More Lockdown Literature…

Writing was hard for a lot of authors during lockdown, what with everyone suddenly stuck in the house, and home-schooling, and job losses, and other life changes. I’m one of the lucky ones. Despite the stress, I managed to put down some words. Perhaps because of it. Writing has always been there for me in the hardest times. During lockdown, it was the sisters I couldn’t see. It was the son I couldn’t visit. It was the daughter I couldn’t hug. It was the theatre I couldn’t work in. I wrote my memoir, Daffodils, which is now out on submission.

I also read some words. Quite a few. Some brilliant ones. Some affecting ones. Some powerful ones. Some close-to-home ones. Some not-even-out-yet ones. Here are reviews of some of my favourite books of the last few months…

THE MINDERS by John Marrs

I was so lucky that I got to read an early version of this, and was yet again blown away by Marrs’ ingenuity. He is one of the most original thriller writers of this decade. This one, involving five ordinary people selected to have the country’s secret information implanted into their heads via genetic coding, is very Black Mirror, set in the near future, and with clever nods to Marrs’ other works’ themes/storylines. He has replaced Sidney Sheldon for me, in that whatever he turns his hand to, I have to read it and can never put it down.

SKIN DEEP by Liz Nugent

This one was recommended and gifted to me by Susie Lynes. Oh, she knows me well. Such a difficult book to categorise, which are often my favourites. But one that I read in two or three sittings. The writing is sublime, the settings alive with reach-out-and-touch vividness, and the main character, Delia, is the most dark, fascinating and terrible woman I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know. Did I say it was dark? Did I say I love the dark? I do.

LULLABY by Leila Slimani

The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds. Who could not read on after these opening lines? This brief, precise, breath-taking book is another I won’t forget. Louise is a nanny. Not a Mrs Doubtfire kind of nanny, that’s for sure. That’s it. I’m not going to say any more. Just read it.

MY DARK VANESSA by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Another recommendation/ gift, this time from John Marrs. This was such a deeply disturbing but necessary read. Vanessa thinks she had a relationship with Jacob Strane. She thinks he was her first love. She believes this. But she was just fifteen and he was her teacher. A clever, clever book about how grooming is so subtle the victim doesn’t even know it’s happening – even looking back as an adult.

DIARY OF A YOUNG NATURALIST by Dara McAnulty

This absolutely beautiful book is by a young autistic boy with a passion for nature. The language is so evocative, it made me cry. If this is how he writes at fifteen, I can’t wait to see what he produces in years to come. His deep love of wild spaces around us, folklore, and history is truly joyful to experience.

This was never going to be an easy read, as a memoir by two mothers dealing with their teen sons’ cancer struggles and depression. Honestly written, refreshingly humorous at times, and full of love, both for one another as pals, and for their children.

There’s always so so much more to Ms Lynes’ books than the cover, title, blurb or talk can provide. She writes much more than the everyday psychological thriller. There is such depth and many layers to her stories. Rachel is a heartbreaking character, finely drawn and achingly real. Her tale is one of the invisibility of middle age, of feeling lost, of depression. We all either know Rachel – or we have been her. There are twists aplenty – and they are the kind that you realise a split second before, so expert is Lynes at leading you there – but this book is so much more than that. Read it. See for yourself.
I’ve loved Allan’s turn to the dark side, and seeing the success of her recent psychological thrillers. This might just be my favourite, and I believe it’s released in the UK this week. I’ve a sick penchant for books about families with wicked secrets, so this one was right up my street. And it was all the more claustrophobic reading it while we were all locked in…

Once again, I closed a Michael Malone book sad that it had ended, excited for the next one, and in admiration of his beautiful writing. This one – as with a few of his others – covers some very weighty/topical/difficult issues, but it’s never sensationalist, always sensitive. Exploring the fallout from a dark accusation involving a child, you never quite know what is truth and what is fiction. You’re invested in every character, which makes it all the more emotional. And the writing, as always, is what makes it extra special. Strongly recommend this one.
Wow. Reading this in the current climate was scary and tense, but utterly addictive. The timing could not have been planned any better. The tagline – No Drugs, No Miracles, Just Fear – could be describing the Corona crisis. If the themes are dark and topical, the writing is exquisite. Breath held, I got to the finale with my heart in my mouth. Eve Smith weaves a complex and clever tale, merging countries and timelines; the result is a superb and satisfying novel.
And finally, one that isn’t out yet, that I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of. It took me two days to devour. The writing is as tight as Gillian Flynn’s, and the characters are just as toxic as hers. Ambrosia Wellington receives an invite to her ten-year college reunion, and also a note saying – ‘It’s time to talk about what we did.’ What DID they do? Who sent the note? Let’s just say these nice/nasty girls played some shocking games in college. The pace doesn’t let up, the sense of place was intense, the twists never stopped, and you never ever know who to trust or what to believe. I predict this will be HUGE in 2021…