Books: Independent Choice Autumn Blockbusters

Pick of the Week:

Mr MacGregor

by Alan Titchmarsh

Simon & Schuster, pounds 16.99

WHY IS "popular" a pejorative term? Such snobbish nonsense. The masses like Swan Lake, the Tower of London and The Hay Wain because they're rather good. And the same applies to much blockbuster fiction.

Maeve Binchy's publisher hopes to break a record with her new novel Tara Road (Orion, pounds 16.99, 488pp) and sell a million copies in hardback. They probably will, not least because it is gloriously free of literary pretension and reads jolly well. Plot is to fiction what melody is to music, and Binchy is mistress, like no other, of stories which sing out.

Bright, attractive and homely Ria Lynch lives in Dublin with her dishy husband and children in Tara Road, at the centre of a plausibly evoked network of friends. Ria's circle, free of shallow stereotypes, consists of folk we all know.

Sadly, it isn't only Ria who finds the smooth-talking Danny Lynch irresistible, and her marriage founders. Enter Marilyn Vine - a rather reserved American - who is silently failing to come to terms with a dreadful family tragedy.

She and Ria swap homes for the summer and each is instrumental in the rehabilitation of the other. There is no slushy writing or thinking and, by the time she reaches the end, Binchy bravely resists the temptation to fob us off with a fairy tale. Instead, we get a satisfyingly grown- up conclusion.

Mr MacGregor by Alan Titchmarsh (Simon & Schuster, pounds 16.99, 296pp) will certainly sell well too. We're not used to novels by gardening personalities, but this would be a fine debut whoever had written it. It's great fun, but also sensitive and sensible, with a tuneful story line.

Yorkshire-based Rob MacGregor is a TV gardening presenter, from humble origins, who also writes a column for a Sunday paper. Women fancy him in a big way. Against his better judgement, and to his later profound regret, Rob allows himself to be seduced by a praying-mantis type newsreader. Inevitably such perfidy sours the relationship with his real love, Katherine - although Titchmarsh eventually teases us with an ending worthy of a Victorian three-decker.

All this is set against the background of the trading problems of Rob's nurseryman father, and the politics of the TV studio. Mild mystery and gentle suspense propel the novel forward. Why, for example, is a predatory local businessman so keen to get his hands on MacGregor senior's nursery? Other colours are deftly blended on the Titchmarsh palette: a near-natural disaster, an elderly gay TV personality who drinks too much, and a thoughtful look at bereavement.

The Chelsea Flower Show provides a solid setting for a blossom-laden climax. The Titchmarsh fans in the Royal Horticultural Society and the National Trust whom he sends up so gently (and I have to confess to being a member of both) will lap up Mr MacGregor.

Ben Elton's Blast from the Past (Bantam, pounds 15.99, 271pp) and Frank Delaney's Desire and Pursuit (HarperCollins, pounds 16.99, 390pp) are a tad more "literary". Their more complex and less predictable narrative forms, and slightly more acidic tone, make them marginally more robust reads than Binchy and Titchmarsh.

In Ben Elton's novel, the past blasts into Polly Slade's life in the form of Jack Kent, a US army general, bastion of right-wing values. Polly, former drop-out and Greenham Common protester, is his diametric opposite. Yet their love for each other, was and is, passionate and graphic - and the writing is spiky and fast.

But Jack, then in his thirties, abandoned the 17-year-old Polly without explanation or apology because association with her would have hindered his career. Now he's in her London flat at 2.15 am, after 16 years of silence, to ensure that no word of their earlier liaison is ever revealed lest his long-term presidential aspirations be put in jeopardy.

This would be simple if the sexual charge between them, powerfully evoked by Elton, were not still so strong, and were it not for the intrusive proximity of another man, an obsessive who has been stalking Polly and making her life a misery for years. Blast from the Past is a thriller, a love story and a comedy. The Tess of the D'Urbervilles ending certainly made me chuckle.

Desire and Pursuit consists of two first-person narratives twisted together into a fat plait of a story: a sort of The Woman in White meets The Collector. Ann Ryan's story is gut-turningly cruel, while Christopher Hunter's is uncomfortably obsessive, although much he is much more benign than Polly Slade's stalker.

Hunter, an English journalist in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, catches sight of Ann Ryan's wedding from a distance and falls in love with the bride. Delaney gradually unravels both their stories over a number of years against the background of The Troubles, although the reader always knows more about Ann and Christopher than they ever know about each other.

Ann is the victim of her husband Joey and of her own parents. In time, she finds a way to exact cold revenge, although the new man in her life counsels forgiveness and peace.

Delaney's ending seems rather contrived. An incident tantamount to resurrection, an all-too-convenient terminal illness and an unlikely impending new relationship certainly stretched the credulity of this reader. Nonetheless I kept turning the pages and Delaney's prose, as ever, drops melodiously on the ear like soft Irish rain.

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?