A(nother) Review: The Party by Elizabeth Day

Back at the end of November, some of you will remember I ran a little twitter tournament to find Twitter’s book of 2017.


The list was compiled from my favourite books of the year, some notable prize winners that I hadn’t read, and then rounded off with a couple of suggestions from Ginge and The Scottish One (names changed to protect the guilty)


The tournament was won by Matt Haig and How to Stop Time after a close battle with Adam Kay’s This Is Going to Hurt in the final, but I was ashamed to say that a book I hadn’t read had made the semi-finals.


I immediately sought out a copy of The Party by Elizabeth Day to rectify the fact (after telling Ginge off for not recommending it to me earlier) – and I’m glad I did. Had I read it earlier in the year, it would have easily made my 2017 Top Ten.


So, what’s it about?


Martin Gilmour is being interviewed by the police, they’re keen to find out more about what happened at the party he’d spent the evening at. The party was held by his best friend Ben Fitzmaurice and his wife Serena, while Martin attended with his wife Lucy. It wasn’t just an average house party, it was a big sumptuous occasion one that even the Prime Minister was rumoured to show up to.


And something went down.


We don’t know what, though. Instead we learn about the events of the party and the relationship between Martin and Ben in four ways – Martin’s police interview, flashbacks to Martin’s POV at the party, Lucy’s diary entries some time after the event and flashbacks to Martin and Ben’s school days.


With no real family of his own, Martin grew to see Ben as a brother, but is that view reciprocated or is it a classic case of the popular kid surrounding himself with yes men? Martin is known as LS – Little Shadow – so perhaps that gives you some clue, but as a reader, it was hard to know where this book was going to go. It kept you guessing, not just about what happened at the party, but about the true nature of the relationship between the two men.


Last week, I wrote about ‘writing about what you know’ – the opposite is true with reading, you should always try to read what you don’t.


I don’t have any real straight male friends, most of them that I socialise with are colleagues or partners of my close female friends. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why books about male friendships have always been some of my favourites (Tin Man, A Little Life), but here that was just one aspect of a very good book.


The book also explores through both Martin and Lucy, the nature of their marriage, her desire for kids, his desire for none, and ultimately that plays an important part. All of this takes place against the backdrop of the party. The party, the house, the school the boys went to, are all richly described, the bit players, the supporting characters are all solidly built, they seem real, but they don’t pull focus from our main trio.


If I had one criticism it would be that we don’t delve into the emotional side of things as much as I’d like to. A lot of stuff happens to Martin and Lucy, and I feel that we were kept apart from some of that – but at the same time, that is the nature of Martin’s character, a little bit detached, a little bit cold. This was likely done intentionally to put the reader into Matin’s mindset.


This makes for a great read, the type you’ll want to devour in one sitting, and a lot of people probably will when the paperback is released in April.


The Party is published by Fourth Estate and is available now in Hardback


A(nother) Review: The Last Romeo by Justin Myers

They (you know, them) say to write about what you know. That’s why you’ll mostly find me writing about books, gay men that don’t have a clue and cups of tea.


The Last Romeo is about James a journalist who, following a break-up with his long-term boyfriend, starts chronicling his new dating adventures through an anonymous blog. The details are changed to protect the innocent (and not-so-innocent), and the blog soon becomes an online sensation.


Does any of that sound familiar? If so, it could be because you’re familiar with The Guyliner’s history – a blogger who did largely the same for a period back at the beginning of the decade. When he stopped the blog (presumably when he met his own Romeo), he turned to reviewing the weekly ‘Blind Dates’ column in the Guardian.


If you’ve not read them, go and take a look here  – it’s very funny and definitely worth waking up on a Saturday morning for.


BUT I’m not here to review that, I’m here to review The Last Romeo and you might be wondering what the connection is (side bar: if you ARE still wondering what the connection is, then I think you need to go and have a long talk with yourself).


In the middle of last year The Guyliner, famous for being just an eye, unmasked himself as Justin Myers – journalist and soon-to-be author of – yep, you’ve got it – The Last Romeo.


Before we talk any more about the book, I’d like to use this opportunity to talk about myself (it’s my blog, I’ll do what I want, and THEY do say write about what you know).


I’ve been writing – or at least attempting to – for my whole adult life. The only time I ever have any real success (I’m not talking commercial or critical success here, I’ve had none of that – I just mean when I don’t stall after five-thousand words) was when I’ve written about things I know.


Stories based on things that have happened to me, characters based at least in part on people I know.


The worry for me when I write those, is what if people think it’s real? What if my friends recognise people they know, or even themselves? What if my family think that this actually happened, or that I actually share the thoughts of the characters I write?


What if it’s too real?


I’m mentioning this, because when I first went into reading The Last Romeo I started to assume it was all true – which I had to keep reminding myself not to do.


Part of the reason for that is that – unsurprisingly, given the fact that Myers was writing for a living before publishing a book – it’s really well written. The tone of the book matches the tone of his column, so if you’re a regular reader, you might just think you’re reading an extended essay rather than fiction.


It’s also that rare form of funny.


A lot humour, relies on context, on body language. In books it relies on the imagination of the reader. Even the most hilarious of one-liners can be lost on a reader who hasn’t aligned their inner monologue with the tone of the book.


It’s why there isn’t a whole genre of funny books out there. That makes this even more special. It’s a good story, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but the character grows and learns. Myers tells the story, with a smirk and a knowing wink.


For fans of the The Guyliner’s blog, the good news is this is everything and more you’d expect from his novel.


For fans of good fiction in general, the good news is that he has a two book contract, so we’ll get more! Hurrah!



The Last Romeo will be published by Little, Brown in ebook from 1st February and in paperback on 31st May.

A Short Story – Never Not Lonely

Jeremy had fallen in love.


This was nothing new, but this time someone had fallen in love with him back.


Two people in love. With each other. At the same time. Jeremy was not a religious man, but for the first time in his life he was starting to see evidence of a benevolent God. For the first time in his life, he wasn’t lonely.


At fifty-five years of age, he had given up on never not feeling lonely.


He was his parent’s second child, arriving ten years after his sister, Audrey. She hadn’t been particularly planned, but Jeremy was very much an accident of a couple in their late-forties who had emotionally checked out of their marriage many years before.


