Archive | May, 2018

Van has finished reading… The Summer House by Philip Teir

18 May


Never judge a book by its cover, or indeed its country. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting from Philip Teir’s The Summer House – not the book I read, that’s for sure. Having said that, the cover is perfect: that cold palette, the rocks and the water, the distance.

The Summer House by Philip Teir (translated by Tiina Nunnally) follows Julia and Erik as they take their children, Alice and Anton to Mjőlkviken to stay at the family’s old summer house by the sea. Leaving Helsinki behind, it’s a chance to forget the worries of work and the city’s pressure, to spend time together, to reconnect as a family.

But when do we ever really leave our worries behind?

The atmosphere is everything you might expect from the association of that word ‘scandi’, though it’s very cleverly couched in the characters rather than the scenery or a blockbuster body count. There’s every shade of isolation and disaffection in those characters, and they reflect the wider story perfectly. And then there’s the last line, weighted with such precision as to make the whole book seem like a long lead up to the killer punchline. In those last few words Philip Teir shines a light on us all, on those times when oblivion seems an easier option, and he shows us just how thin the veneer can be.


It’s a book of possibilities, a story that layers expectation upon expectation so that you find yourself always wondering what’s going to go wrong. It’s effectively unsettling. The perfect foil to the long hot day on the busy sandy beach you’ll be on when you read it.


The Summer House will be published by Serpent’s Tail on 12th July 2018 ISBN:9781781259276

You can find Philip on Twitter @philipteir

My especial thanks to Serpent’s Tail for allowing me to review this book.


Van has finished reading… The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

3 May


The cover of Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists poses an arresting question: if you knew the day you were going to die how would you choose to live?

Children Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya visit a fortune-teller because Daniel has heard she can tell you when you’ll die but what seemed like a good idea beforehand doesn’t appeal so much when the knowledge can’t be given back. Especially when the seemingly endless stretch of time laid out in front of a child is horribly shorter than expected.

We follow each of the siblings in turn, building each time to the cruel punchline, wondering if each of the prophesies will come true, and wondering – even dreading – how the end might come about. And here’s the cleverness of the device because time and again it questions whether the prophesy is the means or the end. it’s the choice between living while you can, or else waiting to see if it comes true. Not so much how you would choose to live as whether.

It’s really all about the characters and how well the author connects the reader with each one. Klara is a standout for me, a perfect mix of magic, verve and frailty and I particularly enjoyed the subtle touch of naming her signature stage act The Jaws of Life, rather than the more tantalising Jaws Of Death. Then there’s the solid writing that back those characters up, the neatness and control. Towards the end of the book there’s some lovely interplay that lends seemingly the blandest of lines with emotional punch. ‘Not exceptional, but steady. Solid.’

And I love the ending. It’s joyous and emotional frames the fact that while this is a book about living and not living, it’s not a book about death. Above everything else it throws that central question into the sharpest of relief in the simplest way possible – leaving it unanswered.


The Immortalists was published by Tinder Press on 8th march 2018 ISBN:9781472244987

You can find Chloe on Twitter @chloekbenjamin or at her website,


My thanks to Caitlin Raynor at Headline for allowing me to review this book