Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls

Those of us who love David Nicholls’s work feel a sense of apprehension every time he announces a new project: can it possibly be as good as his last? And thankfully, we can all rest easy, it really can. We adored the grown up melancholy as well as the set-piece hilarity of his previous, Booker-longlisted novel, Us, about a middle-aged couple in crisis. And his screenplay for the television version of Edward St Aubyn’s electric series of Patrick Melrose novels remains one of the best things we’ve seen on television.

In his latest novel, Sweet Sorrow, he returns to first love, the subject of his smash hit bestseller One Day. Our hero is Charlie Lewis who has just finished his GCSEs in a small Sussex town in the summer of 1997. In describing the town, Nicholls recalls Tracey Thorn writing about her adolescence in her memoir Another Planet and how one’s hometown can seem a metaphor for a life where nothing materialises.


Platform Seven by Louise Doughty

Platform Seven, Louise Doughty’s ninth novel, begins with the suicide of a man who throws himself under a train at 4am at Peterborough Station. He is observed by the narrator — the ghost of a woman called Lisa Evans, who died in similar circumstances 18 months before.

Those of us who baulk at being told a story by a ghost can be reassured that Doughty fully inhabits the character of this insecure thirtysomething teacher. The mystery over Lisa’s death is the engine that powers the plot.

Though Lisa is not a particularly remarkable person, she is credible and her plight moving. Doughty depicts her emotionally abusive relationship with her toxic boyfriend with skill and empathy. She evokes a textbook case of “gaslighting”, without ever using the buzzword (which refers to the way women are made to doubt their sanity by manipulative partners).


Forgotten Fiction Book Club: The Edible Woman

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“We get along by a symbiotic adjustment of habits and with a minimum of that pale-mauve hostility you often find among women.”

Forgotten Fiction is a monthly book club where we travel back in time to rediscover 'lost' literary gems of the 20th Century.

Hosted by me, just ahead of the publication of Margaret Atwood's The Testaments in September, we will discuss The Edible Woman, the 1969 novel that helped to establish her as a prose writer of major significance. It is the story of a young woman whose sane, structured, consumer-oriented world starts to slip out of focus. Following her engagement, Marian feels her body and her self are becoming separated.

This will also be last session as host of Forgotten Fiction so there will be cake.

Numbers strictly limited, please book promptly to avoid disappointment. Tickets are £8/£6 (students) and include a gin cocktail


I Am Sovereign by Nicola Barker

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What an audacious writer Nicola Barker is. Equally, how bold of her publishers to put this oddity of a novella out into the world. In an era when plot is king, Barker has typically, joyously, dispensed with one. She has also chucked out nearly everything you might expect from fiction. At almost the end of the book, she declares “The overriding concept for I Am Sovereign is that it should take place, in its entirety, during a twenty-minute house viewing in Llandudno”.

Charles is a 40-year-old Welshman of Bulgarian descent who is a boutique teddy bear maker and is trying unsuccessfully to sell his house, not least because he keeps telling prospective buyers about an attempted burglary 12 years previously. This is all slightly beyond meta-fiction: the characters fight with the author to be represented differently, to not have their names corrected by spellcheck or the copy-editor, and some of this is amusing.


Forgotten Fiction Book Club: Sleepless Nights

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A series of fleeting images and memories ... united by the high intelligence and beauty of Hardwick's prose'—Sally Rooney

Forgotten Fiction is a monthly book club where we travel back in time to rediscover 'lost' literary gems of the 20th Century. Hosted by me, each session is curated around a specific theme and features carefully chosen books to provide the basis for our discussion, which is always light-hearted, informal and fun.

July's club, themed 'Life Writing', will discuss Elizabeth Hardwick's Sleepless Nights, a unique collage of fiction and memoir, letters and essays, portraits and dreams. Originally published in 1979, this handsome new Faber edition comes with an introduction from the brilliant author of the Women’s Prize-winning novel, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, Eimear McBride

Numbers strictly limited, please book promptly to avoid disappointment. Tickets are £8/£6 (students) and include a gin cocktail


Live a Little by Howard Jacobson

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Howard Jacobson’s previous novel, Pussy, was a hastily written response to the election of Donald Trump. I can’t help but feel he could have left his new novel, Live a Little, to brew a little longer too. 

Things begin promisingly enough: Beryl Dusinbery is to all intents and purposes a wicked old woman near the end of her life. She fancies herself as a filicide, or at least claims to have named her sons Pen and Sandy after Pentheus and Tisander (figures from Greek mythology who were both murdered by their mothers, Agave and Medea respectively). 

Shimi Carmelli is an elderly bachelor much sought after by the widows of north London as his hands are steady enough for him to do up his own flies (which is lucky, given how frequently he needs to urinate). He uses a deck of cards to predict the future to Jewish widows every Friday night in a Chinese restaurant in Finchley Road.