Art Kavanagh

Talk about books: a newsletter about things I’ve read

Books I’ve read or that I’m reading at the moment

This page is generated from data in’s Bookshelves feature. My “to read” list is here.

Books I’ve finished reading

The Trusting and the Maimed cover James Plunkett, The Trusting and the Maimed

The Guest List cover Lucy Foley, The Guest List
Highly entertaining but very contrived plot. The identity of the murder victim is revealed only near the end of the story — but comes as absolutely no surprise. Some great female characters: I particularly like Hannah and Aoife. The writing’s a bit careless in places but I soon stopped noticing.

Transcription cover Kate Atkinson, Transcription
I’ve written about Transcription in my newsletter on 16 June 2022. I really like the book’s lying, thieving and yet in some respects oddly innocent central character.

Exhalation cover Ted Chiang, Exhalation
Most of these stories have elements that I like very much — for example, the title story is in part a brilliant analogy to the 2nd law of thermodynamics — but in other respects they often seem more like fables or parables than what I think of as stories. Entertaining and stimulating but sometimes a bit (gently, unobtrusively) preachy.

That Old Country Music cover Kevin Barry, That Old Country Music
I read all but one of these stories in a library ebook. The exception is “Who’s-Dead McCarthy”, which I read in a (printed) anthology, Being Various. I felt that I grasped/appreciated the printed story better. I don’t believe the difference is just that it’s a better story.

The Secret Place cover Tana French, The Secret Place
I’ve written about The Secret Place and The Trespasser in my newsletter on 6-Jun-2022.

The Trespasser cover Tana French, The Trespasser

An Island cover Karen Jennings, An Island
I bought it because it seemed the most interesting book that didn’t make it from the Booker longlist for 2021 to the shortlist. It’s a powerful, moving story but some of the storytelling is inert. I’m on the fence: I’m likely to reread it but not soon.

Lifestyle Choice 10mg cover Rosemary Jenkinson, Lifestyle Choice 10mg
The title of this collection should have given me a clue, but I was surprised by the amount of drug-taking in these stories. So, not what I was expecting, but some very good stories that I’ll go back to.

Klara and the Sun cover Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun
I’ll need to read this a second time before I have anything to say about it other than that I enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting to.

The Second Midnight cover Andrew Taylor, The Second Midnight
When Germany invades Czechoslovakia in 1939, a 13-year-old English boy is left behind in Prague. He spends the whole war there, first with Communist partisans and afterwards labouring in the gardens of a Nazi colonel, leading him into a maze of conflicting loyalties and opportunities for betrayal.

When We Were Orphans cover Kazuo Ishiguro, When We Were Orphans
I first read When We Were Orphans in 2019. I enjoyed it more this time, knowing what to expect (at least those bits I could remember!) I’ve mentioned it in my newsletter of 4-May-2022 which is mainly about The Buried Giant.

Snowflake cover Louise Nealon, Snowflake
Nealon writes about depression and other mental illness, isolation and loneliness, sudden and brutal death by farm machinery, attempted suicide, guilt, grief and out-of-control drinking in a lighthearted, comic, sometimes almost whimsical tone. Extraordinary.

A Shock cover Keith Ridgway, A Shock
This is described by the publisher and author as a novel but we may need another term. It seems too episodic and disunited to be a novel, yet the episodes are too connected and intertwined for a collection of short stories. It has made me think again (for the first time in years) about structure, on which I may have more to say soon.

Smiley’s People cover John le Carré, Smiley’s People
I’ve written about Smiley’s People (and Graham Greene’s The Human Factor) in my newsletter on 6-Apr-2022.

The Human Factor cover Graham Greene, The Human Factor
I’ve written about The Human Factor (and John le Carré’s Smiley’s People) in my newsletter on 6-Apr-2022.

Dark Lies the Island cover Kevin Barry, Dark Lies the Island
Some of these stories are extremely bleak, even despairing. They’re likely to stay with the reader — whether s|he wants them to or not. I expect to return to this collection.

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold cover John le Carré, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

56 Days cover Catherine Ryan Howard, 56 Days
I didn’t enjoy the early chapters of 56 Days, where boy (29) meets girl (25) just before pandemic restrictions are imposed: too much of the writing here has the tone and style of social media posts. Once the plot developments get going, though, it’s a blast.

Faithful Place cover Tana French, Faithful Place

Judas 62 cover Charles Cumming, Judas 62
Mission: Impossible meets Smiley’s People. Who said the Cold War is over? Reviewing Box 88, I said it was “a secret, rogue intelligence-and-assassination outfit”. I was wrong: we learn here that they stop short of assassination. Highly enjoyable.

