Books to Look Out For in June 2016: Part 2

Cover image Truth be told, Barkskins is only here out of nostalgia. Like so many readers, I was a huge fan of The Shipping News with its cast of eccentric, affectionately portrayed characters and its depiction of the wilds of Newfoundland. I also became a fan of Proulx’s short stories – Close Range had some wonderful, occasionally shocking and often funny pieces in it. I went off the boil with Accordion Crimes which told me far too much about accordions and not enough about the many cultures in which they’re played. Too much research which may well be an accusation levelled at Barkskins, weighing in at a doorstopping 730+ pages. Beginning in the seventeenth century, it follows Rene Sel and Charles Duquet who arrive in New France, penniless and willing to exchange their freedom for land for three years. Rene is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman but Duquet makes a name for himself, first as a fur trader then setting up a timber business. Proulx’s novel follows these two and their descendants across three hundred years, travelling across North America to Europe, China and New Zealand in what the publishers describe as ‘stunningly brutal conditions’. I wish I could say I was thrilled at the prospect but, in truth, my heart sinks…

I’m feeling much more enthusiastic about The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry’s second novel, set in an Essex village in the 1890s. Rich widow Cora Seabourne moves to Aldwinter where she and the local vicar are soon at odds over the Essex Serpent said to be rampaging through the marshes, taking lives as it does so. At a time when the newly emerging theories about the natural world clash cataclysmically with the Church and all it stands for, Cora, an enthusiastic naturalist, and Will find themselves embroiled in passionate debate. ‘Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take’ say the publishers. After Me Comes the Flood, Perry’s first novel, went down a storm so expectations for The Essex Serpent are high.

Back to the twentieth-first century for the rest of June’s titles, several of which herald the holiday reading season beginning with one that I’ve spotted on Twitter and particularly like the look of. Alice Adams’ Invincible Summer uses an irresistible structure following four young people, inseparable at university, and now facing the realities of life as young adults: Eva’s off to the City; Benedict decides to pursue a PhD; siblings Sylvie and Lucien indulge themselves in a life of art, travel and adventure. Summer reunions bring them back together but recreating the intimate bonds of student friendship isn’t always easy. ‘Invincible Summer is a dazzling depiction of the highs and lows of adulthood and the greater forces that shape us‘ say the publishers. I’m hoping for a nice slice of self-indulgent entertainment although nothing too sickly. This kind of novel needs a little bit of a bite to work for me. Cover image

Dean Bakopoulos’s SummerLong is aimed fairly and squarely at readers wanting to immerse themselves in an engrossing piece of entertainment by the look of it. Its main attraction for me is its small-town American setting. Realtor Don Lowry is busy hiding the fact that the marital home is in foreclosure while his wife Claire spends her time lusting after Charles, the failed actor who has come home to put his father’s affairs in order. As the temperature rises, inhibitions fall by the wayside setting the scene nicely for a bit of domestic drama. ‘Summerlong is a deft and hilarious exploration of the simmering tensions beneath the surface of a contented marriage that explode in the bedrooms and backyards of a small town over the course of a long, hot summer’ according to the publishers. Sounds like a winner.

As does Stephanie Danler’s debut Sweetbitter with its New York restaurant setting. Twenty-two-year-old Tess is determined to escape her provincial home and lands herself a job as a ‘backwaiter’ at a well-known restaurant where her colleagues are convinced that fame and fortune are just around the corner. It’s the restaurant setting – and of course, the young character making her way in New York – that attracts me perhaps in the hope of another Love Me Back, Merritt Tierce’s riveting debut which I read earlier in the year. Setting the bar far too high there, I’m sure, but you never know.

Much more sobering, Jung Yun’s Shelter seems to question the intergenerational debt when Kyung Cho, a struggling academic up to his eyes in money troubles, is faced with what to do when his prosperous parents’ lives are thrown into disarray by an act of violence. Kyung’s childhood was one of material privilege but emotional deprivation. When he decides to take his parents in, he begins to question his own qualities as a husband and father. ‘Shelter is a masterfully crafted debut novel that asks what it means to provide for one’s family and, in answer, delivers a story as riveting as it is profound’ say the publishers which sounds like something to get your teeth Cover image into after the fluff of Bittersweet and Invincible Summer.

