Sunday, 30 December 2012

Staff Picks - Best Books of 2012: Barbara

Rachel Joyce is an award winning English playwright and this is her first novel.  It was longlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize. Six years ago Rachel wrote The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry as a play for the BBC Radio 4 and it won an award for the best radio play.  Rachel wanted to write a book for many years and was persuaded by her colleagues to write "Harold's" story as a novel. She wanted to write a story that didn't quite fit the rules and make the implausible, plausible....and I think she succeeded.  Harold has retired and lives with his wife Maureen in a southern Englist town. Maureen's a bit of a shrew and criticises him all the time and poor Harold wears it without a murmur.  He receives a letter from a work colleague he hasn't seen for 30 years.  She writes that she is in a hospice and wants to thank him for his friendship many years before and to say goodbye.  Harold immediately writes to her and sets out to post the letter.  He contemplates at the post box and decides to move on to the post office.  When he reaches it he makes the amazing decision to just deliver it in person.  The problem is that he lives in southern England and the hospice is in the north of the country 627 miles away!  And so his pilgrimage begins.  Sounds implausible I know, but the people he meets along the way, even the television crews, make this a quirky story with many surprising dimensions. I've had Shearer's customers who didn't want the novel to end as they loved it so much.

Tom Keneally is an inveterate storyteller.  Tom has written a World War One novel from the fresh perspective of the nurses rather than the soldiers.  The story begins in the Macleay Valley of New South Wales with two sisters Sally and Naomi Durance.  Both are nurses, one leaves and the other stays home combining work with looking after aged parents.  When the war begins they both sign up but they are hiding a dark secret.  The Durance sisters witness first hand the work and everything  the war has to offer.  This is a novel about the closeness of siblings and love.  The Daughters of Mars also touches on some interesting subjects, the changing face of medicine during the early 1900s, conscription, Quakers and the plight of conscientious objectors.  Tom is renowned for his meticulous research and the story was inspired by journals of two Australian nursing sisters written during the Great War.  It is a story that stays in your mind long after you read the last page.

Arthur Conan Doyle brought Sherlock Holomes back from the dead following a public outcry.  Ian Rankin just yanked Detective Inspector John Rebus, the dour Scottish detective out of retirement and the news has thrilled his fans throught the world (including me)!  Rebus finds himself at odds with Rankin's latest protagonist Malcolm Fox when all he really wants to do is to discover the truth about a series of seemingly unconnected disappearances stretching back to 2000.

Rebus wants to investigate the crimes but nobody else is interested.  Of course that doesn't thwart Rebus, not even when his own life and the careers of those around him are on the line.  Ian Rankin not only creates great characters but his description of place is so stunning I even looked up an atlas to follow the areas of Scotland he was visiting in search of answers.  The title, the first scene and the last scene in the novel all come together in a very clever piece of writing.  Mr Rankin is indeed a great storyteller.

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