24th Nov, 2020

Bookcase: Jonathan Coe's Mr Wilder and Me among the new releases

Solihull Editorial 16th Nov, 2020

This week’s bookcase includes reviews of At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop and Mr Wilder And Me by Jonathan Coe.

Fiction

1. At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop is published in hardback by Pushkin Press, priced £14.99 (£8.99). Available now

At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop. Picture by Pushkin Press/PA.

At Night All Blood Is Black is an extraordinarily powerful short novel by French Senegalese novelist David Diop, giving a voice to the Senegalese men who fought for France on the Western Front during World War I.

After watching his close friend Mademba die slowly and painfully in no man’s land, Alfa absorbs the brutality of war and lets it consume him.

Diop’s hypnotic prose traces Alfa’s journey into madness and grief, his mind whirring through the tumult of his life as a young boy with his mother, and as a young man with Mademba.

We see the contrast of Alfa experiencing physical love, then inflicting pain on men behind enemy lines.

Rooted in eternal friendship and the destructive impact of war, At Night All Blood Is Black is a tragic glimpse into what anguish and trauma can do to a young man’s mind.

9/10

(Review by Rebecca Wilcock)

2. Mr Wilder And Me by Jonathan Coe is published in hardback by Viking, priced £16.99 (ebook £9.99). Available now

Jonathan Coe’s comic novels – from What A Carve Up! to his Costa Prize-winning Middle England – have been steadily wooing readers for decades.

Mr Wilder And Me by Jonathan Coe. Picture by Viking/PA.

His latest is the story of Calista, an Anglo-Greek film composer who faces a looming empty nest.

In her latest composition, she reflects on Billy Wilder, the real-life Hollywood director who she briefly worked for as a young woman.

We see Calista learn about cinema and fall in love, while Wilder relates episodes from his own career – including the film he made about the death camps, where he fears his mother died.

His later films – like Sunset Boulevard and Some Like It Hot – took the business of entertainment as a moral duty, offering elegant tonics for mid-century despair.

Mr Wilder And Me is an homage to a great director, a meditation on fame and posterity, and a slice of pure pleasure for our troubled times.

It has all the wit, economy and grace of a Wilder movie.

8/10

(Review by Dan Brotzel)

Non-fiction

3. Walking With Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne is published in hardback by Picador, priced £16.99 (ebook £8.99). Available November 12

You might recognise award-winning actor Gabriel Byrne from movies like The Usual Suspects and Miller’s Crossing.

He’s also a dab hand at writing, showcased in this excellent memoir.

Walking With Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne. Picture by Picador/PA.

This isn’t the kind of autobiography that wants to chronicle milestones and lay testimony to a life lived in the limelight.

Instead, Byrne jumps between anecdotes of growing up in Ireland and his life in Hollywood, teasing out themes and learnings along the way.

His easy delivery, devoid of any self-consciousness, has the feel of a chat with an old friend, meandering through the past, present and future over a drink or two.

His humour, sorrows and acceptance of life’s twists and turns, provide a bittersweet depth.

9/10

(Review by Nicole Whitton)

Children’s book of the week

4. The Silent Stars Go By by Sally Nicholls is published in hardback by Andersen Press, priced £12.99 (ebook). Available now

Sally Nicholls, winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, is back with The Silent Stars Go By.

Set just after World War I, it’s the story of Margot, whose fiancé has returned from war. She must now decide whether to expose the secret of their son James; born out of wedlock and being raised by Margot’s parents as their own. There are many issues at play: the pressures faced by unwed mothers, the quest for feminine identity, the grief of war and the search for purpose in life.

The Silent Stars Go By by Sally Nicholls. Picture by Andersen Press/PA.

Despite these heavy subjects, Nicholls’ tone is light and thrilling, keeping us wondering where Margot’s cards will fall.

Details about the era are effortlessly wound into the narrative, providing a glimpse into a very different, if not too distant, life.

It’s a consuming read, and will no doubt inspire conversations around weightier topics.

7/10

(Review by Nicole Whitton)

BOOK CHARTS

HARDBACK

1. The Sentinel by Lee Child & Andrew Child

2. The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

3. Troy by Stephen Fry

4. One August Night by Victoria Hislop

5. A Song For The Dark Times by Ian Rankin

6. Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

7. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

8. The War Lord by Bernard Cornwell

9. Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith

10. Hidden In Plain Sight by Jeffrey Archer

(Compiled by Waterstones)

HARDBACK (NON-FICTION)

1. How Animals Saved My Life by Professor Noel Fitzpatrick

2. Guinness World Records 2021 by Guinness World Records

3. Private Eye Annual by Ian Hislop

4. Clanlands by Sam Heughan & Graham McTavish

5. Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given

6. A Del Of A Life by David Jason

7. A Life On Our Planet by David Attenborough

8. Mountains According To G by Geraint Thomas

9. We Do Lockdown by Miriam Elia

10. My Garden World by Monty Don

(Compiled by Waterstones)

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