Reviews: e-books and audiobooks - Man Booker longlisters, and a favourite shrink returns
The first of two Man Booker longlisters reviewed this week, The Year of the Runaways is the second novel by Sunjeev Sahota, who was named by Granta in 2013 as one of its best British novelists. The story exploits the grey, rainy nature of its setting - Sheffield, in the north of England - to examine the lengths that 13 young men from India (the "runaways" of the title) will go to in order to make a new life. The area they settle in, Brightside, feels both ironic and apt, as our central protagonists try to move forward, all the while looking back. The seemingly affluent Randeep has married for a visa, and shares a secret with Avtar, who works for the gloriously depressing Crunchy Fried Chicken. The prose is by turns funny, moving and smartly honest. When Randeep quotes his friend Gupreet who argues that it isn't work that makes them come to England, but love - "Love for our families" - Avtar replies: "I think he's a sentimental creep. We come here for the same reason our people do anything. Duty."
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota (Picador) e-book
The second novel on the Man Booker longlist also has strong Indian themes, but is this time set in the country itself. Its themes and unflinching portrait of abuse make it a companion piece to Hanya Yanagihara's extraordinary A Little Life. Our heroine is Nomita, who suffers more trauma in a decade than most people could manage in a lifetime. First, she witnesses her father brutally murdered by men with axes: "When they left they wrote something in the wall in his blood." Her life, remarkably, only gets worse: abandoned by her mother, she is sent to an orphanage in Norway where she is abused. We catch up with the adult Nomita, now a filmmaker, resolved to come to terms with her past. Nomita's story is spliced with those of three other women who have fought violence, intolerance and misogyny. Like Sahota, Roy can by lyrical ("the fruit had turned as round and yellow as full moons") and shocking ("I hear the sound of pigs at slaughter, the sound my father made"). A brave and brilliant book.
Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy (MacLehose Press) audiobook
Close Your Eyes is the eighth novel to feature Professor Joe O'Loughlin, Michael Robotham's clinical psychologist. As his latest adventure starts, O'Loughlin is breaking the law himself, sort of, by lying on the grass of an Oxford college which his daughter Charlie is hoping to attend. Told off by the officious porter, he surveys his life thus far (affairs, being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease) and tries to prepare himself for what is to come: "My life was altered by a diagnosis. It was never going to be a death sentence, but it has robbed me by degrees." O'Loughlin's next case, like many of his previous outings, has a touch of the Gothic. A mother and daughter are murdered in an isolated cottage in rural Somerset. O'Loughlin is called in, only to have his involvement compromised by a former student who broadcasts his progress. Sean Barrett initially sounded older than the O'Loughlin I imagined, but his smooth, slightly complacent tones suit his mixture of humour and hubris, intelligence and arrogance.
Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham (read by Sean Barrett) Hachette Audio (audiobook)