Paperbacks to Look Out for in May 2018: Part One

Cover image I seem to start most of these posts with promises of many treats, or potential treats, on the paperback horizon and May’s no exception with publishers not yet assuming that we’ve put our brains away in preparation for summer reading.

At the top of May’s goodie list for me is Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From which appeared on both my books of 2017 list and my Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 wish list. A mere 140 pages long – barely that given its fragmentary structure, some paragraphs no more than a sentence –  it’s the story of a London submerged by flood from which our unnamed narrator, her husband and her newborn son flee for their lives. It’s a highly ambitious debut but Hunter carries it off beautifully – flashes of humour shine out, her use of language is captivating, the risky structure tackled with great confidence and it ends on a ringing note of much-needed optimism.

Catherine Lacey’s The Answers is a caustic satire which takes a distinctly dystopian view of relationships, our obsession with celebrity and the seemingly inexorable march of technology into even our most private moments. It’s about a scientific study commissioned by movie star to investigate what makes us fall in love and stay that way. Desperate for money, Mary enrolls in The Girlfriend Experiment as Emotional Girlfriend alongside Angry Girlfriend, Maternal Girlfriend and Mundane Girlfriend, to name but a few. The ensuing shenanigans skewer the contemporary pursuit of the perfect partner in a novel which lives up to its Margaret Atwood puff.

Technology comes in for a bashing in The Chalk Artist which sees Allegra Goodman contrasting the world of gaming with the older more established one of literature. Despite her antipathy to it, Nina prods Collin into a job in her father’s business which designed the game that Cover image consumed his teenage years. As Nina struggles to imbue her students with a love of literature, Collin is pulled further into Arkadia with its playground offices and exacting taskmasters. Meanwhile, sixteen-year-old games-obsessed Aidan has been given a black box which opens up a virtual reality game to him. The Chalk Artist is an absorbing, all too believable read but I preferred Goodman’s previous novel, The Cook Book Collector, which explores similar thematic territory.

I had a similar reaction to Jennifer Egan’s first historical novel Manhattan Beach to which I had been looking forward very much having enjoyed A Visit from the Goon Squad. Beginning in the Great Depression, it tells the story of Anna Kerrigan, who has learned to fend for herself after the disappearance of her beloved father, and Dexter Styles who may be able to tell her what has happened to him. Anna is assigned to work in the shipyards during the Second World War but manages to argue, cajole and doggedly train her way onto the all-male diving programme while still trying to find answers to the mystery of her father’s disappearance. It’s an accomplished, enjoyable piece of fiction but all stitched in a little too neatly for me – to say more on that would be to give too much away.

I’m hoping Claire Messud’s The Burning Girl won’t continue the disappointment trend after the excellent The Woman Upstairs. Her new novel looks at female friendship through two women who have been friends since nursery school but whose paths diverge leaving one of them feeling cast aside. ‘Disturbed, angry and desperate for answers, she sets out on a journey that will put her own life in danger, and shatter her oldest friendship. Compact, compelling, and ferociously sad, The Burning Girl is at once a story about childhood, friendship and community, and a complex examination of the stories we tell ourselves about childhood and friendship’ say the publishers which sounds right up my street.

I’m ending this selection with Jamie Ford’s Love and Other Consolation Prizes which I’m not at all sure about largely because of the cover which looks somewhat soapy to me but I like the sound of the premise. At the 1909 Seattle World’s Fair Ernest, a half-Chinese boy, is raffled off as a prize and ends up working in a brothel where he falls in love with the daughter of its madam. In 1962, on the eve of the new World’s Fair, Ernest looks back at his past while his daughter attempts to unravel her family’s story. Quite an eye-catching synopsis but it I’m still not convinced by that jacket.

That’s it for the first batch of May paperback delights. A click on any of the first four will take you to my review and to a more detailed synopsis for the other two should you want to know more. If you missed May’s new titles, they’re here and here. Second batch of paperbacks shortly…

14 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out for in May 2018: Part One”

  1. I enjoyed The Woman Upstairs and have had the ARC of The Burning Girl since last year but haven’t got round to it – influenced by the not-great reviews, I think. Maybe I should read it and make up my own mind!

    1. She was very convincing on the gaming aspect about which I know little or nothing but could have cut it shorter, and I felt Aidan’s sister was left dangling. There, can’t even recall her name. Very much enjoyed The Cookbook Collector, though.

      That title definitely rings a bell…

    1. I think I’d recommend The Answers over The Chalk Artist. Funny how cover designs go in trends – I was mentioning the woman in red walking away motif to someone on here only the other day.

  2. Ah, I remember seeing your earlier post about The Answers and thinking it was a book worth looking up along with Lacey’s earlier novel (which I can’t recall the title of, but remember finding the premise intriguing). Thanks for the reminder. An interesting selection. The Messud looks promising as well, I keep meaning to revisit The Woman Upstairs.

  3. The End We start From sounds great. Like you, the synopsis of Love and Other Consolation Prizes really appeals but the jacket is awful and I really don’t like the title either. Maybe it will surpass these!

  4. I’d like to hear more about what you dislike about Manhattan Beach. Egan’s prose is beautiful — the way she sees things, the ways she says them. Her characters are so real you can smell them.

    1. They are, indeed, and the writing is very evocative but it was a little too long for me and neatly stitched up in a way that would spoil it for others if I was more explicit here.

  5. I just brought Hunter’s book home from the library. I saw it and remembered seeing a good review of it somewhere – must have been yours! 🙂

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