Quick book picks for June

Summer is finally here and, more importantly, a whole load of fantastic books are coming out this month. I was spoilt for choice as a number of these are some of the best of 2017 thus far. As ever, I’ve included short descriptions and links to longer reviews in the titles.

  • All The Good Things by Clare Fisher – One of my books of the year so far, this story of a young woman in prison who is trying to remember the good things that have happened in her life alongside the bad is a powerful modern tale of the system failing somebody and a moving assertion that good things can be found anywhere.
  • Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney – A biting and clever novel about a student in Dublin who performs poetry with her best friend and ex-girlfriend, and then the two meet a married couple and get entwined in their life. Witty look at being a twentysomething in great prose.
  • Phone by Will Self – The anarchic, not-for-everyone new book by Will Self, which follows the spy life and long-running affair with a high-ranking soldier of Jonathan De’Ath, aka The Butcher. It mocks espionage, plays around with language and acronyms, and is very darkly satiric.
  • Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index by Julie Israel – An emotional YA novel that focuses on grief, positivity, and friendship, whilst being uplifting yet not cloying.
  • A History of Running Away by Paula McGrath – The novel tells the simultaneous stories of a young girl in 80s Ireland who wants to be a boxer, a gynaecologist in 2012 dealing with work pressures and her ill mother, and a girl in Maryland running away after the death of her mother. A fantastic read that depicts finding home and knowing who you are.
  • No Good Deed by John Niven (review to come) – Another darkly comic story, this time about a successful writer who helps out an old friend who is down on his luck—and then finds out the limits of his good deeds. It shows the ups and downs of friendship whilst mocking the upper-middle-classes and their views and lifestyles.

Phone by Will Self

Darkly comic spy satire: Phone by Will Self


Phone is the witty and fast paced new novel from Will Self, a side-eyed look at the modern worlds of intelligence, warfare, and technology. The main focus is on Jonathan De’Ath, a spy known as ‘The Butcher’ to all who and know him, and his secret longterm lover, tank commander Gawain Thomas. The other thread of the narrative follows recurring Will Self character Zach Busner, an aging psychiatrist, and his family, particularly his daughter-in-law Camilla and autistic grandson Ben. Self creates a riot of a ride, darkly comic and reference-heavy, in this novel about technology and life in the twenty first century.

The narrative hurtles full throttle in one direction, narrated by one character without room for pause, then screeches suddenly into a new point of view. This style – not unexpected to anyone aware of Self’s work – is unlikely to be to everyone’s taste, but it creates an obsessively-echoing and detailed novel full of parroting phrases and cultural references. Acronyms are written phonetically, making the proliferation of them in the modern day very apparent. The Butcher is a fantastic creation, a meticulous and twisted spook who ends up with a glaringly obvious Achilles’ heel, and his sections make for the most exciting reading. How his story has any connection to Busner, Camilla, and Ben is not apparent for much of the novel, but becomes apparent by the end in a satisfyingly fitting yet somewhat ambiguous way.

Phone will not appeal to everybody. However, its blend of exposing military and intelligence cover-ups, political and societal satire, dark comedy, and strangely intriguing characters is a success, leaving a novel that is an intense and unrelenting read, one that pulls the reader into its style and idiosyncrasies. Despite being a spook adept at hiding, Jonathan De’Ath is not easy to forget.