What the books are about

The Gathering

This is a complicated book, one that requires more than one reading with which to fully come to grips. There’s a lot going on here, about family, about the ties that bind, about the fact we can never escape the past. Everyone will not like this book, it’s too grim and rambling and unfocussed for that, but I did. The story, which is set in Dublin, revolves around Veronica Hegarty, a 30-something wife and mother, who has escaped the clutches of her huge Irish Catholic family She has eight siblings and suffers hardships when her brother, Liam, kills himself. Closest to him in age, Veronica is the one who must pick up the pieces and bring back his body from England, where he drowned himself off Brighton Beach.

Blind Willow, Sleeping ...

A young man accompanies his cousin to the hospital to check an unusual hearing complaint and recalls a story of a woman put to sleep by tiny flies crawling inside her ear; a mirror appears out of nowhere and a night watchman is unnerved as his reflection tries to take control of him; a couple’s relationship is unbalanced after dining exclusively on exquisite crab while on holiday; a man follows instructions on the back of a postcard to apply for a job, but an unknown password stands between him and his mysterious employer. In each one of these stories, Murakami sidesteps the real and sprints for the surreal. Everyday events are transcended, leaving the reader dazzled by this master of his craft.

Half of a Yellow Sun

The sweeping novel from the author of Purple Hibiscus, shortlisted for the Orange Prize, and winner of the Commonwealth Writers Award. This highly anticipated novel from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is set in Nigeria during the 1960s, at the time of a vicious civil war in which a million people died and thousands were massacred in cold blood. The three main characters in the novel are swept up in the violence during these turbulent years. One is a young boy from a poor village who is employed at a university lecturer’s house. The other is a young middle-class woman, Olanna, who has to confront the reality of the massacre of her relatives. And the third is a white man, a writer who lives in Nigeria for no clear reason, and who falls in love with Olanna’s twin sister, a remote and enigmatic character. As these people’s lives intersect, they have to question their own responses to the unfolding political events.

A Spot of Bother

George Hall doesn’t understand the modern obsession with talking about everything. ‘The secret of contentment, George felt, lay in ignoring many things completely.’ Some things in life, however, cannot be ignored. At fifty-seven, George is settling down to a comfortable retirement, building a shed in his garden, reading historical novels, listening to a bit of light jazz. Then Katie, his tempestuous daughter, announces that she is getting remarried, to Ray. Her family is not pleased — as her brother Jamie observes, Ray has ‘strangler’s hands’. Katie can’t decide if she loves Ray, or loves the wonderful way he has with her son Jacob, and her mother Jean is a bit put out by all the planning and arguing the wedding has occasioned, which get in the way of her quite fulfilling late-life affair with one of her husband’s former colleagues.

The Black Swan...

Elegant, startling, and universal in its applications, The Black Swan is a concept that will change the way you look at the world. Bl-ack Swan underlie almost everything, from the rise of religions, to events in our own personal lives. A Black Swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: unpredictable; carries a massive impact; and, after fact, we concoct an explanation makes it appear less random and more predictable than it was. The astonishing success of Google was a black swan; so was 9/11. And why do we always ignore the phenomenon of Black Swans until after they occur? As Nassim Nicholas Taleb reveals, we are hard-wired not to truly estimate risk, vulnerable to the impulse to simplify, narrate, and categorise and not open enough to rewarding those who can imagine the ‘impossible’.