Books to Look Out For in May 2016: Part 1

Cover image Pole position for May has to go to Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must be the Place. There was a time when I cheerily dismissed O’Farrell’s novels as chick lit, not for me. Pretty snobby, I know, and pretty stupid, too, as I found out when I was finally persuaded to read After You’d Gone. Still, at least it meant I had a  pleasingly lengthy  backlist to enjoy. It’s been a little while since a new O’Farrell so there’s a definite air of impatient anticipation around this one. It’s about Daniel, a New Yorker who lives in a remote part of Ireland, with what sounds like a somewhat complicated life: children he never sees, a father he detests and a trigger-happy, ex-film star wife. News of a woman he knew long ago is about to further spice things up.  The novel ‘crosses continents and time zones, giving voice to a diverse and complex cast of characters. At its heart, it is an extraordinary portrait of a marriage, the forces that hold it together and the pressures that drive it apart’ say the publishers. Sounds unmissable.

Regular readers will know that I find New York backdrops hard to resist. It doesn’t always work – I didn’t get past the first fifty pages of City on Fire – but I have hopes for Molly Prentiss’ debut, Tuesday Nights in 1980. It’s about three people, all trying to make it big in the city: Raul Engales is an Argentinean painter in exile, passing himself off as an art student; James Bennett is the critic with synaesthesia who experiences art as a trippy set of sensations and Lucy is Raul’s young muse, fresh from Idaho and eager for the bright lights. ‘Over the course of one year, these three lives will collide and be transformed. A brand new decade has just begun and New York is a crucible brimming with the energy of a million secret metamorphoses, poised to spill forth art, destruction and life itself into the waiting world’ say the publishers in a synopsis which is a tad overblown it has to be said, but I’m willing to overlook that.

And we’re off to New York again for Cynthia D’Apprix Sweeney’s The Nest which sounds like a pleasingly acerbic outing for the good old dysfunctional family trope. The Plumbs’ dwindling Cover image family trust fund is threatened after Leo’s drunken accident involving a nineteen-year-old waitress. Leo’s rehab costs, Melody’s colossal mortgage and children’s tuition fees, Jack’s secret debts and Beatrice’s inability to finish her novel have all depleted the family fortune but the fallout from the accident may wipe it out altogether. You may think they sound like a bunch of spoilt brats and good riddance to them but we’re promised a novel that’s ‘ferociously astute, warm and funny… …a brilliant debut chronicling the hilarity and savagery of family life.’

Venturing a little further into upstate New York, Elizabeth Brundage’s creepy sounding 1980s-set All Things Cease to Appear sees a professor and his family moving into a farmhouse where things soon become very bumpy indeed. George knows the house’s history but his wife does not although she often feels she’s being watched in the many hours she spends at home with their daughter.  ‘With masterful tension and understanding of human nature, Elizabeth Brundage has crafted a novel that is at once a community’s landscape spanning twenty years and an intimate portrait of a disturbed mind ‘ say the publishers setting us up for a chilling piece of smalltown fiction.

Still in the States, Marc Bojanowski’s Journeyman follows a carpenter who travels where his work takes him. After a dreadful accident at work he leaves his temporary Las Vegas home heading towards the west coast, by way of his brother’s town where he finds himself stranded after the loss of his car and tools, forcing him to think about his life and contemplate building something more meaningful. Set against a backdrop of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars it’s billed as a ‘intimate, honest and exquisitely crafted state-of-the-nation novel’ – another weakness of mine.

Cover image Hannah Kohler’s debut, The Outside Lands, also has war as its backdrop, this time the Vietnam war. Jeannie and Kip’s mother died when she is nineteen and he fourteen. Jeannie’s marriage takes her into the unfamiliar world of wealth and politics while Kip turns to petty crime, then volunteers for the Marines. Both are caught up in events leaving them ‘driven by disillusionment to commit unforgivable acts of betrayal that will leave permanent scars’ in a ‘story of people caught in the slipstream of history, how we struggle in the face of loss to build our world, and how easily and with sudden violence it can be swept away’ which, once again, sounds a little overblown to me but I’m attracted by the idea of a debut that takes its readers from 1960s California to Vietnam.

That’s it for the first clutch of May goodies, all but one American. The next batch will range a little further. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a fuller synopsis should you be interested. And for anyone interested in that kind of thing there’ll be a little ‘what I got up to on my holidays’ post in a couple of days.

18 thoughts on “Books to Look Out For in May 2016: Part 1”

  1. I’ll be reviewing All Things Cease to Appear for Crime Fiction Lover (once I receive the book) – I liked the sound of it – and I don’t often get scared of things going bump in the night, so it will be a good challenge.

  2. Great picks, as always, Susan.

    I’m a big fan of Maggie O’Farrell but I had to leave the new one on the shelf whilst I read the Bailey’s list, so I’m looking forward to binge reading it one Saturday now!

    I’ve read Tuesday Nights in 1980. I thought it was very good, particularly for a debut, though New York and art is catnip for me. There is an interesting subplot too though.

    I didn’t know The Nest had a UK publisher. I’ve seen so much about that book putting In the Media together – seven figure deal – seven figures!! and the fact she’s 49 because, of course, no one over 30 is capable of writing anything. I’ll be interested to see if it comes anywhere near the hype. The synopsis reminds me of Meg Wolitzer’s work.

    And I hadn’t heard of the Brundage, but I very much like the sound of it. Somehow reminds me of Evie Wyld’s brilliant All the Birds, Singing. Must be the farmhouse and the being watched.

    1. Very pleased to hear you enjoyed Tuesday Nights 1980. It’s sitting on my shelf but I’ve been in two minds about it despite that enticing New York setting and the period it’s set in. I hadn’t realised that The Nest had had so much attention. I’m hoping for fighting like rats in a sack scenes amongst the siblings. The Brundage could go either way for me but American smalltown fiction is always a lure.

  3. The cover of The Nest is so different from the one I’ve been seeing around that I thought for a second that it was another book with the same title. It sure has been getting a lot of love!
    And, I can’t wait to hear more about the new Maggie O’Farrell. I’m in no hurry, though, I still have most of her other books to look forward to, as well!

    1. I’m not sure if it’s passed me by or if the publicity has been squarely aimed at the North American market but I don’t seem to have noticed much in the way of hype for The Nest. The Maggie O’Farell is a different matter altogether – all over Twitter – although in her case I’m willing to take it more or less at face value. I’ve only read one of hers I’ve not enjoyed.

  4. I love Maggie O’Farrell’s writing (although never fancied reading My Lover’s Lover) and After You’d Gone is my favourite. I’ve got tickets to hear her talk about her new book in Glasgow next month. Cannae wait!

    1. I’m sure she’ll be great, Helen! I hope you’ll do a post on it. After You’d Gone was the one that got me hooked. She’s the mistress of the dual narrative.

    1. I much prefer it to the US cover. Haven’t read the book yet but that $ sign seems to fit the synopsis very well.

  5. I’m excited for May on account of a book which hasn’t made your list (yet…perhaps?) Don DeLillo’s Zero K. Will be my first purchase for a while. All Things Cease To Appear sounds an interesting read.

    1. Ah, not a DeLillo fan I’m afraid! Yes, I like the sound of the Brundage – sounds like a bit of American smalltown Gothic.

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