I wrote four posts like this before Christmas, trailing novels to be published in the first quarter of the year that I was particularly looking forward to. Time’s been marching on – and I enjoyed doing them enormously – so I thought I’d write one about books to be published in May that take my fancy. There’s such a ridiculous number of juicy looking novels on offer that I’m going to split it over two posts. No reviews as I haven’t read them yet, just tasters with a link to Waterstones website should you wish to know more.
My first choice is Maggie Shipstead’s Astonish Me, a case of sheer gluttony as her debut, Seating Arrangements, is still waiting patiently on my TBR shelves. This one switches between the 1970s and the 1990s following an American dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star to defect and has a passionate affair with him. Years later, their son’s talent pulls her back into the ballet world, and back to the lover she’d long since left. I also managed to miss Heather O’Neill’s Orange Prize shortlisted Lullabies for Little Criminals but I’m determined to catch up with her new novel The Girl Who Was Saturday Night in which the rebellion of a Québécois folk musician’s twin daughter living on the wrong side of Montreal’s tracks is played out in front of a documentary crew. Ellen Feldman’s Scottboro, her re-imagining of an infamous miscarriage of justice in 1930s Alabama, made quite an impression on me so I’m looking forward to The Unwitting, set against the backdrop of the Cold War, which explores betrayal and the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination through Nell Benjamin whose world is shattered by a phone call. I can’t let this one go without mentioning the ‘woman in a red dress’ motif which seems to be rife in book jackets at the moment. It reminds me of Red Joan, City of Women and Black Roses. Let me know if more spring to mind for you.
I’ve been a fan of Michael Cunningham since I read A Home at the End of the World, a tender novel about what constitutes a family. His new novel The Snow Queen is about two brothers, one a struggling musician who turns to drugs to release his creativity, the other drawn to religion after experiencing a vision in Central Park. Last year I was sent a copy of the excellent Double Negative by And Other Stories, an organsation with a different sort of vision: they publish books funded by the likes of you and me, readers keen to support new writing and happy to pay an annual subscription to do so. I enjoyed it very much and Elvira Dones’ Sworn Virgin looks like another winner. According to Albanian tradition if there are no male heirs a woman can choose to live as a man providing she retains her virginity. When Hana turns down an arranged marriage this is the only option left to her. She becomes Mark, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking shepherd. Then she is invited to the USA and must learn to be Hana again. It sounds intriguing as does Thomas Christopher Greene’s The Headmaster’s Wife, although in an entirely different way. Arthur, the eponymous headmaster, has become obsessed with Betsy, a student at his elite Vermont prep school. When she switches her attention to someone else, things go badly awry for Arthur who is arrested and must account for what has happened – but can his version of events be trusted? Finally, Justin Go’s debut The Steady Running of the Hour follows young college graduate Tristan Campbell as he tries to establish whether he is the heir to a large estate left unclaimed by the lover of Ashley Walsingham who died attempting to climb Everest in 1924. It’s another First World War novel in which Tristan traces the story behind the war-time clandestine affair in order to stake his claim – there’s an element of suspense as the clock’s ticking towards a deadline. Which seems a good place to finish. What a month! More soon.