Welcome to our weekly Books Digest where we round up the new books you should and shouldn’t, be reading. This week features Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris, A Brief History of the Atlantic by Jeremy Black and Watersong by Clarissa Goenawan.
For more books, take a look through our Books Digest Archive.
Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris (Little, Brown Book Group, £18.99)
Since his first collection of essays in 1994, David Sedaris has been making the world laugh. No matter how dark the world might get, whether it’s a pandemic, his sister’s suicide or his troubled relationship with his father, Sedaris can find something to laugh about.
That being said, his latest collection carries a weight his previous works lack. Sedaris’ witty observations of the world still make up the 18 essays in Happy-Go-Lucky, but the writing feels more aligned to a sort of therapy-by-writing; a coping mechanism to help make sense of a strange world. There is a hint of old-man grumpiness creeping into most recent his work too — Sedaris seems to get irritated or upset quite regularly, but beneath the facade of outrage, it seems that nothing matters to the writer much, as long as he can make other people laugh. Such is the writer’s charm.
We can’t all have Sedaris’ ability to seek out a worthy anecdote from the mundanity of every day, but Happy-Go-Lucky provides a brief and hilarious glimpse at the world through David Sedaris’ eyes.
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A Brief History of the Atlantic by Jeremy Black (Little, Brown Book Group, £12.99)
Britain is an island nation and it is a nation of islands. We are surrounded by the sea. Our history, our thinking, our habits, our outlook, all that we are is informed by our geography and our dependency on the sea. The sea is our moat and our lifeline.
Today, well over 90 per cent of our trade flows in and out over the sea and through our ports. Vital information and power links rest on the beds of our seas. During the Second World War, the longest campaign undertaken was the Battle of the Atlantic, which ran from the first to the last day of the conflict. Keeping the domestic and international sea lanes open is and has always been a vital national interest for us and it is why the Royal Navy’s work always has been, and always will be, both continuous and of unique importance to the country. Of all the seas that surround us, it is the Atlantic that dwarfs the rest.
The Atlantic; a great sea, stretching the length of the world itself. Its very name conjures up romance, danger, opportunity, threat, excitement and fear. Its history is the history of our country and the world in which we live. Its health, mood and evolution impact the lives of each one of us. A Brief History Of The Atlantic is more than a book of history, it is a love letter to the greatest and most powerful of the natural wonders with which we all live.
Watersong by Clarissa Goenawan (Scribe Publications, £12.99)
Watersong tells the story of Shouji Arai, a young and budding journalist who, after crossing one of his company’s most powerful and dangerous clients, is forced to leave his life behind in Akakawa. Haunted by a traumatic childhood and dreams of drowning, Shouji seeks out his girlfriend Youko but discovers she might not be the person he first knew her to be.
Those familiar with Clarissa Goenawan’s work will recognise her venture into magical realism. Her work is often compared to that of Haruki Murakami, and one can’t help but notice Goenawan’s attempts to emulate his style, rather than adopt her own. Elements of magical realism are toyed with rather than fully committed to and the language is lacklustre and, at times, forced. What’s more, despite the fact that the plot is character-driven, it was difficult to invest emotionally in any of the characters.
The story arc itself is poorly paced and felt rushed; the action is condensed into the first and final 30 pages of the book. Narrative milestones are revealed with an abrupt thud, as if — after spending two-thirds of the book following Shouji’s inner narrative — Goenawan suddenly remembered that there was a story left to conclude. What’s left is a series of sub-plots that feel half-baked, and fail to come together as a single coherent final piece. Whilst Watersong holds much potential, it is ultimately a dissatisfying read.