Archive | April, 2016

Van has finished reading…The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

19 Apr

Plumb siblings Melody, Jack and Beatrice are leaning against an open door. The person who unlocked it? Their eldest brother, Leo. After his reprehensible behaviour, after the lawyers, the resultant medical bills, after rehab, The Nest is no longer the juicy trust fund left by their father that the Plumbs have been spending against for years. Can Leo put things right? Can his brothers and sisters afford for him not to? When it comes to pointing the finger of blame, who will each family member choose?


I discover that I’m surprised to say it’s a sympathetic book. Given the premise I might have expected a far less likeable slice of humanity. Don’t let me mislead you, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney presents us with the wholly believable button-pushing, nought-to-raving-mad-in-ten-seconds interchanges that surely lurk beneath the skin of any sibling. There’s the scheming and the sniping. There’s the sense of entitlement The Nest engenders – expressly the opposite of what Daddy Plumb intended. Then there are the friends and acquaintances, the other halfs and all the attendant allegiances that come into play in any social circle. There’s something very Evelyn Waugh about the hurtling descent of those early chapters. But as those layers peel back and we see the anxieties, the everyday fears, the pressures that warp the logic, it’s the sympathy that comes through. Granted, with some characters it takes longer than others, but it’s definitely there. Ultimately, it’s the thing that makes a novel about getting more than you deserve – though it’s less than you expected – an uplifting experience. I’d almost be tempted to speculate that Cynthia is a romantic at heart. She’s got a keen eye for the one-liner, too. There are some great funny moments that hinge on the timing of the delivery.

While the book rests on a great premise (one that could almost be reduced to the essence of fiction: take a group of people and into each life introduce conflict) I think it’s the characters that really make it. Right from the off there’s a bad taste in the mouth, a sense that the siblings will be easy to dislike: the early scheming; the drawing up of battle plans; the individual outrage masquerading as a united front. But as their lives unfold, as those necessary interactions develop it’s not possible to hold on to that first fleeting impression. It’s the particular joy of a book, and especially of a good book that we can take the time to get to know people that in real life we’d probably run a mile from.

I confess I don’t know what it is about Melody’s twins, Nora and Louisa, that makes them my favourite but they definitely are. There’s something so tender, so brittle and yet so strong about that dynamic it just makes me smile. The scene in Uncle Jack’s room is a truly beautiful thing.


With summer around the corner and that week in the sun beckoning you’d do well to put The Nest on your reading list. It’s a story to get lost in with a broad cast of characters you can’t fail to get behind.


The Nest is published by Borough Press on 19th May 2016 ISBN:9780008184100

You can find Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney on Twitter @CynthiaDSweeney or at her website


My thanks to Cassie at Borough Press for allowing me to review this book

Van has finished reading…The Letters of Ivor Punch by Colin MacIntyre

11 Apr

When we hear of an island story, of something that happens in a place that’s cut off from everywhere else, we tend to assume that it’s going to be a small story. Granted, it may not seem so small to the people it happens to but in the grand scheme of things…

And there’s the rub, because actually when you look at the bare bones of all the big stories they’re really just a broiling mass of small stories clinging together. They’re all made up of people. The difference, I think, with an island story is one of intensity. The things that happen there are no bigger or smaller but are more intensified, less diluted by the rush of incidental experience.

Colin MacIntyre’s The Letters of Ivor Punch is both a big and a small story. It’s a family saga, full of intrigue and deception, built of and told from the lives of each generation that forms the whole. Each person carries the weight of the past in their own way, and the root of them all, the island itself, is as much a character as the people who inhabit it. Its myths and its moods permeate everything, a whiff of melancholy threading like a mist that both hides and reveals.

The isolation is palpable. These appear to be people intensified. They are people, individuals in their own right, but they are very much their professions too, whatever they may be. Is it a petty scrabbling prestige when someone insists on being called Sergeant when they are in uniform, or skipper when they’re in the boat? Or is it something more? They are a cog in the wheel of society, bound by the duty of that station. They are more than the body that stands before you. Or perhaps this is a way to hide in so microscopically exposed a community. No-one is ever only what they tell you they are.


There’s a captivating fluidity to Colin MacIntyre’s writing. Though I did find the earlier visitors to the island (Hennie, Isabella and Darwin) harder to engage with, his island inhabitants are strikingly real. I came away feeling that Ivor is a man I would have both liked and feared to get to know. Here is where the use of letters as a means to tell the story works to great effect. There is so much of the man evident in his correspondence with The Leader of The Free World – so much more than a taciturn old curmudgeon who won’t relinquish his uniform – that simply wouldn’t ring true if told in another way. I could feel too how this was a valve for Ivor, a confessional, a place where he could admit to the depth and breadth of what he feels, and MacIntyre manages to articulate this with both ferocity and grace.


It’s so easy to get caught up in the idea of world events and feel disconnected from them. This captivating book is a timely reminder that we are all part of this world, and that we all have a place in its story.


The Letters Of Ivor Punch was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on 14th may 2015 ISBN:9781780229041


You can find Colin MacIntyre on Twitter @colinmacintyre or at his website,


My thanks to Virginia Woolstencroft at W & N for allowing me to review this book.