"If you like love, art, Paris and the joys of life, then this is the book for you"
This is Life (Canongate, £12.99) by Dan Rhodes
All I Did was Shoot My Man (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99) by Walter Mosley
For those in the know, the arrival of a new Dan Rhodes book is something to revel in. The English author is a well kept secret in this country, despite having six books under his belt, but his reputation is greater abroad, where his offbeat, leftfield fiction really seems to make its mark.
Rhodes’ seventh book, This is Life, is his longest by a considerable margin – he usually writes very short, succinct books – but it matches any of his previous works in quirkiness, compassion and charm. Describing a book as charming can conjure up an image of cosy security, such as you might get in an Alexander McCall Smith novel, but Rhodes’ style couldn’t be more different.
This is Life is sharp, satirical, heart-warming, at times silly, knowing and hugely enjoyable; Rhodes paints a panoramic picture of interweaving characters in the world capital of romance, Paris.
The focus of the book is struggling art student Aurelie, who embarks on a rather hazardous performance art project only to get lumbered with a stranger’s baby for most of the story. The weird set of events brings her into contact with a doddery old professor, her best friend Sylvie, a lovestruck interpreter, a middle-aged Japanese couple and Le Machine, a world-renowned conceptual artist.
Le Machine’s show, which is running in Paris at the time, is called - simply - Life, and consists of the artist spending weeks naked on the stage of an old adult cinema, defecating, urinating and everything else for the edification of the paying public.
Rhodes is good on the nature of art and of arts journalism, and pokes fun at both, but always with a serious undercurrent through his prose. He is also terrific on love, and This is Life is predominantly a love story. People fall in love, fall out of love, have their love unrequited and sometimes requited, and in the midst of it all is Aurelie and the baby she has come to grow so fond of.
Over the years, Rhodes has tended towards a more positive outlook within his narratives, and This is Life continues that gradual creep. This is his most mainstream book by some margin, yet it doesn’t sacrifice any of the author’s intelligence, skill or empathy for his characters. If you like love, art, Paris and the joys of life, This is Life is the book for you.
Equally as skilled but completely different stylistically is All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosley, a hugely experienced US author who makes a mockery of the old ‘literary versus genre’ fiction debate, straddling the two with ease. He is probably best known for his Easy Rawlins mysteries, but this new one is from his less prolific Leonid McGill series, and when he’s not turning out exemplary detective novels, he’s producing thoughtful literary fare such as The Man in My Basement and Fortunate Son, and even science fiction, young adult books, literary erotica, non-fiction and graphic novels.
Like all Mosley’s work, All I Did… is written with rhythm and an utterly compelling veracity, as PI McGill reopens an old case in which he was implicated in some less than legal activities. There is real depth to Mosley’s characters and a clarity of thought that is refreshing in a sea of overwritten contemporaries.
5 books every child should read before they’re 12... by Kate Harrison
1. White Boots by Noel Streatfeild
As captivating as the better known Ballet Shoes, this story of two young skaters has Streatfeild’s trademark touches: warm characters and a fantastic setting.
2. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
A truly original, gripping mystery series with legends, magic, maps and spine-chilling moments.
3. Absolute Zero by Helen Cresswell
The second and best book of The Bagthorpe Saga. Will cheer you up when your relations get you down.
4. Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
Features an amazing dad and an even more amazing plot involving an overstuffed pram, drugged pheasants and an awful villain.
5 The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Deliciously dark: Bod is raised by a supernatural surrogate family before venturing beyond the graveyard to try to avenge his parents’ deaths.
Kate Harrison’s Soul Beach (Indigo, £9.99) is out now. For ages 12-16
For the Kindle - and free!
Kidnapped (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson
As the inependence debate rages it seems timely to return to an unashamedly Scottish novel. Set in the mid-18th century, Kidnapped details the perils of teenage hero David Balfour, who must uncover the secrets of his tragic family. The vivid depiction of a heathery Scotland is as much a character as the miscreants with whom David must contend, as the repercussions of his kidnapping (thanks to the scheming of his devilish uncle) are played out over a dramatic landscape. There is some Scots idiom to unravel, but the jeopardies of David’s adventure remain as exciting as when written.
By Jenny Parrott
And another thing…
Excuse the craven self-promotion, but my fourth novel, Hit and Run (Faber & Faber, £12.99), is out now. It’s a dark thriller set in Edinburgh. If you like car crashes and psychological terror (and who doesn’t?) it could be up your street.