Books to Look Out For in June 2016: Part 1

Cover image June really is a bumper month for fiction. I know I frequently kick these previews off with that kind of pronouncement but such were the many interesting looking titles on offer that there were nearly enough books for a three-parter which seems excessive even for my eyes-bigger–than-stomach tendencies. Several of them are set in that fabled decade the 1960s, beginning with Emma Cline’s debut The Girls which has been attracting attention for a good few months now. Set in the summer of 1969, it’s about fourteen-year-old Evie Boyd entranced by the girls in their short dresses and long tatty hair who live on a Californian ranch, deep in the hills with the charismatic Russell. ‘Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways. Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?’ say the publishers. Cline’s novel is based on the notorious Manson murders and seems to have caused quite a stir already.

Following an immensely successful debut with a second novel is a nerve-wracking time for writers, I’m sure. Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist was hugely successful two years back. Her second novel, The Muse begins in London in 1967 with Odelle Bastien who left her Trinidadian home five years before and who is about to find her niche working in a London art gallery. One day a lost masterpiece with a story behind it is delivered to the gallery, purported to be by the legendary Isaac Robles. Burton’s novel untangles the painting’s history taking her readers to Spain in 1936.  ‘Seductive, exhilarating and suspenseful, The Muse is an addictive novel about aspiration and identity, love and obsession, authenticity and deception – a magnificent creation and a story you will never forget’ say the publishers.

By contrast, the synopsis of Susan Beale’s The Good Guy isn’t anything hugely special but there’s something about it that draws me in. Perhaps it’s that old third-party dynamic. Still in the ‘60s but this time in suburban New England it’s about Ted – a car-tyre salesman married to Abigail – whose chance encounter with Penny sets him off inventing a new life for the both of them until ‘fantasy collides with reality, the fallout threatens everything, and everyone, he holds dear’, apparently. Could be as dull as ditch water but it’s got a great jacket and John Murray often publish interesting novels.

Staying in the ‘60s, Jill Dawson’s The Crime Writer follows Patricia Highsmith to a cottage in Suffolk where she is concentrating on her writing and avoiding her fans while conducting an affair with a married lover. When a young journalist arrives determined to interview her, things take a dark turn. ‘Masterfully recreating Highsmith’s much exercised fantasies of murder and madness, Jill Dawson probes the darkest reaches of the imagination in this novel – at once a brilliant portrait of a writer and an atmospheric, emotionally charged, riveting tale’ say the publishers. Dawson has a particular talent for taking the bare bones of a life and working it up into a richly imagined novel. Cover image

Natasha Walter – she of Living Dolls and The New Feminism fame – has a debut novel out in June which also takes the story of historical figures and fictionalises it. Laura Leverett has been living in Geneva since her husband disappeared in 1951. Ostensibly a conventional wife and mother, Leverett has been living a double life since 1939 when she met a young Communist woman aboard a transatlantic liner. When she marries a man with similar sympathies she becomes caught up in a world of espionage which will take her from wartime London to Washington in the grips of McCarthyism. Based on the relationship between the Cambridge spy Donald Maclean and his wife Melinda Marling, A Quiet Life is ‘sweeping and exhilarating, alive with passion and betrayal’ according to the publishers. This is the third Cold War novel to have caught my attention this year although Walter has stiff competition to beat: the other two were Francesca Kay’s The Long Room and Helen Dunmore’s Exposure, both excellent.

This next one is eagerly anticipated, by me anyway. It’s the third in Louisa Young’s First World War series which began with My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You and continued with The Heroes’ Welcome. Those who have read the first two novels will be familiar with several of the characters which apparently reappear in Devotion, although the baton has been handed onto the next generation now faced with the prospect of another war as Tom, adoptive son of Nadine and Riley, falls in love with Nenna whose father supports Mussolini. The first two instalments of this series were a joy – compassionate and humane without a hint of sentimentality.

Winding back to the end of the First World War and the Spanish influenza epidemic that swept the world, Sjón’s Moonstone is set in Iceland in 1918 against a backdrop of an erupting volcano and coal shortages. Sixteen-year-old Mani loves the movies, even dreaming about them, but everything changes when the ‘flu hits Iceland. ‘Capturing Iceland at a moment of profound transformation, this is the story of a misfit in a place where life and death, reality and imagination, secrets and revelations jostle for dominance’ say the publishers. Make of that what you will.  It’s so unusual to see an Icelandic novel in the publishing schedules that seems to have nothing to do with crime that I feel I should give this one a go.

