I’m not sure if it is the chilly winds currently swirling around or just the abundance of books from which to choose but the pages have been flying by this week with two entertaining but very different novels.
First off the bedside table was The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden, written by Jonas Jonasson, which is a follow-up to his phenomenally successful The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed out of a Window.
The book is a literary six degrees of separation linking a semi-literate (but genius) South African orphan Nombeko Mayeki, a secret government nuclear establishment, an Israeli spy unit, a missing missile, the Swedish refugee program, twins (who exist only as one person), a gun-toting granny, the President of China and, of course, the King of Sweden.
It’s a gloriously crazy, intricate, layered book with a slightly Alice in Wonderland feel. However, peel back the layers of madness and mayhem and world-changing coincidences, and it traverses (albeit in a satirical manner) some scary scenarios.
The Amber Fury by Natalie Haynes brought me crashing back to reality. This is Haynes debut novel although she is a classicist and already a well-established figure in literary circles having been a judge on a number of big prizes like the Man Booker and the Orange, now known as The Baileys prize for women’s literature.
Set in Edinburgh, Scotland, the reader knows right from the beginning that some terrible event is about to occur, the journey is to find out what it will be and who is going to be left standing. After the brutal death of her fiancé in London, theatre producer Alex Morris goes to work in the Edinburgh Pupil Referral Unit, the last refuge for children who have been slung out of normal school.
Whilst only just managing her own devastation she engages her truculent group by introducing them to Greek tragedies like Oedipus Rex and Oresteia and the book is certainly at its strongest when she is exploring the challenging and often controversial themes with her young charges. But it’s what goes on outside the classroom that provides the real tension.
I don’t think Haynes will pick up any awards for The Amber Fury and one irritant for me was the use of diary entries as a kind of modern Greek Chorus to fill in some of the gaps. However, it was a page turner and a thoughtful consideration of grief.