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This week's Mirror Book Club looks at a bittersweet memoir which evokes the comedy and pathos of everyday life.
National treasure Matt Haig's mix of philosophy and memoir is empathetic and uplifting.
And we finish by looking at two fantastic debut novels.
For all that and more – read on. And don't forget to join the Mirror Book Club.
Two Hitlers And A Marilyn, by Adam Andrusier
Adam Andrusier is a professional autograph dealer. He has clients who pay thousands for the signatures of Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley, while others seek to collect Carry On film actors or, in one case, unsuccessful presidential candidates.
This bittersweet memoir begins with 10-year-old Adam securing an autograph from local celebrity Ronnie Barker. He then becomes obsessed, spending his teenage years writing to famous folk all over the world for their signatures.
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Two Hitlers And A Marilyn, by Adam Andrusier and The Stranding, by Kate Sawyer
If people don’t respond, he bides his time until they visit Britain, then thrusts his autograph book in person at Elizabeth Taylor, Ray Charles, Nelson Mandela and Boris Yeltsin – with mixed results.
The backdrop for all this celebrity stalking is Adam’s life in suburban London with his Jewish family. He has been blessed with the greatest gift a memoirist can have: a truly eccentric parent. Adam’s father Adrian constantly badgers his family into sharing his obsessions, from the Holocaust to Israeli folk dancing.
(Image: Roger Viollet/Getty Images)
Eventually, Adam escapes to Cambridge to study music. His career hopes are dashed when he messes up a public piano recital, so he falls back on his old hobby, becoming a full-time autograph dealer.
There are grimly comic accounts of the autograph fairs where faded celebrities sell their signatures, and wry portraits of the oddball dealers and collectors he meets.
At one point, Adam becomes too big for his boots and is tricked by a forger. The real bane of his life, though, remains his father, who treats Adam’s long-suffering mother increasingly badly.
A signed copy of Adolph Hitler's Mein Kampf
(Image: Getty Images)
Adam grows so bitter towards his dad that he buys an expensive signed copy of Mein Kampf because he knows it will horrify him. His account of their difficult relationship is a tragicomic triumph, the emotional heart of the book.
Andrusier writes with an addictive deadpan style and he’s blessed with an ability to evoke the comedy and pathos of everyday life.
by JAKE KERRIDGE
The Comfort Book, by Matt Haig
Matt Haig is a national treasure, wise and compassionate in equal measure.
Whether he’s writing novels such as the acclaimed The Midnight Library, or non-fiction including Reasons To Stay Alive, he gets to the heart of what matters in life – and what doesn’t.
In this glorious collection of anecdotes and reflections on “hope, survival and the messy miracle of being alive”, he writes movingly about his own mental health.
He had a breakdown in his 20s, spent three years “desperately wanting to die” and was so depressed he couldn’t speak.
The Paper Palace, by Miranda Cowley Heller and The Comfort Book, by Matt Haig
But he’s gradually devised an assortment of “life rafts” that keep him afloat and he’s keen to share them. Far from being fanciful or impractical, they are full of good sense and are easy to emulate.
They range from learning to say no to things you don’t want to do to appreciating the simple things in life such as lying on a sofa eating a pear.
He also lists soothing songs, books and films, breathing exercises, inspiring stories, and comforting recipes for houmous or peanut butter on toast.
Aware that his anxiety is most acute when he listens to loud techno music or spends too long in front of his computer screen, he recommends getting out for a walk, swimming in the sea or simply gazing at the sky.
Written in short, snappy chapters, Haig’s mix of philosophy and memoir is empathetic and uplifting.
Sharing nuggets of kindness and hope on every page, it’s a book to guide us all through bad times and good.
by EMMA LEE-POTTER
Debut fiction: The Paper Palace, by Miranda Cowley Heller
This absorbing debut novel from the former head of drama at HBO tells a dark tale of long-buried love and lies, with a dysfunctional family at its core.
Elle is a happily married mother of three on holiday in the family’s bohemian Cape Cod house. But the night before the story begins, she cheated on her beloved husband Peter with Jonas, her childhood sweetheart and a family friend. And, as we discover, there’s a revelatory reason why Elle has succumbed to Jonas now, years after they went their separate ways. Is it too late for them to have the future they always dreamed of?
Over the course of the next 24 hours, Elle tries to hold it together as she and her family hang out with Jonas, his wife, and Elle’s formidable mother, while she contemplates whether her future lies with her husband or her first love.
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She also rewinds to 1981, when she first met Jonas, and unspools her life story. There’s her unstable childhood, bouncing between her divorced parents with her sister Anna, then after her mother remarries, she finds herself at the mercy of her creepy stepbrother Conrad.
But a shocking event derails her relationship with Jonas and its consequences reverberate down the decades.
This accomplished family saga is gripping and poetic, capturing the complexity of the human heart.
by CHARLOTTE HEATHCOTE
The Stranding, by Kate Sawyer
At heart, this pre and post-apocalyptic novel is a break-up story.
Thirtysomething Londoner Ruth escapes to New Zealand in the wake of a bad relationship, but on arrival she learns that a world-ending event, seemingly a nuclear blast, has wiped out any chance of returning home. She meets Nik when they seek shelter in a beached whale.
The story flashes back and forth between her old and new lives. While her London life has its sweet spots – loving parents, a loyal best friend – they’re overpowered by the messiness of her unhealthy love life.
Sawyer has done an especially brilliant job describing Alex, one of the worst boyfriends in literature. There are so many red flags (such as him always choosing Ruth’s wine for her) that they could fill a book of their own.
The Stranding hits all the notes of post-apocalyptic fiction – scavenging to survive, learning new skills, the falling away of modern worries. It’s also a spellbinding fantasy of trading past mistakes for a clean start.
by LIJA KRESOWATY
Join the Mirror Book Club
Join us in reading our brand-new book of the month – The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths.
You could win one of 20 copies at facebook.com/groups/mirrorbookclub
This spooky murder mystery tells the tale of Clare, an English teacher whose research into the life of a Victorian Gothic novelist is linked to the murder of colleague and friend Ella.
The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths.
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But Clare and Ella recently fell out.
Who killed Ella? Who is writing mysterious entries in Clare’s private diary? And who will be next to die?