Last week was the first birthday of Tinder Press, an imprint of Headline publishers. I remember being excited by the first clutch of titles they published and thought them very canny in transferring Maggie O’Farrell from the Headline Review imprint to Tinder for their launch title, Instructions for a Heatwave. I think they’ve every reason to celebrate. Coincidentally, I’ve just finished two Tinder Press novels, Brian Kimberling’s Snapper and Helen Walsh’s The Lemon Grove.
Snapper was part of that original tranche of enticing titles and I’ve no idea why it’s taken me so long to get around to reading it. It’s a first novel set in Indiana and narrated by Nathan Lochemueller, looking back to his misspent youth. Nathan’s a birdwatcher, the paid variety – but only just – rather than an amateur. He’s besotted with the lovely Lola, tends to drift towards liberal university towns and is having trouble growing up. He’s an endearing character, prone to mishap, who drives a whimsically decorated pickup called Gypsy Moth because Lola painted it, even though he knows in his heart she’s never going to choose him. His on again/ off again relationship with Lola is a bit like his relationship with Indiana, although perhaps that’s best described as love /hate. It’s the kind of state in which the people of small town Santa Claus answer letters from children but also one in which the KKK welcome the arrival of Nathan’s argumentative Texas-born uncle. Brian Kimberling, who hails from Indiana but no longer lives there which is probably just as well, has a flair for eye-catching phrases. It’s a colourfully episodic novel, often very funny, entertaining and sweet.
The Lemon Grove couldn’t be more different, and I nearly didn’t read it – a little too much anticipatory tweeting which seemed to go on for so long that I’d gone off the boil about it. A shame as it’s so good that had I read it before putting together Monday’s post I would have included it on my Baileys wish list. I have Naomi at The Writes of Women to thank for putting me right. It opens with Jenn and Greg preparing for their last evening alone in the lovely Mallorcan villa they’ve rented from Benni, whose nose is into everything that happens in Deia. They’re frequent visitors, welcome regulars in smart local restaurants, buyers of artisan cheese and olives – Benni the only fly in their idyllic ointment. This year is different – fifteen-year-old Emma, Jenn’s stepdaughter, is joining them bringing her seventeen-year-old boyfriend Nathan, much against her father’s will but with Jenn’s collusion. Emma is in the throes of adolescence with all the sniping, embarrassment and over sensitivity that brings. When they arrive, Jenn is unprepared and nonplussed by Nathan’s insouciant beauty. A flicker of lust grows into an obsession which no matter how much she tries to quash it grips Jenn like a vice. The sex is graphic but there’s nothing titillating about this book: Jenn’s narrative is raw, visceral and at times painful to read but it’s utterly compelling. Helen Walsh’s stripped down prose powerfully conveys the complexities of family relationships, marriage and growing older while maintaining the pace of a thriller. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see her novel on Friday’s Baileys long list.
I’m never sure how important imprints are to other readers. They say something to me – I know for instance that I’m more likely to enjoy something published under the Picador imprint than Pan – but are they important to you?