Time to unwind and relax, and what better way than with a book? Here are a few reviews for your summer reading…
The Less You Know The Sounder You Sleep by Juliet Butler – 8/10
Hardback by 4th Estate, priced £12.99 (ebook £7.99)
Dasha and Masha Krivoshlyapova were conjoined twins born in Moscow in 1950 during the Communist regime. The Less You Know The Sounder You Sleep is a fictionalised telling of their real – and rare – lives. The author, Juliet Butler, is an English journalist
who got to know them very well during the latter part of their lifetimes. This book is based on taped conversations and interviews with Masha and Dasha, as well as those that knew them, recorded during Butler’s 15-year friendship with the twins. Hidden from public view since birth, and subjected to a variety of medical ‘experiments’, the twins developed wildly different personalities – one domineering, one gentle and kind. The Less You Know The Sounder You Sleep is told in the voice of Dasha, the quieter of the two. Through her
eyes, the reader discovers the twins’ unique life experiences and Dasha’s hopes and dreams, as well as the harsh reality of life for those considered physically and mentally different in Russia – both under the Communist regime and afterwards. It’s a fascinating, heartbreaking tale of what it was like for the twins to be forever ‘together’ – two different people whose destinies were entwined, one unable ever to escape the other.
(Review by Louisa McKenzie)
Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty – 6/10
Hardback by Jonathan Cape, priced £14.99 (ebook £9.99)
Midwinter Break is Northern Irish writer Bernard McLaverty’s highly anticipated fifth novel – which comes 16 years after the Booker prize-nominated author’s last tome, The Anatomy School. It tells of elderly couple Gerry and Stella’s holiday to Amsterdam. As the book progresses, it becomes clear that there are huge cracks in the long-enduring relationship, as Stella is reaching the end of her patience with Gerry’s poorly hidden alcoholism and irreverence towards her religion. Occasionally, we see flashbacks of their lives in Northern Ireland before they moved to Scotland and progressed into old age. It’s
a very intimate portrait of a relationship between two older people, which is an interesting
perspective, as so many novels are dedicated to the young. However, every time it feels like we’re going to really get underneath the skin of the characters, the moment passes and MacLaverty instead focuses on some of the more mundane aspects of their holiday. The best, and most moving, parts of the novel are flashbacks to their experiences during the Troubles – however, these are too brief to feel fully addressed.
(Review by Prue Wade)
Rising Tide Falling Star by Philip Hoare – 6/10
Hardback by Fourth Estate, priced £16.99 (ebook £9.99)
Philip Hoare returns to the themes of several of his previous books in this ode to the beauty and cruelty of the sea. His obsession with whales is probably a more obvious link to the ocean than stories about Oscar Wilde and socialite Stephen Tennant, but his tales about other humans are the most interesting part. He weaves these real-life stories about fascinating people with musings on fiction, like Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in a book
scattered with interesting photos and illustrations. Hoare also describes his own obsession with the sea through regular swims and rather disturbing tales of dead creatures he finds on the shore. He describes pulling off a bird’s head, gouging out a deer’s eye and poking his fingers inside a dead dolphin’s genitals ‘out of prurient curiosity’. It’s an interesting read, but, at nearly 400 pages, would benefit from a ruthless
sub-edit to trim down those grisly, often rambling and rather self-indulgent yarns.
(Review by Beverley Rouse)
One for the children:
The New Adventures Of Mr Toad: Toad Hall In Lockdown by Tom Moorhouse – 8/10
Illustrated by Holly Swain
Paperback by Oxford Children’s Books, priced £5.99
Five months after we were treated to the first in a new series of Wind In The Willows-inspired adventures, Tom Moorhouse and Holly Swain are back with a second – and it’s just as pacy, clever and fun. In A Race For Toad Hall, we were introduced to a younger generation of animal companions: Girl toad Teejay and her friends Ratty and Mo, who stumbled upon the original Mr Toad locked in his own Ice House (and preserved) by the dastardly weasels. The trio teamed up with Mr T and Mrs Badger to win back Toad Hall from the weasels – and now Toad is renovating his home with the help of a band of dubious squirrels. As they remove his antique furniture and replace it with innumerable
gadgets, including runaway hoovers and a malfunctioning fried-egg machine, Teejay and co start to suspect the squirrels aren’t who they claim to be – and soon they’re helping the irrepressible Mr Toad win back his home all over again. A sparkling standalone read filled with Holly Swain’s jump-off-the-page, green-toned drawings. We’re glad Toad lives on.
(Review by Kate Whiting)