All of his parent’s friends were their age, therefore there weren’t really any kids to play with. Jeremy entertained himself, occasionally playing with his sister for as long as her teenage mind would tolerate him.


Any friends he made at school were uncomfortable with his parents and their house which seemed to be infested with damp, that he soon gave up inviting them round.


As a result, he had largely grown up alone. Grown up lonely.


In his older years, he’d made some limited friends, but his keenness always seemed to put them off, and planted him firmly in the acquaintance circle.


He’d had crushes on some of them as well and on his, neighbours, his colleagues, but none that had ever led to anything.


Not that he’d gone without.


He’d meet people in bars and get drunk with them. Wake up the next morning with them. He had once, by some fluke, found himself engaged to a young woman from the law firm in the same building as the accounting office where he worked.


He had been set up on the date by his colleagues, and somehow managed to not scare her off. Fiona, it seemed, was husband-hunting.


After three months of some casual dating, Fiona had suggested marriage. Jeremy had been remarkably inactive in the whole relationship, so he was rather confused and somehow felt more alone than ever. He had proposed anyway. This was, he had assumed, what love felt like.


It had, of course, been Jeremy’s own fault that his engagement to Fiona had not worked out.


Looking back on it years later, he knew of course that he wasn’t truly in love with her, but then she wasn’t either. He wondered if that had caused him to subconsciously find a way to sabotage their well-planned future.


He blamed what happened on his cowardice, on his inability to be honest, which, apart from an antique wedding ring and his grandmother’s jewellery were the only things he had ever inherited from his father.


Fiona on the other hand had blamed it on Jeremy sleeping with her brother when she had taken him home for Christmas, three months prior to their intended wedding day.


That had been over twenty years ago. Things with Fiona’s brother had – unsurprisingly – not worked out and now Jeremy couldn’t even remember his name.


Following Fiona and the unnamed brother, Jeremy had spent most of his life alone, with only a few short-lived liaisons to keep him going.


There had been one relationship he had thought would progress further, a dental hygienist named Claire who had spent close to three months waking up with him in his apartment a short walk away from Notting Hill.


Things had soured when he discovered she was only using him to make her ex-boyfriend jealous. A bodybuilder named Clive who just happened to live in the building next door. It had at least explained why she had always been so keen on taking romantic walks, just around the block.


That had been a particularly painful break-up – for Jeremy, at least – one that had led to him selling his flat in order to avoid the blissfully reconciled couple next door. Of course, in between buying it and selling it, the value of the flat had increased quite dramatically, so he’d banked the money and moved out of London to a cheaper but much more impressive penthouse flat.


It was only when the invoice arrived from the lawyers that his estate agent’s had used that Jeremy began to consider what happened with Claire and Clive as karma. The administrative assistant who had signed the letter was none other than his one-time-fiancée, Fiona.


The past five years had been sex free, woman-free, man-free, and subsequently trouble-free for Jeremy. At least that was the face he presented to the world. In truth, he was desperately lonely – not that he really knew any other way to feel.


He had all but settled to live out the rest of his life that way when he overheard a conversation between two colleagues in his work canteen.


They were talking about a local politician who had been arrested over the weekend after being caught in-flagrante in an alleyway behind a fish and chip shop on a local estate.


This wasn’t new news to Jeremy, he had of course read the details in the newspaper with much interest. Despite not having had any sex for some time, he rather enjoyed living vicariously through others.


Darren, the young intern who had only recently started working at the accounting firm was sitting at the table next to his, talking to a young woman whose name Jeremy did not know.


The intern was an attractive man – well, boy, really – but Jeremy had soon dismissed him for being too camp. It had never occurred to him, of course, that Darren might not be interested in him.


“The prostitute was a boy?” Jeremy had asked, overhearing some of the conversation.


“Well, man, legally, but yeah. Seventeen years old.” Darren replied, over-exaggerating his facial features as he did.


There had been no names mentioned in the reports Jeremy had read. “How do you know?” He asked.


“Well, I know him, don’t I?”


Jeremy asked a few more questions, carefully, without trying to appear too interested and learned that Darren didn’t really know him, but he did, at least, know of him. The young man – Patrick he called himself – used a dating app to advertise his services.


Jeremy knew of those apps, but he had never used them before. He had always assumed that it would be full of people his own age. It would never have occurred to him that young, attractive people, would be using them to find love. Or, in the case of Patrick, work.


That evening, having spent the rest of the day thinking about it, he made the decision to download one of them. He chose Grindr, the app that Darren had specifically shown him. It was designed solely for gay men.


Jeremy had never considered himself as gay, but when it came to casual sex, he had always preferred the company of men.


Love – he had always envisioned that between him and a woman. But sex? Sex was for men. Their bodies were harder, it was rougher, and although a sweeping generalisation, there were far fewer emotions.


He had long ago given up on love, and he thought he had on sex as well, but now, learning that young, attractive people might be interested in him, even if he did have to pay for it? He’d never been so turned on at work before.


On this particular occasion, Jeremy had not been able to stop thinking about Patrick, the young rent-boy that the MP – incidentally the same age as Jeremy – had been caught with. Since Darren had shown him Patrick’s profile and he had seen that soft face with the hard look in his eye, he was fascinated.


He might have to pay for it – but this young, gorgeous man would be willing to help him feel a little less lonely.


Jeremy experienced a stroke of luck that evening when he logged on. After thirty minutes or so of browsing, he found him. Patrick, seemingly undeterred by the events of the previous weekend, was subtly advertising his services.


It was three days before Jeremy plucked up the courage to say hello, but once he did, Patrick was warm and flirty. Erotically charged conversation flowed between them for the next few days before Patrick finally suggested they meet up.


That had been on the Thursday. On the Friday night, Jeremy left work and drove brazenly to the same estate where the MP had been caught with his pants down.


In person, Patrick looked slightly thinner than his photos, perhaps not quite so innocent, that hard look in his eye seeming to have taken over his entire face. They sat in a dark car park facing the local pub. Conversation was stilted, not like online and Patrick avoided making eye contact with him.


