It’s that time of the month when I begin to look forward to what’s on offer a little further down the line. Not so greedy this month – May really was a feast for gluttons – but there are some very tempting looking titles in the early summer publishing schedules here in the UK.
Harriet Lane’s first novel Alys, Always was a triumph – a taut thriller in which a woman takes on another’s identity, claiming for herself the life she had always idealised. Her promises more page-turning as two women, one an artist the other a harassed mother, meet for a second time. One remembers their first meeting, the other does not. A subtle air of menace runs through their alternating narratives, apparently. Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing also sounds like a thriller of sorts. It’s about eighty-one-year-old Maud who has dementia and whose friend is missing. Maud’s thoughts turn constantly to Elizabeth reminding her of her sister whose disappearance sixty years ago remains a mystery. Dementia seems to be a recurring theme in fiction recently, hardly surprising given our ageing population but a little depressing for those of us with failing middle-aged memories. Another novel with what sounds like more than a hint of the mysterious about it is Sarah Perry’s After Me Comes the Flood in which a man leaves the city one sweltering day feeling unwell. He travels to his brother’s house on the Norfolk coast but finds himself on a lonely road where a group of people living in a rambling old house seem to be waiting for him. The synopsis reminds me a little of Ali Smith’s The Accidental in reverse, certainly intriguing enough to catch my interest and I’ll read anything set on the lovely Norfolk coast.
Travelling across the Atlantic, Cristina Henriquez’s debut The Book of Unknown Americans follows Alma Richards, her husband and their daughter to Delaware. Full of excitement Alma has high hopes but life for an immigrant family with no friends or financial resources to draw on is tough. It’s a theme that fascinates me and I’ve have read many excellent novels on it: Abdulrazak Gurnah’s By the Sea, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, Oscar Hijuelos’ Empress of the Splendid Season and Dinawa Mengestu’s Children of the Revolution to name but a few. The latter also has a novel out this month, All Our Names set in 1970s Uganda where two young men find themselves caught up in a rebellion against the post-colonial regime. Then an African exchange student with a shady past arrives in the American Midwest. I thought Children of the Revolution was a beautifully expressed thoughtful novel but How to Read Air failed to make an impression on me. Perhaps All Our Names will be a return to form. Staying with the immigration theme, Xiaolou Guo’s I Am China is about a translator working on a series of love letters between an exiled Chinese musician incarcerated in a UK detention centre and his girlfriend in Beijing. Guo’s first and second novels – A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers and UFO in Her Eyes were both excellent so I have hopes for this one, too.
Two debuts which have caught my eye are Smith Henderson’s Fourth of July Creek, set in 1980s rural Montana where a social worker encounters an eleven-year-old feral boy living in the wilderness with his paranoid survivalist father, and Laura McBride’s We Are Called to Rise in which a tragedy in Las Vegas affects four people – an immigrant Albanian child, an Iraqi war veteran, a middle-aged woman on the brink of divorce and a social worker. Bit of a social worker theme going on there.
And finally, who could resist The True Story and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters, worth picking up for its title alone. Inspired by the American Sutherland sister who, apparently, had thirty-seven feet of hair between them and ran a million-dollar hair product business in the late nineteenth century, Michelle Lovric’s novel follows the seven eponymous dancing sisters from rural Irish poverty to the palazzos of Venice. Sounds like a story that lives up to its title, and a good note to end on. If you want to know more about any of these novels a click on the title will take you to Waterstones’ synopsis.