This is a turn up for the books, so to speak: the first part of my February paperback preview includes three short story collections. No, don’t go – I was like you once, dismissing short stories as not for me, but somewhere along the line, I’m not sure how, I’ve undergone a conversion. It used to be that I’d only read collections by authors whose novels I loved, a snack in the hope that a ‘proper’ book would come along soon, so I may as well kick this off with Helen Oyeyemi’s What is Not Yours is Not Yours. It’s a linked collection – another lure for novel-lovers – which takes its readers ‘into a world of lost libraries and locked gardens, of marshlands where the drowned dead live and a city where all the clocks have stopped; students hone their skills at puppet school, the Homely Wench Society commits a guerrilla book-swap, and lovers exchange books and roses on St Jordi’s Day’ say the publishers which sounds, quite literally, fabulous. Still hoping for a Oyeyemi novel, though…
Lots of chat in my neck of the Twitter woods about Helen Ellis’ American Housewife which sounds a world away from Oyeyemi’s stories. The blurb for this one is wonderful, worthy of a lengthy quote so here it is: ‘They redecorate. And they are quietly capable of kidnapping, breaking and entering, and murder. These women know the rules of a well-lived life: replace your tights every winter, listen to erotic audio books while you scrub the bathroom floor, serve what you want to eat at your dinner parties’. Ellis has her tongue firmly in her cheek in this collection, described as ‘vicious, fresh and darkly hilarious’ which sounds just great.
Shirley Jackson comes up time and time again in the bits of the blogosphere I follow, perhaps because it was the centenary of her birth last year, although Penguin Classics seem to have done a good job in bringing her to readers’ attention. She’s very much a writers’ writer, too. Just an Ordinary Day seems to have all the Jackson hallmarks with stories set in a world ‘by turns frightening, funny, strange’. She’s an author whose work I’d like to explore further.
Penguin Classics are also responsible for bringing Sabahattin Ali’s Madonna in a Fur Coat to British readers’ attention. First published in Turkey in 1943, it’s tale of a man who leaves his village for 1920s Berlin where he falls in love with an artist. Maureen Freely’s translation met with a rapturous reception from the critics when it was published last year and it sounds quite beautiful.
I’m ending this post as I began with an uncharacteristic choice for me, this time a thriller. Annemarie Neary’s Siren took me by surprise last year, gripping me from its superbly dramatic opening when Róisín finds herself witness to a murder she’s unwittingly helped to set up. Neary takes her time revealing Róisín’s past, leaking small details into her narrative and occasionally bringing her readers up short. Her writing is sharp and clean, often vivid in its intensity, coupled with an astute psychological insight. A smart, pithy novel. I’m hoping for another one from Neary soon.
That’s it for the first February paperback preview. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis or to my review for Siren. A second bunch of February paperbacks will be along soon and if you’d like to catch up with February’s new books they’re here and here.