After a few aborted attempts to engage him in conversation, Jeremy gave up and just pushed his chair back and unzipped his fly. Patrick reached across and quietly set to work.


“I’m sorry.” Jeremy was saying less than a minute later. This time it was his turn to avoid eye contact as he pulled a crisp ten pound note from his jacket pocket.


He hesitated, then pulled out a second and passed both across to Patrick. He took the money eagerly and left Jeremy alone in the car without saying goodbye.


Their second meeting was a week later. Jeremy had expected never to see him again, but when he had next logged into the app, he’d found a message waiting for him.


They met in town during the afternoon on the following Thursday and they had driven a short way into the countryside. Here, they had transferred to the back seat of Jeremy’s jaguar, where Patrick’s hands explored a little more than they had the week prior. They had even kissed.


Jeremy supposed that Patrick was a little more comfortable away from the scene of his last arrest. This time he lasted five more minutes before finding himself apologising again.


The following night Patrick came to Jeremy’s apartment and the two of them had sex for the first time. When Jeremy awoke on Saturday morning, Patrick was gone, and so was the money that he had left on the side.


Jeremy’s and Patrick’s Friday nights together became a routine and a highlight of Jeremy’s week. The highlight.


Sometimes, they even talked before sex and Jeremy felt less lonely, but he would always wake alone each Saturday morning.


Until about three months later when something changed. Jeremy woke up on the Saturday morning and Patrick was still there, watching him sleep.


“You’re still here.” He said.


“Don’t worry,” Patrick laughed, “I’m just leaving.”


He pulled his lithe nude body from the older man’s bed – Jeremy watched in awe, this was the first time he’d seen it in natural light. He was like an Adonis. He pulled the covers tight to himself, suddenly aware of his own droopy middle-aged body.


He watched Patrick quickly slip on his jeans and t-shirt and head for the door. Jeremy leant over and picked up the notes from the bedside table. “You haven’t got your money.” He said.


“I know.” Patrick gave him a sweet smile, the first time Jeremy had seen a smile like that on his young lover, and then left.


Jeremy fell backwards into his pillow. He was fifty five years old, but it had finally happened. He wasn’t lonely anymore.



Jeremy’s older sister, Audrey, visited him on the first Saturday of every month.


“I would come more often,” she’d say to him, “but I’m so busy with the girls and all the charity work that I do.”


He knew that she saw her visits to him as part of that charity work. She pitied him.


For Jeremy, thought she was his only living relative, these visits were like torture. Her stories of her different adventures and everything her daughters were up to only served to remind him of how truly lonely he was.


He was sure that she knew this, and was only keeping in touch to ensure that her daughters received what would be a not inconsiderable inheritance. He had once explicitly told her that they were due to get everything in the hope she would leave him alone. Even grandma’s rings, he’d said, which he knew was a bone of contention. For some reason he had been the one to end up with the old woman’s jewellery.


His plan had not worked and she had continued to visit, once a month, on the first Saturday, like clockwork. She was, he supposed, keeping an eye on her investment.


One particular Saturday morning, a few weeks after Patrick had refused to take any money from Jeremy, the older man woke to sunshine streaming through a gap in the curtains. Patrick was asleep next to him, curled up on his side as he often was first thing in the morning.


Since that day, weeks before, when Jeremy had realised he was in love, the two of them had barely spent a day apart. Jeremy was happier than he had ever been and he had even resumed singing to himself in the mornings, a habit he had fallen out of years before.


Something about Patrick, his youthful body or his carefree spirit had awoken something in Jeremy. In the past, men had just been for sex, love, an emotion he’d always reserved for women, but his love for Patrick was more than emotion, it was like air itself. He was alive again.


Jeremy was singing his way through the only verse of George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord that he knew as he walked from his bedroom to the kitchen. He faltered slightly when he saw a cup of tea, steaming away on the counter. Had Patrick already been awake? It seemd unlikely.


“It’s not long made, so it’ll still be hot.”


Jeremy turned in surprise to discover Audrey sitting on the couch. She was wearing the same old grey skirt that she always did, the only acknowledgment of colour the collar of a floral blouse poking over the frayed edges of her beige cardigan.


“Do your dressing gown up, please. I don’t want to see anything you have to offer.”


Jeremy tightened his gown, “How did you – “


“Spare key.” Audrey interrupted, as she often did. Jeremy hadn’t bothered to complete a thought in front of Audrey for the last thirty years. It didn’t matter, she would always do it for him. “You gave it to me for emergencies.”


“What’s the – “


“You didn’t answer the door, I thought there might be something wrong.


That fucking spare key, Jeremy thought, then added out loud: “So you rushed in here and made yourself a cup of tea?”


“Well, once I got in here I realised you had company.” Audrey motioned to the two wine glasses left out from the night before. “And don’t try and deny it, I can tell by the look in your eye.”


“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Jeremy sat opposite Audrey and sipped from his mug. He’d give her this, she made a good cup of tea. Not that he’d ever let her have the satisfaction of knowing it.


“So, is it a one-night stand or something serious?”


“Somewhere in between. Neither.”


Jeremy hadn’t told anyone about Patrick yet. He wasn’t ashamed, but he wanted to keep it their own private pleasure for now. He wasn’t stupid, he knew how people would reach to their thirty seven year age gap.


Audrey sighed. “Well, don’t let her take advantage of you, Jeremy. You’re not exactly what they call a catch. She’s likely only with you for one thing, and it’s not what’s underneath your dressing gown. I’ve seen it all before with Tim at work. He got himself one of those Thai brides off the internet and the prat only went and fell in love with her. Of course, she disappeared with the contents of his bank account after three months and did he ever see her again? Did he – “


For once, Audrey was the one who was unable to finish a thought. The cause of this abrupt stop was Patrick, in nothing but a pair of small pants, strolling through the room. He took a towel from the clothes horse set up in the kitchen.


“Don’t mind me,” he said, “just heading for a shower.”


Audrey simply stared at the may-as-well-be naked young man as he passed in front of her, flashed her a smile and disappeared into the bathroom.


“Jeremy, I…” she didn’t know what to say.


“Put your tongue away, Audrey, you’re not exactly his type.”




