Book Reviews July 2013

The Last Dance

Victoria Hislop

Headline

Victoria Hislop’s love affair with Greece has already made her a worldwide best selling novelist.

Now it has also made her an expert witness on a country and its people facing a unique crisis.

In this beguiling collection of ten short stories, Hislop resists the crude commercial temptation to home in on that crisis in too obvious detail.

She focuses instead on stories of everyday crises: a celibate priest who has fallen in love, the misery caused to adult children by over-protective Greek parents and the growing power of sleazy loan sharks, all played out against the backdrop of this ancient but crumbling culture.

In many ways these stories are even better than her novels: a type of accidental education for the non-political reader.

Her characters are utterly convincing and she has perfected her knack for describing everyday Greek life.

Zoo

James Patterson

Arrow

Jackson Oz is a thoroughly discredited biologist who has been sounding the alarm for years about the increasing frequency of seemingly random attacks by animals upon human beings. For years, Oz has been presenting his theory of HAC, Human-Animal Conflict, to a dwindling audience of anyone who is willing to listen. Living in a Harlem apartment that is a step or two above a hovel, Oz’s dwindling supply of joy includes a girlfriend who is using him in the best way possible and a pet ape named Attila who probably cares more for him than his girlfriend does.

When a friend asks Oz to travel to Africa to observe some lions that have been engaging in unusual and dangerous behaviour, Oz jumps at the chance, even as what appears to be random animal attacks begin to occur in the United States as well. While in Africa, Oz barely escapes with his life, but not before obtaining proof of his HAC theory for the world to see. The problem is that he cannot get anyone to pay attention, at least at first. By the time someone in a position of power finally listens to Oz, it may well be too late. Oz is also asking a very uncomfortable question: having gotten people to acknowledge what is happening, the issue that must be confronted is why it is happening, and quickly. But even if the cause of the worldwide HAC is determined, will people have the force of will to do what must be done? That is the ultimate question that this book asks and answers.

Sweet Tooth

Ian McEwan

Vintage

Serena Frome, blond, ‘rather gorgeous’ and ‘rhymes with plume’, graduates with a third in maths. A speed-reader of novels, she toys at first with an English degree but is persuaded by her mother that it’s her ‘duty as a woman’ to grapple instead with numbers. At Cambridge she falls into an affair with a much older, much married history professor and finds herself being groomed for an interview with MI5. When the professor dumps her, literally in a layby off the A45, she is devastated.

She starts working for MI5 anyway and accepts an exciting mission. She is to immerse herself in the work of a young novelist called TH Haley, then meet him and assess whether or not he should be offered the chance of a stipend, ‘enough to keep a chap from having to do a day job for a year or two, even three’. A struggling novelist’s dream, in other words.

Codenamed Sweet Tooth, this is MI5’s way of covertly recruiting writers and journalists to bang the drum for its own causes. But the recipient must never know where the money is coming from.

Sweet Tooth is a comic novel and a novel of ideas, but, unlike so many of those, it also exerts a keen emotional pull.

All Titles £7.99 less £1