Highlights in the Charts
A Life on Our Planet, Sir David Attenborough
Many books are deemed an essential read, but in the case of Sir David Attenborough’s latest work, this description could not be more fitting. He begins, “I am 94. I’ve had an extraordinary life. It’s only now that I appreciate how extraordinary.” and us, the reader and the viewer, of his extraordinary work know this to be true.
Charting the rise in population, carbon in the atmosphere and depleting wilderness from 1937 to now, we are forced to confront in black and white, the damage we have inflicted. In between the generously dispersed pictures and photographs that highlight the beauty of the natural world alongside pivotal moments of Sir Attenborough’s career, his distinct voice holds great purpose. Although we are the “most widespread and dominant species of animal” on this planet, we are also “just another species in the tree of life” and if we are to make any real progress, humanity needs to understand this.
It is shocking to read that only half of the world’s rainforests remain, and by the end of the 20th century, mankind had removed 90% of the large fish from all of the world’s ocean, but Attenborough needs us to be shocked into change. The book contextualises what all this damage means and explains in layman’s terms, what the effects of this are. By the time Attenborough’s witness statement reaches the year 2020, the simple statement that we have “overrun the earth” is unequivocal. What lies ahead is frightening but there is no time to dwell because there is a vision for what the future could be if we commit to rewilding the world.
The Guest List, Lucy Foley
Longlisted for the Golden Dagger Award and boasting many Agatha Christie comparisons, I was eager to give The Guest List a try. Following the same style as her bestselling debut crime novel The Hunting Party, Foley once again masters the classic whodunnit.
On a remote island off the Irish Coast, guests gather to attend the wedding of famous couple Will and Julia. The story shifts between the present and the day leading up to the event, with the narrative jumping from one wedding guest to the next. It is gradually revealed that every guest appears to have the motive to kill; narratives intertwine as shocking connections are made between characters, some which genuinely left me open-mouthed with surprise. Moving between both time and narrative voice can become overwhelming, but Foley manages to strike a delicate balance. She paces it perfectly, inconspicuously increasing the tension until the chapters are flying by in a frenzy, inducing the panic felt by the guests who are anxiously waiting to find out who is dead, and who the killer is.
Foley’s choice of location allows for evocative and immersive descriptions that capture the wild and chaotic landscape of the Irish Coast. A storm rages on the island, mirroring that which is brewing between those within the wedding party. With the only exit route cut off by the unyielding sea, claustrophobia and darkness descends upon the guests as the threatening nature of the island becomes more apparent: the bogs, the sharp cliff edges, the haunted graveyard.
Truly unpredictable and unputdownable, it is clear why this novel is a Sunday Times bestseller.
The Book of Two Ways, Jodi Picoult
The Book of Two Ways draws you in immediately with an intriguing premise: Dawn believes she will die in a plane crash and instead of wishing to be reunited with her husband and daughter, her thoughts drift to the lover she left behind 15 years ago. Narrowly escaping death and making it off the plane, Dawn is tasked with an impossible choice — will she return to her husband Brian, or risk everything to pursue a lost love in Egypt?
The novel is structured in an innovative way, presenting the reader with the two alternatives of what Dawn's life could be. Picoult weaves between the two timelines and creates a vivid picture of Dawn's future if she goes down each path.
When I began reading The Book of Two Ways, I thought the intrigue and escapism of the Egyptian chapters would be the highlight of the story, but in reality, I was more invested in Dawn's life in Boston and her work as a death doula. It’s clear that Picoult had done meticulous research for this novel, and her passion for Egyptology shines through. But unfortunately, I found some of the detailed descriptions of Egyptian history to be a little dense and long winded.
In contrast, I was immediately drawn into the chapters focused on Dawn’s life in America. Picoult’s sensitive portrayal of Dawn’s work with terminally ill people was a highlight, as well as the depiction of her complicated relationship with her teenage daughter.
The novel explores life, death and love in a thought-provoking way and makes you think about all the other paths you could've gone down in life.