Book reviews: new fiction from Anita Brookner, Bradley Winterton and Brooke Davis
Disappointment, regret and melancholy, the usual Brookner themes; a queer version of 50 Shades; and a wonderful new comic voice
by Anita Brookner (read by Joanna David)
It’s been ages since I thought of Anita Brookner, who famously won the Booker with Hotel du Lac, the shortest winner in the competition’s history. It seems unimaginable that a similarly quiet, apolitical and delicately crafted story could ever win again. To find out, I listened to Leaving Home, first published in 2007, but new to audiobook download. This slight, charming and, not to put too fine a point on it, delicately crafted novel suggests that Brookner was conscious of her limits. Emma Roberts is discontentedly content in London. An eternal student-in-waiting, she lives with her mother and is terrified enough of becoming her (loveless and alone) that she heads to Paris under the pretext of more research, but really in pursuit of la vie if not amoureuse, then at least romantique. Fans of Brookner won’t be amazed that disappointment, regret and melancholy dominate. The renowned actress Joanna David is, in many ways, a perfect Emma: deep, crisp and even, to quote the carol, ideal to tilt at life without getting your hands dirty in it. If her voice sounds distinctly too old, this has its advantages in the prematurely aged heroine. Exquisite.
The Mystery Religions of Gladovia
by Bradley Winterton
Gladovia is a fictional South American country, with its own airline, “decayed buildings, fine esplanades and elegant gardens”. It is also the destination for the two heroes of this entertaining queer upgrade of 50 Shades of Grey. Matthew is, when we first meet him, a slightly bored public school boy. Lily (or Dr Harrison) is his headmaster with a taste for corporal punishment. Both are gay, something they keep to themselves for very different reasons. They meet at an event that might make EL James blush: “a group punishment session” organised by an Italian named Mario. Not entirely unsurprisingly, it takes Lily a while to recognise his former pupil. Once he does, the sparks fly. Yet Bradley Winterton, who writes for the Taipei Times, is interested in friction both erotic and inter-generational. How you feel about this novel will partly depend on your attitude to lines like: “I was surprised to notice myself feeling at once that he had a beautiful bottom for flagellation.” There are also moments of Ortonesque wit. Lily being told he was the “eight hundred and seventy-fourth gay” someone else had met. While the prose is sharper than most erotica authors could dream of, Gladovia still delivers the requisite punch when needed. A hit, a palpable hit.
Lost & Found
by Brooke Davis
Another stupendous novel I missed when it was published earlier this year, Brooke Davis’ debut Lost and Found is largely comic (and very funny), with a tone supple enough to break into moments of genuine emotional depth. Many of the laughs are provided by Millie, a 7-year-old with a habit of asking one too many smart questions of her elders. Having listened to her tough mother explain why heaven is a “better place” for their pet dog Rambo, she hits back: “Why would they waste time here, then?” much to her mum’s discombobulation. Millie can lay claim to being 2015’s funniest character. The plot she confronts is anything but: the sudden disappearance of her mother in a shopping mall. One of many things that makes Lost and Found so striking is the range of characters Davis pushes centre stage. At the opposite end of the generational spectrum is Agatha, an 82-year-old near recluse grieving the death of her husband, and Karl, 87, whose restless fingers touch-type words that no one but he can understand. It is a love story, a meditation on loss and a wonderful comic novel from a fabulous new talent. Read it at once.