Paperbacks to Look Out For in June 2015

The Paying GuestsI’ve reviewed all but two of the June paperbacks that have caught my eye so forgive me if I cram the lot into a single post and let the reviews speak for themselves. I’ll start with one that I haven’t got around to reading although I’ve had a copy for some time: Sarah Waters’ Baileys shortlisted The Paying Guests. I’m a big fan of Waters’ earlier novels but not so much her last two. In this one, 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’.

My second unreviewed title is Peter Buwalda’s much lauded Bonita Avenue, described as ‘a darkly hilarious tale’ in which a vulnerable young man finds himself embraced by his girlfriend’s family headed by the multi-talented Professor Sigerius. Things go horribly wrong, apparently, with all sorts of shenanigans from an explosion in a firework factory to a forgotten murderer turning up. Translated from the Dutch, it sounds as if it’s from the same school as Herman Koch’s The Dinner and Esther Gerritsen’s Craving.

There are two other translated titles on this month’s list, both by German authors, each very different from the other. Hard to choose which is my favourite but if pushed I’d plump for Jenny Erpenbeck’s The End of Days, although it’s a bit of a Marmite novel: you’ll either marvel at the way Erpenbeck adroitly handles the constant shifts in narrative throughout her complex novel or you’ll despair of ever keeping track as she views the Eastern European twentieth century through a woman whose fate is constantly re-imagined rather in the way that Kate Atkinson does with Ursula Todd in Life After Life. I thought it was excellent, but I’m a Marmite fan.

Written in a mixture of three different first-person narratives with third-person sections crisscrossing time and assorted other devices you’d think that Daniel Kehlmann’s F might become a little fragmented but Kehlmann is so deft that it flows beautifully, following Arthur Friedland and his two sons whose visit to a hypnotist when they boys are children has unforeseen consequences that will reverberate through all their lives.

Emma Freud’s Mr Mac and Me is the first of two novels I enjoyed so much that I included Cover imagethem on my Baileys Prize wish list although the judges disagreed. Impoverished and homeless, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his artist wife Margaret spent the first year of the First World War on the Suffolk coast at Walberswick. Freud tells their story from the point of view of Thomas Maggs, the thirteen-year-old son of a local publican with whom the Mackintoshs strike up a friendship. Such a shame to see that the beautiful hardback jacket has been swapped for a rather prosaic image.

Set on the Norfolk coast, not so very far from Walberswick, Sarah Perry’s After Me Comes the Flood was another surprising omission from the Baileys longlist. Its premise is enticing enough and it’s beautifully written, too. A middle-aged man exhausted by the seemingly endless heatwave that’s hit London shuts up shop and heads off to his brother’s house in Norfolk. He’s forgotten to take a map but is convinced he knows the way until his car breaks down miles from anywhere. He spots a house on the horizon and makes for it only to find himself welcomed as if he’s expected and ushered into a room which has been prepared for him where he finds boxes labelled with his name.

The last two are by American authors, the first of which has a title that I’m sure has been mangled constantly up and down the land: Judy Chicurel’s If I Knew You Were Going to be This Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go. It’s the title of the final chapter of the book whose meaning becomes clear towards its end. Set in the summer of 1972, If I Knew… is narrated by Katie, the adopted daughter of a white-collar family who spends her time in Elephant Beach’s rundown Comanche Street, a district frequented by drunks and druggies. It’s an episodic novel which draws you in nicely.

Lucky UsFinally, Amy Bloom’s much more manageably titled Lucky Us follows Eva whose mother dumps her unceremoniously on her father’s doorstep. Beginning in 1939, it’s a story of tangled relationships stretching over a decade. Lucky Us has an empathetic quality which makes its many flawed characters both attractive and believable.

That’s it for June paperbacks, a rather longer post than I’d intended but too short to spread over two. A click on first two titles will take you to Waterstones website for a more detailed synopsis; the rest are reviewed on this blog. If you want to see which June hardbacks I’m eagerly anticipating, they’re here and here.

16 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out For in June 2015”

  1. Ooh tempting. I do rather rather like the sound of Mr Mac and me and After me comes the flood. I have been flirting with The Paying Guests since it came out in hardback. I just have too many books as it is. Maybe if I put a couple of them on my kindle I won’t feel like I have added more books to the tbr? 🙂

    1. Susan Osborne

      Definitely the way with The Paying Guests which looks so big! Mr Mac is lovely, a favourite from last year for me.

  2. The Emma Freud sounds very interesting. I got The Paying Guests as a Christmas present, as I’m a big Sarah Waters fan, but still haven’t got round to reading it.

    1. Susan Osborne

      I’m determined to tackle the Waters soon – I also have The Luminaries moving inexorably up my pile but it’ll be Waters first, I think. I loved the Freud but I’m a bit dismayed by the new jacket which doesn’t do it justice.

  3. More on my tbr pile! Living close by and having a love of Glasgow and its Mackintosh architecture I’m immediately drawn to Mr Mac and Me so that would be my first pick. I agree about the cover, why ditch the distinctive floral design of the hardback? Surely the association with his world famous motifs would have been far more effective than this generic cover.

    1. Susan Osborne

      Absolutely, and the new jacket’s so insipid. I hope you enjoy it, Helen. To my shame, I hadn’t realised how talented his wife – the novel was very illuminating on that.

  4. This may just be me missing something, but I felt The Paying Guests was a little hollow compared to Fingersmith (I’ve not read any of her other novels). I don’t quite understand the hype. It wasn’t a bad book, it just didn’t hook me.

    1. Susan Osborne

      I felt the same way about The Little Stranger and am beginning to think there’s a split between those of us who enjoyed the nineteenth century pastiches and those who prefer her twentieth-century novels.

    1. Susan Osborne

      It’s a particularly good month, I think, Cleo, although the next two look pretty tempting, too. I’ll definitely get around to The Paying Guests soon.

  5. I thought Paying Guests was fantastic book – one of my favourites so far this year. But it was a bit of a brick in hardback so hopefully the paperback will weigh a lot less!

    1. Clearly, I need to move it along that TBR pile! I know what you mean about hardback bricks – extremely difficult to read in bed.

  6. Several of your books I have already read (that always makes me happy, though I don’t know why exactly!) and loved, too. I have a hardback copy of The Paying Guests that I must get around to, but Sarah Waters takes time to read. Can’t rush her. I’m also wavering over the Jenny Erpenbeck. I think I want to, but will I have the time this summer that it clearly deserves? I imagine it will have to be Erpenbeck or Waters and not both!

    1. Susan Osborne

      Oh, do read the Erpenbeck – or perhaps give it a try. You’ll very soon know if it’s not for you and can move swiftly on to the Waters..

Leave a comment ...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: