Gloucester Road Books is jam-packed with an overabundance of escapist books this summer. Here, the team suggest five brilliant reads for wherever you may find yourself whiling away the coming season…
Assembly by Natasha Brown Brown’s debut novel fully justifies the numerous award listings it has received. Set over 24 hours, the pared back style and finely tuned fragments, create a trance like reading experience as the unnamed narrator considers leaving all she’s worked for as she makes her way to her boyfriend’s parents’ anniversary party at their country estate. Brown deftly recounts the exhausting race, class and gender hurdles the narrator has overcome: “Generations of sacrifice; hard work and harder living.” Expertly chiselled, essential reading.
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason A very funny novel that quickly hooks you in with the deadpan charm and caustic humour of its protagonist, Martha. Martha receives a mental health diagnosis bringing about a reckoning of her marriage, past experiences, and bohemian-upbringing by her two artist-parents. The story is plainly-told through Mason’s knack for satisfyingly crisp sentences, complimenting the acerbic witticisms and astute observations of family life by her characters.
The Blackmailer by Isabel Colegate This is a deliciously dark and funny novel of blackmail, love and control. Originally published in 1958, it’s a welcome new edition from Bloomsbury. Colegate’s characters are expertly drawn, each one wildly flawed yet still somehow relatable. Our expectations of their behaviour are repeatedly confounded in this story that is both improbable and completely believable.
Tokyo Express by Seicho Matsumoto (translated by Jess Kirkwood) A classic Japanese crime novel, finally available in English. Tokyo Express is very much in the mould of the mystery rather than the thriller. We follow the efforts of two detectives as they doggedly attempt to unravel a deviously clever crime. Despite the crime at its centre, to our contemporary sensibilities this is actually quite a gentle, and in some ways charmingly innocent story.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead Ray Carney (“only slightly bent when it came to being crooked”) is the perfect character to follow through this story of family, crime, changing fortunes and vengeance in 1960s Harlem. In Whitehead’s deft hands we see him sweat out a hard-won place in the world for himself and his family, and then watch as it starts to fall apart. This is a brilliant novel full of utterly memorable characters and a devastatingly beautiful portrait of the breakneck change affecting a city and its people.