Paperbacks to Look Out for in May 2017: Part One

Cover imageAll but one of this first selection of May paperbacks is about marriage, family or both, and the one that isn’t appears to touch on it in some way. Top of my list has to be Ann Patchett’s superb Commonwealth, one of my books of 2016 and a hoped for Baileys Prize contender. It’s the story of a family, one which increasingly extends itself as marriages multiply and children are born. Patchett is an expert in show not tell: as her novel crisscrosses the years, from the opening christening in 1964 when a gatecrasher helps change the family’s history to the present day, stories are told and re-told – sometimes with illuminating differences. With its pleasingly rounded characters, meticulously constructed narrative and thoroughly absorbing storytelling all underpinned with a gentle but wry humour, this is a wonderful novel whose ending completes a beautifully executed circle.

Jane Rogers’ Conrad and Eleanor also made an appearance on both my books of 2016 list and my Baileys wishlist. Sadly, neither Commonwealth nor Rogers’ novel was successful. Authors may well start putting in requests to be omitted from my prize wishlists soon, given their lamentable performance. Conrad and Eleanor is a nuanced portrait of a marriage in which traditional male/female roles are upended. Eleanor is engaged in medical research as is Conrad but while she’s a star in her particular sphere, his work has stalled. When Conrad fails to return from the conference he’s supposed to be attending, Eleanor is forced to take a long hard look at their marriage. Rogers resists any hint of a fairy tale ending, instead offering her readers an entirely plausible resolution. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable and absorbing novel.Cover image

As, I’m sure Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must be the Place will be too. There was a time when I cheerily dismissed O’Farrell’s novels as chick lit – not for me – until I was finally persuaded to read After You’d Gone. This one’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.

I’m hopeful that the same can be said of Emma Straub’s Modern Lovers which has an appealing bad boys and girls facing middle age and their own teenagers’ rebellion theme. Elizabeth, Andrew and Zoe once played in a band together but now they’re married with kids and mortgages, staring fifty in the face but still clinging to whatever shreds of coolness they can. They all live in the same Brooklyn neighbourhood and their kids are friends, some a little too friendly for their parents’ liking. Straub showed herself to be a sharp, witty social observer in her enjoyable The Vacationers, qualities that sit very well with her new novel’s premise so hopes are high

Cover imageMy last choice, Mike McCormack’s Goldsmith Prize winning Solar Bones, follows the thoughts of Marcus Conway as he stands in his kitchen ‘deconstructing with his engineer’s mind how things are built to consider them better: bridges, banking systems and marriages. In one of the first great Irish novels of the 21st century, Mike McCormack captures with tenderness and feeling, in continuous, flowing prose, a whole life, suspended in a single hour’ say the publishers. I like the sound of this one.

That’s it for the first instalment of May’s paperback preview. If you’d like to know more, a click on a title will take you to my review for the first two and to a more detailed synopsis for the others. If you’d like to catch up with May’s hardbacks they’re here. More paperbacks shortly.

27 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out for in May 2017: Part One”

  1. This is one of your lists where most of these are still sitting on my shelves unread – eek! It’s reminded me that I really like the sound of Commonwealth though.

    The one I have read – the O’Farrell – wasn’t her greatest, in my opinion (though what do I know? I seem to be the only person who doesn’t rate Esme Lennox either). I didn’t get on with the structure which is ambitious but didn’t quite come off for me. Still worth a read though.

    1. Oh, you must read Commonwealth. A book to sink into. I was disappointed by Instructions for a Heatwave although I did enjoy Esmee. I’ll temper my anticipation a little for this one, then.

      1. Then I will soon! My favourite of O’Farrell’s is The Hand That First Held Mine, probably because I’m a sucker for the 1960’s London art world. It is worth a read though if you haven’t already.

  2. I haven’t touched Commonwealth (although I usually really like Ann Patchett), because all of my friends in Switzerland are up in arms about how inaccurate the research pertaining to Switzerland is – and how easily a good editor could have tidied that up. Shame when something like that puts people off…

    1. Yes, I think I’d blame the editor for that but I could go on about that aspect of the publishing process for some time. I can see that it would mar the experience but I hope you can overlook that. I was a little disappointed by the last couple of Patchetts but Commonwealth more than made up for that.

  3. I really liked This Must Be The Place – I, too, discovered O’Farrell after being pleasantly surprised by After You’d Gone. Some of the early editions of her books had really awful chick lit style covers but it looks like things have changed now!

    Looking forward to finally reading Commonwealth too. It sounds like something I would enjoy more than Bel Canto which I thought was a bit overdone in places.

    1. Indeed – those covers were dreadful, and misleading. I was underwhelmed by Bel Canto and a little disappointed by both State of Wonder and Run but Commonwealth was superb. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

  4. I am sure authors will be happy to be named in your hopefuls list, even if they don’t go on to be shortlisted for prizes. It’s all a bit random anyway (I have a bit of a bugbear about awards in general) and your recommendations doubtless result in sales and reads which is reward enough I’m sure. I’m not sure about Patchett either, I have read one of her books (State of Wonder, I think) and it was enjoyable but just that. Similarly not sure about O’Farrell, though I haven’t read her for a while. I’ve been sorely tempted by Solar Bones but managing to hold off thus far, though the will is weakening as the days roll on and on. Great selection as usual 🙂

    1. That’s very kind, Belinda. And there’s truth in what you say – it has to be award by committee and therefore something of a compromise. I didn’t enjoy State of Wonder either but Commonwealth is very different, much more subtle and accomplished, I think.

  5. Helen MacKinven

    Looking forward to Maggie O’Farrell’s latest – heard her talk about it last year and it sounds very interesting.

  6. I’m a big Maggie O’F fan and was thoroughly gripped by This Must be the Place… always loving her dual narratives I am in awe of her juggling the varying perspectives, locations and time lines for this one… felt like a jigsaw being thrown up in the air but somehow landing in perfect order & formation.

    I’ve yet to read any Patchett … good place to start? And other two are on the TBR shelf (which is presently still in a box after moving good read on to open that box first

    1. O’Farrell excels at the dual narrative, doesn’t she. I enjoyed Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant but Commonwealth is now my favourite, although her autobiographical The Story of a Happy Marriage is also excellent.

      I hope your move went well, Poppy. Always a very tiring, if exciting, time.

  7. Wonderful selection. I’ll be in the UK by May and I’m afraid that buying Commonwealth will become an obsession. I have heard mixed reviews of it, but I have never read any Patchett, and the cover is too beautiful to ignore.

    1. I’ll be interested to see what you think of it, Elena.I love the way they took the hardback jacket and tailored it slightly for the paperback. Works beautifully.

  8. You know I adore Commonwealth – wonderful novel. I listened to the Maggie O’Farrell and maybe that was why I didn’t get on with it quite as well as others by her. I do think audio is a tough test and I kept noticing how similar her sentences are in terms of structure and strategy. I bet you’d scarcely notice this when reading, so it’s probably much better than I thought it was! I might look out Solar Bones for Mr Litlove. It’s not often you find an engineer as the hero of a novel! 🙂

    1. Very true, which is a shame. We need real people in fiction! I’ve heard mixed things said about the print edition of the O’Farrell so perhaps it isn’t just the audio version. I’m sure I’ll read it anyway. She has such a deft hand with dual narratives.

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