Books to Look Out For in August 2014

Cover image 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 Cover image 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.

17 thoughts on “Books to Look Out For in August 2014”

  1. I have read the Incorrigible Optimists Club when it came out in French a few years ago ….I think it won a literary prize . It’s a great book ….lots to it. I think you will enjoy !

    1. Very pleased to hear that, Helen. And as a totally useless linguist, I’m always admiring of people who can read translated novels in the original.

    1. Thank you, Lizzi. I think you’ll be in good company – lots of excitement brewing about this one.

  2. Interesting selection, Susan. Looks like no-one in publishing goes on holiday any more! Don’t know if you read The Lighthouse, but Alison Moore also has a new one in August, which I’m hoping will be just as good

  3. I do so love these posts! I read my first Murakami earlier this year. I’m not sure I adored it, but I admired it a great deal and will certainly read him again. As ever a wonderful broad selection of intriguing-sounding novels to look out for. Thank you!

    1. You’re welcome! They’re a pleasure to write. I do hope you persevere with Murakami, one of my favourite writers.

  4. I was looking at the Anna Freeman book in The Bookseller and thinking that it was definitely one that I would have to get hold of as soon as I could. And, inevitably, I will get a copy of the new Sarah Waters because I try every time to convince myself that she is a writer I am really going to like because she is a writer that I really ought to like, given me and what she writes about – so far my record is one of complete failure.

    1. Who could resist a book about an eighteenth Bristolian female boxer! I know what you mean about Sarah Waters although I loved her earlier nineteenth century novels.

  5. An interesting selection, Susan. I’m looking forward to ‘The Paying Guests’, that’s for sure. I had a lot of time for ‘The Little Stranger’, but I know it gave rise to a range of opinions. I’m also interested in the new one from Alan Warner, as I loved ‘Morvern Caller’ and his most recent one, ‘The Deadman’s Pedal’.

    1. Thanks, Jacqui. That’s cheering about The Deadman’s Pedal. It’s buried somewhere in the TBR mountain. I must dig it out.

  6. Really like the sound of Kim Thúy’s Mãn and The Paying guests. Have only read one Sarah Waters books though seen a couple of tv dramas based on her novels. Probably time to get to know her better.

    1. I think you’d like her, Ali, and it would be interesting to see how you think her early twentieth century novels compare with your Virago favourites.

  7. I shall be reading The Confabulist – I love books about magic and showmanship and all that stuff!

    BTW – have you seen how thick the Incorrigible Optimists Club is? I was examining a copy in my local bookshop last night – and I dithered … but it does sound good!

    1. I have but it’s the stories within stories element that appeals, and after tackling 33 Revolutions Per Minute I feel I’m ready for anything!

  8. Pingback: Books to look out for in October 2014 | A life in books

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