Barbara Vine – The Birthday Present

Barbara Vine – The Birthday Present

Ivor Tesham ist 1990 ein aufstrebender Abgeordneter der Tories. Margaret Thatcher regiert das Land und dem attraktiven jungen Politiker steht eine glänzende Karriere bevor. Das einzige, was er nicht hat, ist die glückliche Familie. Dafür aber eine Affäre mit einer verheirateten Frau, die seine Leidenschaft für Rollenspiele beim Sex teilt. Zu ihrem Geburtstag will er ihr eine besondere Freude machen und eine Entführung inszenieren – doch dabei läuft etwas schief und Hebe sowie ein weiterer Mann sterben, ein dritter wird schwer verletzt. Ivor hat Angst um seine Karriere und meldet sich daher nicht bei der Polizei. Doch es gibt Menschen, die von der Affäre wissen und so macht sich der kaltblütige Politiker erpressbar.

Die Geschichte wird rückblickend aus Sicht von Ivors Schwager erzählt, weshalb Ivor seine Geschichte nicht selbst erzählen kann, bleibt zunächst unklar. Der Schwager ist ein braver Familienvater und spart nicht mit der Analyse der Diskrepanz zwischen Ivors tatsächlichem Verhalten und dem öffentlichen Bild des konservativen Politikers mit reiner Weste. Er ist immer wieder schockiert, wie abgebrüht Ivor Entscheidungen vor dem Hintergrund seiner Karriere trifft und dabei die Menschen völlig aus den Augen verliert.

Neben Ivor spielt Hebes Freundin Jane, die ihr regelmäßig Schützenhilfe beim Betrug leisten musste, eine wesentliche Rolle. Der Abstieg der jungen und intelligenten Frau ist grausam mit anzusehen. Einerseits versucht sie ihre Cleverness zu nutzen, dann scheitert sie wiederum an ihrer Menschenkenntnis und der Gutgläubigkeit, die bisweilen regelrecht naiv wirkt. Sie ist für mich – neben zahlreichen anderen – das Hauptopfer der Geschehnisse zu denen sie nichts beigetragen hat, die aber ihr Leben zerstörten.

Machtbesessenheit, Gier und Egoismus sind die Triebfedern des Romans, der gnadenlos mit seinen Figuren umgeht und sie für ihre Fehltritte zahlen lässt.

Francesca Segal – The Awkward Age

Francesca Segal – The Awkward Age

Since her husband died of cancer five years ago, Julia has raised her daughter Gwen alone. Unexpectedly, she falls in love with James whom she teaches to play the piano. Quickly James moves in Julia’s and Gwen’s house and also brings his son Nathan. Gwen and Nathan, both teenagers, are not happy with the new situation. Gwen misses the time when her mother was only focussed on her, Nathan still struggles with his parents‘ divorce and his sister living abroad. The unexpected happens: Nathan and Gwen find out that the other isn’t as bad as they had thought and another unexpected love starts to blossom in the household. The parents are furious when they find out, but the situation gets even worse when 16-year-old Gwen realises that she is pregnant.

Francesca Segal really achieves to make the characters of her novel seem lively and authentic. This is for me the most striking aspect of “The Awkward Age”. Julia who cannot fully immerse in her new love, since she is still close to her deceased husband’s parents and does not want to hurt their feelings even though they encourage her new love. Her own feelings towards her daughter, being caught again and again between the girl and her new partner – one can sense how complicated her emotional life is in those crucial months that the novel covers. I also liked Gwen a lot even though to some extent she is a typical hormone-driven teenager who sometimes falls back into infantile and inadequate behaviour. The grand-parents also struggle with their love life. Even though they have been separated for many years, Iris suddenly feels something like jealousy when Philip falls in love with another woman. Love can be a highly complicated matter.

The most interesting were Julia and James when their kids were fighting. Even though as a couple they are meant to stand on the same side, they frequently find themselves taking their respective children’s defence and opposing each other. It is those complex emotional states that make the novel outstanding since Francesca Segal created conflicts which are absolutely credible and authentic and in which those predicaments can show themselves – quite a crucial test for a new love.

Even though the main conflict is centred around the teenagers, I would not call it young adult novel, the other generations are as present as the youngsters and they quite well portray that love can be complicated no matter how old you are.

Hanif Kureishi – The Nothing

Hanif Kureishi – The Nothing

Waldo, once a celebrated film maker is now not only old but also disabled and dependent on the people around him. Zenab, his wife can hardly stand his moody and hostile character. Where did the man go for whom she left her first husband? Eddie, also into the arts and always in Waldo’s shadow, comes to their London apartment more and more often until Waldo suspects him to have an affair with Zenab. Waldo starts to survey them secretly in order to confront them with the betrayal.

