December publishing schedules often have little or nothing to tempt me unless they’re titles published in the final few days when a few juicy morsels often appear designed to catch the book token trade and perk up readers jaded by family Christmas shenanigans. The following four buck that trend, though, all published at the beginning of the month but certainly worth a gander.
Maeve Brennan’s The Visitor is a re-issue rather than a new book but I managed to miss it the first time around and as it’s described as ‘a novella from Ireland’s finest and least well-known writers’ it seems more than worth a mention. It tells the story of Anastasia King who returns to her grandmother’s home after a six-year-sojourn in Paris and must learn how to live amongst her family again. Brennan died in obscurity in 1993 but has been hailed as ‘one of the best Irish writers since James Joyce’, a pretty bold claim given the many excellent writers who hail from that part of the world, and one which needs a bit of investigation.
My second choice is Jo Bloom’s Ridley Road set in 1960s London where Vivien Epstein lands after her father’s death in Manchester, looking for the man with whom she had a brief affair. She finds herself a job and plunges headlong into the world of the swinging sixties until, taking up the search for Jack again, she’s caught up in the fight against fascism which has been taken to the streets of the Jewish East End. It’s billed as perfect for fans of Sadie Jones, Linda Grant, Maggie O’Farrell and Lynn Barber’s Education, another very bold claim – we’ll see.
Entirely different from Ridley Road, David Rain’s Volcano Street caught my eye because it looks like a slice of American small town fiction which I often enjoy. Skip and Marlo Wells go to live with their aunt and uncle in the backwater town of Crater Lakes after their mother is sectioned. Sixteen–year-old Marlo’s guiding light is Germaine Greer while twelve-year-old Skip puts everyone’s backs up with her vocal anti-Vietnam War stance. They’re like fish out of water but things look up when meet the Novak brothers who show them that there may be more to Crater Lakes than meets the eye
Beginning around the same time as Volcano Street but this time in New Zealand, Peter Walker’s Some Here Among Us takes a group of students, united in their opposition to the Vietnam War and picks up their story forty years later in a post-9/11 world as they and their children navigate the first decade of the new millennium, taking us from New Zealand to Washington DC by way of the hills above Beirut. I’m a sucker for this kind of structure. Done well, it can be utterly engrossing – just the thing for long winter nights.
So, that’s it for my 2014 previews. As ever, a click on a title will take you to Waterstones website. It’ll soon be time to look back over the reading joys of this year – there have been quite a few so far, and I hope there are more to come. I’ll be taking a dekko at January titles sometime in the next month or so, too, but if you’d like to see what took my fancy in November, here are the paperbacks and here are the hardbacks.