Paperbacks to Look Out For in February 2016: Part 1

Cover imageSpoilt for choice this month: two posts for new titles, and now two for paperbacks. I’ll start the first selection with one of my books of 2015. I have to confess that I didn’t get on with Emily Woof’s first novel, The Whole Wide Beauty. It was lauded to the skies by all and sundry but I gave it up. The premise of The Lightning Tree was so appealing, though, that I decided to give her a second try and I’m very glad I did. The bare bones are this: girl from one side of the tracks – comfy, middle-class, lefty activist parents – meets boy from the other side – council estate, working-class, Thatcherite mum and dad – they fall in love, the girl heads off to India, the boy to Oxford and then we see what happens, following them into their thirties. I find this structure a particularly attractive one: lots of lovely space for character development.

A. D. Miller’s The Faithful Couple also follows a relationship over many years. That name may ring a few bells for some readers – he’s the author of Snowdrops a hugely successful literary thriller set in Moscow in the 1990s, published back in 2010. His new novel begins in 1993 with two young British men, Neil and Adam, who meet on holiday in California. They instantly click then both become involved in a dubious moral act which dogs Adam, in particular. The book charts their friendship over nearly twenty years, picking out the tensions between them – Neil’s resentment of Adam’s casual privilege, career ups and downs, marriage and children with their attendant worries. Miller’s novel was an enjoyable piece of holiday reading for me last year which may explain why I remember it so well.

I think Jami Attenberg’s Saint Mazie would have stayed with me wherever I read it. As with Cover imageEmily Woof, I wasn’t particularly keen on Attenberg’s much praised The Middlesteins but the background to her new novel was so intriguing that it piqued my interest. The eponymous Mazie was the subject of a short essay by Joseph Mitchell first published in The New Yorker and included in his excellent collection Up in the Old Hotel. Like many of Mitchell’s subjects Mazie’s story is a fascinating one – an ordinary working-class New York woman who did something extraordinary. Attenberg has taken Mitchell’s essay and re-imagined Mazie’s life using fictionalised interviews and autobiography extracts with her diary as the novel’s backbone. Mazie is an unforgettable character, and Joseph Mitchell’s story is almost as interesting as hers.

Still in New York but fast forwarding several decades, Richard Bausch’s Before, During, After is an unusual take on the events of September 11th, 2001. As its title suggests, Bausch’s novel is set in the months before, during and after the terrorist attacks, exploring what happened very effectively by drawing parallels between the personal and the political. Michael and Natasha are newly in love, soon to be married. On the day of the attacks she’s in Jamaica with a friend, he’s in New York for a wedding. What follows is devastating for them both. It’s a profoundly involving novel – quite cerebral at times, but also emotionally engaging

Cover imageNow to one I haven’t read but am very much looking forward to: Mark Henshaw’s The Snow Kimono. On the same day a retired Parisian police inspector receives a letter from a woman who claims to be his daughter, he finds a stranger waiting for him at his apartment. Professor Tadashi Omura tells Inspector Jovert his extraordinary life story which has surprising parallels with Jovert’s own. It sounds intriguing and comes from Tinder Press who seem to have developed a sharp eye for talent.

That’s it for the first batch of February paperbacks. A click on the title will take you to my review for the first four while The Snow Kimono will take you to Waterstones website for a fuller synopsis. If you’d like to catch up with February’s new novels they’re here and here.

13 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out For in February 2016: Part 1”

  1. I hadn’t realised Miller had a new novel out – I enjoyed the Snowdrops so will be looking forward to seeing if The Faithful Couple is as good. Hope you enjoy The Snow Kimono, it was one of my favourite books from last year

    1. That’s encouraging, thank you. The Faithful Couple is very different from Snowdrops which I think was a product of his time spent in Moscow as a journalist – not based on firsthand experience, I hope!

  2. This is when I go – argh! I have the hardbacks on my shelf still. I bought The Lightening Tree as so many people seemed to love it, although I’m still not sure about it. And Saint Mazie is so far up my New York street, I’m mortified it’s still on my review shelf. I do love these round-ups though.

  3. The Lightning Tree was on my Xmas wish list and Santa brought me it so it’s on my bedside table at the moment. Who knows when I’ll get round to reading it but it sounds good…

  4. ‘Snowdrops’ didn’t work for me. I wanted to slap the main protagonist most of the time and not in a good way. So I think I may give the Miller a miss, but the Henshaw sounds interesting. He;s not a writer I’ve heard of before. Should I have done?

    1. Not unless you’re an Australian fiction aficionado. I thought it was his debut but looking him up I find that it’s his first novel in twenty-five years.

  5. For once I have read quite a few of these that you mention! But new to me – and intriguing too – are the Richard Bausch (whose writing I very much admire) and the Mark Henshaw. Two to go on the list, for sure! How I love these posts of yours!

    1. Lovely to hear that! I’m sure you’d enjoy the Bausch, Victoria. There have been many responses to 9/11 in fiction but this is one of the best I’ve read.

  6. Pingback: Paperbacks to Look Out For in March 2016 | A life in books

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