Small World by Martin Suter
A moving and unusual book, which tells the story of Konrad, now in his 60s, who has enjoyed a long association with the Koch family of Zürich. He’s getting forgetful, and the family suspect him of drinking a little too much for his own good. When his absent-mindedness leads to a fire which destroys their villa, something has to change. Gradually it emerges that Konrad is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and as his grip on the present loosens, he recalls more and more about the past. Something Elvira Koch, the family matriarch, fears the most. Swiss author Suter draws his characters with balance and depth, and uses the gentle, but inexorable pace of the story to increase the tension, pile on the pressure and offer poignant insights as to the nature of the disease, of memory and the dangers of secrets.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
The narrator returns back to the lane where he grew up, and sitting on a bench by a pond, remembers how much he has forgotten. The adult and his seven-year-old self relate the fantastical recollections of his childhood, his encounters with the Hempstock women, his battles with Ursula the usurper and some startling moments of domestic drama. Gaiman’s story is freighted with symbolism, imagination, memory, reality and invention, stories and myth, while rooted in the Sussex countryside of the 1960s. Full of extraordinary images and ideas, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a story I will revisit. This is not a long book, but one to savour and remember how powerful a thing is the childhood imagination.
Secrets of the Italian Gardener by Andrew Crofts
Difficult to define and delightfully unexpected, this novella is an excellent read. A dual narrative draws the reader into the present-day world of a Middle-Eastern dictator struggling to retain power in the events of the Arab Spring, while the ghostwriter hired to pen his autobiography wrestles with painful memories of a past tragedy. The eponymous gardener is rather more than what he seems, sharing observations and philosophies on the personal and political. I read this on a plane journey, which seemed the perfect environment to lose myself to this well-woven adventure. I found a parallel in the realistic environment of the palace, an oasis of luxury amid the cruelty and chaos of the outside world, and the narrator’s mind, where he yearns to escape his constant grief. But the walls, inevitably, come tumbling down. Robert Harris meets Paulo Coelho in a thoughtful, intelligent story.
By JJ Marsh – author, reader, Triskelite, journalist, Nuancer, reviewer and blogger. Likes: pugs, Werner Herzog and anchovies. Dislikes: meat, chocolate and institutionalised sexism. The Beatrice Stubbs Boxset is out now.