Book Reviews

Falling Sideways

ORIGINALLY published in Ireland as Danish Fall in 2005, Falling Sideways is the second volume of New York-born, Denmark-based Thomas E Kennedy’s Copenhagen Quartet — all intended to be standalone works.

Bloomsbury has given the books a renaissance and the timing couldn’t be better, as Falling Sideways is set in the Tank, a firm in the Danish capital that’s undergoing radical downsizing.

Don’t be put off by the corporate setting. We never learn what the Tank does; more important is its employees’ reactions to the news. Each chapter is told from the viewpoint of a different character: Martin Kampman, the S&M-loving CEO, whose son quits school and befriends Jes, the dropout son of American Fred Breathwaite, who Kampman has fired. Then there’s divorced Harald Jaeger, who lusts after financial officer Birgitte Sommer.

Each character is convincingly created.

Perdition: The Crusaders’ Last Stand

James Jackson, John Murray, £12.99 eBook: (not available)

Review: Roddy Brooks

THE future of the Crusader empire hangs in the balance as the forces of the Saracen ruler Qawalum circle the besieged city of Acre.

As the Christian Church clings on to its final outpost in the Holy Land in 1291, a handful of hardy adventurers makes one final bid to forge an alliance which could just save the day.

But as the forces of the Muslim world circle the embattled city, with machines of war at the ready and ever more ghastly forms of torture being employed by the day, the knights of the Temple and Hospital orders bravely put their lives in peril to protect the citizens of the city.

James Jackson has established himself as a fine storyteller of this type of historical fiction with the likes of Blood Rock and Pilgrim, and Perdition keeps the standard flying high.

But with damnation awaiting and the glory of death, the cast of heroes assembled by Jackson faces only one future.

Julia

Otto de Kat (translated by Ina Rilke) MacLehose Press, £12.00; eBook: £6.27

Review: Billy O’Callaghan

JULIA, a brief, lovely cry of a novel, opens in startling fashion, with the discovery of elderly Dutch factory magnate, Chris Dudok, dead by suicide in his own home.

There is no note, just an old newspaper on his desk, open at an account of the April 1942 bombing of Lubeck, Germany, with the list of fatalities encircled. Included on the list is one Julia Bender.

From here, the story spins backwards, to 1938 and the turbulent year that Dudok spent in Lubeck, a vibrant and menacing Baltic port town, ostensibly to study industry but in truth on the run from the facts of his own life. He wants freedom and excitement.

Back in his native Netherlands his future has already been charted. Marriage awaits, and the expectation that he will succeed his father in the family business. Instead he finds love in the form of Julia, a beautiful, brave young woman staunchly opposed to the growing Nazism that has infiltrated her country.

She is his awakening, yet their affair ends abruptly, amid sweeping pogroms and the culminating Kristallnacht.

Forced into hiding following a public demonstration of ‘treachery’, she sends him away, promising to follow. He returns home and marries, takes over the factory and after the war rebuilds it to a state of prosperity. He and Julia never meet again.

This is a summation, but this is also merely the surface of a finely wrought and genuinely satisfying novel.

Julia is a heartbreaking story, one that ignites with Germany’s first forays into war and fades to black as the 1980s dawn. With poignant candour it suggests the scars that can linger when a relationship is left to come apart at the scenes, and its sense of sadness captivates not in sentimental ways because of how finely it resonates as truth.

De Kat’s writing is full of deft allusion. In delicate, measured prose, the author creates characters, Dudok in particular but the lesser characters too, that brim with life and seem deeply human in their flaws, their yearnings and their willingness to comply for the sake of ease, even when they know the costs to be high.

What emerges is a treatise on guilt, regret and wrong turns taken, and the suggestion that turning the other cheek is not always such a noble act.

This is the story of one man’s mistakes. Perhaps it is also the story of a nation’s mistakes, and a world’s mistakes. But what lingers in reassuring fashion is just how powerful the grip of genuine love can be.

It doesn’t always overcome, but neither does it fade.

The Legacy Of Hartlepool Hall

Paul Torday, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99,Kindle £6.99

Review: Kate Whiting

RIDING high on the success of Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, which has been made into a film starring Ewan McGregor, Paul Torday turns his acerbic style of storytelling on the last remnants of a land-owning family on the border of Yorkshire.

Thirty-something Ed Hartlepool returns from self-imposed tax exile in the south of France to face the financial music after his father dies leaving him a country house in need of maintenance and debts into the millions.

An unusual woman, Lady Alice, is living in the house. Ed’s childhood friend Annabel is desperate to introduce him to her property developer boyfriend. The narrative plods along predictably until a macabre turn of events halfway, which just alienates the reader from characters they already felt little empathy for. Not memorable.

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