From the inimitable antics of Irvine Welsh to the glamorous world of the late Alexander McQueen, there’s a book for everyone this month.
Pick your poison – raunchy thriller, graphic novel or barmy family tale? – and settle in for a good, old-fashioned page-turning session.
A Decent Ride by Irvine Welsh
After a brief sojourn stateside with previous offering The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins, Scotland’s sweariest author Irvine Welsh comes home to Edinburgh with latest novel A Decent Ride, which also sees the return of the oversexed Juice Terry from Glue.
It’s a wild ride indeed, with all of his trademark political incorrectness and biting wit. There’s a hurricane bearing down on the capital city as Terry gets tied up with the whisky-hunting machinations of a Donald Trump-esque American businessman and reality TV star, as well as being tasked with looking after a brothel.
When a heart condition leads to Juice Terry losing his mojo, Welsh actually injects an unexpected emotional weight without ever losing sight of the laughs. There’s dark humour too when Terry interrupts the suicidal tendencies of a bridge jumper in his own unique way and a disturbing but oddly affecting subplot involving his mentally disabled half-brother Jonty and his girlfriend Jinty.
Those who dislike Welsh’s overtly male gaze will not be won over here, but there’s a big beating heart beneath Juice Terry’s sex-mad scoundrel. Trainspotting fans will rejoice at a cameo from Sick Boy.
The connection between Alexander McQueen and London’s Victoria and Albert museum (V&A) was long and supportive. His oeuvre is the subject of a new exhibition, Savage Grace, currently showing at that great cultural institution after debuting in New York’s Metropolitan Museum. If you can’t afford the airfare, you should invest in this beautifully presented companion piece.
Sure, there’s celebrity aplenty, from Naomi Campbell in gold as the goddess Diana, David Bowie in his torn Union Jack coat or a tartan-clad Sarah Jessica Parker, but above all else this incredibly detailed, emotional tribute to the greatness of McQueen’s vision is about recognising his creations as works of art.
Take the intricate balsa wood wings worn by statuesque Irish model Erin O’Connor for spring/summer 1999, fusing fashion with art and craft. There was always a strong element of performance art to McQueen’s catwalk shows, like the dress spray-painted by robotic arms that same year. His incredibly detailed pieces for Plato’s Atlantis, spring/summer 2010, could have walked off a fantasy film set and, of course, he put out shows influenced by both Kubrick and Hitchcock.
This incredible book magnificently demonstrates McQueen’s mastery and I’m told it goes even further in detailing the complete arc of his career than the physical exhibition. A must for fashion and art lovers.
Melbourne-based Siemienowicz’s generous and joyous recollection of her sexual awakening, smothered by a strict religious upbringing and marrying far too young, started life as a novel before her publisher recognised its full potential as memoir. Interestingly, Fallen becomes a fascinating hybrid of the two forms, lightly fictionalising her own story, assuming the identity of Biblical bad press girl Eve. Her song is sung here with a vivid, almost poetic tongue.
An intriguing dissection of the merits of monogamy, the boundaries of love and other social constructs, this memoir gives us a glimpse inside a savvy and sensuous mind, translating into a riveting read. You can practically smell Perth’s baking summer as Eve returns to her childhood stomping ground, exorcising old ghosts and reconnecting with treasured friendships even as her highly unusual open marriage takes its weary toll.
Fallen is a magical memoir that lingers long after the last page is turned, having relived its reader of much laughter and even a few tears.
Opening with an incredibly engaging dual story exploring the private lives of a frazzled father and his wayward daughter, We Are Pirates is the debut adult fiction from author Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket.
Radio producer Phil Needle hires a new personal assistant on Memorial Day just as he receives the call to pick up his shoplifting teenage daughter Gwen. A little bamboozled by family life, there’s a magnificent line when he clumsily brings baked goodies to try and smooth over Gwen’s misdeeds, much to the horror and insatiable craving of his eternally dieting wife. He wishes it were possible he could “turn his cupcake into a scotch on the rocks with the power of his mind”.
It’s a great example of the literary wit at play in this clever novel that leaps about between its protagonists and overall tone. Their mutual boredom leads to adventures on the road for him, and at sea for Gwen as she heads up a bunch of would-be pirates on a stolen boat in San Francisco’s famous bay. There’s a rather fun narrative trick in that we’re never told who is relaying these events to us, beyond the fact that they’re hiding out in the Needle family’s “ugliest” bathroom. It’s a bit barmy but brilliant.
Henry Hayden is a sneaky man, publishing his wife’s cunning crime fiction under his own name and reaping all the credit when he becomes an overnight literary sensation. It turns out that’s not the only fiction he’s covering up, including an affair with his publisher, and soon he’s got a bunch of coppers on his case too.
German author Sascha Arango’s ridiculously funny and seriously wicked debut, The Truth and Other Lies, is one of those books you zip through rapidly, suddenly realising, blearily, it’s now well into the wee hours. A cad in the extreme, nevertheless you can’t help but root for Henry who’s an accomplished player in more ways than one. He’s given just enough of a sympathetic background with an abusive father to hook you in as the mayhem unfolds. Delicious.
Nazis, spies and possible traitor kings, oh my! There’s a lot to love about journalist and royal biographer Andrew Morton’s 17 Carnations, a cracking read that pulls back the curtain on Britain’s abdication crisis as Edward VIII stood down for his all-consuming love, American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
A detailed historical wrap, it nonetheless reads like a mash-up between a bodice-ripper and a thriller, and that’s absolutely a good thing. For true WWII buffs, there’s nothing hugely new here, but it’s all told with such gusto who cares really? There’s an enduring fascination with this perplexing pair who, on their extended, exiled honeymoon, saluted Hitler at Berchtesgaden and journeyed around with an obscene amount of luggage. Morton, the man who delivered Diana: Her True Story, knows how to spin a good yarn.
Dizzying exhilaration was my initial response diving head first into the insane world of Ryan K Lindsay’s mind-bending graphic novel Headspace, a thrilling addition to Australia’s burgeoning independent comic book scene with gorgeous art from Eric Zawadzki. Set in the fictional Carpenter’s Cove, a whirlwind world of fantastical creations including tentacled sea monsters, dragons and robotic dog bartenders, it’s nonetheless told with a gritty, noirish vibe that concerns itself with mental health and a father’s grief for his lost son.
Shane is the Cove’s sheriff, but he has no memory of his life. Going head-to-head with Max, a murderous maniac, a shocking revelation kapows. Nothing here is as it seems. Lindsay has crafted something truly exciting that challenges and delights in equal measure. He and Zawadzki are talents to keep your eyes on.