I really appreciate Hanif Kureishi’s novels and I have read several of them, some over and over again, but I am a bit at a loss with his latest novel. We have a very close observation of a man who is at the end of his life and slowly seems to lose contact with reality and gets increasing hostile. He is clever in manipulating the people around him, this makes him an outstanding character who is everything but lovable and yet interesting to observe in his action and his own void he has created. In contrast, he seems to be really in love with his wife and even though his body is decaying he still has bodily needs, expressed quite openly.

I was wondering what the novel was actually about, since I am used to Kureishi giving his readers food for thought. On the one hand, Waldo explains that being attractive, desirable and charismatic paired with good looks is all that matters. When your old and disabled, nobody cares for you, not matter how successful and influential you once might have been, people immediately forget about you when you do not fit in the picture anymore. This superficiality of our society and especially in the show business definitely is something that should be seen as highly critical. On the other hand, Waldo is face with his upcoming death. Several times he downright asks the other characters to kill him so that it is finally over. He learns the hard way that “growing old isn’t for pussies” (pos. 295) and can never make his peace with his life.

All in all, full of sarcasm and cynicism – but who can resent someone’s bad behaviour when his life is not perceived as worth living anymore and finally comes to an end?

Megan Hunter – The End We Start From

Megan Hunter – The End We Start From

A young couple, the woman is pregnant, only a couple of weeks before the due day for her baby. London is threatened by a flood, people are being evacuated and the couple is affected by the environmental crisis, too. But then the relief, they can stay in their home. However, after the birth of Baby Z, they need to leave their home and move in with the husband’s parents. The crisis aggravates, first the grandmother, then the grandfather dies, they run out of food, then they have to leave and find shelter in a refugee camp. As they move from one place to the next, they are separated, not knowing if they will ever see each other again. Baby Z however, is discovering the world, making his first movements, first steps and saying his first words.

The novel is striking because of Megan Hunter’s rather plain style of writing. Short sentences coupled in short paragraphs. The characters do not have names, only the first letter of their Christian name is given. This equals the shortage by which they are increasingly affected and it intensifies the feeling of hardship and stress. You can feel the reduction to the very necessary in each sentence. The paratactic style keeps you informed, but you do not smoothly float through the novel. I have not often read novels in which the style equally thus perfectly the story. And Megan Hunter has a way of putting action into words which makes you stumble quite often, for instance: “The day they don’t come back from shopping is beautiful.” (Po. 88)  How can you ever reduce such a major event in a character’s life in such a sentence ending with an optimistic and promising adjective like “beautiful”?

The young mother is in the centre of the novel. First, we meet her with the well-known fears which all primipara share. But her fears are quickly overshadowed by the crisis which threatens their lives and the deaths of her parents-in-law. It is interesting to see how the style of writing expresses her emotions rather than functions as means for a description of how she perceives her situation.

The opposing developments of, on the one hand, the environmental crisis and on the other the development of Baby Z is masterly designed by the author. The antithesis in the title also picks up this idea. The life they lead before is gone. Your position in your job and in society, your role or roles in life – everything is submerged and questioned, now, all of the survivors have to start anew. The way the characters cope with the situation is also interestingly and convincingly depicted: some can manage, they are true survivors, other try to break out and run away from the situation.

All in all, a short novel which is striking due to the style it is written in.


F.G. Cottam – The Lazarus Prophecy

F.G. Cottam – The Lazarus Prophecy

Three prostitutes have already been killed in London. Since the police do not publish anything about the serial killer, he chooses a much more popular victim: the actress Julie Longmuir. Women do not feel secure anymore and Jane Sullivan, head of the investigation, and her team are under pressure. The parallels with Jack the Ripper are stunning, but of course, the Ripper has been dead for decades. Has he? At the same time in the French Pyrenees region. A couple of old monks try to keep a secret and fulfil their sole task as a clandestine order, but there has been a major incident and now they have to face the consequences.

F.G. Cottam’s thriller combines a murder story with religious aspects and paranormal elements. What I found most interesting were actually the killer’s message at the crime scene, his knowledge – there is a clear reason why they named him “The Scholar” – about ancient languages and the holy books. The cross references and allusions of course are not very singular, but I like these kind of books and I appreciated that not all is based on this but that we also have other interesting aspects in the novel. The protagonist, Jane Sullivan, is an interesting character. She is not the super hero but struggles with the case, sometimes close to giving up, but then again following her intuition and striving to solve this case. She is open for the paranormal and goes a road not often travelled in police work.

Yet, this is also the point which left me not completely satisfied with the novel. I would have preferred a more down to earth solution for the case. In the novel’s development, it was all logic and stringent, but readers who are avid of mystical explanation will not really appreciate it.

