Archive | March, 2017

Van has finished reading… Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

7 Mar

No need to bother with the bad sex awards this year. In Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows, Balli Kaur Jaswal has the winner! Okay, maybe that’s not the praise this review should begin with but it should give you a clue to how achingly funny this book is. Intentionally achingly funny. The biggest laughs are definitely to be found in the telling of the aforementioned erotic stories, in both situation and in the language of euphemism. There are certain phrases that will, I think, live with me for a long time (I’d love to list some here but to do that would be to take away the pleasure of finding them for yourself). I read this book to Mrs Van and there were times we had to simply wait for the crying to stop before we could carry on.

Of course the laughs are just one side of the story. There was sadness too, moments of anxiety and empathy, and not a small dose of out-and-out anger (it’s always a good sign when Mrs Van starts wishing bodily harm on someone). All the things you’d expect from a well-crafted, well-layered novel.

The characters are fantastic. Albeit the world of Asians living in England may be unknown to you, the level of detail Balli Kaur Jaswal provides is excellently pitched so the experience is immersive, rather than feeling like you’re looking in from the outside – even when characters are indeed looking in from the outside. The author picks apart the various relationships with subtlety to reveal what it is to be a part of this community, what it is to be excluded as well as included, and she is never shy of showing the negatives along with the positives.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book is the way your attention focuses, the way it makes you look and then look again at the characters. Consider the title: Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows, and alongside the frisson of excitement the humour is apparent because, you know, old women. Dour old women, obviously, seeing as they’re widows. Except they’re not – neither all old nor all dour – and you realise that you’re starting to key into the essence of their invisibility. There is something inherently funny about the idea of old women misbehaving or doing things they shouldn’t be doing (see John Niven’s The Sunshine Cruise Company), but hang on. Who says they shouldn’t be doing these things? And why not? Let’s face it, they must have done these things – or at least something similar – for their children to be around to censure them. And if it was good why on earth wouldn’t you want to remember it fondly? And if it wasn’t, well, who could possibly begrudge you for dreaming of or imagining something better?

 

Top, middle or bottom, it really doesn’t matter where in your To Be Read pile you put Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows as long as it’s on there somewhere. Holiday reading would definitely be a good bet, though there’s no reason why you should wait that long. It’s funny, it’s racy, it’s emotional and uplifting and thought-provoking, and did I mention it’s funny? And racy? It deserves to be a huge hit. I mean HUGE. Big as an aubergine.

 

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is published by HarperCollins on the 9th March 2017 ISBN: 9780008209889

 

You can find Balli on Twitter @balli_jaswal, or at her website ballijaswal.com.

 

With thanks to the HarperCollins PR team, who allowed me to review this book.

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Van has finished reading… Hoffer by Tim Glencross

3 Mar

In William Hoffer Tim Glencross presents that trickiest of propositions: an unpleasant protagonist. Or is he? The fact of the matter is that, with Hoffer, it’s all about the appearance. He is studied in the ways of London Society as only a hunter can be, in but not of his surroundings. He’s accepted as an established figure although he’s not really one of them. Though you might not know it to see him, he is a working man and London Society is his office. His tastes are lavish, his manners impeccable and his past is not open to discussion – until it turns up, unexpectedly, in his living room.

Everything about Hoffer is contradiction, though he is always and unmistakeably Hoffer, even down to his thoroughly ‘English’ respect for the well-made umbrella. He takes great pride in his appearance and his reputation, and it’s nothing short of very hard work appearing to be so at ease with the world and in showing us all this Tim Glencross’s characterisation is perfect. What you first think of as an unpleasant protagonist is actually… likeable. And if that’s a bit of a stretch for you there’s no shortage of likely candidates to compare him to. Indeed, there are far more unpleasant entities to be found in the supporting cast and there is, I think, a detectable delight in the way the author draws them. As with Glencross’s debut, Barbarians, there’s a sense that it’s the ugliness in his characters that attracts him the most.

Whether you like William Hoffer or not, there’s plenty going on here to keep you wondering whether he’s going to sink or swim.

If I had to pick one thing as my abiding memory of the aforementioned Barbarians, it would be the very dry and quite pointed humour of it (still one of my favourite comic lines in a novel is the one from Barbarians directed at Tony Blair about how the Middle East isn’t his forte). With Hoffer I find myself far more aware of the teeth lurking in the grass. Not to say that Hoffer doesn’t have its lighter moments, it’s just that the points are that much sharper.

The prose itself chimes a note familiar to Barbarians too, making me think of Evelyn Waugh (with a little tweaking of the cultural references I could easily see this cast of characters feeling perfectly at home in the Twenties, though not necessarily with the unfortunate Mr Pennyfeather), though in this instance you can add a large dose of Patricia Highsmith to the mix. The everyday cut-and-thrust of Tim Glencross’s characters is very aptly couched in that phrase. It’s witty, razor-sharp and finely-observed and the story itself unfolds at a very pleasing pace. The impression is that there’s no particular rush, although of course that is just an impression because at the heart of things there’s that dark understanding that keeps you on edge, that keeps you wondering what’s next, and when is it going to happen, and who’s going to come out of it with something rather unsavoury beneath their fingernails.

 

With Barbarians, Tim Glencross arrived with much – and well-deserved in my opinion – fanfare. In letting Hoffer loose on us he’s set out his stall in a very enticing manner. Hoffer is a pleasure to read – a slightly grubby pleasure, but that is I think part of its charm. Already I’m wondering what the author is dreaming up to present to us next!

 

Hoffer is published by John Murray on the 23rd March 2017 ISBN: 9781444797596

You can find Tim Glencross at his website timglencross.com