September is one of those months when the big guns are wheeled out to get those Christmas juices flowing. A couple of them will appear later on in this post but I’d like to start with a few novels that are less likely to be displayed at the front of your local bookshop or on the homepages of your favourite online outlets.
The one I’m most looking forward to is Amy Bloom’s Lucky Us. I’ve been a fan of Bloom’s since way back when her collection of short stories, Come to Me, was published in the early ’90s. Her writing is quietly elegant yet intensely empathetic – she practised for many years as a psychotherapist and if her writing is anything to go by, she must have been very good at it indeed. Lucky Us is set in ’40s America. Half-sisters Iris and Eva head for Hollywood after leaving high school where Iris hopes to make it in the movies with Eva as her assistant. Scandal, betrayal and heartbreak get in the way, apparently.
All too easy for first novels to be buried during September which would be a shame as Mathew Thomas’s We Are Not Ourselves sounds well worth a look. It’s about Eileen, born to Irish immigrants in the ‘40s, who marries a young scientist with whom she has a child before becoming a nurse. The quietly stable life she has built after her stormy upbringing is threatened by her husband’s early onset Alzheimer’s. Dementia may be in danger of becoming a well-worn theme but Thomas’s debut is billed as ‘both the intimate story of a family and an epic of the American Century’ which sounds very promising to me.
My third less well-known choice is Samantha Harvey’s Dear Thief in which a woman writes a letter to what was once her dear friend about their shared past and the betrayal that blew their friendship apart fifteen years ago. As the letter progresses its tone changes, becoming both more self-revelatory and more defensive. Harvey’s previous books The Wilderness, about a man with Alzheimer’s trying to make sense of his world (that theme again), and All is Song, a novel of brotherhood and ideas, were both intelligent and beautifully expressed so my hopes are high.
Now to those big guns starting with David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. I have something of an on-off relationship with Mitchell’s work. I loved the episodic style of his first novel, Ghostwritten, and enjoyed The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet but found Cloud Atlas unwieldy and impenetrable at times. His new novel opens on a summer’s day in 1984 with Holly Sykes on the brink of a strange encounter. It’s written in six linked parts and ends in 2043, following Holly’s life from her unhappy adolescence in Gravesend to her old age in Ireland and the murderous feud her encounter has drawn her into. It’s described as ‘metaphysical thriller, meditation on mortality and chronicle of our self-devouring times, [a] kaleidoscopic novel [that] crackles with invention and wit’. Let’s hope so.
Ali Smith’s latest, How to be Both, is about ‘the versatility of art’ and has one foot in the fifteenth century with a Renaissance artist and the other in the present with ‘a child of a child of the 1960s’. It sounds quite extraordinary so I’m just going to quote from the publisher’s synopsis: ‘a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions’ in which ‘two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real – and all life’s givens get given a second chance’ Hmm… Given that it’s Ali Smith I think it will be well worth your time although I’m still not entirely sure what it’s about.
One more huge title, and perhaps a somewhat uncharacteristic one for me: Us by David Nicholls, author of that beautifully crafted piece of commercial fiction One Day which begged to be adapted into a film, although perhaps not the one that Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess starred in even if it was adapted by Nicholls himself. Fifty-four-year-old dull-as-ditchwater Douglas has been told by his wife that once their son has left home she’s off. In an effort to dissuade her he’s set about organising a final family holiday, a Grand Tour of Europe. Inevitably, it’s described as ‘bittersweet’ but I’m not letting that put me off.
Finally, I’m going to leave you with a lovely sounding novel that could easily be missed – Denis Thériault’s The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman in which a Montreal postie steams open an exchange of love letters written in the haiku form. When one of the writers dies in a tragic accident, he decides to continue the correspondence. It sounds charming.
As ever, a click on a book’s title will take you to Waterstone’s where you’ll find the publisher’s synopsis. And if you’d like to catch up on August’s goodies just click here.