“Who is he?” Jeremy smirked, before sipping on his tea. He was quite enjoying this. “That’s just Patrick. The rent boy I’m seeing.”



Jeremy unlocked the door to his apartment and called out for Patrick.


“Sorry,’ Patrick said coming out of the kitchen with a glass of wine, “it seemed to be the quickest way to fill her in. I couldn’t see you getting a word in any time this side of Christmas.”


“You’re too young.” Jeremy said, coldly.


Patrick just gave a small resigned laugh. “I knew she’d get to you. My age has never bothered you before. Turned you on in fact.”


“I meant for the wine, not for me,” Jeremy laughed, taking the glass from Patrick, kissing him as he did.


Audrey had insisted that she and Jeremy leave the flat immediately, refusing to speak while “that boy is in the shower.” Jeremy, while appreciating the silence from his older sister, had always preferred an easy life, so had acquiesced.


Unfortunately, this proved a costly mistake, having had to spend most of the afternoon with his sister.


“You were gone a long time.” Patrick said pointing to the half empty bottle of wine on the coffee table.


“Audrey has a lot to say even when she’s got nothing to talk about. Imagine how much she had to get through. Her coffee kept going cold.”


“I’m guessing she wasn’t planning the wedding?”


Jeremy sat down in an armchair and pulled Patrick onto his lap. “Not exactly. Funeral, maybe. Don’t take it personally, though I think she’s been planning mine for a while.”


“You’re not leaving me then?”


Jeremy smiled and took a gulp of wine. “Of course not, it’s my flat!”


Patrick punched him playfully on the arm, causing Jeremy to yelp as he nearly spilt his drink. “What did she say?”


“Nothing important. Nothing that could make me change my mind about you.” He gave Patrick a tender kiss, and then offered him a sip of his wine. “Actually, that’s not true, she made me realise there’s something I want to give you”


Patrick smirked and ran his hands over the older man’s crotch. “I’m always ready for whatever you want to give me.”


“Not that,” Jeremy moved his hand away and pulled out a small key from his pocket, “Well, not just that. You’re always here any way, we might as well make it official. Move in.”


Patrick laughed, taking the key. “I already have. They’ve given my room to someone else at the bedsit. Literally ALL my stuff is here.”


“It is?” Jeremy looked around as if noticing for the first time the relatively few additions to his flat. “Well, now you can lock it away, can’t you?”


They kissed again. “Is this hers?”


“No, she’d never give that up. I got it cut on the way back. That’s not everything, though,” he started to swivel the simple silver band he had on his right hand, “I want you to have this.”


Patrick watched cautiously as Jeremy removed it , “Are you proposing?”


Jeremy rolled his eyes, but said nothing as he slipped the ring onto Patrick’s thumb, the rest of his fingers too slender.


“It’s a promise.” Jeremy said. “You have changed my life in such a short time. I never thought I would ever feel the way that I feel about you. All my life, I have fallen in and out of ‘love’ with all sorts of people, but now I can see, in comparison to what I feel for you, they were just childish crushes. I didn’t know it was even possible to feel this way.


“That’s what I told Audrey today. I told her I didn’t just love you, I was you. You are me. Without you, I am nothing, I have been nothing. It’s taken fifty five years, but I am alive. This ring is my promise to you. I’m not stupid. I know you don’t feel quite the same way, not yet at least, but I promise that you will. I promise that you will never have to sell yourself again. I promise that my home will be your home. I promise to love you. Always.”


They kissed, their tears mixing with each others.



Two days later, Jeremy returned home from work to find the door unlocked and the apartment, while not quite empty, certainly lacking a presence.


He didn’t notice that his laptop and stereo and TV were missing. He didn’t notice his collection of rare and signed books had been swept from their shelves. Nor did he notice that his grandmother’s jewellery had been taken from their box in the bottom of his wardrobe.


He did notice that Patrick was gone. He did notice the letter on the coffee table, written in Patrick’s own childish hand.



    I’m sorry. I can’t do this to you anymore. I don’t love you the way you want me to. I can’t keep taking advantage of you. You deserve to be loved.


P x


With the letter was the spare key, but not his father’s ring. Jeremy had been robbed, not just of his material possession, but of his love.


Of his life.



It was New Year’s Day and Audrey had finally resolved to go back to Jeremy’s flat. It has been six months since she had last visited, in that fateful week when she’d crossed the threshold three times.


The first time had been her regular monthly visit when she’d been astounded to discover her brother was cohabiting with a seventeen-year-old boy.


Her second visit had been on the Monday morning and had lasted much longer than the first. She knew that Jeremy would be at work and gone with the intention to get rid of the child who was taking advantage of her brother.


She’d let herself in and had been relieved to discover he was in the shower. That would make it much easier. By the time he’d come out she had gone through the bedroom and packed everything that she could reasonably assume was his. Anything with a twenty-eight inch waist, or marked with XS.


“Get dressed.” She’d said handing him a change of clothes.


“What are you doing here?” He’d asked, quickly pulling them on.


She’d handed him an envelope of cash – five thousand pounds – and explained that it was more than Jeremy had to offer, so he might as well take it and leave.


“I don’t – “


“Shut up while someone else is talking.” Audrey had spat at Patrick, thrusting the duffel bag she’d packed into his arms as she did. “Your mother didn’t do you many favours did she? Perhaps you should go back to her until you can learn to behave like a proper grown up?”


“She’d have a lot to say about the way you’re behaving right now.” He’d spat right back at her.


Audrey had been surprised. Did kids really talk to their elders this way? “Let me guess, she never raised a hand to you did she?”


She had reached into her own bag, and as she pulled it out, the young man in front of her flinched as if she was going to hit him. She’d laughed and handed him a notepad.


She’d told him to write a note to Jeremy, telling him he was leaving. To let him down gently. Patrick had ignored her and insisted that he loved her brother.


“Love? Love!” She had laughed the same way she’d laughed at her ex-husband when he had told her he loved his mistress. She hadn’t been much older than Patrick, and now, five years later, Frank was living on his own in a bedsit above a fish and chip shop.  “If you love him so much, you’ll agree with me and leave him now.”


