Every Single Minute, by Hugo Hamilton, Fourth Estate, RRP£14.99, 300 pages
Úna has little more than a week to live and she wants to see Berlin. Liam, her friend, takes her there. With time running out, every single minute is important. They visit botanical gardens, go sightseeing and pick over the past, telling tales: we are the sum of all our stories, thinks Úna – “nothing more than walking stories”.
Hugo Hamilton’s latest novel, Every Single Minute, based on a true story, is about two people trying to understand their lives by adding up their memories – a wayward brother, first love, a father who can’t be forgiven. Their tales are often pointed, usually sad and occasionally banal. Like Úna, Hamilton can make the ordinary – “she’s opening another sachet of sugar” – seem poignant and profound. Elsewhere, he appears to try too hard – “Her father’s eyes kept everything they saw. Her mother’s eyes denied everything they saw.”
While it is no page-turner, Every Single Minute is, nonetheless candid, sharply observed and engaging.
Review by Alexander Gilmour
The People in the Photo, by Hélène Gestern, translated by Ros Schwartz and Emily Boyce, Gallic Books, RRP£8.99, 272 pages
Hélène Gestern’s debut novel is less a story told than a conversation overheard. Translated from French, the letters and emails of two strangers excavating a shared past are almost all that constitutes this bare but satisfying narrative.
Stéphane, a Swiss botanist, and Hélène, a Parisian archivist, are of no consequence to one another until a photograph from the past throws up a connection. Remotely, but together, they probe the murky overlaps of their parents’ lives and a turbulent family history takes shape as a bleak mosaic of fact and conjecture.
The back-and-forth of their letters gives a fleshless but neat anatomy to the novel, and in the gap-filled ambiguity of jumbled recollections, it prompts us to consider identity and memory, and how the two are warped through time. Contrived relationships and a degree of downright sappiness are redeemed by the thrust of the mystery and Gerstern’s skill in letting us peel back a narrative, one letter at a time.
Review by India Ross
Bryant & May and The Bleeding Heart, by Christopher Fowler, Doubleday, RRP£16.99, 384 pages
In his quirky Bryant & May series, Christopher Fowler eschews all the genre’s recognisable tropes, though his detective duo’s cases have resonances of the golden age of detective fiction.
In this 11th outing, the Peculiar Crimes Unit is handed a typically outlandish case. Two teenagers have seen a corpse apparently stepping out of its grave – and one of them subsequently dies in a hit-and-run accident. Arthur Bryant is stimulated by the bizarreness of the case but is tasked with finding out who has stolen the ravens from the Tower of London. (Not an insignificant crime, as it is well known that when the ravens leave the Tower, England itself will fall.)
The usual smorgasbord of grotesque incident and stygian humour is on offer, and aficionados need not hesitate. If you aren’t of that number, I’d suggest you find out what the fuss is about before the forthcoming television series runs the risk of losing Fowler’s individual tone of voice.
Review by Barry Forshaw