Books to Look Out for In November 2016

Swing TimeA new Zadie Smith novel is always the cause of a great deal of pre-publication anticipation. Twitter has been all agog for some time ensuring that Swing Time will turn up in quite a few Christmas stockings. Moving between Smith’s home territory of north-west London to West Africa and New York, it spans the years from the 1980s to the present following two childhood friends who meet at a ballet class. ‘Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them’ say the publishers which reminds me of Kim Echlin’s wonderful, Under the Invisible Life, a novel which didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved.

The subject of Steven Amsterdam’s The Easy Way Out is something of an attention-grabber. It looks at assisted suicide through the experiences of Evan, a hospital nurse who helps people to die, something he keeps firmly under his hat from his friends. A tricky love life, his increasingly unwell mother and his supervisor’s concerns as he sails ever-closer to the wind in terms of morality and law add further spice in what the publishers describe as ‘a brilliantly funny and exquisitely sad novel that gets to the heart of one of the most difficult questions each of us may face: would you help someone die?’ ‘Brilliantly funny’ may be the best approach to engage readers with this dilemma with which many countries, including the UK, frequently wrestle but never manage to resolve.Cover image

Mette Jakobsen’s What the Light Hides explores suicide but in a rather different way. Vera and David live in the Blue Mountains, still passionately in love after twenty years of marriage. Jakobsen’s novel begins five months after their son apparently took his own life in Sydney where he was at university. Vera is coping but David cannot accept his son’s death, taking himself off to Sydney to try to make sense of things. ‘Mette Jakobsen’s gifts of delicate and empathetic observation are on display in this tender and moving novel’ say the publishers. I’ve read several excellent novels from the Australian Text Publishing and have high hopes for this one.

Linda Grant’s The Dark Circle sounds a world away from her last novel Upstairs at the Party which I loved. It’s set against the backdrop of a TB sanatorium in Kent at the beginning of the 1950s, where a teenage brother and sister ’living on the edge of the law… … discover that a cure is tantalisingly just out of reach and only by inciting wholesale rebellion can freedom be snatched’ according to the publisher. I haven’t enjoyed all of Grant’s novels but this sounds well worth a try.

Sara Stridsberg’s The Gravity of Love is set in another kind of hospital, just outside Stockholm. Jimmie Darling’s daughter visits her father in the psychiatric institution where he is in the charge of Edvard Winterson, happy to take his patients for the odd night out. When her mother disappears on holiday, the hospital becomes Jackie’s world and she makes the acquaintance of what sounds like a vivid cast of characters. ‘In Sara Stridsberg’s breathtakingly beautiful novel, the psychiatric hospital, set in a lovely park close to a lake, takes on near-mythic dimensions, both as an avenging angel and as a redeemer of lost souls’ say the publishers which sounds a little overblown but it’s been much praised in Stridsberg’s native Sweden.

Gerard Reve’s The Evenings is set in one of my favourite European cities which is one of its draws for me. It’s the story of ten evenings in the life of Frits van Egters as he walks the streets of post-war Amsterdam. That may seem a tad dull but it’s been voted one of the greatest novels of all time by the highly literary Dutch. Described by the publishers as ‘edgy, mesmerising, darkly ironical’ it sounds quite intriguing.

Cover imageMy last choice for November is Brad Watson’s Miss Jane which was inspired by the true story of Watson’s great-aunt, Jane Chisolm, born in rural Mississippi in the early twentieth century with, as the publishers put it, a ‘genital birth defect that would stand in the way of the central “uses” for a woman in that time and place – namely, sex and marriage’. ‘From the country doctor who adopts Jane to the hard tactile labour of farm life from the sensual and erotic world of nature around her to the boy who loved but was forced to leave her, the world of Miss Jane Chisolm is anything but barren’ continues the blurb. It sounds like an uplifting read which after several of the novels listed above may come as something of a welcome change.

That’s it for November. As ever a click on the title will take you to a full synopsis should you be interested. Paperbacks soon…

22 thoughts on “Books to Look Out for In November 2016”

    1. It’s a great month, isn’t it – spoilt for choice! Definitely with you on The Gravity of Love and What the Light Hides. I hope the Smith lives up to the inevitable hype.

  1. Swing Time is utterly fantastic ….a novel that tackles a lot of issues head on …as well as telling a compelling story . For me it was a real return to form as I’d felt distinctly lukewarm about NW .

    1. Me, too which is why it’s only top of this list because of the hype. However, I trust your judgement, Helen!

  2. Isn’t it strange that usually I’d be all for the depressing sounding ones but I’m right off them at the moment. Maybe it’s the dose of it I’m getting from the state of the world instead!

    Great round-up as ever, Susan. The Zadie Smith (who I’m going to see in Manchester next month), the Linda Grant and Miss Jane are on my pile. Looking forward to comparing notes.

  3. Another great list of titles – I want them all but Dark Circle sounds particularly good. I have Upstairs at the Party (haven’t read it yet but it really appealed to me) and I always think it’s interesting when an author does something wildly different from book to book.

  4. I had a lot of fun looking up all the titles on this list! Zadie Smith’s is the only one I had heard of until now. I didn’t know what it was about, though – I love the premise – I hope it holds up to the hype.
    The other one that stands out to me form this list is Miss Jane – it sounds wonderful in every way. The two that take place in hospitals also appeal…

  5. All of these sound fantastic. The new Zadie Smith has been on my list for a while, but I hadn’t come across the other titles before your post. The Easy Way Out and What the Light Hides both sound particularly interesting.

    1. I have The Easy Way Out so I’ll get back to you on that one, Gemma. What the Light Hides is one of the ones that most appeals to me, too.

  6. Each of these sounds appealing in its own way, but the book in your post which jumped out at me is the novel by Kim Echlin. I have absolutely loved some of her earlier works (beginning with Elephant Winter) and I keep forgetting about this one; as you’ve observed, it didn’t get as much attention as a work by her should have received. I really must nudge it up the stack!

    1. I loved that book and was so disappointed that it didn’t get the attention it so richly deserved. I wanted to see it on the Baileys longlist at the very least. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  7. Great selection of books as always, Susan. It really looks like the publishing houses are upping their game in readiness for Christmas. I’m especially excited about the Smith, but the Grant also looks particularly interesting.

    1. Oh, yes – they have Christmas firmly in their sights! I’m sure I’ll read both of those but the ones that most attract me are the Jakobsen and the Stridsberg.

  8. Confession time: I have never read any Zadie Smith and I do hope that Swing Time turns up in my Christmas stocking. Do you think it’ll be a good place so start or do you have any other suggestions? 🙂

    1. I’m tempted to suggest going right back to her first novel, White Teeth, which I still think is one of her best, Elena. I like the idea of Swing Time but it sounds quite similar to Kim Echlin’s Under the Visible Life, one of my favourite reads of this year and very hard to beat for me.

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