“No.” The boy actually stamped his foot. “I’m going to spent the rest of my life with him.”


Audrey had laughed again and then found herself having to explain to him that her brother was nearly forty years older than him. “By time you’re thirty, when you should be thinking about settling down, he’ll be seventy, and looking for his retirement home!”


She had continued in this vein for some time, citing yet more examples of how the age gap would cause problems, slowly wearing Patrick down like a stream on a mountain.


“Like I said before,” she had said nearing the edge of her rehearsed monologue, secretly very pleased with how well she had delivered it, “you will leave him. It’s fun now but one day you won’t be able to cope anymore. If you love him, you’ll leave. Break his heart now… save shattering it later.”


Patrick said nothing more to her. Instead, he had sat down at the table and wrote a short note to Jeremy, then silently had picked up his bag and left, taking the envelope containing five thousand pounds with him.


Her third visit had been on the Friday of that same week. She had expected to hear from Jeremy, to hear of the break-up, but having heard nothing, she had grown concerned. What if Patrick had simply waited for her to leave and gone back in?


She’d visited on Friday night, when she knew Jeremy would be home from work.


That visit had been Audrey’s final visit to her brother’s flat. Finding Jeremy’s dead body had rather soured it for her.



There had been no note, other than Patrick’s, but the police hadn’t treated his death as suspicious.  There had been no reason for her to delay this so long, but it was while she was filling the fifth bin bag of clothes for the charity shop that Audrey had realised it hadn’t been this flat that she feared.


She had feared leaving her own home, of leaving and still feeling desperately lonely. Somehow, feeling it somewhere else, here, the bus had made it real.


Once everything had been cleared she went home and sat among her brother’s things. His TV and stereo. His rare and signed books. Their grandmother’s jewellery.


She waited.


Waited for her daughters to call. They had promised they would, after all. She waited, and while she did, she wondered where her father’s wedding ring had gone.


The End

A(nother) Rambling – Big Books of 2018?

A few weeks ago, I talked about my favourite books of 2017… but we’re two days shy of 2018, so now, so I’m calling time on looking back and I’m looking forward instead.


November and December are always a funny time for me, I never get to read as much as I’d like partly because I’m so busy at work, partly because I’ve spent most of the year reading and need a break.


The last ten weeks or so as well, I’ve been crazily busy writing as well so books have definitely taken a break. But not any more, I’m back with a vengeance, a pile of books that reach almost to the moon and back and five books that I’m particularly looking forward to in 2018.


Here they are, in release date order…


  1. Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon – published 11th January 2018


This first one’s a bit of a cheat, because I’ve already read it, but I loved it. You can read my full spoiler-free review by clicking the link above if you fancy a bit of a digression, but in short, this book isn’t about Elsie, it’s about Florence. She’s in a care home when we meet her, struggling with her memory – the kind of unreliable narrator who believes everything they say.


When a man from her past turns up in the care home, she and best friend Elsie start investigating a long forgotten crime. How much of what happens is true? How much of it is simply misremembered?


This, Cannon’s second book, a follow-up (but not a sequel) to 2016’s The Trouble With Goats and Sheep is a lovely exploration of old-age and friendship. I can’t wait for it to be released into the wild and for everyone else to read it, too!


  1. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – published 8th February 2018


Sometimes as a bookseller you get a good feeling about a book before you’ve even read it. Since I first saw this one pop up on Twitter, I wanted a copy.


Aidan is stuck in a time-loop, repeating the same day, over and over again, inhabiting the body of a different person each time. The day ends with the death of Evelyn Hardcastle each time, and the only way for Aidan to break out is to identify the killer.


I already have a copy, ready and waiting to be read, and it will be one of my first of the new year.


  1. The Last Romeo by Justin Myers – published 31st May 2018


Justin Myers came out of his alter ego’s shadow earlier this year to reveal he was publishing his first book. Writing as The Guyliner for many years now, his was one of the most famous eyes on social media. His writing veers between insightful to the downright hilarious while sometimes skimming across being a little bit shady.


The Last Romeo will follow an online journalist who starts a blog reviewing each and every date he goes on as he tries to find love. If this sounds familiar, it may be because The Guyliner started out in much the same way – though now he just settles for writing the often hilarious weekly reviews of the Guardian’s Blind Dates column.


If The Last Romeo is only a tenth as funny and well written as those blogs we’re definitely in for a treat.


  1. Studies for Resilience by Patrick Gale – published September 2018


Regular readers will know that when I read A Place Called Winter back in 2015, I fell a little bit in love with Patrick. This year’s critically acclaimed drama The Man In The Orange Shirt written by Gale was a bit of a fix for the lovers of his books, but we’re finally getting a full hit this Autumn with a new releases.


Not much is known about it at the moment – so I’ll just give you the official blurb:


1970s Weston-Super-Mare and ten-year-old oddball Eustace, an only child, has life transformed by his mother’s quixotic decision to sign him up for cello lessons. Music-making brings release for a boy who is discovering he is an emotional volcano. He laps up lessons from his young teacher, not noticing how her brand of glamour is casting a damaging spell over his frustrated and controlling mother.

When he is enrolled in holiday courses in the Scottish borders, lessons in love, rejection and humility are added to daily practice.


I can’t wait to read it!


  1. Transcription by Kate Atkinson – published September 2018


I’ve never really mentioned Kate Atkinson on this blog before, but years ago, I went through a spate of reading everything she’d ever written. Behind the Scenes at the Museum and Case Histories are both on my bookcase which holds only my most favourite reads.


Case Histories particularly is one of my favourites – that rare beast a crime novel that wasn’t afraid to slow the pace down and dive into its characters. Always an inspiration for me, the mere mention of her name is enough to make me excited for a new novel. Here’s the official synopsis:


Transcription is a bravura novel of extraordinary power and substance. Juliet Armstrong is recruited as a young woman by an obscure wartime department of the Secret Service. In the aftermath of war she joins the BBC, where her life begins to unravel, and she finally has to come to terms with the consequences of idealism.


Of course, there are hundreds of books published each year and I didn’t even know that my favourite book of 2017 – Tin Man, seriously, if you’ve still not read it, please do – existed at this point last year, so what I’m really waiting for are ALL the books.


