Books of the Month for August 2023: From Anne Enright’s The Wren, The Wren to Wifedom by Anna Funder

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Sign up for our free IndyArts newsletter to stay updated with the latest entertainment news and reviews. In 1987, during the height of the Aids scare, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern was raided by the police. Comedian Paul O’Grady, noticing the officers wearing bright blue rubber gloves, joked that they were there to help with the washing up. This story, along with many others, can be found in Ed Gillett’s book Party Lines: Dance Music and the Making of Modern Britain. The book provides a well-researched and comprehensive account of the dance music scene in the UK, from its Black roots to its evolution throughout the years. It covers topics such as the anti-dance moralism of the Thatcher era, the Manchester/Hacienda scene, and the current corporate club landscape. One chapter, titled “Plague Raving,” explores the truths and myths surrounding illegal raves during the lockdown. Overall, Party Lines offers an engrossing glimpse into modern social history.

Adam Mars-Jones brings back his beloved character John Cromer in his latest novel, Caret. This book, which follows Pilcrow and Cedilla, takes place in the 1970s and showcases Mars-Jones’ wit and insight. Clocking in at just under 750 pages, this installment of the series will surely delight fans. Another book set in the same decade is John Niven’s memoir O Brother. Niven explores the impact of sibling suicide in this moving and poignant account.

Jonathan Raban’s memoir Father & Son: A Memoir About Family, the Past and Mortality offers a tender and candid reflection on his parents’ early marriage. Raban describes his father as an alumnus of the old school of the stiff upper lip, while his mother bluntly refers to him as having a “leather heart.” Written after Raban suffered a stroke, the book is filled with wisdom and explores the author’s own mortality. In a surprising reflection, Raban discusses his lifelong smoking habit and admits to knowing the dangers even as a teenager. He recalls how cigarettes were already referred to as “cancer sticks” in the 1950s, long before warning labels were introduced.

Eloise Millar and Sam Jordison’s Literary London: A Book Lover’s Guide to the City mentions two of the author’s favorite old Holborn drinking establishments. The Cittie of Yorke in Chancery Lane, featured in David Copperfield, is part of their suggested “Dickensian Pub Crawl.” The Lamb, an old pub known to be frequented by poet T.S. Eliot, is also included in their guide.

In terms of book reviews, Ann Patchett’s Tom Lake receives high praise. Set during the pandemic, the novel follows Lara as she reveals the story of her affair with a Hollywood superstar to her three grown-up daughters. Patchett’s storytelling is described as dazzling, with small plot twists and revelations that pack a powerful punch. The characters are varied and well-drawn, and Patchett’s handling of Lara’s inner life is sublime. The novel also explores themes of sexism, power dynamics, and the impact of the climate crisis.

Catherine Taylor’s memoir The Stirrings: A Memoir in Northern Time offers a personal story of her life growing up in Sheffield in the 1970s and 1980s. Balancing her own experiences with an incisive social history of the era, Taylor discusses her relationship with her father after her parents’ divorce and her struggles with an auto-immune condition. She also delves into issues of sexism and the fear surrounding the Yorkshire Ripper at the time. The book provides a detailed and evocative account of Taylor’s life and the contrasting experiences of the past.

Richard Russo’s Somebody’s Fool is the third installment in the series featuring the character Sully Sullivan. Set ten years after Sully’s death, the novel follows his son, Peter, as he navigates an unexpected crisis with his estranged son Thomas. Alongside this storyline, retired Police Chief Douglas Raymer takes over an investigation into a bizarre suicide. Although the novel has sharp observations about modern America, it received mixed reviews, with some critics feeling that it lacked the comedic brilliance of the first installment.

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