Paperbacks to Look Out For in March 2015

Dept of Speculation Spring really does seem to have sprung in the March publishing schedules, stuffed to overflowing as they are with both hardback and paperback goodies. I’ve reviewed  all but one of the paperbacks already so I’ll start with those. Jenny Offill’s Dept of Speculation featured in a multitude of ‘books of the year’ lists last year although I know opinion was divided in my part of the Twitter woods. The story of a marriage told in fragment, it’s Offill’s second novel and was quite some time in coming – her first was published in 1999. It won’t suit those wanting a plot but the writing is superb.

Probably best skip on a little if it’s linear narrative you’re after – Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World is a collection of documents relating to artist Harriet Burden all collated by I. V. Hess who introduces the book. From the start Hess warns us that Harriet is a self-confessed trickster, telling us that she had shown her installations pseudonymously, hiding behind three male ‘masks’ while planning to reveal her female identity to the resolutely masculine New York art world once the exhibitions were over. Such a short summing-up hardly does the novel justice: it’s erudite, cerebral and challenging but well worth the effort.

Kamila Shamsie’s A God in Every Stone made it on to my own ‘books of the year’ list as did Cover image several other novels out in paperback in March. Opening in 1914 it interweaves the stories of Qayyum Gul, who lost an eye at Ypres fighting in the British Indian Army, and Vivien Spencer who is working as an archaeologist in Peshawar. Just as she did with Burnt Shadows, Shamsie takes complex universal themes and humanises them through the lives, loves and passions of her characters.

Timur Vermes’s Look Who’s Back, another of my books of 2014, is very funny satire which sees Hitler waking up with a terrible headache in August 2011, more than a little bemused but soon all too plausibly back in the frame. Satire can go horribly wrong but Vermes is right on the button. Not surprisingly, it caused a bit of a stir in Germany when it was published, storming up the bestseller charts and staying there for seventy weeks.

Matthew Thomas’s richly textured portrait of a marriage We Are Not Ourselves is a fine debut, one of the best I read in 2014. On New Year’s Eve in 1965 Eileen meets Ed Leary on a blind date and when they kiss at midnight she is sure that this quiet, thoughtful man is the one she’ll marry. Don’t be put off by its length – once begun Thomas’s compassionate characterisation and quiet, considered yet compelling writing carries you along without even thinking about its 600 pages.

Cover image Just one title that I haven’t read already: Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music. I wasn’t amongst the many fans of Room, cleverly executed as it was, but Frog Music has a very appealing synopsis. Based on real events it’s set in San Francisco during the 1876 smallpox epidemic and is about three former stars of the Parisian circus now holed up in China Town: Blanche who dances at the House of Mirrors, her lover Arthur and his companion Ernest. We’re promised the unravelling of secrets, murder and intrigue in a novel which is ‘elegant, erotic and witty’.

That’s it for March paperbacks. A click on a title will take you to a review on this blog for all but Frog Music and if you’d like to see which hardbacks caught my eye just click here.

12 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out For in March 2015”

    1. I’m off to Cardiff today – Waterstones just might have it in a little early in which case I’ll have a full set by the end of the day!

  1. Ah, it’s your monthly reminder of books I bought in hardback but haven’t read yet! Own all of them(!!); have read two – deary me. Frog Music I thought was okay but was lacking spark, a shame because the premise is great. A God in Every Stone is on my #TBR20 pile so I shall move that to the top.

    Love these posts.

    1. Thank you, and you can console yourself with how much better the hardback cover is than the paperback for A God in Every Stone. Hmm.. I shall have a good leaf through Frog Music before buying, then

    1. Ah, now rethinking the Frog Music purchase. I was firmly in the love it Marmite camp for the Offil – I hope you will be, too!

  2. Naomi’s comment made me smile as I rarely buy hardbacks, but an unread copy of Dept of Speculation has been sitting on my bookshelf for several months. I wonder why they changed the cover art for the paperback? The jigsaw image on the hardback seems perfect, a good fit with the fragmentary style of the narrative.

    1. I preferred the hardback jacket, too, Jacqui. This one’s more eye-catching on a table full of paperbacks, though. I wonder if the holes are meant to signify thought bubbles.

  3. Oh my goodness, all must-read books for me, apart from Hustvedt’s which I’ve read already. I really hope I can get to We Are Not Ourselves sooner rather than later. I’ve been curious about that one since the hardback came out.

    1. I’m having severe doubts about Frog Music, now. Several bookish people whose opinions I trust were unimpressed. We Are Not Ourselves, though, is another kettle of fish!

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