I can’t wait to stumble upon my next favourite read.

My Top 10 Books of 2017

It has become tradition at this time of year – well, I did it last year, and I’m doing it again this – for me to tell you my top 10 favourite books of the year.


There are literally hundreds of books published every week, and that’s just those from James Patterson, so the thirty or so books I’ve ready this year don’t even cut a small dent in that pile.


I like to think that I have some expertise at picking out good books, the cream of that large crop, so this stuff here really should be the creamiest cream at the top of the croppiest crop. I’ve possibly let that analogy run away with me.


In November, I ran a tournament on Twitter to find the best book of 2017 – Now, Twitter wouldn’t let me vote in my own poll, so this is where I get my say.


Matt Haig won with How to Stop Time while Adam Kay came second with This is Going to Hurt – will they appear in my Top 10 (Spoiler: They do) and if so, where will they appear?


There’s only one way to find out.


=10. Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth – Frank Cottrell Boyce


Each time I read a book, I record a score out of ten across various categories – at the end of the year, I sort that list and present it in reverse order here. The list is as much a mystery to me as it is to you.


Sputnik – a book for kids – is a slightly surprising entry to the list, but the truth is, this story is a fun romp (I got to use the word “romp” in my original review and dammit, I’m using it again now), it’s a little cartoonish in place, but it tells a nice tale with more than a hint of pathos.


=10. Animal – Sara Pascoe


Coming in in joint tenth position, and therefore making this year’s list a Top 11, is Sara Pascoe with her autobiography of what it means to be a woman. Not only did I learn more about the female body than I ever cared to, but her powerful chapter on consent takes on a new relevance following recent news stories…


9. Uncommon Type – Tom Hanks


Who knew the man could write as well as everything else he can do? This anthology of short stories from THE Tom Hanks is a great collection of tales all loosely connected by, of all things, typewriters. Crossing genres and time periods, these are nice bursts of fiction for everyone.


8. See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt


I read this one late last December, and it immediately jumped to the top of my ‘one to watch’ list for 2017, staying there for some time. Schmidt takes the familiar – or indeed, not so familiar – tale of Lizzie Borden and transplants the reader right into that creep house in Massachusetts. The writing is so vivid, so visceral you can actually feel the thickness of the air as you read. Definitely one of the best books of recent times.


=5. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman


This one stays with you. And not just me – it made it to the semi finals of the twitter tournament. The character of Eleanor Oliphant is bizarre, unique. She stands out for being a one-off, but in a way, she is so easily identifiable. We are all outsiders looking to connect, but Eleanor’s tale quickly veers from quirky to tragic, and takes the unsuspecting reader along with it.


Despite that, I will remember this book mostly because every time I try to write about it, every autocorrect known to man wants to call it Eleanor Elephant.


=5. This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay


The second of three books in joint fifth position is the runner up of our twitter vote. This often hilarious insight into the life of a junior doctor gives the reader a fresh perspective of a job coloured by what we see on the news and on Holby City. Like many of the other books on the list, the serious turn at the end packs a real punch.


There’s also a fucking fuckload of swearing in it.


=5. How to Stop Time – Matt Haig


One of the books I’ve not stopped banging on about this year, and the winner of our twitter poll makes it to (joint) fifth in my personal top 10. I said during the poll that I couldn’t pick between this and Adam Kay, so I’m mildly amused to discover I scored them exactly the same.


How To Stop Time takes a corker of a concept – a man who ages at a much slower rate than the rest of us – he’s four hundred, looks forty – and runs with it, using the man’s condition as a metaphor for depression.


He also calls the American President a motherfucker.


4. The Sparsholt Affair – Alan Hollinghurst


So what on earth could beat Matt Haig? I’m a sucker for a gay love saga and Alan Hollinghurst doesn’t disappoint with his latest. The opening half of the book, exploring the viewpoints of Freddie Green and a young Johnny Sparsholt are worth the entrance fee alone. The ending doesn’t quite hold up compared to the first half, but that’s a little like saying Romeo and Juliet isn’t as good as Macbeth.


3. The One – John Marrs


Proving that it’s not all about the heavy literary scene, this thriller from John Marrs was a bit of a surprise to me at the beginning of the year. I like a thriller as much as the next person, but they can be a little throwaway at times. Not this one. A unique concept linking five separate stories that forces us to question the true nature of love.


2. The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne


Similar in a way to the Alan Hollinghurst, Boyne charts the history of gay rights through Ireland through the history of one man. By investing in the one character, though, it just heightens the emotional impact, and the ending hits just the right note, managing to bring a year or to the eye.




So the winner.



If you’ve been paying attention throughout this year, this will come as no surprise to you.




1. Tin Man – Sarah Winman


Heartbreaking. Joyous. Triumphant. An exploration of life and love and grief. This book has become part of me since I read it in one sitting earlier this year. I still occasionally hug my copy of it, just to make myself feel better.


If you haven’t read it… well, I shan’t talk to you until you do.




All of these books are available now – and I’ve managed to cross quite a broad list this year. Christmas is coming – so consider this your wish list – or a gift guide for the literary lover in your life.


I’ll be back at the end of December with a short round-up of the books I’m most excited about for 2018…

A Twitter poll BUT for books? Why not?

It’s that time of the year again where I’m so busy I don’t get a chance to read. It’s a come a bit earlier this year – so in a desperate bid for some content, I thought about what I might be able to cobble together in less than an hour…


So, here it is!


Taking inspiration from Richard Osman’s ‘World Cup of…’ series of Twitter polls (and now a book!) – here’s a tournament especially for book lovers – to find Twitter’s Best Book of 2017.


The Rules? There are always rules!


  • Unlike Fight Club… everyone talks about Book Club – share your votes and tell us all why!
  • The 32 titles in contention have all been published in either paperback or hardback since 26th December 2017 and have had some sort of impact on the literary landscape this year.
  • They’ve all been picked by me (with a couple of suggestions from others) – they’re either my favourite books of the last year – or particularly notable titles. If you think I’ve missed something… hey, run your own poll.


