Looking for a great read? Here are 10 new books we loved in July

Facebook’s ugly truth; Séamas O’Reilly’s memoir; a working-class anthology and more

Ten books we loved in July

Ten books we loved in July

 

An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination
By Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang
Bridge Street Press, £20
An Ugly Truth, the devastating profile of Facebook by New York Times writers Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang, will not be this summer’s comfort read, but it may well be its most compelling.

Subtitled Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination, this engagingly, eviscerating page-turner is as much about the struggle for superiority inside as outside the “unstoppable profit-making machine” – and none of it is pretty. Especially the sad truth and constant subtext that we all, whether we be Facebook users or not, bear the brunt of founder, chair and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s ruthless pursuit of globe-spanning control.
Read Karlin Lillington’s full review here.

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?
By Séamas O’Reilly
Fleet, £16.99
The book is a wonderful tribute to Sheila O’Reilly. She is depicted as an exceptionally compassionate, selfless woman, a gifted linguist and teacher who is mourned by their entire community on the Derry-Donegal border and beyond. Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? is also a portrait of the parent left behind, Joe O’Reilly, the grieving head of a family of 12, a clever, loving father with eccentricities that O’Reilly delights in describing.
Read Sinéad O’Shea’s full review here.

The 32: An Anthology of Irish Working-Class Voices
Edited by Paul McVeigh
Unbound, £9.99
This collection of essays by Irish writers attempts to collate working-class voices from all over the island and add diversity to the range of voices out there. If you cannot be what you cannot see, then this collection is attempting to clean the glasses, widen the lens and enrich the detail of the picture. Leave it to the “big serf-headed” Kevin Barry to articulate the fascination and appeal of mining the working-class Irish experience.

“It takes half a lifetime to see out beyond the immediate shadows of yourself and of your own biography. It takes for ever and a day to recognise the systems and the streams that are in place to divert you from your true will and ambitions. It takes a steady nerve, and a steady voice, to begin to question them, and to unpick them.” This collection is a bold, welcome and generous start to that journey of unpicking.
Read Siobhán McSweeney’s full review here.

Mother of Invention: How Good Ideas Get Ignored in an Economy Built for Men
By Katrine Marçal
William Collins, £18.99
A Swedish journalist based in London, Marçal is the author of Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? (2012), which explored the limitations of Homo economicus as an organising principle and the societal costs of devaluing unpaid labour. In The Mother of Invention, seamlessly translated by Alex Fleming, Marçal investigates the impact of gender expectations on innovation. Wheelie suitcases did not take off until the 1970s because of macho assumptions that women were not meant to travel alone and that men should be strong enough to carry luggage, she explains. Read Mia Levitin’s full review here.

Justice Rising: Robert Kennedy’s America in Black and White
By Patricia Sullivan
Belknap Press, £31.95
Patricia Sullivan’s brilliant and beautifully written biography of Robert Kennedy could hardly be more timely. Focusing on Kennedy’s engagement with the African-American freedom struggle, it arrives in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests that demanded renewed public attention to institutional racism in the US and elsewhere. A privileged white man who came to embrace the cause of racial justice as his own, Kennedy offers a model of how to be an anti-racist ally.
Read Daniel Geary’s full review here.

Shine/Variance
By Stephen Walsh
Chatto & Windus, £14.99
Stephen Walsh’s debut collection of short stories slips readers into the lives of mostly middle-aged, mostly middle-class, mostly urban Irish people. They’re all great, beautiful little studies of unspoken fear and longing and love, told with a sure-footed delicacy rare in a debut. Walsh is playful and often funny. The specificity feels like sharpness of form rather than provincialism of content, high-wire, high-stakes writing despite the gentle pace of events. Walsh’s voices are small but strong, his triumphs and tragedies no less haunting for their intimate scale.
Read Sarah Moss’s full review here.

A Passage North
By Anuk Arudpragasam
Granta, £14.99
Anuk Arudpragasam’s award-winning debut novel The Story of a Brief Marriage was set in a refugee camp during the final days of the Sri Lankan civil war. It told the story of civilian casualties caught in the crossfire of fighting between the country’s army and the Tamil Tigers rebel forces, giving a sharp and harrowing picture of the repercussions of war. The Sri Lankan writer returns to this subject matter for his second novel, which is an altogether more reflective affair, a disquieting and contemplative book that seeks to comprehend the incomprehensible.

With considered thoughts on everything from smoking to meditation, life and death, his new novel is a treasure trove of insight and wisdom, a reminder of “how large and unknown the world was, how much it seemed to contain.”
Read Sarah Gilmartin’s full review here.

The Painter’s Friend
By Howard Cunnell
Picador, £16.99
The first thing that hits you with The Painter’s Friend is how exceptionally beautiful Howard Cunnell’s writing is at sentence level, so much so that you consciously pace yourself while reading in an attempt to draw out the experience for as long as possible.

Comparisons can be made to Adam Mars Jones, Jon McGregor, David Hayden and Ali Smith and in the story itself echoes of John Healy’s The Grass Arena are evident early on and confirmed in the dedication at the end. But Cunnell’s style is ultimately matchless; intimate, dark, sincere, wry, and exquisitely beautiful.
Read Emma Flynn’s full review here.

The Promise
By Damon Galgut
Chatto & Windus, £16.99
Damon Galgut’s electrifying new novel tracks the travails of the Swart family – “just an ordinary bunch of white South Africans” – over the span of three decades. Galgut returns with The Promise to mine the issues of his country. He has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize twice, for The Good Doctor (2003) and In a Strange Room (2010), both of which were set in South Africa. Third time lucky?
Read Mia Levitin’s full review here.

The Paper Lantern
By Will Burns
W&N, £14.99
The Paper Lantern manages to chart and interrogate the public mood and understanding of the Covid-19 crisis even as it still unfolds. It is a remarkable achievement in a book that feels at once timely and deeply considered, an antidote to the clickbait, flashing headline style of journalism that has, perhaps understandably, proliferated during the pandemic.

The careful attention to nature and community echo the novels of Sarah Moss. But unlike Moss’s writings, The Paper Lantern is hugely introspective and offers largely just a single viewpoint. The pace of it will not be for everyone – later parts flag and overall there is a lack of shape to the narrative – but this will not bother readers who enjoy a thoughtful ramble through the English countryside with an engaging narrator who is both old and wise before his time.
Read Sarah Gilmartin’s full review here.

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