This month, we feature Kay Vasey, Director of Arts, Singapore

We Had it so Good by Linda Grant – Linda has done a couple of trips for literature department recently – to the Walberberg seminar in Germany and to Moscow to visit contacts and research a new novel. This one, just published, chronicles the lives of a golden couple who meet at Oxford University in the 60s and go on to raise children – a magician and a photographer – in a huge house in increasingly-fashionable North London. As ever Grant skewers middle-class stereotypes, in this case both in the UK and the USA, and introduces a discordant note in the shape of Grace, the friend who serves as the conscience of those whom she believes has sold out. Very well and widely reviewed in the UK broadsheet press. Susie Nicklin

Best of Young Spanish Novelists by Granta – Following the established ‘Best of Young British Novelist’ lists that caused ripples in the UK and American literary world (begun in 1983), Granta have launched one for writers in Spanish, featuring 22 writers from countries across the Spanish speaking world. It is the first Granta issue to be entirely made up of literature in translation and the result is a thrilling glimpse onto the Latin America of today. Whilst the legacy of magic realism and political engagement are often apparent in the narratives, stories are also imbued with objects of a newer landscape where globalisation, i-phones and blogs are the norm. Overall the collection offers an exciting journey into what the world of Spanish letters has to offer and give a taste of what is to come. Julia Ziemer

The London Train by Tessa Hadley is divided into two parts as she tells the stories of two unconnected individuals whose settled and habitual lives are slipping into turmoil. The second half of the book reveals how their lives intersect and the ways in which their plights resonate and contrast with each other. The characters are flawed and convincing. Through them, the writer explores the complications of family relationships and responsibilities, and creates an affecting observation of dissatisfaction and restlessness in middle age. Karen Brodie

The Girl in the Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold – A fictional retelling of the life of Charles Dickens and his wife, Arnold’s Man Booker – and Orange – long-listed novel is told from the perspective of Dorothea Gibson, the wife of famous, London-based author Alfred Gibson. The novel opens on the day of Alfred Gibson’s funeral, which is attended by thousands of his adoring public but not his wife, and through her reflections, we hear the story of their life together. She charts their youthful love and the struggles they overcame to marry given Dorothea’s higher social status, the rise of Alfred’s writing career, the birth of their ten children, Gibson’s unconventional relationships with his sister-in-laws and young actresses, the unhappy separation of the couple and Dorothea’s subsequent isolation from society and her children. Dorothea bravely faces the future, her children and her arch-rival Miss Ricketts, while remaining under the spell of the man who cut her off for the final ten years of his life. Arnold is a gifted storyteller and portrays the complexity of human relationships skilfully, while offering us another way of thinking about one of Britain’s best-known writers and those around him. Sinead Russell

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens – One of Dickens’ best loved novels, well known for its champion of earnest ‘umble’ virtues against the shadowy backdrop of the Industrial Revolution. It is largely regarded as Charles Dickens’ most autobiographical novel and it follows David, a young boy abused by his stern Victorian step-father, as he is forced to take to the streets and make his own way in the world. Here he meets the remarkable Micawbers, the essence of working class optimism, and from tough manual labour David eventually reaches the court, writing to support himself on the side. Kind and honest characters are characteristic of Dickens, yet the novel is not pure idealism. His characters are flawed and the social conventions that they navigate are tricky. More than this, the uncomplicated ‘liberal’ values that it champions are actually ‘the air and breath of middle-class respectability’ and the idyll that Dickens finally reaches is an entirely respectable one. Sophie Wardell

I am a Chechen! by German Sadulaev – I am a Chechen! tells the story of the state of Chechnya through the period of it’s modern, non-existence since the end of Soviet Russia. Through the ancient folk stories of the region and the personal stories of the people he knew in his village of Shali, Sadulaev depicts a people bewildered but resigned to their ever-shifting status in the eyes of the governing powers: from allies to enemies in a blink of an eye; attacks that are not justified; genocide without reason. The strongest element of his storytelling however is the Chechen’s determination to remain: to not lose their traditions, their identities, to not be bent to the will of their aggressors, nor to be beaten by them. Such is the skill of Anna Gunin’s translation that the lyricism and emotion that make Sadulaev’s narrative so effective is not lost to an English reader. Nick Chapman

The Fry Chronicles: An Autobiography by Stephen Fry – This book is a continuation from the end of the 1997 publication of Moab is my Washpot, Fry’s first autobiography. It spans across a seven year period in Stephen Fry’s life, picking up the story after his release from prison, his time at the University of Cambridge and the start of his comedic career by the late 1990s. It is a sincere, wonderful and very funny read which I recommend to anyone who is just a little bit in love with this ‘national treasure’. Justyna Kwasniewski

Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock – Four hundred and forty-eight pages of delightful, macabre, shocking and intriguing stories from a life less ordinary. Charting Roald’s experiences as an RAF pilot, Air Attaché, his forays and frustrations as an adult fiction writer and his eventual success as a celebrated children’s author, the book is well-researched, compiled in a meaningful way and thoroughly absorbing. Highly recommended to anyone who wonders what their life will hold – Dahl’s life serves as excellent inspiration for not worrying or over-analysing because you will never really know where you might end up or what you might be doing. Kay Vasey

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