Bruce Chatwin’s fascination with nomads and wanderlust represents itself in reverse in On the Black Hill, a tale of two brothers (identical twins) who never go anywhere. They stay in the farmhouse on the English-Welsh border where they were born, tilling the rough soil and sleeping in the same bed, touched only occasionally by the advance of the 20th century. Smacking of a Welsh Ethan Frome, Chatwin evokes the lonely tragedies of farm life, and above all the vibrant land of Wales.
In this delightful novel, which won a Whitbread Prize in 1989, James Hamilton-Paterson joins celebrated British composer Edward Elgar on a cruise on the Amazon River and imagines what artists of the time may have pondered. “Oh Edward what a stupid doltish ass you’ve been to waste your life on the idea that art—in its small way—can make the least difference to things,” he imagines Elgar as commenting. The book isn’t merely a collection of questioning ruminations; the cruise is filled with a variety of comical and interesting passengers and crew members.
An eccentric woman in her 30s strikes a friendship with an adolescent boy in a small southern English town at the outbreak of World War II. The young man, who serves as the narrator, leaves to attend Oxford, while Kay, the woman, takes up with an American soldier. The patterns of life of the town and of the two friends are destroyed forever by the war, and Francis Wyndham’s prose gives us a window into this time, and its demise. The novel is short and simple, yet filled with first-rate writing. The book won England’s Whitbread prize in 1987.
Jim Crace’s internationally acclaimed first book explores the tribes and communities, conflicts and superstitions, flora and fauna of a wholly spellbinding place: an imaginary seventh continent. In these seven tales Crace travels a strange and wonderful landscape: “Talking Skull” takes the reader to a tiny agricultural village renowned for the sexually-charged, mystical milk of its calves; “Electricity” introduces a remote flatland region where a monumental ceiling fan changes an entire town’s attitude toward modernization. From the acacia scrub of the flatlands to a city bazaar jammed with vegetable stalls, tourists, and beggars, Crace’s invented world is as fabulous as it is eerily familiar.
Jeanette is a bright and rebellious orphan who is adopted into an evangelical household in the dour, industrial North of England and finds herself embroidering grim religious mottoes and shaking her little tambourine for Jesus. But as this budding missionary comes of age, and comes to terms with her unorthodox sexuality, the peculiar balance of her God-fearing household dissolves. Jeanette’s insistence on listening to the truths of her own heart and mind—and on reporting them with wit and passion—makes for an unforgettable chronicle of an eccentric, moving passage into adulthood.
This is the story of two societies at the point of collapse: an England clinging desperately to the wreckage of its history and Beirut under bombardment. Adam Murray, a young British journalist, returns from assignment in the Middle East to find his old world has disintegrated. Stunned and embittered by the change in his friends, and their aimless world of chatter and heroin, he is persuaded by a mysterious patron to return to the city he loves, now under siege by the Israeli army.
In the small African republic of Kinjanja, British diplomat Morgan Leafy bumbles heavily through his job. His love of women, his fondness for drink, and his loathing for the country prove formidable obstacles on his road to any kind of success. But when he becomes an operative in Operation Kingpin and is charged with monitoring the front runner in Kinjanja’s national elections, Morgan senses an opportunity to achieve real professional recognition and, more importantly, reassignment.
After he finds himself being blackmailed, diagnosed with a venereal disease, attempting bribery, and confounded with a dead body, Morgan realizes that very little is going according to plan.