The list in full (in alphabetical order)


  1. The Power by Naomi Alderman
  2. The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
  3. Origin by Dan Brown
  4. What Happened by Hilary Clinton
  5. The Party by Elizabeth Day
  6. The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
  7. The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
  8. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
  9. Creakers by Tom Fletcher
  10. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  11. How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
  12. Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
  13. Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
  14. The Dry by Jane Harper
  15. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
  16. The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst
  17. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  18. Need You Dead by Peter James
  19. This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay
  20. Sirens by Joseph Knox
  21. A Legacy of Spies by John Le Carre
  22. Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land
  23. The One by John Marrs
  24. Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
  25. I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell
  26. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
  27. The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman
  28. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
  29. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
  30. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
  31. Tin Man by Sarah Winman
  32. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead


Voting in the first round starts today (now!) over on my Twitter (@alexjcall) – get voting! The top two from each round will go through to the quarter finals!



A(nother) Review: The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst

Way back, in the mists of time, at least as far back as 2004, I started working in a bookstore.


Me back then very different to me now. I was taking the path of least resistance. I could have ended up working anywhere, but as chance would have it… there were books.


I’d always liked reading, and I’d always wanted to write, but I didn’t love them then. They weren’t my passion.


There were a handful of books that put me on the path to where I am now, one of which was Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty. It was one of the first ‘adult’ books I’d ever read. There was swearing and drugs and – gosh – even gay sex!


It was a coming of age novel, both for the characters and for me, so going back this year to read my first Hollinghurst since that day (for some reason The Stranger’s Child) completely passed me by) was very nostalgic.


While The Line of Beauty was very much a piece about being gay in the 80’s, The Sparsholt Affair is similar to John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisibile Furies as it explores the changing face of what it means to be gay across the years, starting during the second world war.


The book is rich with characters and we follow many of them from youth right through to death. The book is primarily told from the point of view of Johnny – although there are often guest POV’s – notably that of Freddie Green who carries the narrative throughout the 1940 section, a time when Johnny isn’t alive.


It all begins when Freddie and his friend Evert Dax spot the mysterious and beautiful David Sparsholt, a newcomer to Oxford in 1940 and a character that links all the others together, although we as a reader never seem to spend much time with him.


There are four distinct sections of this book – two of them work incredibly well, while the others are great pieces of writing, but don’t quite match up to the beginning of the book.


The first section is a powerful and erotic exploration of infatuation, and Hollinghurst’s writing is so vivid that I actually came away a little bit in love with David Sparsholt.


Fast forward a few years and our second section explores the life of the adolescent Johnny, a fourteen year old who is discovering his sexuality. The writing is equally engaging and will resonate with any gay man who was once fourteen years old.


As Johnny gets older, I started to become less affected with the book, the characters – so many characters – started to become less like real people and more like characters from a novel. Perhaps that was because he started to live a life that I couldn’t as easily identify with.


However, in his years as a younger man we watch him deal with his own infatuation, a nice juxtaposition to the 1940 section. Johnny is able to be more open, but he is seemingly much less successful. This is underscored by the object of his affections being in a relationship with the much older Evert Dax, the focal point of the 1940 years.


In Johnny’s later life, things seemed a little less tight, a bit meandering, but again, that may have been intentional as Johnny’s life seems to be headed in the same meandering direction.


The ending is… an ending. I’m not sure you could say it was a happy ending, or even a sad ending, but it’s definitely a nice point to end the novel.


I’m not sure what it says though. Was this a story about David Sparsholt? If so, making him absent for large swathes of the book seems a mistake. His arrival back on the scene in later years seems to promise answers and actually got me quite emotional at times, but because we don’t see things through his point of view, we don’t actually witness what was – to me – one of the more crucial scenes of the book.


The ending as it is, makes us reflect on the life of David Sparsholt, how things have changed and how they could have been so different… but again, it’s slightly undersold by his lack of presence in later pages.


The David Sparsholt we see at the end of the book is a completely different man to the one I became infatuated with in 1940 to the point it’s hard for me to connect the two men.


I loved this book, and I’m only being so critical because it was so nearly perfect, it was just lacking a little something extra towards the end.


However, I’d buy a thousand copies of this just to read the first half over and over again.


The Sparsholt Affair is published by Picador and is available now.

A(nother) Review: The Feed by Nick Clark Windo

Let’s talk about chapters.


I know that’s not exactly the sexiest way to start a blog, but just be thankful I’m not spending a thousand words asking you to consider the oxford comma.


I’ve often wondered what the point of a chapter break is, and eventually I came to the conclusion that they’re almost exclusively used to help pace a novel.


Different books use them in differing lengths. Thrillers tend to use them every other page or so, which A) helps the more casual ready to pick them up and read one or two chapters in a sitting and B) psychologically helps invoke the feeling of a fast paced, page turning thrilling book.


The thriller in front of me on my desk is 522 pages long, a big chunky novel on first glance, but there are 127 chapters in it. With each chapter comes a page break typically between half a page and a full page long – that means there’s around a hundred pages worth of blank space in this particular book.


 The Feed by Nick Clark Window takes the opposite route and uses chapter breaks sparingly.


The story concerns Tom and Kate who start off the book in a world where everybody’s brain is connected to a feed – imagine twitter embedded into your mind – and one night, they daringly go off feed to have a romantic dinner where they actually talk to each other.


While off grid, the assassination of a major politician causes the government to shut down the feed for everyone, and massive panic ensues as a whole society is plunged cold turkey into a rehab they didn’t ask for.


The Feed doesn’t then quite go where you think it’s going to go, but it lets you glimpse a world that feels strangely familiar, a world where we are all addicted to social media, where our heads are always somewhere other than our bodies, where we take data in at a million miles an hour.


The desolate world that we arrive in following the removal of the feed feels like something straight out of The Walking Dead – a disparate group of survivors trying to build a new community only to run the risk that members of their new society might be taken over in their sleep by some other consciousness, one that arrives there through the now defunct feed.


The sparing use of chapter breaks frustrated me at first – I use them as natural stopping points, I can read sixty or so pages of text in a one hour sitting, but always like to stop at a natural resting point. With the first of only two chapter breaks coming in at page 114, I had to stop in the middle of the action on a few occasions.


