success to collaboration with colleagues. Birth of a Theorem sets out the work necessary to develop his ideas into a full proof, and work is definitely the correct word. He details late nights and long days, emails exchanged on Christmas day, and the frantic development of ideas for conference deadlines.

Villani’s trajectory through academia is impressive, as is to be expected from a Field’s medal winner, and the insight into how much was down to chance meetings and hard work is fantastic. This was also the book that has encouraged me to return to my dream of undertaking a PhD, although not in pure mathematics as I might have expected aged 18.

My only complaint is that my LATEX was never that great, and now is beyond rusty, and I would have expected all the equations in this popular maths book to be displayed in conventional notation, rather than having to do the mental work of converting the TEX script and then understanding the equations, in a field which I don’t have much knowledge of. Somewhere where the editor should maybe have stepped in. But the translation (from French) is very good.

I’m also back to thinking about the Collatz Conjecture again, although even less likely to find a route to a solution than I was a decade ago.

This is not the sort of book I expect to find in my local public library,  but am very glad I stumbled across it there.

The Fever Tree – Jennifer McVeigh

The Fever Tree was recomended to me by my Mum, after she read it as a book club book. I can certainly see why it is popular with book clubs, lots of quotable passages, historical setting, topical themes. But although it has lots of discussion points, this is not a book I enjoyed.

Frances is the most hopelessly self-obsessed heroine I have ever had the misfortune to read about, and only redeems herself a little in the last few chapters, when she learns the value of hard work and loyalty. Until then she is beyond frustrating, never talking to her husband or working to improve their lot.

Not a book I’d recommend to anyone wanting a pleasant read (I advised my aunt not to borrow it), but definitely one that could start discussions.

Twisting the Rope – R. A. MacAvoy

Despite being a good story, Twisting the Rope was a bit of a disappointment as it played less with the idea of Mayland Long as mythical beast. It did feel like MacAvoy wanted to play further with a different type of story but had been expected to produce another Mayland Long book so wrote this story with him and Martha in place. Not to mention the very eighties cover this had with a bikini-clad woman on the cover.

The main mystery was brilliant though, with so many possible motives and a very peculiar setting. I enjoyed how all the pieces fell together for the ending, and intend to reread.

Have you read any jarring sequels recently?

Invisible Planets – Ken Liu

I had been warned by a friend that this collection wasn’t as good as the cover suggested, and that he had had difficulty getting into it. Therefore I started towards the end, on the grounds that those stories were the ones he hadn’t got to. With it framed as such, I found the stories I picked out to be very satisfying.

Having read Taking Care of God, I requested The Three-Body Problem from the library.

Folding Beijing‘s win of the Hugo-award was well-earned. It was simultaneously social commentary on the division of wealth, opportunities and urban space, and a science-fiction adventure with Lao Dao risking his life for a task.

Well-worth flicking through.