Ali Smith

First Sentence:     It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.

Back of the book:  

A breathtakingly inventive new novel from the Man Booker-shortlisted and Baileys Prize-winning author of How to be both.

Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer.

Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand in hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever . . .

Quotes from the book:

“Here’s an old story so new that it’s still in the middle of happening, writing itself right now with no knowledge of where or how it’ll end.”

That’s what story is.


It’s the never-ending leaf-fall.

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The Comet Seekers


Helen Sedgwick

First Sentence:     They arrive on the snow during the last endless day of summer.

Back of the book:

One Day meets The Time Traveler’s Wife in this spellbinding, magical debut novel about love, loss, hope and heartbreak that shows us that for each of us, the world can be as lonely or as beautiful as the comets that illuminate the skies above us.

Róisín and François first meet in the snowy white expanse of Antarctica. And everything changes.

While Róisín grew up in a tiny village in Ireland, ablaze with a passion for science and the skies and for all there is to discover about the world, François was raised by his beautiful young mother, who dreamt of new worlds but was unable to turn her back on her past.

As we loop back through their lives, glimpsing each of them only when a comet is visible in the skies above, we see how their paths cross as they come closer and closer to this moment.

Theirs are stories filled with love and hope and heartbreak, that show how strangers can be connected and ghosts can be real, and the world can be as lonely or as beautiful as the comets themselves.

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The Panopticon

Jenni Fagan

First Sentence:     I’m an experiment.

Back of the book:

Anais Hendricks, 15, is in the back of a police car, headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can’t remember the events that led her here, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and there is blood on Anais’s school uniform.

Smart, funny and fierce, Anais is also a child who has been let down, or worse, by just about every adult she has ever met.

The residents of the Panopticon form intense bonds, heightened by their place on the periphery, and Anais finds herself part of an ad-hoc family there. Much more suspicious are the social workers, especially Helen, who is about to leave her job but is determined to force Anais to confront the circumstances of her mother’s death before she goes.

Looking up at the watchtower that looms over the residents, Anais knows her fate: she is part of an experiment, she always was, it’s a given, a fact. And the experiment is closing in.

Quotes from the book:

I dinnae get people, like they all want to be watched, to be seen, like all the time. They put their pictures online and let people they dinnae like look at them! And people they’ve never met as well, and they all pretend to be shinier than they are – and some are even posting on like four sites; their bosses are watching them at work, the cameras watch them on the bus, and on the train, and in Boots, and even outside the chip shop. Then even at home – they’re going online to look and see who they can watch, and to check who’s watching them!

Is that not weird?

“I hate. Her red shoes.”

I love looking at reflections in bath water, any kind of water in fact. They’re like wee surreal paintings. I might photograph reflections, in water, in kettles, in things other people dinnae look at, like bins and shit like that.

“I hate. Her face.”

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A Summer of Drowning

John Burnside

First Sentence:     Late in May 2001, about ten days after I saw him for the last time, Mats Sigfridsson was hauled out of Malangen Sound, a few miles down the coast from here.

I read Glister by John Burnside a few years ago and I’m still not fully sure whether I liked it or not. I could see the talent Burnside had (talent recently acknowledged by the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry ) and parts of it really shone, but as a whole it left me a little cold. This book is set mainly on the Norwegian island of Kvaløya in the Arctic Circle and as such, you would expect this would also leave me cold, but in an altogether different way! The book itself though, I loved. Liv is the narrator, and while she is 28, she is recalling events that happened a long time ago when she was still a teenager, and as such inhabits that former self for much of the book. Time itself is a big concern in this novel and there are instances when it seems that events are taking place outside of time:

Out there, in the busy world, the clocks are ticking, but we are mostly alone on our Whale Island and, whether it’s white night or winter dark, there’s not much here to betray the passing of clock-time.

Another major preoccupation in the book is the environment itself, Liv’s surroundings. There is talk of ‘reading by the midnight sun’ (the midnattsol), or of wandering around the barren Sound, being alone in a hytte (a small hut) or simply sitting enjoying the perpetual gloaming. This sense of place only serves to heighten our reading experience. The main thrust of the story is about Liv and her mother at a particular point in their lives. Liv lives with her mother, the notoriously reclusive painter Angelika Rossdal, and growing up she never knew her father. Then, one summer, she begins to find out about him. It is this same summer when people start drowning very close to their remote home, and once these things happen, things will never be the same again. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is quirky, beautifully written, quite plot-driven and, at times, utterly bizarre and unsettling. If you can find the time, I recommend you give it a read.

(Not that finding time is ever a problem, or a cause of concern, right?)…

Panic about time most of all. The way it starts to move differently when you sit a while, and everything slows, till it feels like it could stop at any moment. The way it pools and stalls in the middle of a summer’s morning, or in the white gloaming, so you want to go and stare at a clock, just to watch the second hand turning.

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