BookSpace: The Goldblum Variations; It Started in a Cupboard; Dear Girls; The Crown Agent


In the October edition of BookSpace, CommonSpace literary critic Chiara Bullen reviews some of this month’s new releases

The Goldblum Variations, Helen McClory

Flash Fiction | 404Ink | £7.50 | Buy Here

Enjoy the updated Goldblum Variations, a collection of flash fictions, stories and games on the one and only Jeff Goldblum as he, and alternate versions of himself, travels through the known (and unknown) universe in a mighty celebration of weird and wonderful Goldbluminess.

Without a doubt, this is the most bizarre book I’ve had the fortune to come across. Although I admittedly was never quite swept away by the Jeff Goldblum hysteria my generation succumbed to over the past few years (I know, I know), I found this wee gem of a journey incredibly uplifting. There’s an eclectic mix of poetry, games, miniature essays and prose on offer here, where most of them have Jeff Goldblum take you by the hand into a world of weirdly wonderful whimsy. 

I particularly enjoyed Cooking With Jeff Goldblum, and the little adventure I went on with the QR code. As well as having that obviously quirky quality, McClory’s writing here still has an almost mystic edge, leaving you with a lingering feeling that there’s something deeper at play here. Or, perhaps that’s the Goldblum effect. Either way, this is a nifty gift for any fans of Jeff Goldblum – or for those looking for a very different textual experience to brighten up their autumn.

It Started in a Cupboard, Kenneth Calman

Autobiography | Luath Press | £20.00 | Buy Here

Sir Kenneth Calman’s extraordinary life story is based on a passionate love of learning – and it all began with him doing his homework by candlelight in a cupboard of his mum’s Glasgow council house. He went on to be at the forefront of three different medical revolutions – oncology, palliative care and the use of the arts in medical education – and to help guide the country through the BSE/VCJD health crisis. As Scotland’s and then England’s Chief Medical Officer the reforms he pushed through saved many lives by improving both cancer care and the training of doctors.

This is a captivating, rich narrative of a life dedicated to the wellbeing of others. Sir Kenneth Calman’s achievements in the medical field are astonishing, and his autobiography demonstrates just how far modern medicine and patient-centred care has come in the past fifty years.

From humble beginnings in Knightswood, the book documents his journey to becoming the first professor of oncology, establishing Cancer Support Scotland (previously Tak Tent) and becoming the first CMO of Scotland and the CMO of England. Calman’s fascinating tale of his life holds many touching lessons on empathy and finding our own happiness. The mapping of Glasgow’s medical marvels throughout history which was also a nice touch. An utterly essential read.

Dear Girls, Ali Wong

Memoir | Canongate | £14.99 | Buy Here

Ali Wong’s heartfelt and hilarious letters to her daughters cover everything they need to know in life, like the unpleasant details of dating, how to be a working mum in a male-dominated profession and how she trapped their dad.

A passionate memoir crafted with love and oozing with honesty, Ali Wong’s Dear Girls contains life advice for each of her two daughters (currently toddlers) to read once they reach adulthood. I wish all the lessons I’ve learned in life had been as frank as these. Wong does not hold back, and fans of her stand-up will instantly feel at home here with her wicked tendency to not gloss over the less glamorous aspects of life – particularly when it comes to motherhood. The use of the word ‘intimate’ in the subtitle is an understatement.

Wong’s voice shines through so earnestly, and it goes without saying that this is the kind of book that elicits ‘belly laughs’. Underneath the humour, Wong opens up about the complexities of her life, career, motherhood and identity. This is the whole package.

The Crown Agent, Stephen O’Rourke

Historical Crime Fiction | Sandstone Press | £14.99 | Buy Here

A ship adrift, all hands dead. A lighthouse keeper murdered in the night. The Crown needs man to find the truth. Doctor Mungo Lyon, his reputation tarnished by the Burke & Hare scandal, and forbidden to practise as a surgeon, is the wrong man. That’s exactly why the Crown chose him.

Another historical crime fiction cracker from Scottish publishing, The Crown Agent delivers the perfect dark and moody tale to keep you going this autumn. Set in 1829 against the backdrop of the infamous Burke and Hare scandal, earnest protagonist Mungo Lyon finds himself swept up in a murder mystery spanning the seas, which makes for a deliciously fast-paced tale swimming with deceit and treachery.

19th Century Scotland is painted with charming characters and anecdotes that make the going ons in the background as interesting as the high-stakes plot itself. Immensely entertaining and as gripping as you’d hope from a crime novel, I look forward to more Mungo Lyon adventures.

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