On the other hand, the lack of breaks allowed me to live with these characters, take in their world at the same pace they were, which helped with the overall feel of the novel.


On reflection, there is just one moment where I would have liked a chapter break, a particularly dramatic moment which was slightly let down by not forcing the reader to take a breath and take it all in.


It made me think of the old omnibus episodes of EastEnders where the whole week was stitched together into one big episode. The mid-week cliffhangers always fell kind of flat, because they then rumbled on straight into the next scene.


The Feed is one of those rare things, in that while there are components that feel familiar, it is a wholly unique story that shows us a whole new world without getting too bogged down in extraneous detail. Nick Clark Windo is one to watch, and will be one of the more exciting debuts of 2018.


The Feed will be published by Headline in January 2018.

A(nother) Review: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

What makes a good book?


(Yes, that’s right, I’ve gone for a nice easy blog this week).


There’s literally (and literary) a whole industry out there full of self-proclaimed experts – of which I am one. The thing is, we’re all readers, and like every other reader out there we all like very different books.


So how do we spot a good book?


My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent is the tale of Turtle Alveston. She is fourteen years old and knows how to use every single gun on her wall. She lives alone with her abusive father in a small backwater town in America.


She is a unique child, almost feral in a way, and we spend a summer with her, the last summer of her childhood, getting to know her, as she learns there is more to life than shooting guns with her father and playing cribbage with her grandfather.


It has all the signs of a good book. It’s well written, the characters are rich and real, there is a distinct plot running through it with an ending that while satisfying doesn’t quite tie everything up in a neat fairy tale bow.


It’s an odd journey that Turtle goes on – at one point she manages to get herself stranded on an island at high tide and must survive there. It all becomes a bit Huckleberry Finn, which the characters themselves acknowledge.


The book is quite episodic in some respects, meaning it is easy to dip in and out of – which is a bit of a relief, since at times the themes it explores are pretty challenging.


So far, so good, it’s got all the signs of a good book, and if you were to ask me if it reminded me of any other books, I’d say yes. It made me think of Sal – a book published next year, which I really enjoyed – and it made me think of A Little Lifewhich most of you will know is my absolute favouritest book ever.


So it must be a good book then?


I can only answer yes.


But did I enjoy it?


I can only answer no.


For me, there was something missing from the book which stopped me from engaging with it properly. Looking back on it now, and when telling people about it, it’s tricky for me to put my finger on why I didn’t enjoy it.


I feel like I did enjoy it, I can find no reason why I didn’t, but when I was reading it, I was wishing it would end, that I could read something else. Something better.


And it’s not to do with the subject matter. Many other books that I love – particularly A Little Life – could be described as unrelentingly grim, but in those books I experienced emotions. I was moved.


With My Absolute Darling, I didn’t feel any of that. On paper, it ticks all the boxes, but in practice, it just didn’t connect.


And that’s the thing we’re all trying capture and stuff into a bottle. That something extra. The special combination of the right book and the right reader.


That little bit of magic can take even the worst of books and make it into an excellent book, but the best of books without that little bit of extra magic? It will never be better than good.



A(nother) Review: Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon #ThreeThings

I once had a conversation with someone who was absolutely furious when – in their view – someone on Twitter had spoiled a book for them, by revealing there was a twist. They hadn’t said what the twist was, just that a twist existed.


I’ve struggled with this concept ever since – I often expect there to be twists in most books I read – and finding out that one I was reading had one wouldn’t make me feel the book was spoilt. More of a teaser really.


Twists and turns are surely the components that drive the plot forward, something unexpected happening to keep the reader interested.


If I opened a book and it was utterly predictable, I knew exactly what was going to happen, would I enjoy it still? Maybe – after all, I do enjoy re-reading some books…


Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent. The reason I started talking about twists in the first place was because as something of a self-appointed expert of books, I can often see the twists coming.


The last time I was truly surprised by a twist was in I See You by Claire Mackintosh – I was so surprised, I had to put the book down for half an hour.


My difficulty is that I’m now not sure what is supposed to be a twist and what isn’t – and it is with all this preamble, that I finally come to this week’s book Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon – author of the massive The Trouble with Goats and Sheep.


Florence Claybourne has a flat in the grounds of the Cherry Tree Home for the elderly, and it is in this flat and this Home that the story is set. The eponymous Elsie is Florence’s best friend and as the title suggests, there are three things you need to know about her.


We don’t learn all three things at once, but we learn them as we go through the book, as Florence becomes spooked by the arrival of a new resident, a man who should be dead. A man who died over fifty years previously.


In Florence’s corner are Elsie and another resident, Jack, but working against Elsie is – seemingly – the man himself, and Florence’s own muddled memories.


I worked out the third thing about Elsie pretty early on. So early on, in fact, that I couldn’t work out if it was meant to be an obvious ‘twist’ or not. It made me constantly question myself as this ‘third thing’ became a bigger and bigger unspoken thing among all the characters. Perhaps I was wrong? Perhaps the twist was that this obvious thing was actually not as it seemed?


I decided to stop second guessing myself. And I’m so glad I did.


In this novel, Cannon deftly weaves together multiple strands and multiple layers of story to reach a climax that will leave even the most experienced reader surprised, even if only a little it. Even if you do predict the big twist about Elsie – if in fact there actually is one – there are so many more connections both subtle and obvious that you won’t see coming, that will keep you guessing right to the end.


Three Things About Elsie is a charming novel, exploring not just aging and dementia, but also the way our lives and our actions impact on others.


The obvious comparison is to Elizabeth is Missing, but Three Things About Elsie goes further than that. You feel you know Florence’s whole life, not just the diminished later stages of it. And ultimately, it becomes a story not amount dementia, but about the way we treat others around us. The aged, the bereaved and those passing acquaintances.


Events that are important to us, secrets we keep that become huge burdens, they’re nothing to other people. But some of our smallest interactions with someone can have a lasting effect that we may never truly understand.


So while I may not see it is important if I know about a twist in a book or not, there are clearly people out there who do care. So I’m not going to tell you any of the three things about Elsie, you’ll just have to read it for yourself.


And you’ll be glad you did. In January 2018, when it’s published by Borough Press.