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The 2019 shortlist offered a diverse range of titles, each of which could have made for a very good Big Read.
The winning title was The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry By Rachel Joyce. With such strong competition, it was hard to know just which way the choice would go but Harold Fry was an overwhelming success with members of the Selection Committee who believed this is a book that can be appreciated by all of our students and staff, new and current, alike.
When Harold Fry receives a letter from former colleague, Queenie, informing him she is dying it changes everything. Harold leaves his house in Kingsbridge to post a letter but changes his mind to walk to Queenie's hospice in Berwick – nearly 600 miles away – with no phone or walking gear. Playwright and author Rachel Joyce takes the reader on a rollercoaster road journey with Harold who is determined to reach Queenie before she dies. This unsentimental story peels back the painful layers of Harold's marriage, the secret surrounding his son and the friendship with Queenie. Joyce creates an emotionally gripping tale featuring an unforgettable character whose journey of self-discovery will stay with you long after you finish this charming debut.
Publishers like putting books into boxes, so everyone knows what to expect – thriller, romance, detective story etc. It's very hard to know how to categorise this book, and my suggested parentage (Raymond Chandler meets picture-book author Maurice Sendak) is probably not much help. It's certainly a mystery, but trying to work out what is going on in the story is matched by confusion inside the reader, who has to keep cross-checking what they know with what seems to be happening. The ground keeps shifting. I found it intriguing; others have commented that not being able to predict the story-line is a problem. For me that's part of what made it so very compelling.
The cover blurb describes this book as ‘murderously good' and there is certainly lots of murder, mostly by stabbing. This may sound like an odd subject for a novel when we are worried about rising levels of knife crime. It's really about the relationship between two sisters: the elder, who consistently feels responsible for her younger sister's behaviour; the younger who could not care less, and has a lifetime's experience of successfully manoeuvring herself out of situations that no longer suit her. In any case, those on the receiving end of her ‘self-defence' don't draw our sympathy – both siblings are very aware they were seeking exploitation rather than love. It remains to be seen whether she really does get away with murder.
The pope is dead. Robert Harris takes us into the secret world of the papal conclave – the meeting of cardinals assembled to elect a new pope. Cardinal Lomeli, the dean of the College of Cardinals, thinks it is dangerous to elect a man who wants to be pope but power and ambition drive the action. Each ballot is accompanied by a twist - some corruption or deceit. The three frontrunners - the traditionalist, the man with ambition and the dean who has alarming views on women and gay marriage - are all determined to win. This superb and fast-paced novel is gripping to the end.
A pleasant read for a sunny day! PhD student Rosalind Waterloo takes you through London's literary characters and classic spots to find out who killed her favourite author, Mark Drubenheimer. From eccentric editors, mournful musicians and nervous writers, Rosalind tries to decipher the truth and get over her mother's death. Her love for classic literature comes in handy in more ways than expected! Not just an entertaining whodunit it is also a colourful depiction of love, loss and what we hold most dear; legacy or happiness.
This is really intriguing and well-thought out book. I was hooked from the start and torn between the main characters, who were all believable in a world that was familiar in some ways but horrifyingly different in others. The main characters are Jessie and her father, both trying to deal with a devastating world-wide situation, but with very different responses. Their honest and loving relationship is the centre of the novel, which makes their differences almost painful to read but also completely compelling. It's definitely one of those novels which makes you ask: what would I do in their place?
If you would like more information regarding the Kingston University Big Read, to suggest a title, or to volunteer to be part of an upcoming selection committee, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively for press information, please contact the Kingston University Communications team.