Books Reviews

With only weeks to go before her wedding, Poppy Wyatt loses her priceless engagement ring and her mobile phone at a hen weekend brunch.

Worried about the consequences it will have with her prospective in-laws and fiance Magnus Tavish, Poppy begins a frantic search of the hotel.

As panic levels hit the roof, she sees an abandoned phone in a bin. Poppy decides to keep the phone and use it as a temporary contact number so the hotel staff can get in touch with her when they find the ring. However, the phone leads to a soul-searching adventure as the young physiotherapist begins to see her life in a new light.

I’ve Got Your Number has all the ingredients that make a Sophie Kinsella potboiler. Humour is what keeps the storyline interesting and the use of footnotes add that extra touch to Poppy’s playful wit.

El Narco: The Bloody Rise Of Mexican Drug Cartels

Ioan Grillo, Bloomsbury, €17.65; ebook, €16.05

Review: Roddy Brooks

The drug war has cut a bloody path through the recent history of Mexico, leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake.

Backed by massive profits and facilitated by corrupt officials, drugs have become a billion-dollar industry in Mexico.

El Narco has spawned not only one business but three — drugs, contract killing, and kidnapping for ransom compete equally for the attention of the cartels and gangs who run the business on each side of the United States border.

The profits have become so big, and the population of Mexico so anaesthetised to killing and torture, that shooting and decapitation have become the norm.

Ioan Grillo, a journalist who has lived and worked in Mexico for more than a decade, writes from personal experience of military operations, mafia killings, and drugs busts, which make his debut book a compelling record of the most bloody of businesses.

The Art Of Fielding

Chad Harbach, Fourth Estate, €17.65, ebook €22.50

Review: Scott Dougal

Chad Harbach’s debut novel, a mere 10 years in the making, has attracted a good deal of attention, some would say hype, on both sides of the Atlantic.

The story — about a college baseball player, Henry Skrimshander, who appears destined for the big leagues until he suffers a chronic attack of the yips — is a likeable one with well-drawn characters.

An enthusiasm for baseball is not essential, but has probably helped the book appeal to fans of a certain kind of American literary fiction.

There are hints of Jonathan Franzen and F Scott Fitzgerald and a definite whiff of a New Yorker short story, while Herman Melville features so prominently he is almost a player in the drama.

However, Harbach’s writing never feels explicitly designed to push buttons, as Skrimshander moves from carefree amateur to young athlete on the brink of professional riches, all the while ‘paralysed’ by doubt and responsibility.

Facing the black dog Mr Chartwell

Rebecca Hunt, Penguin, €10.85; ebook €2.49

Review: Mary Leland

There is a lightness to the invention of Rebecca Hunt which brings the reader to the last page of this book without any grasp of how long the journey has taken.

To tell the truth, the journey is not long at all, the story progressing rather than unfolding, having no great mysteries to reveal once the central device is accepted. The eponymous Mr Chartwell is a dog.

It is the fascination of that notion, which is so cleverly and gently sustained in the novel, that makes reading it such a diverting experience.

Mr Chartwell is a very large black dog, mouthy and self-confident without actually being aggressive. He seeks lodgings, as black dogs are wont to do, with Esther Hammerhans, in Battersea, but Esther, who survives the initial shock of their meeting with sufficient poise to insist that this unusual lodger will not have use of the car, is not his real purpose in London.

That, as his name might indicate, is with Winston Churchill, one of the more famous victims of the power and constancy of the black dog. Hunt’s delicate exploration of the way in which depression can present itself as a creeping companion, sometimes there, sometimes not but often inescapable, is wide-ranging enough to allow a sub-plot which puts Esther at risk of succumbing to the allure of Mr Chartwell, whom even the distant reader will find somehow seductive, perhaps lovable.

That’s the thing about dogs. Beleaguered by family, friends and colleagues, the aging Churchill finds, as do so many others, that there’s something about Mr Chartwell which makes him hard to shake off. He’s not exactly a one-man dog, but his concentration on his primary target allows him little time for anything other than scattered reminiscences shared with Esther.

The real value of Rebecca Hunt’s book, of course, is the fact that she manages to make something like a comedy from a human scourge without diminishing its importance or its impact.

Churchill’s resistance is predictable enough, but still poignant; it is with Esther, in her understanding of past events and the likelihood of an emotionally uneven future, that the tension is created, but it is a sustaining pressure, a foundation to the structure so carefully built around this innovative and elegantly presented idea of the black dog as having a purpose and a personality of his own.

In Mr Chartwell, Hunt has created another way of looking at depression.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Nathan Englander, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, €17.15; ebook, €8.49

Review: Amanda Nunn

Nathan Englander, named one of the “20 writers for the 21st century” by the New Yorker, has written several international best-sellers, including The Ministry Of Special Cases.

His latest book is a collection of eight short stories, each exploring various aspects of Jewish life, a constant theme in his work.

Particularly well done is the title story, which gives a glimpse into two different marriages after a well-intended parlour game reveals the brutal reality of one of the relationships.

Also noteworthy is Sister Hills, which starts on the eve of the Yom Kippur War and follows a deal struck between two women to save a gravely ill child.

The stories are excellently crafted, unpredictable and often deeply troubling, raising uncomfortable questions while always maintaining a sharp wit.

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