As promised last Monday, here’s the second post trailing the bumper bundle of novels published in May that have found their way onto my wish list. Tom Rachman’s The Rise and Fall of Great Powers was always going to be there because it’s about a bookseller – not just any old bookseller but one with a past which has taken her from New York to Thailand before she fetches up on the Welsh-English border where her bookselling peace is disturbed by a man claiming to be her father. Rachman’s first novel The Imperfectionists about a group of print journalists busy ignoring the onslaught of a changing technological world was a surprising delight, both funny and touching. Laura Beatty’s second novel, Darkling, switches between the present day and the English Civil War as Mia Morgan, struggling to deal with her difficult father and memories of her dead lover, spends her days researching the life of Lady Brilliana Harley, besieged In Brampton Bryan Castle. Mia finds surprising parallels between her own difficulties and her subject’s. Much praised for her first novel, Pollard, Beatty has woven original seventeenth century documents into her narrative, apparently. Ardent fans of Nick Harkaway may already know there’s a new novel on the horizon. I still haven’t got around to The Gone-away World but Angelmaker was a revelation – wacky but superb and absolutely gripping. Tigerman promises to be equally inventive. Alone in the world, Sergeant Lester Ferris, exhausted by his last tour in Afghanistan, elects to finish his army career on Mancreu, an island struggling with toxic pollution and rife with dodgy dealings. Lester makes friends with a street kid, seeing a possible future as a father which scuppers any chance of quietly ignoring the brewing violence on the island.
It’s been hard to escape First World War novels this year. Despite the fact that it’s still only March I’ve reviewed three here already but I can’t ignore the sequel to Louisa Young’s excellent My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, published a few years ago. As you’d expect from the title, The Heroes’ Welcome begins after the war, picking up the stories of Nadine and Riley, Rose, Peter and Julia trying to cope with its aftermath. There are some novelists I’ll read anything by – Louisa Young is one and Tim Winton’s another. I first came across him through Cloudstreet, an odd, vaguely mystical novel about a family living in a ramshackle house in the ’30s – hard to characterise but this Time Out quote may give you an idea: ‘Imagine Neighbours being taken over by the writing team of John Steinbeck and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and you’ll be close to the heart of Winton’s impressive tale’. In Eyrie, Tom Keely, living in self-imposed isolation in a high-rise, allows his solitude to be penetrated by a woman he once knew leading him into a dangerous, destructive world.
I find it hard to resist ‘state of the nation’ novels – although I’m often disappointed – which is why Tim Glencross’s debut Barbarians has found its way on to my list. It’s set amongst the great and the good, opening in 2008 with an Islington house party (are you still with me?) and follows the fortunes of a rising young politically connected poet and her tangled romantic relationships through the years of the coalition government. Sounds great to me, but I know many will think I’ve taken leave of my senses. In the Light of What We Know is set in similar territory as an investment banker, his career collapsing and his marriage in ruins, finds himself face to face with an old friend who’s taken a very different route. Promises to address many of the concerns of the modern world through the lives of these two men, taking in Kabul, London, New York, Islamabad, Oxford, Princeton and Sylhet along the way. That’s it for May treats from me, although it’s more than possible I’ve missed something wonderful.