Flynn, James R (2020) A Book Too Risky to Publish: Free Speech and the University. Academica Press. Generally our society believes that a university’s role is to promote free inquiry and teach intellectual expression. Open debate is essential to the development of critical thought, but on university campuses today free speech is increasingly restricted for fear of causing offence. Professor Flynn’s impassioned book, originally withdrawn from publication because of its contentious nature, concludes that students and scholars should be able to seek truth without interference, and that a few universities are now being constrained by routinely practising censorship, political correctness, intimidation, denouncement and even violence to suppress discussion and expression of anything they disagree with. An eye-opener. Rating: 9/10.
Donoghue, Emma (2020) The Pull of the Stars. Little Brown. This is a story of three days in a Dublin maternity fever ward at the height of 1918 Spanish flu. The narrator, Nurse Julia Power, works in an overcrowded hospital with expectant mothers who have come down with the flu. Into her world comes rumoured rebel Dr Kathleen Lynn (historical figure) and convent-orphan helper Bridie Sweeney. It is the compassionate camaraderie of these three women that lifts the story-line out of its cheerless situation. Poverty, malnutrition, deprivation, hypocrisy and the labours of women are all at the heart of this brilliantly eloquent and haunting narrative. Wonderful. Rating: 9/10.
Ferrante, Elena (2020) The Lying Life of Adults. Europa. When Giovanni at thirteen hears her father tell her mother that she is “very ugly” like his detested and estranged sister, Vittoria, her life changes and she becomes a moody, resentful and spiteful adolescent. This is the story of two Naples, the refined Naples of the heights and of the vulgar depths of the Industrial Zone. Giovanni vacillates between the two cities as she loses her innocence and transitions from girlhood to womanhood, seeking her true reflection. Deceitful masterclass on lying. Classic Ferrante in a more modern Naples setting. Rating: 9/10.
Ware, Ruth (2020) One By One. Scout Press. Eight co-workers of a trendy music tech startup are on a retreat in a ski chalet, in the French Alps, in the midst of a snow storm. As the corporate agenda morphs into a contentious buy-out offer, tensions rise and one by one the group dwindles. A twenty-first century adaption in the Agatha Christie classic mystery tradition. Rather boring. Rating: 7/10.
Ramsey, Ewa (2020) The Morbids. Allen & Unwin. Two years ago Catlin was in an accident which left her with a death-related anxiety. She deals with her feelings by self-medicating, smoking constantly, rarely sleeping, living in ‘cat-piss’ accommodation, and attending a therapy group of misfits with similar crippling anxieties, known as the Morbids. Her family despairs. When her best friend announces her intention to get married in Bali, and she meets an attractive man, she must overcome her fear of death and seek a path to recovery. Ramsay captures the unreliable narrative of Caitlin’s world, and an experience of mental illness, with deft skill. Fraught but hopeful, needed perseverance though. Rating: 8/10.
French, Tana (2020) The Searcher. Viking. After 25 years as a Chicago cop, and with a heartbreaking divorce behind him, Cal Hooper seeks to build a new life in an idyllic Irish village. Then a local kid comes seeking his help to find a missing brother and even though Cal’s aim is to keep trouble from his door, he can’t walk away from this call. Cal tries to do good in a place where the right thing has the potential to cause harm. What can he do when he can no longer rely on the infallibility of the law? Set in a wild landscape where morally ambiguous townspeople are suspicious of outsiders. French’s stand-alone novel is a slowly paced character-based mystery, with plenty of depth. Excellent. Rating: 9/10.
Carlyle, Rose (2020) The Girl in the Mirror. Allen & Unwin. The lives of mirror twins, Iris and Summer, have taken a different trajectory. Summer is the warm and open-hearted ‘chosen-one’, while Iris’ life has been more challenging as she languishes in her sister’s shadow. Both girls are pawns in a deadly inheritance battle. When Summer accidentally falls overboard and is lost at sea on a trip from Thailand to the Seychelles Iris steps into Summer’s life to secure the inheritance. A chilling psychological thriller about duplicity, greed, jealousy, and deadly lies. Nasty stuff. Rating: 7/10.
Zuboff, Shoshana (2019) The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: the fight for the future and the new frontier of power. Profile Books. As the surveillance capitalism juggernaut, and its instrumentation power, with its collectivist ambitions and radical indifference, advances into every sector of our lives, we find our personal control and individualism under threat. Zuboff encourages us to refuse to cede our future to this profoundly antiegalitarian, antidemocratic, social and illegitimate force – this seductive “hive” of total connection, that is driven by maximum profit; this “technological Trojan horse” that seeks to conquer human nature. An important book that names the danger. Rating: 9/10.