Books of the Week: Kiss Myself Goodbye, Klopp: My Liverpool Romance, Leave the World Behind
New releases by Ferdinand Mount, Anthony Quinn and Rumaan Alam
Ferdinand Mount sets out to uncover the true identity of his charismatic and mysterious Aunt Munca. Liverpool-born novelist Anthony Quinn writes a “love letter” to his team and its manager. And Rumaan Alam’s panic-filled novel describes the “strange happenings” and terrifying events spreading through America.
Book of the week Kiss Myself Goodbye by Ferdinand Mount
In this “unusual and beautifully written book”, Ferdinand Mount tells the story of his exotic, charismatic and mysterious Aunt Munca, said Roland White in The Sunday Times. Betty, as she mostly called herself (Munca was a nickname derived from Beatrix Potter’s “bad” mouse, Hunca Munca), was the wife of Mount’s paternal uncle Greig (known as Unca). As a boy, Mount often spent holidays with these “raffish relatives” (pictured), who owned a Rolls and a Mercedes, kept a permanent suite at Claridge’s (which they called “The Pub”), and hobnobbed with Diana Dors and Nanette Newman. But he became aware that his aunt was not all she seemed. Details about her past didn’t add up; there were rumours that her brother, Buster, was, in fact, her son. Decades later, long after her death, Mount set about discovering who she really was – an investigation which led him to conclude that she “never told the truth about anything”.
Mount’s quest to uncover his aunt’s identity is painstaking, said Claire Lowdon in The Spectator. But the results are “genuinely incredible”. He learns that Munca wasn’t the daughter of the “late John Anthony Baring of New York” (as she was listed in Debrett’s). She didn’t grow up in the Philippines, as she claimed; she was born in Sheffield, to teenage parents. She herself became a mother at 16, worked as a typist, and went on to have three bigamous marriages. Even her name was a lie: she was actually called Eileen. As he fleshes out the details of her life, Mount provides, along the way, a “generous, eclectic history of the early 20th century” – with excursions into topics such as motor racing and the RAF. It all adds up to “the most gripping book I’ve seen all year. I laughed. I gasped. I read it so greedily that I had to force myself to slow down towards the end.”
And you emerge from it sneakily admiring Aunt Munca, who, if nothing else, tried to “live life to the full”, said Frances Wilson in The Daily Telegraph. Nonetheless, her deceit profoundly damaged others – most tragically her adopted daughter, Georgie, who, like Estella in Great Expectations, was “raised to drive men to distraction”. Her suitors included Max Hastings and Norman Lamont. Aged 20, she became engaged to Mount’s friend David Dimbleby, but Aunt Munca scuppered the union (Mount suspects because she feared the journalist would discover her lies). After that, Georgie moved abroad, and never married. Witty, moving and beautifully crafted, Kiss Myself Goodbye is a “masterclass” in bringing long-buried secrets to light.
Bloomsbury 272pp £20; The Week Bookshop £15.99
Klopp: My Liverpool Romance by Anthony Quinn
The Liverpool-born novelist Anthony Quinn has been a fan of the city’s football club (well, one of them) since making his first trip to Anfield aged eight, said Blake Morrison in The Guardian. His “highly enjoyable” new book is partly an account of that devotion, and partly a “love letter” to the club’s current manager. When Jürgen Klopp arrived at Liverpool in 2015, the Reds hadn’t won the League since 1990 – much to the chagrin of their fans. Since then, his incremental improvements have worked magic. In 2019, Liverpool won the Champions League (and finished second in the domestic race), and this year finally triumphed in the League. However, as Quinn elegantly shows, he hasn’t just brought success to Anfield, “but fun, wit, passion, humanity, tactical brilliance and a remarkable set of teeth”.
Without ever quite becoming a biography, this book “fleshes out” its subject, said Hannah Jane Parkinson in The Observer. After growing up in the Black Forest, Klopp became a “diligent if only goodish footballer”, before finding his vocation as a manager, first at Mainz, then at Borussia Dortmund (which he guided to two Bundesliga wins). His approach is unusual in combining “tactical nous” – most famously, his philosophy of gegenpressing, or counter-pressing – with a strong commitment to pastoral care: he is renowned for his extravagant bear hugs. And he can be very funny: asked once to “put his finger” on why his team had lost, he replied, “I only have ten fingers.” Quinn “pleasurably” slots vignettes from his own life into the narrative – such as his Merseyside boyhood – and most of the time he’s a charming companion, despite a weakness for bad puns (“All you need is Lovren,” for instance). This book works for a simple reason: he is “a delightful writer writing about a delightful subject”.
Faber 208pp £12.99; The Week Bookshop £9.99
Novel of the week Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
This “breathtaking” novel about an unspecified cataclysm taps brilliantly into the “generalised panic” of 2020, said Alex Preston in The Observer. Amanda and Clay are well-heeled New Yorkers who rent a home on Long Island. One night, a black couple knock on the door and introduce themselves as its owners: Amanda catches herself thinking that it didn’t seem “like the sort of house where black people lived”. Such concerns, however, are pushed aside: the visitors bear tidings of “strange happenings”. Phones, internet and TV stations soon go down, and the novel turns into something unexpected: a “smart, gripping and hallucinatory” account of “terrifying events taking place across America”.
It’s a good thing that it takes this dramatic “left turn”, because until then it hadn’t been much good, said John Self in The Times. Early on, Alam’s writing is “obstructively fussy”. (If someone says they’re starving, do we need to be told it’s “hyperbole”?) Once “panic takes hold”, however, the prose improves – and the novel turns into a satisfying disaster story that offers something “to terrify everyone”.
Bloomsbury 256pp £14.99; The Week Bookshop £11.99
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