First Sentence:     The October evening is windless and cool.

Back of the book:  

The year is 1918 and in Iceland the erupting volcano Katla can be seen colouring the sky night and day from the streets of Reykjavik. Yet life in the small capital carries on as usual, despite the natural disaster, a shortage of coal and, in the outside world, the Great War grinding on.

There, sixteen-year-old Máni Steinn lives for the new fashion – the movies. Asleep he dreams altered versions of them, their tapestry of events threaded with strands from his own life. Awake he hovers on the fringes of society. But then the Spanish flu epidemic comes ashore, killing hundreds and driving thousands into their sick beds. The shadows of existence deepen and for Máni everything changes.

Capturing Iceland at a moment of profound transformation, this is the story of a misfit in a place where life and death, reality and imagination, secrets and revelations jostle for dominance. With not a word wasted, this mesmerising and original novel is the work of a major international writer.

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Harmless Like You


Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

First Sentence:     The small, female oblong stood in the shadows beyond the doorway.

Back of the book:

Written in startlingly beautiful prose, Harmless Like You is set across New York, Berlin and Connecticut, following the stories of Yuki Oyama, a Japanese girl fighting to make it as an artist, and Yuki’s son Jay who, as an adult in the present day, is forced to confront his mother who abandoned him when he was only two years old.

Quotes from the book:

‘On the table where a bouquet might go, a glass jar held a quiver of craft knives. The furniture was paint-spotted. A radiator thumped.’

She had no friends — she didn’t need to hide her wounds. But each time her eye caught the marks, an inky ribbon of loss unspooled in her throat. She covered the bruises with bangles.

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David Mitchell

First Sentence:     Who was blowing on the nape of my neck?

Back of the book:

An apocalyptic cult member carries out a gas attack on a rush-hour metro, but what links him to a jazz buff in downtown Tokyo? Or to a Mongolian gangster, a woman on a holy mountain who talks to a tree, and a late night New York DJ?

Set at the fugitive edges of Asia and Europe, Ghostwritten weaves together a host of characters, their interconnected destinies determined by the inescapable forces of cause and effect.

Quotes from the book:

I pass through many Me’s in the course of my day, each one selfish with his time. The Lying-in-Bed me and the Enjoying-the-Hot-Shower Me are particularly selfish. The Late Me loathes the pair of them.

‘Love is a big knot of whys.’

Little girls are like old cats. If they don’t like you nothing on Earth will make them pretend to.

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Slade House

SHDavid Mitchell

First Sentence:     Whatever Mum’s saying’s drowned out by the grimy roar of the bus pulling away, revealing a pub called The Fox and Hounds.

Back of the book:

Born out of the short story David Mitchell published on Twitter in 2014 and inhabiting the same universe as his latest bestselling novel The Bone Clocks, this is the perfect book to curl up with on a dark and stormy night.

Turn down Slade Alley – narrow, dank and easy to miss, even when you’re looking for it. Find the small black iron door set into the right-hand wall. No handle, no keyhole, but at your touch it swings open. Enter the sunlit garden of an old house that doesn’t quite make sense; too grand for the shabby neighbourhood, too large for the space it occupies.

A stranger greets you by name and invites you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t.

This unnerving, taut and intricately woven tale by one of our most original and bewitching writers begins in 1979 and reaches its turbulent conclusion around Hallowe’en, 2015. Because every nine years, on the last Saturday of October, a ‘guest’ is summoned to Slade House. But why has that person been chosen, by whom and for what purpose? The answers lie waiting in the long attic, at the top of the stairs…

Quote from the book:

“Mrs. Todds my English teacher gives an automatic F if anyone ever writes ‘I woke up and it was all a dream’ at the end of a story. She says it violates the deal between reader and writer, that it’s a cop out, it’s the Boy Who Cried Wolf. But every single morning we really do wake up and it really was all a dream.”

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The Bone Clocks


David Mitchell

First Sentence:     I fling open my bedroom curtains, and there’s the thirsty sky and the wide river full of ships and boats and stuff, but I’m already thinking of Vinny’s chocolatey eyes, shampoo down Vinny’s back, beads of sweat on Vinny’s shoulders, and Vinny’s sly laugh, and by now my heart’s going mental and, God, I wish I was waking up at Vinny’s place in Peacock Street and not in my own stupid bedroom.

Back of the book:

One drowsy summer’s day in 1984, teenage runaway Holly Sykes encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for ‘asylum’. Decades will pass before Holly understands exactly what sort of asylum the woman was seeking . . .

The Bone Clocks follows the twists and turns of Holly’s life from a scarred adolescence in Gravesend to old age on Ireland’s Atlantic coast as Europe’s oil supply dries up – a life not so far out of the ordinary, yet punctuated by flashes of precognition, visits from people who emerge from thin air and brief lapses in the laws of reality. For Holly Sykes – daughter, sister, mother, guardian – is also an unwitting player in a murderous feud played out in the shadows and margins of our world, and may prove to be its decisive weapon.

Quotes from the book:

“What if… what if Heaven is real, but only in moments? Like a glass of water on a hot day when you’re dying of thirst, or when someone’s nice to you for no reason, or… Mam’s pancakes with Toblerone sauce; Dad dashing up from the bar just to tell me, ‘Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite’; or Jacko and Sharon singing ‘For She’s A Squishy Marshmallow’ instead of ‘For She’s A Jolly Good Fellow’ every single birthday and wetting themselves even though it’s not at all funny; and Brendan giving his old record player to me instead of one of his mates. ‘S’pose Heaven’s not like a painting that’s just hanging there for ever, but more like… Like the best song anyone ever wrote, but a song you only catch in snatches, while you’re alive, from passing cars, or… upstairs windows when you’re lost…”

‘For the Vinny Costellos of the world, love is bullshit they murmur into your ear to get sex. For girls – me, anyway – sex is what you do on page one to get to the love that’s later on in the book.’

When I look at Brigadier Reginald Philby, I’m looking down time’s telescope at myself.

‘She’s very watchable, like the motionless bass player in a hyperactive rock band.’

Drop, drop, drop, go the pennies. Or dollars. Like the best songs, you can’t see the next line coming, but once it’s sung, how else could it have gone?

‘[…] makes me afraid Aoife’s childhood’s a book I’m flicking through instead of reading properly.’

My bones turn to warm Blu-Tack.

‘Civilisation’s like the economy, or Tinkerbell: if people stop believing it’s real, it dies.’

If you’re writing fiction or poetry in a European language, that pen in your hand was, once upon a time, a goose quill held by an Icelander. Like it or not, know it or not, it doesn’t matter. If you seek to represent the beauty, truth and pain of the world in prose, if you seek to deepen character via dialogue and action, if you seek to unite the personal, the past  and the political in fiction, then you’re in pursuit of the same aims sought by the authors of the Icelandic scripts, right here, seven, eight, nine hundred years ago.

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