Tony Parsons – Wer Furcht sät

Tony Parsons – Wer Furcht sät

Wenn das Gesetzt die Falschen schützt und Unschuldige letztlich die Opfer sind; wenn die Polizei nur da ist, um Täter zu schützen und keine Gerechtigkeit mehr erwartet wird; dann braucht es eine Bürgerwehr. Aufrechte Londoner nehmen in die Hand, was die Justiz nicht vermag: sie führen Kinderschänder und Mörder ihrer gerechten Strafe zu. Die Internetöffentlichkeit kann teilhaben, wenn sie die Straftäter ganz wie in alten Zeiten hängen. Mit Albert Pierrepoint Masken verschleiern sie ihre Identität, vom Volk werden sie schnell als Helden gefeiert und Detective Max Wolfe muss nicht nur gegen eine Gruppe von selbsternannten Rettern ermitteln, sondern gegen eine ganze Nation, die die moralische Überlegenheit auf ihrer Seite sieht. Der Club der Henker scheint nicht zu stoppen.

Ein rasanter Fall für den Londoner Ermittler. Das Thema ist gut gewählt, denn hier geht es nicht nur um einen Mordfall, sondern der Leser muss sich selbst fragen, wie er eigentlich dazu steht, wenn Gerichtsurteile keine wirklich gefühlte Gerechtigkeit mit sich bringen, wenn Strafen eher gering ausfallen oder es gar zu Freisprüchen oder Bewährungsstrafen kommt. Man kann sich dieser moralischen Zwickmühle nicht entziehen in diesem Roman und muss sich positionieren – gegebenenfalls gegen den sympathischen Protagonisten. Ein Krimi, der einem nicht nur weiterlesen lässt, weil es spannend ist und man wissen möchte, wer der Täter ist, sondern der einem mit der Grundfrage an den Text kettet, sofern man sich nur ein klein wenig darauf einlässt.

Der Fall an sich bietet viele Spuren, unzählige Motive und doch lange Zeit keine klaren Schuldigen und er wird spannend aufgebaut und überzeugend gelöst. Interessant fand ich insbesondere die Polizeiarbeit, die mit ungewöhnlicher Unterstützung in Form eines Historikers und einer erblindeten Stimmanalystin arbeitet, das sind sicher keine ganz alltäglichen Ermittlungen, die den Roman aus der Masse hervorheben. Der Schreibstil gefällt mir, das Buch lässt sich auch in der Übersetzung einfach gut lesen.

Jeanette Winterson – The Gap of Time

Jeanette Winterson – The Gap of Time

Leo Kaiser is rich, he has everything he can wish for: money, a beautiful wife, MiMi, a beloved son, a successful business. Nevertheless, there is a certain guilt that he has been carrying around all his life: he was responsible for his best friend Xeno’s accident when they were kids. Is this the reason why Xeno has an affair with his wife and is the father of MiMi’s unborn child? MiMi and Xeno as well as his business partner Paulina try to make him see reality again, but Leo is stubborn and blinded by his anger. His rage finally leads to the catastrophe: his best friend gone, his son dead, his wife divorced and his daughter missing. Apart from his money, Leo has lost everything. On the other side of the world, Perdita grows up with a loving father and a caring older brother. She lives eighteen years not knowing what had happened to her real, biological family. When she meets the love of her life, suddenly, all the pieces match and add up to a completely new picture of her life.

The Gap of Time is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series and Jeanette Winterson has created a cover form of the bard’s comedy The Winter’s Tale. The author stuck quite close to the original: we have King Leontes – now Leo, king of a business imperium called Sicily; Hermione, his beautiful wife has become lovely singer MiMi; Polixenes, Leo’s childhood friend and later enemy shows up as Xeno; his son Florizel is now represented as Zel; the noblewoman Paulina who secretly holds the reins in both stories; and Shep(herd) and his son Clo(wn) who raise Perdita, the lost daughter. The plot itself has been placed into the computer game world of London and a bit refreshed to give the impression of a modern story. Albeit the story is known and the happy-end could be expected, I enjoyed the novel because Jeanette Winterson has a virtuous way of using language creating humorous and sharp puns and she does not refrain from openly alluding to Shakespeare himself. The comedy is downright entertaining from the first to the very last page and she absolutely managed to create characters who can surprise us, even though we are quite familiar with them, and seem to be authentic and imaginable as real persons.

Again, we can see also in this novel that Shakespeare’s plays can easily stand the test of time. Quite obviously, we have not developed any further during the last 400 years and are still governed by basic emotions such as love, pride, anger, desire, sadness and fear. Those universal sensations can easily be transferred to other places and times and do not lose any of their impact on human behaviour. One really has to congratulate the people behind Hogarth Shakespeare for picking gifted authors who make something new by respecting all that Shakespeare stands for. I am really looking forward to Jo Nesbo retelling Hamlet and Tracy Chevalier on Othello which both are to published in 2017. which both are to be