Regular readers may have noticed that I’ve got into the habit of blogging about new novels to look out for a few months ahead of publication and it occurred to me that a paperback roundup might be welcome. After all, that’s what we’re all more likely to go out and buy. So without further ado, here’s my selection for September some of which I’ve already read and reviewed while two others will be joining my shaming TBR pile. I’ll start with those – a click on the link will take you to the Waterstones synopsis.
Alongside the likes of Sebastian Barry, William Trevor and Colm Tóibin, Deirdre Madden belongs in the Irish, understated yet beautiful pared back prose school of which I’m such a fan. Time Present and Time Past seems a little outside her usual territory. In it Fintan Buckley begins to experience auditory hallucinations – changes in consciousness which take him outside straightforward linear time – sparking an interest in memory and his own past. Not entirely sure about that but I admire her writing so much that I’m willing to give it a try.
Andrew Sean Greer’s The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells also plays with time and memory, something he’s already approached in an altogether different way in The Confessions of Max Tivoli about a man who ages backwards. Unable to cope with the loss of her twin shortly after their thirty-first birthday, Greta begins a course of electro-convulsive therapy in which she meets other versions of herself and her brother. I know – sounds outlandish and possibly tricksy, but I so enjoyed Max Tivoli that I shall be reading this one, too.
The next four I’ve tried, tested and reviewed. Katherine Grant’s Sedition was a favourite from earlier this year. Set in the eighteenth century, it’s a hugely enjoyable novel, liberally laced with salacious wit, about female sedition in which the disfigured daughter of a piano maker agrees to teach the new-fangled instrument to four young women whose fathers are eager to marry them well. I loved it and had hoped to see it on the Baileys long list at least, but was disappointed.
Now for two tasty bits of gothic the first of which is Diane Setterfield’s Bellman & Black, a subtle tale full of strikingly vivid descriptions in which Will makes that age-old pact so beloved by gothic writers in exchange for the fulfilment of his ambition – building the finest funeral emporium in the world. We all know it won’t end well but Setterfield keeps up a page-turning pace while engaging her readers’ sympathy for Will as he clatters down an ever narrower path. The second is Lauren Owen’s debut The Quick which admittedly gets off to a bit of a slow start but once you’re in it’s hard to put it down. Set firmly in vampire territory, it takes you from the glittering environs of London’s gentry to the grimy slums of Salmon Street in an increasingly page-turning chase. It’s peopled by vivid characters, pleasing drawn: Augustus Mould’s careful note-taking and scientific interest in the undead are worthy of a nineteenth century Mengele while the valiant Angeline Swift, daughter of a tightrope walker, and Shadwell, father of her undead fiancé, brave terrible danger in their attempts to protect the quick.
My last choice for this month is Ayelet Waldman’s Love and Treasure. Using three interconnected narratives, Waldman traces the ownership of a beautifully enamelled peacock pendant, part of the looted treasure packed into the Hungarian Gold Train, using its history to explore the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, attempts to recompense the treasure’s heirs and early twentieth century Hungarian feminism. It’s an absorbing, ambitious novel which manages to combine two love stories with the pace of a thriller.
If you enjoyed last Friday’s unsung women writers post at The Writes of Women in which there’s more about Deirdre Madden, one of my unsung, you might like to check out part two, Naomi and Antonia’s choices. HeavenAli has also written a post about Susan Glaspell, who featured in part one. Let me know if there are any women writers whose praises you would like to sing.