Highlights in the Charts
Soho Noir Series 1 Compilation by T.S Hunter
By Jenna Tomlinson
A delightful collection of short books, each a crime caper named after an iconic 80s hit, Hunter's compilation showcases classic 'whodunnit' storylines with charming protagonists and 80s flair.
Each book is a different colour of the rainbow and is set against the backdrop of the 1980s LGBTQIA+ London scene. Joe and Russell don't know each other, but collide after the murder of their mutual friend. After realising the murder is not one the police particularly care for, the pair team up to solve the case but it turns out to be far from their last.
At around one hundred pages per book, the six stories are short but captivating, with interesting plots and enough teases to keep you guessing. The characters and plots are linked well enough for Joe and Russell's involvement and the book's all have a golden thread running through them, which keeps the atmosphere of each book just as compelling as the next and unites them as a compilation. Hunter has echoed the tone in each, something which can be difficult to do without the book's becoming too similar.
Joe and Russell, Hunter's main characters throughout, are incredibly endearing and give a true representation of members of the LGBTQIA+ community of the time. We watch Joe's journey from shy and introverted; visiting London for the weekend to catch up with a friend, to proudly out gay man. Russell's journey is equally heartwarming. Slightly older than Joe, he has experienced prejudice through being pushed from his former role as a member of the police force due to his sexuality. He is proud of his identity and of Joe, who I felt he was almost a protector of.
Hunter clearly has a passion for everything that makes up his stories. Soho's vibrant and energetic vibe pulses throughout; his characters are vivid and brought to life clearly and uniquely. A whole community of gloriously interesting people is poignantly and sensitively represented amongst Hunter's pages. Read them individually or devour them in one sitting as I did, but either way I recommend you read them.
A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam
By Natalie Beckett
There is a certain amount of patience and time needed to read Arudpragasm’s A Passage North; ironic, given that Arudpragasam is a self-described “impatient reader.” This is not due to a delayed climax; more so one can spend time acknowledging, interpreting, and subsequently reflecting on the page-long sentences and detailed descriptions that make up this 287-page novel.
Bouncing between interconnected themes of family, love, and grief; whilst exploring the lasting impact of the brutal Civil War on Sri Lanka; it is told through the lens of Krishan: a Tamil man that grew up outside the war zone. Arudpragasam’s elegant style and almost obsessive focus on detail forces the reader to slow down, truly sinking into Krishan’s mind as he undertakes the long journey from Colombo into the war-torn Northern province for the funeral of his grandmother's former-caretaker, Rani.
In an interview with The Paris Review Arudpragasam confesses that “Story…Setting. Dialogue. Historical Context” are things he tries to pay attention to, but are “often afterthoughts.” This is evident throughout the book: dialogue in particular is practically non-existent. However, this dismissal of common literary tools is not so much an “afterthought” as conscious decisions. In fact, Arudpragasam explains that most of the characters are speaking Tamil, so it would be absurd to put “English words in Tamil mouths.”
Arudpragasam also says, “I don’t have the patience as a writer to look for the truth of a person in the silences or the gaps or the contradictions” that inevitably exist in human conversation. The consequence is greater space for philosophical meanderings. Whilst Krishan is physically traveling north, the reader is also taken on a journey to the heart of the protagonist's thought process. From his memory of how Rani came to be Appamma’s (his grandmother) caretaker; to the Sanskrit poetry Krisham leans on for guidance when he is attempting to find any logical reason why he survived the war when so many didn’t. Through indulging in long philosophic revelations and nuances of Sri Lankan culture and history, Arudpragasam provides a more holistic representation of characters. By the end, we are left with a clear understanding of the references and experiences Krishan draws upon to understand the meaning of life.
Another joy of the book can be found in what Colm Tóibín described as the writer’s “exquisite form of noticing”, bringing the book to life. When leaving Colombo Krishan feels grateful for his decision to take the train rather than the bus, noting he often imagines bus drivers in Colombo laying “awake in their beds at night, their bodies still caught in the tension and strain of the day’s driving.” From this contemplation, Arudpragasam paints a vivid image of the hectic nature of Colombo, that easily lifts off the page.
This book is an education in the power of description. A beautiful and important novel for anyone who wishes to understand Sri Lanka’s rich history and is willing to become completely immersed in the mind of another.