Books to Look Out for in October 2017

Cover imageThere are three titles competing for top of my October wish list. Hard to choose which to grab first so I’m plumping for the one I’ve been waiting for the longest: Jane Harris’ Sugar Money. It’s been eight years since Gillespie and I was published, a novel which features a superbly unreliable narrator, and eleven since The Observations which I included in my Blasts from the Past series. Gillespie and I leapt the second novel hurdle with flying colours so hopes are high for Harris’ third, set in eighteenth-century Martinique where two brothers have been instructed to return to their home island of Grenada to smuggle back forty-two slaves from a hospital plantation. ‘With great characters, a superb narrative set up, and language that is witty, bawdy and thrillingly alive, Sugar Money is a novel to treasure’ say the publishers encouragingly.

Sticking with the long gap between novels theme, my second choice Is Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach published seven years after the excellent A Visit from the Goon Squad. It opens in Brooklyn against the backdrop of the Great Depression, with young Anna Kerrigan taken by her father to the house of a rich man. Years later, Anna works in the shipyard during the war, earning the money that has kept her family since her father’s disappearance. When she meets the man she remembers from her childhood she begins to question what has happened to her father. ‘Mesmerizing, hauntingly beautiful, with the pace and atmosphere of a noir thriller and a wealth of detail about organized crime, the merchant marine and the clash of classes in New York, Egan’s first historical novel is a masterpiece, a deft, startling, intimate exploration of a transformative moment in the lives of women and men, America and the world’ say the publishers which sounds very ambitious but given Egan’s past novels may well not be an exaggeration.

In any other month Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour would have had no competition in topping my list. I’m an ardent fan as regular readers may have gathered. McDermott excels at that pared-back yet lyrical prose that I love – I’ve yet to read anything by her I’ve not enjoyed. Thankfully she’s a little more prolific than Harris and Egan although it’s been four years sinceCover image Someone, her last novel. Set in Brooklyn, her new book follows three generations of an Irish immigrant family in the ‘40s and ‘50s. A man takes his own life, leaving his young wife pregnant. Sister St Saviour offers her work in the convent’s laundry, saving her from destitution but although never spoken of, her husband’s suicide remains a stigma. ‘In prose of startling radiance and precision, Alice McDermott tells a story that is at once wholly individual and universal in its understanding of the human condition. Rendered with remarkable lucidity and intelligence, The Ninth Hour is the crowning achievement of one of today’s finest writers’ say the publishers whetting my appetite further.

And now for something entirely different. Gabe Hbash’s Stephen Florida is about a college student, an amateur wrestler with his eye set on a championship. Not a premise that would usually appeal but the publishers‘ description is an intriguing one: ‘Profane, manic and tipping into the uncanny, this is Florida’s chronicle of loneliness, obsession, and the drive to leave a mark. With echoes of The Art of Fielding and the film Foxcatcher, Gabe Habash’s daring, revelatory debut journeys into the mind of a young man teetering between control and rage, grief and elation, genius and insanity’. That reference to The Art of Fielding was inevitable, I suppose, but it did catch my eye.

Tony Peake’s North Facing has as its backdrop the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 when the world appeared to be on the point of catastrophe. Rather than simply telling the story of the American/Russian face-off, Peake’s novel views it through the lens of a group of South African schoolboys, one of whom is discovering his sexuality and the politics of his troubled country. Now in his sixties and drawn back to Pretoria, Paul recalls that time which saw both the Sharpeville massacre and the arrest of Nelson Mandela. I’m particularly drawn to this novel after reading Fiona Melrose’s Johannesburg, set on the day after Mandela’s death.

Cover imageMy final choice is Durian Sukegawa’s Sweet Bean Paste. Set in Japan, it’s about a disillusioned man with a criminal record who makes the titular paste for the pancakes sold in the confectioner’s where he works. When an elderly disabled woman enters the shop, offering to teach him her own recipe, a friendship begins. The publishers describe Sukegawa’s book as ‘a quietly devastating novel about the burden of the past and the redemptive power of friendship’ which sounds very appealing.

That’s it for October. A click on any title that’s piqued your interest will take you to a more detailed synopsis. Paperbacks soon…

28 thoughts on “Books to Look Out for in October 2017”

  1. North Facing sounds interesting (Tony Peake is an agent for a number of South African writers). Thanks for including it. Looks like it will be available here in mid-November.

  2. Ooh, I didn’t know Jane Harris had a new book coming out. I thought Gillespie and I was wonderful, so I’ll definitely want to have a look.

    I read Egan’s new book early and was disappointed. I don’t think historical fiction is her forte at all. I’ll be interested to see what you think if you review it.

    I’ve still not read any McDermott but have a copy of Charming Billy in America.

    I recently won a Goodreads giveaway copy of Stephen Florida. I’ve heard good things about it from friends in America, so I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

    1. I do love an unreliable narrator and Gillespie’s Harriet is hard to beat in that department.

      I’ve just finished the first chapter of the Egan – starts well.

      Looking forward to hearing what you think about the Florida and whether it lives up to that Harbach comparison.

          1. Oh, I’m sure she’ll be brilliant live. Her latest book arose out of nearly a decade of research, and wears it rather heavily. Compared to Goon Squad (the only other of her novels I’ve read), her historical fiction felt stiff. I think (post)modern commentary is what she does best.

  3. i loved Gillespie and I and enjoyed The Observations so I’ll definitely read Sugar Money at some point. But I’ve recently read The Underground Railroad and Homegoing so I feel I need a break from slave themed novels.

  4. i enjoyed Gillespie and I far more than The Observations – in fact I was half way through the latter when I realised I had already read it. Yes it was that memorable. Her third one seems a vastly different beast doesn’t it. I wonder how successful she will make the transition

  5. I enjoyed The Observations but didn’t get on so well with Gillespie and I. I can’t believe it’s eleven years since The Observations came out. I’ll try the new one and see how I get on with it. The McDermott sounds like my sort of book as well.

    1. I enjoyed both, each very different from the other, and this one sounds different again. Alice McDermott is one of my favourite writers. If you enjoy empathetic, pared-back elegant writing I’m sure you’ll like it.

  6. I really enjoyed Jennifer Egan’s Goon Squad when it came out – it seemed to have a lot of zest and verve. Her new one sounds rather intriguing, particularly if it lives up to the publisher’s puff!

  7. Sweet Bean Paste piques my interest. I’m a bit surprised I hadn’t heard about the Egan, given how A Visit from the Goon Squad was received I’d have expected a little more fanfare, though perhaps I’m more out of the loop than I’d realised.

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