This month, we have mostly been reading…

Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty tells the story of a woman who loses her nine year old daughter in a traffic accident following the breakdown of her marriage. A gripping and unpredictable story of grief and revenge, the book has been shortlisted for the Costa Best Novel award. A fantastic read. Sinead Russell

Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad by Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit is a kind of modern fairy story with lots of grim humour and real tragedy as part of the mix. The two authors met when the latter, a BBC World Service journalist, was seeking someone in Baghdad whom she could interview for a story. Gradually the two began corresponding and eventually they built up a tangible rapport over email, with Bee describing her life as a working mother in middle class north London and May dodging bombs, braving assassination attempts and managing food and fuel shortages in war-torn Baghdad. Bit by bit they hatched a plot to get May, an eminent academic teaching English literature and human rights, out of Iraq and into the UK. Susie Nicklin

Bee is taking part in the British Council festival of literature in Erbil, northern Iraq, in May 2011. The event will feature Kurdish, Arabic and English writers and we will be working with many local partners to bring discussion, debate and literature to a wide range of local audiences.

2017 by Olga Slavnikova – Winner of the Russian Booker prize, 2017 has many different elements to it. The old world versus the new is a strong theme with depictions of two people seeking their fortunes. One pursues a traditional route based in the country’s natural resources, the linchpin of the Russian economy, whilst the other has already been made rich through the more modern business of the media. Both are shown to be unreliable in the end. This duel depicts the barely charted Russian wilderness as a place of adventure against the urban city in which we are all apparently now forced to exist. The theme goes hand-in-hand with a mysterious romance based upon a chance meeting which struggles to become a normal relationship, and ultimately ends the tryst but leaves behind a certain feeling that we are all destined to be alone. The book contains many more narrative strands which include a pastiche of the government with Big Brother elements, and a new updated interpretation of the 1917 revolution. There is something different on every page of this book and you are never sure of what you are going to get. Nicholas Chapman

Olga Slavnikova will take part in the British Council’s Cultural Programme as part of Russia Market Focus at the London Book Fair in April.

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens is Dickens’ last completed novel and regarded as one of his most complex. The novel opens with the discovery of a body in the Thames. It is identified as that of John Harmon who was on his return to London to receive his inheritance on the condition that he marries Bella Wilfer, who he has never met. Following his death, the inheritance passes to his father’s foreman, Boffin. Boffin meets John Rokesmith who offers to be his secretary and treasurer. From this position Rokesmith observes the Boffins and Bella and discovers the values they hold. The actions of these characters have far-reaching effects. The novel is filled with rich characters representing the different shades of London society in the 1860s. Through multiple plots, Dickens explores themes of disguise and identity, the ways in which wealth can corrupt individuals, poverty and literacy. In his final completed work, Dickens remains dedicated to addressing the same social problems he discussed in his early works. Karen Brodie

The Magnetic North by Sara Wheeler is a fantastic read about one of the most brutal and unknown parts of the Earth – the Arctic. The reader gets a sense of the magic and myth as well as the international politics that shape the region through a narrative centring around the different people and communities that live there. It gives us a chance to reflect and challenge our own views on the world today. Rachel Stevens

Two Cures for Love, Selected Poems 1979-2006 by Wendy Cope is a collection of poetry from ‘one of Britain’s best loved poets’ that gives witty and at times touching insights into themes of love, heartbreak and the human condition. The new selection of poems written over the last thirty years grew out of Cope meeting her audience and wanting to give them an insight into the context surrounding the poems with a notes section. Personal favourites are The Orange and the two-liner that lends it’s title to the collection “1. Don’t see him. Don’t phone or write a letter./ 2. The easy way: get to know him better.” Julia Ziemer

Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt – One day a huge, shaggy black dog knocks on the door of a young, troubled librarian in 1964. That same day Winston Churchill plays out an acerbic monologue inside his head sparring with his own somewhat public (and oddly embodied) demons. The two strands merge through this unwanted canine stranger and Rebecca Hunt’s debut novel binds you to them both in a confident, comic tone that speaks of fragility, fracture and evocatively brings to mind the shadows of Post-war Britain. Sophie Wardell

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