The Candy House, by Jennifer Egan
I am guessing that the name of this book is a reference to the Hänsl & Gretel fairy tale, where the candy [aka gingerbread] house is used as a lure, but here the lure is a piece of equipment connected to a supercharged version of our current internet, by which memories & subjective experience can be shared to the collective consciousness. I found the way this book was structured rather confusing: there is so much detail [a lot of which I would consider superfluous], in different voices, and a variety of presentational styles—narrative; memo/notes; and emails, for whole chapters, that it was difficult to keep track of characters in different time periods, how they all meshed together, so in the end, I struggled to care about them, which is a shame, because the book’s premise is good, IMO. The memory upload facility invented by one of the characters; but clearly not the primary one; is very interesting whilst simultaneously very worrying—think Facebook times 10, with immersive involvement. Unfortunately, I found myself having to wade through acres of biography which skirt around the book’s theme, which is a shame, and it meant I couldn’t share the enthusiastic soundbite back-cover reviews [there are many more inside] of authorities such as Vogue, Guardian, The Irish Times [Best Books of 2022], and the [British] Telegraph. For me, this was a good opportunity fumbled. The paperback I read was published in 2023 by Corsair, London [2022, Corsair UK; 2022, Scribner USA] ISBN 978-1-4721-5094-3.
Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir
Dr Ryland Grace is a man on a mission; this mission is very simple: save humanity. So: no pressure, then…. This is the only rationale I can perceive for the book’s title, the mission’s name, because there is no religious content anywhere in it. I can only detail the beginning of the narrative, because to reveal any more would spoil an excellent plot; the back story is revealed piecemeal as the first-person narrative progresses, but for a very good, and plausible reason: Grace wakes up in an unfamiliar environment, which he soon determines is a space vehicle, and he assumes that he has been in some sort of suspended animation, or a coma. There are two other people in this area but they are, unfortunately, both dead: one more degraded than the other. When his memory starts returning, he realises that he is on his way to a nearby [twelve light years, actually—space: it’s relative] star called Tau Ceti. Why? Because the heat/light radiation output of Sol, earth’s sun, is being significantly reduced by a band of red light, arcing from there to Venus, with drastic, quite short-term consequences for humanity. Astronomers have determined that whilst Tau Ceti is also being similarly affected, its radiation output has not diminished: how come? Hence Grace’s mission; and that of his dead fellow passengers. I have enjoyed Weir’s other two books—The Martian, and Artemis, and whilst the premise here is similar to that of the first book: lone astronaut, having to use his ingenuity to survive; this one is cleverly, and engagingly written [not that the other wasn’t!], and I have no hesitation in recommending it, if you like sci-fi that isn’t completely implausible; although the protagonist’s Ned Flanders-style language did make me chuckle. The paperback I read was published in 2022 by Penguin Books, London [2021, Del Rey, UK; 2021, Penguin Random House, USA], ISBN 978-1-5291-5746-8.
Confidence, by Denise Mina
Having enjoyed this author’s pootling about on television with Frank Skinner [aka Christopher Collins] in various locations, celebrating the lives of various literary figures, some better known than others, and found her personality engaging [and her choice of clothing refreshingly eccentric], I very much wanted to enjoy this first example of her writing which I had hitherto discovered. I sort of did, but I also found the plot a bit confusing. Anna, the narrator, whose given name is not revealed to us until some pages in, is a podcast co-creator; so, very contemporary. She runs out on an unenjoyable holiday in Scotland, reprehensibly leaving behind her two young daughters, in the care of her ex-husband and his new partner, and accompanied by Fin, who loves her, but is too timid to either tell her or stand up to his younger & volatile Italian girlfriend. They have heard about a young woman who is part of a group who practise urbex; urban exploration, usually abandoned & neglected old properties, and post films about it on YouTube. She has gone missing, but discovered a possibly priceless silver artefact in an abandoned Château. After that, the artefact, and those who want to possess it for their own various reasons, become the focus of the story. I suppose the premise is plausible, but in the end, I couldn’t raise a lot of enthusiasm about the characters; not a bad read, otherwise. The paperback I read was published in 2023 by Vintage (2022, Harvill Secker), ISBN 978-1-5291-1181-1.
Here Goes Nothing, by Steve Toltz
There aren’t many books, thankfully, which make me want to throw them across the room in disgust, when I finish them but this, sadly, is one. I would have expected some sort of resolution for the protagonists after a reasonably good setup, but the reader is left in limbo; no pun intended; and that’s not where I like to be at the end of a story. It starts in Australia [the author’s nationality] and Angus Mooney is dead, but his unexpected afterlife is rather different from the version described in The Purgatory Poisoning, by Rebecca Rogers, reviewed recently. Here, it is very similar to earthbound existence, but in a different landscape. As is often the case, Mooney’s backstory intersperses the current timeline, and we learn how he was murdered by a deceitful ‘cuckoo in the nest’ in the form of Dr. Owen Fogel, who disingenuously inveigles his way into the house of Mooney [while he is out] and his wife, Gracie, by spinning the yarn that he grew up in that house, and his father died in the garden, after falling and hitting his head. He tells the current occupants that he is dying, from an aggressive brain disease, and he would love to spend his final days in his childhood house; Gracie is empathetically taken in, but Mooney is sceptical, and ends up being murdered for it. Unfortunately, there is far too much existential musing for my liking, and a lot of it is just nonsense, which spoils what could have been a good premise. Plenty of critics [the ones quoted, of course] loved it, but I beg to differ. The paperback I read was published in 2023 , by Sceptre, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton, London , ISBN 978-1-5293-7160-4.