Ending what’s become something of a mixed bag, Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s Everything I Don’t Remember picks up the life of Samuel, a young man who has died in a car crash, and tries to piece it together through conversations with friends, relatives and neighbours each of whom seems to have a different view of the young man they knew. It’s also the story of the writer who is re-assembling Samuel’s life ‘trying to grasp a universal truth – in the end, how do we account for the substance of a life?’ A very big question on which to end this second selection of June’s new novels. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more substantial synopsis. And if you’d like to catch up with the first batch, here it is.

20 thoughts on “Books to Look Out For in June 2016: Part 2”

  1. Great selection. I was looking forward to the Annie Proulx…I’ve got it on Kindle so maybe that’ll help!

    My book of the year is in this list. I called it in January and yesterday The Sunday Times said The Essex Serpent is the best historical novel in a decade so clearly I know my onions 😉

    1. Susan Osborne

      That was my old chum Nick Rennison, I believe! I’ve yet to read it but I trust you both.

  2. The Annie Proulx sounds good to me, but at that length, I think I’ll wait and see what some others have to say about it.
    I’ve heard lots of good things about Shelter, and The Essex Serpent sounds fantastic. In fact, I could probably spend a perfectly happy summer with all of these books.

    1. Susan Osborne

      Wise policy with the Proulx – so difficult to read in bed, too. I haven’t heard much about Shelter but it’s a very interesting theme to explore.

  3. Sweetbitter is my novel of 2016 (so far) — I’m writing it up for Shiny New Books, along with an interview with Danler. Shelter is also very good. I’m 1/4 of the way through Essex Serpent and enjoying it, certainly so much more than Perry’s previous novel.

    Invincible Summer was a bit lacklustre for me, but it’s in the same vein as One Day. I think I’ll give Barkskins a miss; I wouldn’t undertake such a long book unless I was sure it was going to deliver.

    1. Susan Osborne

      Ha, I picked up Sweetbitter after posting this yesterday and am hooked. Not my book of the year but it’s very good. Interesting comment about the Essex Serpent which is rising to the top of my TBR, and thanks for your opinion of Invincible Summer. I like that kind of premise but it can be insipid if not injected with some sharpness.

  4. If i had to pick just one from this list it would be Jung Yun’s novel that intrigues me the most. I had to laugh at your comment about Annie Proux’s novel being far too expansive about accordions. I don’t have this in my to read stack and now have even less interest than before in getting it

    1. Susan Osborne

      My heart sinks at the prospect of 700+ pages. Not too keen on the ‘stunningly brutal conditions’ quote from the press release, either.

    1. Susan Osborne

      It’s excellent, Kate. I picked it up yesterday and have read quite a bit of it. You’ve got me thinking about foodie novels now. Have you read Jonathan Grimwood’s The Last Banquet, Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt or Kim Thuy’s Man?

  5. Completely with you on The Essex Serpent, which I have here with me (and it has a gorgeous cover). I’m also just about to request a copy of Summerlong, as I’m exactly like you when it comes to those small-town America books. Looking forward to comparing notes with you!

    1. Susan Osborne

      It’s an irresistible setting for me, as is New York at the other extreme. Let’s hope it suits us both!

  6. I’m intrigued by Barkskins. Like you, I love Proulx’s short stories and The Shipping News is one of my favourite books. I didn’t love Accordion Crimes as much, but still quite enjoyed it. I might pop it down as a potential Christmas holiday read. Sweetbitter and Summerlong sound excellent.

    1. Susan Osborne

      I’ve since read – and thoroughly enjoyed – Sweetbitter. Review to follow soon. Ah, Barkskins! I’m grateful to Claire over at Word by Word who’s reporting her progress with it on Twitter. I’m basing my decision on her review when she eventually finishes it.

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