June 30, 2022 · 19:29
About A Son by David Whitehouse tells the story of the aftermath of the murder of 20-year-old Morgan Hehir, who was stabbed to death on a night out in Nuneaton, Warwickshire on 31 October 2015. It’s a true crime book, but it’s not written the way you might. usually expected from the genre. Whitehouse has turned the story of the Hehir family into a truly influential work of creative fiction. It is told in the second person from the point of view of Morgan’s father, Colin, based on his diaries and memories of the period after Morgan’s death. In addition to dealing with grief and the trial of Morgan’s killers, the book also examines the bureaucracy of the criminal justice system and Colin’s attempts to convince Apple to unlock Morgan’s phone so he can access his photos and music. “About a Son” is a truly brilliant portrait of an extraordinary event that happens in the most ordinary of families, and it will very likely be on my Book of the Year list.
O Caledonia, Elspeth Barker Ali Smith considers it “the least known novel of the 20th century” and was recently reissued by Weidenfeld & Nicolson as part of their W&N Essentials series. First published in 1991, set in a ramshackle castle in northern Scotland at the end of World War II, it follows the strange chain of events that lead to the murder of sixteen-year-old Janet, the eldest of five siblings. and something out of line with her peers (her death is revealed on the first page, so it’s not a spoiler). O Caledonia was Barker’s first and only novel, and I can see why it has been compared to the work of Shirley Jackson, with every carefully crafted sentence building to a terrifying conclusion.
The Invisible Child by Andrea Elliott is a narrative work that follows the life of Dasani Coates and her extended family from 2012, when she is 10 years old, to 2021, when she comes of age. The book is based on Elliott’s New York Times columns when Dasani and her family were homeless, and Elliott continued to follow them for years afterward. Through Dasani’s eyes, the book explores myriad issues of poverty in New York, from poor housing in a booming Brooklyn neighborhood, opioid addiction, the child welfare system, and the effects of structural racism. When she turns 13, Dasani is offered the chance to attend Hershey’s boarding school in Pennsylvania, which is specially designed for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and she is presented with both new opportunities and challenges. This is a very detailed and powerful piece of reporting that deservedly won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction and will hopefully reach a wider audience. Many thanks to Hutchinson Heinemann for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.
Earlier this month it was announced that Ruth Ozeki’s Book of Form and Emptiness has won this year’s Women’s Prize in Fiction. It tells the story of thirteen-year-old Benny, whose jazz musician father, Kenji, died a year ago when he was hit by a truck. Benny and his mother Annabelle struggle to process their grief. When Benny starts hearing voices from inanimate everyday objects, he ends up in a psychiatric ward for children, where he finds solace in books and the library. The Book of Forms and Void is perhaps the strangest of Ozeki’s four novels to date, and it’s full of ambitious ideas. As always, I preferred the more realistic aspects of the novel and found myself running out of steam in the second half. While Ozeki’s storytelling talents are on display here, I don’t think it’s her best work. Many thanks to Canongate for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.