Books to Look Out For in April 2016: Part 2

Cover image This second batch of April titles kicks off with a book that’s been getting a fair bit of attention in my neck of the Twitter woods. Not always a good sign but it’s been from the kind of people who usually know what they’re talking about. Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You is set in Bulgaria where an American teacher looking for sex encounters a hustler in one of Sofia’s public toilets. What begins as a transaction turns into an obsession in what sounds like a powerful debut. ‘Lyrical and intense, it tells the story of a man caught between longing and resentment, unable to separate desire from danger, and faced with the impossibility of understanding those he most longs to know’ say the publishers.

Also getting a bit of Twitter attention a little while back, David Szalay’s All That Man Is follows nine men, all of whom are away from home, each at different stages in their lives. Set in a variety of locations, from the suburbs of Prague to a Cypriot hotel, it’s ‘a portrait of contemporary manhood, contemporary Europe and contemporary life from a British writer of supreme gifts – the master of a new kind of realism’ say the publishers. The structure is a very appealing one although the predominantly male set of characters may become a bit wearing. Cover image

‘Postmodern’, a word that crops up in the blurb for the next novel, tends to run up a warning flag for me  but the synopsis for Álvaro Enrigue’s Sudden Death is hard to resist. It begins with a brutal tennis match in which Caravaggio takes on the Spanish poet Quevedo before an audience which includes Galileo and Mary Magdelene. According to the publishers ‘there are assassinations and executions, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bawdy criminals, carnal liaisons and papal dramas, artistic and religious revolutions, love and war. A blazingly original voice and a postmodern visionary, Álvaro Enrigue tells the grand adventure of the dawn of the modern era, breaking down traditions and upending expectations, in this bold, powerful punch of a novel.’ There’s every chance, of course, that it’s the kind of book that’s just too tricksy for its own good.

Anais, the main protagonist of Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon, was one of those characters who stayed with me for quite some time: bright, sassy and fierce – she was extraordinarily vividly drawn. I’m hoping for something similar with The Sunlight Pilgrims which seems to be set in the near future on a Scottish caravan park. It tells the story of a small community who are beginning to think that the freak weather spells the end of the world. Strange things are happening, the economy has collapsed and public services are in the hands of volunteers. I’m not a fan of dystopian fiction but Fagan’s writing is so striking that I’ll be making an exception for this one.

Cover image My final choice for April new novels is Barney Norris’s Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain. I’ve included it partly because it’s set in Salisbury, not a million miles from where I live, and partly because it sounds like a piece of good old-fashioned storytelling. A car crash results in the intersection of five lives each disastrously effected by the accident. ‘As one of those lives hangs in the balance, the stories of all five unwind, drawn together by connection and coincidence into a web of love, grief, disenchantment and hope that perfectly represents the joys and tragedies of small town life’ apparently. It could, of course, be hopelessly sentimental but I think I’ll give it a try if only for its setting.

That’s it for April’s new books. Just click on whichever title catches your attention if you’d like a little more detail. If you missed part one and would like to catch up with it, here it is.

12 thoughts on “Books to Look Out For in April 2016: Part 2”

  1. I read What Belongs To You in proof and loved it in a strange, uncomfortable sort of way. It’s intensely moving and has a sort of old-fashioned European feel to its prose style. I’ve also got a review copy of The Sunlight Pilgrims, which does indeed look wonderful. Rather intrigued by Sudden Death, too… I find a novel that features Caravaggio hard to resist.

    1. What Belongs To You is working its way up my ‘to be reviewed’ shelf so that’s reassuring. I have a feeling that Sudden Death will either be wonderful or far too clever for its own good!

      1. Yes, I can see that being a possibility too… Have you read Viper Wine, by Hermione Eyre? I’ve not got round to it yet, but that also gave me the distinct sense that it was either going to be perfectly-executed genius, or frustratingly clever-clever.

  2. The Greenwell was on my radar but I hadn’t heard of the Szalay and quite like the sound of it.

    I enjoyed Barney Norris’s debut well enough. Nothing really original about the accident-bringing-people-together narrative, and a couple of the voices are less compelling than the others, but I agree that the Salisbury setting, and particularly the use of the cathedral, is interesting. It reminded me somewhat of David Nicholls.

    1. Ah, well I have a soft spot for David Nicholls when I’m in need of something undemanding. I’ll keep it on my list.

  3. Nice selection of books, Susan. I have a copy of What Belongs to You after I cheekily asked one of the Picador publicists at the showcase which book I HAD to read. I have to say the extract Greenwell read at the showcase was excellent. Here’s hoping the rest lives up.

    Sudden Death sounds exactly my sort of thing. Postmodern + Caravaggio = yes, please. I can see how it might be too clever for its own good but I prefer acrobatics not perfectly executed to ‘ploddy’ (technical term).

    And I have the Jenni Fagan and am so looking forward to it. I haven’t read The Panopticon yet but I feel fairly certain I’m going to love both that and the new one.

    1. Thanks, Naomi. The Greenwall’s on my review horizon. Picador seem to be hoping for great things from it. Jury’s out for me with Sudden Death but I think it has to be tried, and I would be amazed if you don’t enjoy The Panopticon.

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