First Thoughts

The Red House

Mark Haddon

Jonathan Cape, €22.45;

adobe ebook, €22.28

Review: Lauren Turner

You can’t choose your family — but you can choose, perhaps despite your better judgement, to spend a week with them.

After their mother’s death, Richard rents a remote Welsh cottage to share with his sister Angela and their partners and children, with the aim of patching up their relationship.

The four adults and four children all come with their burdens — Angela haunted by Karen, the stillborn daughter whose birthday falls the week of the holiday, newly married doctor Richard facing a disciplinary hearing at work, Angela’s husband Dominic grappling with a secret affair, and their teenage children working out what kind of adults they might become.

Vulnerable eight-year-old Benjy is left as the lone voice of reason in the whirling maelstrom of emotions.

Mark Haddon writes with economical beauty, revealing a detailed anatomy of the human condition. He has struck gold with The Red House. A must-read.

Facing The Torturer: Inside The Mind Of A War Criminal

François Bizot

Rider Books, €17.65;

adobe ebooks, €22.47

Review: David McLoughlin

When the French ethnographer François Bizot was studying the history of the Buddhist religion in the Cambodian countryside, death came close to claiming him.

Arrested by the feared Khmer Rouge, he was thought to be a CIA spy and sentenced to death, but he was to be saved by a man who at first wanted to kill him, “Comrade Duch”. The book deals with Bizot’s imprisonment, and the trial of his former jailer and other followers of Pol Pot.

Bizot understands one truly terrible thing: Duch is no monster. He has been fashioned into the appearance of one by circumstance.

A memoir and a court record, it is a disturbing read on many levels. And a testimony for those millions who have no voice since Duch, and others like him, silenced them.

A difficult but essential read.


Michele Roberts

Bloomsbury, €19.80;

adobe ebook, €18.84

Review: Emma Everingham

Poet, novelist and WH Smith literary award winner Michele Roberts brings us her latest offering, set in wartime France.

We meet two young girls before the breakout of the war — Jeanne and Marie-Angele. They’re friends, and attend the local Catholic school, but their lives could not be more different — Jeanne has a troubled and poor upbringing, whereas Marie-Angele is brought up with wealth and ambition.

An incident with an older Jewish man tears their friendship apart, and they go on to live separate lives. Once the war breaks out, Jeanne grabs every opportunity she can to stay alive, while Marie-Angele’s high ambitions lead her to safety.

The relationship between the two women is complex, and we discover more about their childhood, which is filled with abuse, secrets and confusion. When Marie-Angele offers her old friend a lifeline, Jeanne makes a decision that changes her life, and breaks her heart. Roberts’s description of heartache, loss and guilt is breathtaking. Simply brilliant.

India Rising: Tales From A Changing Nation

Oliver Balch

Faber and Faber; €20.40

Review: Nilima Dey Sarker

After exploring the beautiful and politically unstable nations of South America in his debut travelogue ‘Viva South America’, Oliver Balch heads eastwards to India to find out more about a country that has been on the global radar in the past decade.

His latest offering is all about the voice of the people — resounding from Mumbai’s downtrodden slums and overcrowded cricket stadiums to the glossy malls and information technology hubs in Bengaluru and Chennai. Travelling across the country, Balch takes a detour from the beaten tourist track to find out how economic boom has catapulted the nation into the limelight and how its citizens are coping with the transition.

Witty and entertaining, Guardian journalist Balch keeps the pages turning with anecdotes and personal accounts of his interviewees.


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