Books to Look Out For in February 2016: Part 1

Not long back from my Viennese jaunt  – of which more later in the week – but here’s one I made earlier. February’s the perfect time to draw the curtains on the murky grey outdoors and get on with some serious reading. There’s no shortage of choice this year – so many tasty offerings that despite the fact that it’s the shortest month there’ll be two posts devoted to new books.

Cover imageTop of my list has to be Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton. I’m a long-term Strout fan. You may know her work already or perhaps saw HBO’s excellent adaptation of Olive Kitteridge. Sadly, several of her novels have been packaged in the UK in the kind of wishy-washy pastel covers that fail to do her fiction justice.  Much more suitably jacketed, this new novel examines the relationship between mothers and daughters – always fertile terrain – as Lucy’s mother unexpectedly visits her after many years of estrangement. Strout’s a mistress of the understatement, writing in that elegant pared back style that pushes my literary buttons.

New York settings are catnip for me and Kim Echlin’s Under the Visible Life sounds particularly attractive with its story of female friendship. Katherine struggles with motherhood and an unreliable partner while Mahsa flees her strict guardians in Karachi, only to be faced with an arranged marriage in Montreal. She escapes to New York where she and Katherine become friends, brought together by a shared passion for music. ‘Vividly rendered and sweeping in scope, Under the Visible Life is a stunning meditation on how hope can remain alive in the darkest of times, if we have someone with whom to share our burdens.’ according to the publishers. Very much like the look of this one.

Austin Duffy’s This Living and Immortal Thing is another New York-set novel, although this one’sCover image themes sound sadly universal. An Irish oncologist becomes increasingly disillusioned with city life as he searches for a breakthrough in his research while his marriage disappears down the tubes. Work is a comfort but life begins to look up when he meets a beautiful Russian translator. Perhaps not a particularly interesting synopsis but what caught my eye was the publisher’s descriptions of the writing: ‘Shot through with Duffy’s haunting, beautiful descriptions of the science underlying cancer, which starkly illustrate the paradox of an illness at whose heart is a persistent and deadly life force, This Living and Immortal Thing shows how the cruelty of the disease is a price we pay for the joy and complexity of being in the world.’

New York, again, for Heinz Helle’s debut Superabundance whose nameless narrator is separated from his girlfriend by the Atlantic. Although he loves and misses her he finds himself attracted to every woman he passes on the street. With his own brain in overdrive, constantly buzzing, he wonders at everyone else’s ability to cope with life so easily. I like the idea of this but it could very easily back fire. Well worth a look, though.

Cover imageI try not to succumb to those puffs you see from authors adorning book jackets but when it’s a writer whose work I love it’s difficult to resist. Certainly worked with Sara Leipciger’s The Mountain Can Wait which Nikolas Butler, author of the wonderful Shotgun Lovesongs. rated highly. That ended up being one of my books of 2015. The writer in question this time is Ron Rash who’s sung the praises of Travis Mulhauser’s debut, Sweetgirl. The eponymous girl is sixteen-year-old Percy. In search of her junkie mother, Percy finds herself struggling through blizzard conditions, caught up in an attempt to save a baby girl with the local crook and his henchmen in pursuit.  Given Rash’s endorsement I’m hoping for similarly taut, spare prose from Mulhauser.

That’s my last choice for this first selection of February titles, all American as you may have noticed. The next bunch will be much closer to home. As ever a click on a title will take you to a fuller synopsis, and if you’d like to catch up with January’s offerings the hardbacks are here and here, and the paperbacks are here and here.

23 thoughts on “Books to Look Out For in February 2016: Part 1

  1. naomifrisby

    I’ve read the first two; I thought the Strout was very good – as she always is – and Under the Visible Life I wasn’t sure about at all before I opened the cover but it turned out to be my favourite novel since Americanah – I simultaneously wanted to keep reading and not finish it ever and it’s very rare that happens to me. I’m expecting both to appear on the Bailey’s Prize list.

    Of the rest, I really fancy Sweetgirl. Sounds reminiscent of Willy Vlautin and David Vann, whose writing I love.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Very pleased to hear that, Naomi. Both the Echlin and the Strout are this week’s reading for me. Sweetgirl will be some time in the next few weeks – I’ll let you know!

      Reply
  2. poppypeacockpens

    Good to see you safely back- look forward to hearing about Vienna

    Wow… not one on here I’m not tempted by! I’ve yet to read Stroud *brushes* but in my defence I have had Olive Kettering & the adaptation lined up for a rainy day since forever … Especially like sound of Echlin & Duffy and by its premise, I’m predicting Superabundance will be a love or loathe read!

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      She’s one of my favourite writers, Poppy. I do hope you enjoy Olive. We’re watching the adaptation which is very true to the book and wonderfully acted. Spot-on about Superabundance. We’ll see!

      Reply
      1. poppypeacockpens

        OMG … got opportunity to read Stout My Name is Lucy Barton via NetGalley – can’t praise it enough, her characterisation is just superb! Sharp & astute… a style that has evoked an extraordinary affinity. Just WOW!

        Reply
        1. Susan Osborne Post author

          Delighted to hear this, Poppy! It’s a little gem isn’t it. I’ll be posting my review in a week or so.

          Reply
  3. Naomi

    I have both the Strout and the Echlin on my list, but feel as though I should read Olive first since it is sitting on my shelf. Have you read The Disappeared (by Echlin)?
    All of these books sound good, but Sweetgirl is the other one that stands out to me – I like to read about a good blizzard. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Better reading about one than being in one! I’ll be reading the Strout and Echlin this week, the first of Echlin’s I’ve read. Is The Disappeared good? Olive is excellent, as is the adaptation. Completely faithful to the book.

      Reply
      1. Naomi

        I will have to remember to watch the adaptation after reading the book!
        I thought The Disappeared was very good, but it’s starting to lok as if this one might be even better. Looking forward to hearing more about it!

        Reply
  4. litlove

    I must have another go at Elizabeth Strout. I admired the writing in Olive Kitteridge but found the interlinked stories rather too dark for my taste at the moment that I was reading them. So I suspect it was just a wrong-book-for-the-situation thing. Under The Visible Life sounds intriguing too.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I hope you give her another try, Victoria. I think you’d like her although, you’re right, Olive is a little dark. I’ve just started the Echlin. Very promising, so far.

      Reply
  5. Alex

    My review of the Strout will go up some time tomorrow to coincide with the American publication. I doubt I will read a better book this year. For me (admittedly a Strout fan) it is word perfect.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Delighted to hear that, Alex. Mine will have to wait until February. I plan to read it this week.

      Reply
  6. Claire 'Word by Word'

    I was a little underwhelmed by The Burgess Boys, so have been awaiting the verdict before jumping at the new Strout, especially when there are little known translations out there that need a plug. 🙂

    But reading the comments here, it seems like she is back on form.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Yes, I think I’d agree about The Burgess Boys. Not her best but I’m very pleased to see from both Alex and Naomi that she seems to be back on form. I plan to read it this week and will be posting on it next month.

      Reply
  7. Helen

    I am also a sucker for NY settings! I will be checking out book 1 stat! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    Reply
          1. Helen

            I am very interested to hear this indeed. Although I’ve yet to read anything that beats Isherwood’s works set there. Maybe Stasiland…but I’ve got you on Twitter too now so I’ll keep an eye out!

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