Award nominated, historical, literary fiction, Prize winners, reviews

Book of the Week: The Underground Railroad

I am not a reader of Award-Winning Books.  See my posts here and here for proof of this — and I don’t think the situation has improved much in the last two years.  But some times you hear so much buzz and chatter about a book that you have to check it out.  Particularly when you luck into a copy of said book.  And Colson Whitehead’s the Underground Railroad was one of those books.  I’d heard everybody on the Bookriot podcasts that I listen to talking about how excited they were for something new from Whitehead – and then about how brilliant it was.  It kept popping up in lists of hotly anticipated books.  It was an Oprah Bookclub pick.  It was on President Obama’s summer reading list.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I apologise for my lousy photography, but I really like the cover – with the train tracks snaking around.

The Underground Railroad tells the story of Cora, a slave on a brutal cotton plantation in Georgia.  Life is more terrible than you can imagine, especially for Cora who is an outcast among her fellow Africans.  When Caesar, a recent arrival at the plantation suggests that they escape together, they take a terrifying risk to try and get to the Underground Railroad.  But it doesn’t go according to plan, and Cora’s journey is fraught with dangers as there are hunters after them, dogging their every move.  In Whitehead’s world the railroad is real – actual trains in tunnels under the southern states with a network of drivers and conductors ferrying runaways to safety.

This is such a powerful book.  It’s beautifully written, but oh so difficult to read – I’ve had to take it in bite-sized chunks so that I can digest it properly – but it’s worth it.  It makes you confront harsh and terrible truths about what people have done to each other and are capable of doing to each other.  But it’s also compelling and personal and page turning and clever.  Whatever I say here, I won’t be able to do it justice.  I still haven’t finished digesting it and I’m going to be thinking about it for some time to come.  It’s going to win all the awards – and it deserves to. It’s already won the National Book Award in the US and is Amazon.com editor’s Number 1 Book of the Year.  In years to come it’s going to be on English Literature syllabuses.  Well, well, well worth your time.

I would expect this to be somewhere prominent on a table or on a front facing shelf in bookshops.  It’s in hardback at the moment – and you can get it from Amazon (out of stock at time of writing, which says a lot), Waterstones and Foyles and on Kindle and Kobo.  It might make it into the supermarkets, but I’d be surprised.  The paperback is out in June.  I’m off to read some more of Whitehead’s work.

Happy reading.

Book of the Week, historical, literary fiction

Review: Letters to the Lost

Another bonus review on the blog today – Iona Grey’s Letters to the Lost.  This was my Curtis Brown Book Group book for March – and it would have been my book of the week back when I read it – except that it was a month from it’s release at the time, and I hate reading reviews of books and then not being able to buy them *rightnow*.  So here we are, the book comes out today and I can tell you about it.

Iona Grey's Letters to the lost
My copy was an advance copy – so my cover is different to the “proper” one

In modern day London, Jess breaks into an empty house to hide after running away from her violent boyfriend.  The next morning, a mysterious letter arrives at the house, and after opening it, Jess is drawn into the story of two lovers in 1942 – Stella and Dan, who is a US airman.  And in keeping with my no spoilers policy*, that’s about all I’m going to tell you about the plot.

I’m not usually one for a weepy – and you know from very early on that there are going to be tears involved in this – but I absolutely loved this book.  The characters felt real, the places felt real and the crying was definitely very real.  I had very definite views about what I wanted to happen to some of the characters (which didn’t always come true) and wanted it to be longer – even though it’s already really quite long.

So if you like timeslips, weepies, World War 2 set epic romances and non sappy saga-y type books, this may be for you.  It’d make a great holiday read – and if you’re a “normal” reader (which apparently I’m not, the speed I go through stuff) it’d probably last you a few days at the beach!

As I said, I got my copy in advance because I’m lucky enough to be in Curtis Brown’s Book group, but you can get your copy from Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles and for a bargain £3.99 (at time of writing) on Kindle.

* A policy which I’m increasingly realising means that I can’t say a lot of things that I really want to about books, but which stops me from being that person I hate, who ruins plots and shocks and reveals and spoils people’s enjoyment of books, so it stays!