Fergusson’s debut novel paints a frightening picture of post-war Berlin

BookCoverBen Fergusson wrote The Spring of Kasper Meier during a four-year period living and working in Berlin.

It’s an astonishing debut novel — sad, frightening even, at times, shocking.

Post-war Berlin, as depicted by Fergusson is a city in ruins where those who survived the war struggle to meet basic needs. Like many others, Kasper is involved in black market trading and danger is never far from his door.

When a young woman, Eva, asks him to help her find a British pilot, he is reluctant to get involved but Eva has information about Kasper and he cannot risk that she might use it.

Kasper’s story emerges over a series of relatively short, well-written chapters that reveal both the connections and the disjointedness in a society broken by war. Danger and fear are tangible on virtually every page — even the children are threatening figures —  and some of the episodes — like the chapter entitled Igor Maslov — are truly chilling.

Kasper is the strongest character in the novel by some distance but character is secondary to city because essentially The Spring of Kasper Meier is a story about a particular place at a particular moment in time.

The Spring of Kasper Meier (ISBN 9781408705049) is published by Little Brown Group in the UK. An advance copy was made available via Netgalley for the purpose of this review.

Love, Politics, Art and Money the inspiration for Tim Glencross

Cover imageI first came across Barbarians by Tim Glencross on Netgalley and was drawn by its description — “a bold and confident debut novel about politics, money, and art in contemporary Britain”.

The title — Barbarians — comes from the English writer and poet Matthew Arnold who classified society into Barbarians, Philistines and Populace — the ruling elite, the middle classes and the working class.

Tim Glencross’s novel, Barbarians, focuses on the elite. It opens at a party in Islington in 2008 hosted by Sherard Howe and his wife Daphne — a feminist author — where we meet the central cast of characters including their son Henry and his adopted sister, Afua — a formidable twenty-something-year-old politician. Among the guests is Elizabeth ‘Buzzy’ Price, an aspiring poet with whom Henry appears to be in love. Buzzy, however, has an unrequited passion for Afua’s partner, Marcel.

Essentially this is a tale of Cambridge graduates carving out their careers in wealthy London society with the action spread across the years from 2008 to 2011, coinciding with the great financial crisis.

It’s a story about love with some politics, money and art in the mix. For me, the characters are somewhat flimsy and Barbarians lacks pace but, to be fair, satire rather than plot and pace is the order of the day and the writing is entertaining which makes for an easy if at times somewhat rambling read.

Barbarians by Tim Glencross is published by Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 9781444788525. An advance readers copy was provided via Netgalley for the purpose of this review.

Bad girl heroine with a witty turn of phrase

DearDaughterAn attention grabbing opening and a bad girl heroine with a distinctive voice who may or may not have murdered her mother make for an interesting proposition in Elizabeth Little’s debut novel, Dear Daughter.

Janie Jenkins has served ten years in jail when she is released on a technicality. She dons a disguise and embarks on a mission to find out who killed her socialite, philanthropist mother. Topping the list of suspects, at least in the eyes of the media on her tail, is Janie Jenkins herself.

Her quest takes her to a small town in South Dakota where she encounters a wide cast of characters and uncovers a web of family secrets: “Is everyone in this town related?” “Seems that way, sometimes. Mom always says it’s like a Thanksgiving dinner that never ends.”

Elizabeth Little uses news reports, text messages and the Internet which give Dear Daughter a thoroughly contemporary feel and some of the news reports are among the best passages in the book.

Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little is published by Random House/VintageISBN: 9781448189915 An ARC was provided via Netgalley for the purpose of this review.

WW1 setting for Anita Shreve in The Lives of Stella Bain

LivesofStellaBainI like novels set during the first world war and I also like Anita Shreve so The Lives of Stella Bain jumped off the shelf when I spotted it in my local indie bookstore.

This is a short novel and at just 272 pages The Lives of Stella Bain perhaps doesn’t fully do justice to the themes it sets out to explore but the characters are believable and the plot is interesting.

There are some nods to the fads of the early 1900s — such as Freudian psychoanalysis — that often crop up in novels set during World War 1 and the horrors endured by medical and nursing personnel tending war-wounded with limited, often useless resources are sensitively described.

For me, aspects of The Lives of Stella Bain recall other novel like Ian McEwan’s Atonement and Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy. Shreve’s work is a slighter novel but it is an enjoyable and easy read. I liked it.

The Lives of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve is published by Little Brown. ISBN 9781408702963.