Two Caravans – Marina Lewycka

Two Caravans - quietly heartwrenching

Two Caravans – quietly tender

This is the story of a group of migrant workers, from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe who have arrived in England to find their fortune.  What happens instead is they end up living in caravans, picking strawberries for Farmer Leapish to supply the UK supermarkets.  Some have arrived legally, others illegally, but they are all seeking a better life and, in some form or another, love.

This existence continues harmoniously enough until Leapish’s wife comes home to find him in bed with Yola, one of the Polish workers.  A fight ensues during which the police are called.  Frightened by the authorities the migrants flee the farm and embark on a journey across England, trying desperately to blend into a country they don’t really understand and which doesn’t understand them. SOUNDS PRETTY HEAVY EH?

Coconut Unlimited – Nikesh Shukla

Coconut Unlimited - took my right back to my youth

Coconut Unlimited – took my right back to my youth

Coconut Unlimited is an entertaining, nostalgic coming of age story.  What sets it apart from other such books is that the central characters are three Asian boys in an otherwise all white private school.  Isolated from their own community for being posh and not accepted by their class mates for being too Asian they decide their only chance of keeping it real and getting dope girls is to form a hip-hop trio. There is no other way.

The only trouble with this plan is that none of them have any musical knowledge or ability.  Amit (now known as Mit-Dogg) is on mic, Nishant (DJ Dangerous) is on scratching turntable duties and Anand (MC AP) is the hype-man.  Between them they have access to one turntable and a very limited supply of hip-hop.  Instead of actually performing any rap, their group (or should I say posse) spends most of its time planning how ‘fly’ and ‘cool’ they are going to be. HANDS UP IF YOU THINK THEY’LL ACHIEVE COOLNESS

The Sign Of Four – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock's second outing

Sherlock’s second outing

This is the second Holmes and Watson book and, once again follows them as they unofficially investigate a murder.  The book begins with them idly killing time, eating, reading and, in Holmes’ case, shooting up.  That is, until they are approached by Mary Morstan (the future Mrs Watson.)  She is hoping to find out what happened to her father, who disappeared 10 years before. Also, she has mysteriously been receiving pearls in the post, one each year, with the most recent one requesting a meeting.

This meeting leads the trio to Thaddeus Shalto, who in turn, takes them to see his brother Bartholemeo who, it turns out, has been murdered.  So far so twisty- turny.  Holmes uses his genius to work out the identity of the killers, and also how to apprehend them.  The only thing left to wrap up is why they would kill Bartholomeo.  This explanation is provided by way of a confession, involving a story dating back 30 years to the East India Company, the Indian mutiny of 1857 and life in the prison camps and the islands.

This was where the story becomes slightly uncomfortable, referring to the natives as ‘savages’, with ‘distorted features’ and being ‘naturally hideous’.  This is a totally unacceptable, ignorant view nowadays, but taken in the context of the book, and the characters using these descriptions, it sort of works.  These are the kind of people who would use these descriptions, so I didn’t find it as jarring as I could have done.

Once again, the story is nicely wrapped up, with Holmes providing answers where the police were lacking. (I quite like this theme throughout the novels), Watson is provided with some romance and Holmes is developed much further as a character than in A Study In Scarlet. His motivations, mental state and addictions are all explored deeper, revealing a truly great literary character.

Sample Text:

“My mind,” he said, “rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world.”

Further Reading:

If you liked the descriptions of the Indian Mutiny you might like The Siege of Krishnapur

If you like Holmes and Watson you might like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes