Category Archives: Scribner UK
Work Like Any Other – Virginia Reeves
The Last Word Review
I am under no doubts that 2016 will go down as one those literary classic years that we will look back with many fond memories of books read and new authors discovered. I have read so many outstanding books through this year and I am struggling to select my book of the year. No comes along another, a stunningly beautifully written debut novel by Virginia Reeves with Work Like Any Other.
The novel is set in the rural heartland of Alabama during the 1920’s and Roscoe Martin has had to surrender his work as his wife whom he loves dearly has now taken over her father’s farm, to Roscoe this is bad news as he does not like the idea of a life in farming and this causes some friction and resentment with his wife Marie. It becomes clear that Roscoe would rather leave the tending of the fields to the land manager Wilson.
Times are changing and electricity is coming and to Roscoe this thing of power could be the saviour of not just the farm but his now failing marriage, he has the idea of bringing some of the ‘wasted’ electricity to the farm but this is stealing and is not something you can return at a later date. What could be so wrong as taking a little power and diverting to the farm, nothing could go wrong.
Well it does it go for Roscoe and Wilson and there is a severe price to pay for both in differing ways. For Roscoe he now loses everything including his beloved family. Now incarcerated in Kilby Prison and doing hard time life will be harsh and for Wilson he too was sent to Kilby Prison as he was seen as an accomplice to Roscoe but there is a difference between them both Wilson is black and his hard time will be more severe he will be forced into what was in those days as ‘forced slave labour.’
This is historical fiction at its finest it is raw and told in a way that makes you taste the dust of the farmland and the crackle of the electricity and it runs through the power lines it is both haunting and brutal in its description of life in prison. The characters are superb in the way they have been designed from Marie on her resentment of to her husband to Roscoe and how he adapts to his incarceration but something about Roscoe wanted me to shake him he comes across as passive and accepts to easily the punishment there is little fight in the man when it becomes clear that it is not only his freedom that he has lost.
One felt more for Wilson being black and his punishment to severe yet he is man of stature and Wisdom. I wished more for Wilson. Work Like Any Other is mighty fine debut novel a real ‘slow burner’ but delivers on a purely historical perspective looking at 1920’s Alabama and the injustices of the time as well as prison life. This is a story that is compelling and well-structured at times complex but overall this is an exceptional novel and Virginia Reeves is a new writer to keep an eye on for the future.
Work Like Any Other has recently been Longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. The announcement of the Shortlist will be made on 13 September with the book being announced on 25 October.
Thank you to Scribner UK for a review copy.
Work Like Any Other written by Virginia Reeves and published by Scribner UK and is available through all Waterstones branches and all good bookshops.
Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
The Last Word Review
Tantalizing and sensual, Graham Swift’s novella is a moving account of life, love and death. Deeply engrossing
The beauty of Graham Swift’s new novel Mothering Sunday is that it is set on a single day set in a small village outside of London in 1924. A country still coming to terms with the brutality of the First World War.
Jane Fairchild is in domestic service as a housemaid, already with her own family but has embarked on an illicit affair with Paul Sheringham, Jane is in love with Paul. It is Mothering Sunday and housemaids are given the day off. As she is an Orphan and with no Mother to visit she goes to visit Paul. What Jane already knows is that Paul being a wealthy landowner is already engaged to a wealthy lady of similar standing. So this could well be the last time they share a bed together before Paul is married. Does this deter Jane, not in the slightest. After they have finished making love Paul dresses as he has to meet his future wife at a restaurant. It is while Paul is heading off Jane wanders around the big house naked, completely un-noticed, but what if she is noticed what would follow. Remember this is 1929. You have the feeling during this part of the story that the air is crackling with sexual tension, they have both been secret lovers for years. But Jane knows that because of her social standing they can never be together forever.
Unknown to Jane a tragic accident has occurred involving Paul on route to Henley and from this moment the story takes on a new meaning.
With Jane now alone she spends a lot of her time thinking. As the story flits back and forth we obtain an understanding of times long past. This is a story of sexual attraction knowing that there will be an end to the affair there has to be as Jane is just a housemaid.
What does become of plain Jane, later in life she becomes a successful author a writer of a number of novels.
Mothering Sunday is a short story of 139 pages in length but it is a stylish and wonderfully crafted novel that at times will make your reading glasses mist up. A book that you can read in its entirety in an afternoon and then re-read to absorb the evocative story line.
Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift is published by Scribner and available through all good bookshops.
The North Water by Ian McGuire
The Last Word Review
As bone chilling tale on board a whaling ship and is as chilling as the Arctic waters. Ian McGuire has written a classic tale
The setting for Ian McGuire’s second novel is aboard the 19th – Century Yorkshire based whaling ship Volunteer but something is not right. On board is the usual mix of whalers but also on board for the first time is Patrick Sumner. Patrick has a past as an army surgeon, now broke with nothing better to do than join a hellish group on board ship setting sail to the freezing waters of the Arctic to hunt Whales.
Also on board is Henry Drax a harpooner. Drax is nothing more than a drunk and a filthy brutal thug and much more besides. This is the story of the ill-fated voyage of the Volunteer.
During the voyage to the bone chilling waters of the Arctic we get to meet the various characters on board, a dubious captain all keen to hunt whales and make money. There is a killer on board and I do not mean someone killing whales we have a drunken cold-blooded killer on the loose on board ship. We have flashbacks of Sumner’s past that tells us about the character who now finds himself embroiled on a voyage that is hellish beyond description.
The North Water is a brutal book beyond anything I have read in many a year. But bearing in mind this is a 19th Century based tale on life aboard a whaling ship the story contains violence and detail that is not for the faint-hearted it is a story from a lost world. The sheer brilliance of the McGuire’s writing is something to behold. It is told very much in the prose of an old dusty novel found in a vintage book store. It is that good.
It is not often that a book takes hold of you and delivers a punch that this novel packs, the sheer brutality of the story will shake most, it is gore in its description but the story is so captivating that you cannot put it down.
The North Water is visceral it is blood thirsty, it is a story of survival, with one of the most terrifying characters I have read in many years that will linger in my memory for some time to come. It also tells a story of courage in the face of the purest form of evil. If there is the slightest criticism I just wish the ending was more drawn out as I would have liked to have known more before I closed the book.
Ian McGuire’s second novel is destined for great things and is already one of my books of 2016. I have a feeling there are awards waiting to come as it is truly sensational. Don’t be put off the violence in The North Water and make this one book that you must read in 2016.
My thanks to Elizabeth Preston for an advanced review copy.
The North Water written by Ian McGuire. Published by Scribner UK on 11 February 2016