Everyone is Watching Finally, at least for this first batch, Megan Bradbury’s Everyone is Watching is set in New York which is usually enough to guarantee any novel a place on my list but this one sounds particularly attractive, apparently featuring the city itself as the main protagonist. From Walt Whitman in 1891 to Robert Mapplethorpe in 1967, from Robert Moses in 1922 to Edmund White in 2013, Bradbury’s novel is about the artists and writers who have made New York a city that captures the imagination. ‘Through the lives and perspectives of these great creators, artists and thinkers, and through other iconic works of art that capture its essence, New York itself solidifies. Complex, rich, sordid, tantalizing, it is constantly changing and evolving. Both intimate and epic in its sweep, Everyone is Watching is a love letter to New York and its people – past, present and future’ say the publishers which suggests that it could either be a great sprawling mess of a novel which rambles about all over the place or a resounding success. We’ll see.

That’s it for the first batch of June titles. As ever a click on a title will whisk you off to a more detailed synopsis.

29 thoughts on “Books to Look Out For in June 2016: Part 1”

  1. Some enticing books here! I’m not usually keen on fictional biography, but The Crime Writer does sound tempting. I loved Sjon’s The Blue Fox so I’m very excited to see another of his works becoming available to English speakers.

    1. Susan Osborne

      I’d not come across Sjon before but Moonstone does sound good. I’ll keep an eye out for The Blue Fox. Jill Dawson has quite a knack in working real people into her fiction so I have high hopes for The Crime Writer.

  2. I hadn’t heard of the Dawson or the Bradbury but they both sound great — thanks for putting them on my radar. I loved The Good Guy; you wouldn’t think there’s much more that can be done with the suburban love triangle plot, but Beale does a great job of creating sympathy for all three characters. I won a giveaway copy of the Walter novel and keep meaning to prioritise it. Although I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Miniaturist, I daresay I’ll pick up Burton’s second novel sometime.

    1. Susan Osborne

      Oh, that’s good news about the Beale. I’m very much attracted by the Bradbury. If it’s well handled I think it could be wonderful – we’ll see.

  3. Lots of great books to look forward to. Like you, I found something compelling about The Good Guy – it’s near the top of my TBR stack (along with The Girls). Hadn’t heard of The Quiet Life but it looks good.

    1. Susan Osborne

      I was in two minds about whether to include The Good Guy but you and Naomi obviously like the idea, too, and Rebecca loved it so it’s more than earned its place.

  4. You weren’t kidding – there are a lot of good books here (and a lot set in the 60s)!
    The Good Guy might sound the least ‘exciting’, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out to be the best of the bunch! I also like the sound of The Quiet Life and Moonstone. I love historical fiction and I love reading about epidemics.

    1. Susan Osborne

      And there’s more to come next week, not too mention the paperbacks. The Good Guy seems to have struck a chord with several of us.

    1. Susan Osborne

      Thanks, Cathy. I’ll be interested to see what you think of The Girls. I’ve just spotted a whole string of Tweets suggesting that the writing is excellent but the Manson aspect is played up too much. We’ll see!

  5. I need to go back over the year and catch up with these posts – I do love them. Loads here that I am tempted by. Must get the Jill Dawson and the Megan Bradbury but they all look good!

    1. Susan Osborne

      Lovely to hear from you again, Victoria. Spoilt for choice this June – there’s another post in the works for next week.

    1. Susan Osborne

      Me, too, Cleo. I’m quite a fan of Dawson’s novels. I think this one might get some attention given how popular Highsmith’s writing is and that added boost of Carol.

  6. Sjon is a lovely writer (also worked with Bjork on some of her lyrics). I’d love to hear what you think of Moonstone if you read it. The Bradbury looks interesting too.

    1. Susan Osborne

      Moonstone does look intriguing. I think the Bradbury could go either way but a New York setting’s catnip to me.

  7. Thanks for this post, I hadn’t heard about A Quiet Life, but it looks like the kind of book I’d enjoy, especially since I belong to a family of communists who fought in the Spanish civil war, many of whom were even jailed. However, they were all men, so I’d love to read about the female experience. Thanks!

    1. You’re welcome, Elena. That sounds like a fascinating family history, good material for a novel… Have you read Suzanne Fortes’ Waiting for Robert Capa?

        1. You might find it interesting. It’s based on the relationship between Robert Capa and Gerda Taro both of whom documented the Spanish Civil War in their photography. Capa was one of the founding members of Magnum.

          1. More bells ringing! I’ll check it out, although the Spanish Civil War on itself is kind of a family trauma – great grandfather got killed for being a union leader. Thanks for the recommendation, though Susan. It sounds like a very interesting story, totally worth reading.

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  9. I can’t wait to read The Girls! It’s one of my most anticipated reads of 2016. I hadn’t heard about The Crime Writer though. Might have to check that one out too–I’ve a huge Highsmith fan. Thanks for the heads up! 🙂

    1. Susan Osborne

      Your welcome. My hopes are high for The Crime Writer. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t yet read a Highsmith (!) and it may play differently with her fans – we’ll see.

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