Here’s my pick of the bunch from the July publishers’ schedules, three of them by authors I’ve read before so I’ll start with those. Kerry Hudson’s Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma (brave title for a first novel) was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and was very funny indeed. Her second, Thirst, is billed as an unconventional love story between light-fingered Alena from Siberia and Dave, a department store security guard – if it’s only half as good as Tony Hogan it will be well worth your time.
Rebecca Makkai’s The Borrower in which a librarian takes her ten-year-old favourite regular on a road trip to evade the anti-gay classes he’s been enrolled in was also a very fine first novel. The Hundred-year House sounds entirely different but that’s the way I like it. Looking back over the twentieth century, it’s the story of a large estate on Chicago’s North Shore. Once an artists’ colony, it was owned by Devohrs who sound like a disparate, eccentric and entertaining bunch.
The next one’s from a long-established author, Linda Grant, with whose work I have an on-again off-again relationship – I enjoyed The Clothes on Their Backs and We Had it So Good but not so much When I Lived in Modern Times and Still Here. Upstairs at the Party sounds as if it could go either way. It’s set in the ’70s and is about Adele who becomes politically active at university where she meets Evie, one half of an unsettling androgynous couple with whom she becomes obsessed. The eponymous party – Adele’s twentieth – will have far-reaching effects for all, apparently, and continues to do so forty years later.
Frederik Backman’s A Man Called Ove could also go either way but there’s something about the synopsis that appeals to me. Chucked out of the Resident’s Association, the misanthropic Ove spends his time inspecting his neighbours’ housekeeping, patrolling the streets moving bicycles as he sees fit and checking out the contents of recycling bins. When his mailbox is flattened life takes a surprising turn and a friendship is formed.
No reservations about Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist set in seventeenth century Amsterdam. Nella Oortman’s new husband commissions a dolls’ house for her, a miniature replica of their own home whose tiny occupants rather unsettlingly begin to mirror the lives of their owners. Burton based her debut on the models in the Rijksmuseum which I was fascinated by when I visited it last Christmas. Lots of hype around this novel but I have hopes it will live up to that.
On an entirely different note my sixth title, Emily Gould’s Friendship, is about two young New York women, best friends living in a tiny flat with rubbish jobs and equally rubbish boyfriends. When one of them becomes pregnant, unexpectedly, they both realise that things must change but their friendship may not take the strain. It’s described as wryly funny and sounds like an entertaining dose of reality, rather like Tony Hogan and with that I’ve turned a convenient full circle. A click on the links will take you to Waterstones website if you want to know more.