Limitations cover Scott Turow, Limitations
Though I mentioned Limitations in my newsletter post about some of Scott Turow’s novels, I hadn’t reread it till now. While it’s much shorter than the typical Turow novel, and I think has been seen as a secondary work, I found it substantial and satisfying. Interesting on the mechanics of deciding appellate cases.

Broken Harbour cover Tana French, Broken Harbour
I’ve written about Broken Harbour and Faithful Place in my newsletter on 9-Mar-2022.

The Second Cut cover Louise Welsh, The Second Cut
I read this because it was recommended by Andrew Taylor on Twitter. It’s very enjoyable, with credibly interesting characters in unusual and often dangerous situations. I’d like to read the same author’s The Girl on the Stairs (2012) soon.

Wait Till I Tell You cover Candia McWilliam, Wait Till I Tell You
I’ve written about this collection of short stories in my newsletter on 23-Mar-2022.

A Legacy of Spies cover John le Carré, A Legacy of Spies
I’m unexpectedly impressed though surely Christoph’s and Karen’s legal action would be statute-barred? We find out what Smiley had on Mundt, and how both Mundt and Karla ended up. One sentence in the last paragraph, not plot-related, hit me like a punch.

Notes to Self cover Emilie Pine, Notes to Self

Enduring Love cover Ian McEwan, Enduring Love
I’ve written about Enduring Love in my newsletter on 9-Feb-2022.

The Children Act cover Ian McEwan, The Children Act

The Nothing Man cover Catherine Ryan Howard, The Nothing Man
Fairly compelling but I think I’d have liked it better if Ryan Howard hadn’t already done the serial killer plot in The Liar’s Girl. Maybe this is best seen as a second, more effective bite at that particular cherry.

The Right Side cover Spencer Quinn, The Right Side
I loved this book and may eventually write about it; even if I don’t, I intend read it again. LeAnne Hogan is certainly one of Peter Abrahams’s “impaired heroes” — the ones I wrote about in my newsletter. A couple of mysteries are solved, but they’re not very mysterious ones: the book is much more concerned with how LeAnne comes to terms with what has happened to her and with the people (and dog!) around her.

On Chesil Beach cover Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach
This surprised me: the reviews had led me to expect something rather different and much less enjoyable to read, so I put it off for far too long. I’ll be returning to it — soon, I hope.

The Honourable Schoolboy cover John Le Carré, The Honourable Schoolboy

A Simple Favour cover Darcey Bell, A Simple Favour
A book like this, about intrigue, betrayals and bad behaviour, needs a compelling plot, which this doesn’t have. Characters who aren’t as smart, cool or transgressive as they think they are show exactly the combination of stupidity and selfishness you’d expect. Pointless.

Dark Spectre cover Michael Dibdin, Dark Spectre
I’ve written about Dark Spectre in my newsletter on 19-Jan-2022.

The Ground Beneath Her Feet cover Salman Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her Feet
I read this twice, with more than a 20-year gap between the readings, and found it quite a different experience the second time. I hope to write something about it eventually, after I’ve read it a third time.

Oblivion cover Peter Abrahams, Oblivion
I’ve written about Oblivion and the other titles by Peter Abrahams in my newsletter on 22-Dec-2021.

Delusion cover Peter Abrahams, Delusion

Nerve Damage cover Peter Abrahams, Nerve Damage

I Know What I Saw cover Imran Mahmood, I Know What I Saw
The first-person narrative of a long-term homeless man whose memory is damaged and who is sure he witnessed a murder that can’t have happened when he says it did. The brilliance of the start isn’t maintained.

Fury cover Salman Rushdie, Fury
I’ve written about Fury in my newsletter on 5-Jan-2022.

The Good Turn cover Dervla McTiernan, The Good Turn
I enjoyed this book though maybe not as much as the first two in the series. There’s a hackneyed trope early on, and the resolution relies on a coincidence that some readers (not me) might think of as “cheating” in a work of crime fiction.

Milton's God cover William Empson, Milton's God

End Games cover Michael Dibdin, End Games

The Buried Giant cover Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant
I liked this better than anything else I’ve read by Ishiguro, including both Never Let Me Go and Klara and the Sun. I’ve just reread it and written about it in my newsletter on 4-May-2022.

The King’s Evil cover Andrew Taylor, The King’s Evil
The third in a series set in Restoration London but the first I’ve read. I’m not going to write about it till I’ve read the others. Contemporary with last decade of Marvell’s life, though he isn’t mentioned in this one.

Blood Rain cover Michael Dibdin, Blood Rain

What I’m reading right now

William Empson, Volume I: Among the Mandarins cover John Haffenden, William Empson, Volume I: Among the Mandarins

The Girl on the Stairs cover Louise Welsh, The Girl on the Stairs