Time was when September and October were the big publishing months – part of the pre-Christmas fanfare – but I’ve noticed over the past four or five years that several big names have spilled over into other months. There are two in my pick of the August bunch that fall into that category kicking off with Sarah Waters’ latest, The Paying Guests. I’m a big fan of Waters’ earlier novels but not so much her last two. Still hopeful for the new one, though. She’s shifted her gaze from the 1940s to the ‘20s, setting her book in Camberwell where Frances and her widowed mother have fallen on hard times and are taking in lodgers. The arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, neither as genteel as the Wrays, shakes up the household in what Waters has called a love story ‘in which the love is forbidden, in all sorts of ways; it’s a story in which the love is dangerous’.
The second big gun to be wheeled out is Haruki Murkami about whom I have no reservations whatsoever. No matter how wacky it might be, I’ve never known Murakami to deliver a dud yet. Set in contemporary Japan, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a love story more like Norwegian Wood than 1Q84, apparently. Many years ago when sitting on the Waterstone’s Recommends panel we had an earnest debate about making South of the Border, West of the Sun our book of the month. We felt it was more accessible than previous Murakamis and all five of us thought this would be the book with which to catch customers’ attention. Shortly after that, a new MD was appointed who swiftly overturned our decision. Not long after, I left. I’ve watched the rise and rise of Mr Murakami with great satisfaction ever since.
Another commercial success that delighted me was Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo a beautifully written, poignant novel offering readers a glimpse of life under siege which we had seen playing out surreally on our TV screens only a few years before. The Confabulist looks to be an entirely different kettle of fish. It’s about the rise of Harry Houdini and the fall of Martin Strauss whose lives eventually converge with spectacular results. Billed as ‘a novel of magic and memory, truth and illusion’, it sounds very appealing.
As does Jean-Michel Guenassia’s The Incorrigible Optimists’ Club just for its title, alone. It’s set in the backstreets of Paris in the ‘60s where a group of exiles from behind the Iron Curtain tell stories about their lives before they came to France – their lovers, their children and their hopes for the future. A bestseller in Europe apparently, this one sounds right up my alley.
Kim Thúy’s Mãn is also about someone living far from home, this time a Vietnamese woman whose mother has found her a husband running a restaurant in Montreal. Thrust into a new world, Mãn finds solace in cooking, creating delicate dishes redolent of home until she meets a married chef on a trip to Paris and falls in love. It’s been described as ‘full of indelible images of beauty, delicacy and quiet power’. I’ll be reviewing it for the October edition of Shiny New Books.
I’m not usually one for rollicking historical doorsteps – although Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White certainly fit that bill and I loved that – but Anna Freeman’s The Fair Fight has grabbed my attention partly because it’s about a female boxer – I’m pretty sure I’ve never read a novel about one of those – and partly because it’s set in eighteenth century Bristol, a city just down the road from me. It’s said to be ‘alive with the smells and the sounds of the streets’.
And on a similar note to the one I started with, although it’s an entirely different novel, my last choice is Their Lips Talk of Mischief by Alan Warner whose Morvern Caller was a favourite of mine when it was published but who has never quite matched it for me. This one is set in Thatcher’s Britain where Llewellyn and Cunningham share both a flat and dreams of literary fame while writing calendar captions and blurbs for trashy fiction. Cunningham is increasingly attracted to Llewellyn’s beautiful fiancée in what’s described as a darkly comic tale so perhaps it will be a hoped-for return to Movern Caller form. As ever, if you’d like to know more a click on a title’s link will take you to Waterstones website. Still loyal after all these years…
And if you’d like to know what’s taken my fancy in July, here it is.