What We’re Reading: May

Annie — What Happened to Nina? by Dervla McTiernan

The latest novel from best selling crime writer Dervla McTiernan is less of a who-dunnit and more of a what-next thriller. Nina and Simon are high school sweethearts who have been managing a long distance relationship since starting college. Home in Vermont for the holidays, they decide to take a break at Simon’s family house in the woods but Nina never comes home. Told in alternating chapters between Simon’s wealthy parents and Nina’s less privileged family, the case quickly becomes an outlet for longstanding small-town tensions and rumours abound. How far will they go to protect their own or find the truth?

Even though the reader discovers Nina’s fate relatively early on, the rapid back and forth of the narration keeps the pages turning. Instead of a standard police procedural, the focus here is more on the fallout of Nina’s disappearance. McTiernan refuses to sensationalise the crime and deftly examines the way that the media spins a story like this, with particular emphasis on the way that each family tries to take control of the narrative. As a result, What Happened to Nina? develops from a twisty crime thriller into a meditation on the aftermath of crime, the politics of wealth and the meaning of justice.

David — The Cancer Finishing School by Peter Goldsworthy

‘But by that time my pride had worn so thin I could see clear through it.’

It’s a line from Peter Goldsworthy’s latest work and it perfectly summarises where many roads have led to for him. This book is focused on his wild, scary, and surprisingly exhilarating journey through many months after a diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a cancer affecting plasma in bone marrow in many parts of the body (hence ‘multiple’). Many books have been written by people in this situation, a few by medical doctors like Goldsworthy. The treatments, the impact on his family and friends, and the constant knowledge that there is no actual cure, only more or less time left, are all described with flair, humour and pathos. I guess I expected that to be done well in a work by a highly accomplished writer, and it is. But what stands out for me as I put the book down is his intense respect and even love for an unending list of his patients over forty years, and how much that shapes the man dealing with this crisis. The many stories, always hiding true identities, delighted me with their rawness, agony and, at times, laugh -out-loud silliness. He’s thrown himself into patient care with almost no guard-rails, and emerged with a huge appreciation of the lives of others. In multiple ways it feels as if they’ve been his teachers, preparing him for this immense test of character.

I’m not sure the book changed my thoughts on how I might, or might not, deal with my own inevitable health challenges in later life. But it just might, as some of the passages in this honest and entertaining story sink in. It just might turn out to be an important work, which would be a worthy result for his efforts.

The Gentleman from Peru byAndre Aciman

Andre Aciman is taking us back to sunbaked Italian summer that we fell in love with in his novel Call Me By Your Name, but this time following a group of college friends at a luxurious hotel. When they encounter another mysterious guest, their perception of time, history and relationships are brought to the forefront over glasses of Italian wine and dips in the Amalfi Coast. 

It’s a dreamy novella that makes you consider the constraints of time and place, and set in a place you want to escape to.