Paperbacks to Look Out for in August 2018

Cover imageI’ve read all but one of August’s paperbacks, or at least the ones that have caught my eye, which means a nice cheap month for me. I’ll begin with Michelle de Kretser’s The Life to Come which explores modern Australia through the stories of a disparate set of characters linked by their relationship to one rather infuriating woman. Hard to encapsulate this episodic novel in a neat synopsis but de Kretser executes it with a deceptively light touch and a hefty dollop of dry, often waspish humour underpinned with compassion.

Jenny Erpenbeck’s Go, Went, Gone is also notable for its compassion, examining the plight of refugees through the lens of a recently retired, widowed academic. Richard finds himself faced with a blank future until his interest is piqued by a hunger strike staged by a group of African refugees which leads to his involvement with the occupation of Oranienplatz. Erpenbeck humanises the occupiers through their stories of the often calamitous events that made them leave their homes and the appalling difficulties of their journeys. It’s a much more conventional narrative than either The End of Days or Visitation, the other novels I’ve read by Erpenbeck, but there’s the same consciousness of Germany’s own fractured past running through it.

The past is very much present in Nicole Krauss’ Forest Dark in which two very different New Yorkers are drawn to Tel Aviv, briefly staying in the city’s Hilton: one a retired lawyer who has taken to giving away his valuables; the other a middle-aged novelist, stuck both in her writing and her marriage, lured by the familiar setting of childhood holidays. Krauss alternates Jules Epstein’s relatively straightforward story with Nicole’s discursive, highly literary narrative, building an expectation that they will meet at some point which – a little frustratingly – is unfulfilled. Rich in ideas and beautifully expressed, Forest Dark is far from an easy read but it’s Cover imagea rewarding one.

Studded with a multitude of literary allusions – even the cops read Modiano – C. K. Stead’s The Necessary Angel is about a professor at the Sorbonne who lives in a state of comfortably amicable estrangement from his wife. Max conceives an unexpected passion for a junior colleague, then a young British postgraduate appears in his study, charming him with both her flattery and eccentricity. While his wife is on holiday, a painting thought to be a Cézanne disappears from her apartment and Max finds himself in a fix. Stead’s novel manages to be both cerebral and thoroughly entertaining.

Continuing the literary allusion theme, Fiona Melrose’s Johannesburg is an homage to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway which follows a diverse set of characters through a single day as one of them prepares for a party on December 6th, 2013. Melrose shifts smoothly from one character to another offering her readers a snapshot of South Africa’s capital on the day after the death of Nelson Mandela. It’s an ambitious, expertly executed novel which made me wonder why I hadn’t read Melrose’s first book, Midwinter.

Set in early twentieth-century Brooklyn, Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour is the story of Annie, rescued from poverty by the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor when her husband commits suicide leaving her pregnant and bereft. It bears all the hallmarks I’ve come to expect from a McDermott novel: understated yet lyrical writing; empathy in spades; astutely drawn characters, Cover imageall gathered together to form a quietly glorious whole infused with gentle humour.

My last August paperback is Akhil Sharma’s A Life of Adventure and Delight which I’ve yet to read. Comprising ‘elegant, unsparing and intimate stories’, Sharma’s collection combines ‘the minimalism of Chekhov and Carver with a flair for dark comedy’ say the publishers setting the bar rather high although having read the Folio Prize-winning Family Life I’d say they may well be right.

If you’d like to know more, a click on any of the first six titles above will take you to a full review here or to a more detailed synopsis for A Life of Adventure and Delight, and if you’d like to catch up with August’s new books they’re here, and here.

21 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out for in August 2018

  1. Kate W

    What a month! I could be tempted by all of these but will probably start with the Sharma, given that I still think about Family Life.
    I enjoyed The Life to Come (particularly the stab at the publishing industry!) although I didn’t like it as much as Questions of Travel. de Kretser is speaking at the Melbourne Writers Festival but at this stage, won’t get to her event (it clashes with something else I’m planning on going to).

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      It made a mark, didn’t it. Sorry to hear that you won’t be able to make it to the de Kretser event. I wonder if she’ll read a pssage from the festival scenes. They were so funny.

      Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Don’t let that stop you, Ali! I much perferred this take on Mrs Dalloway to The Hours. The South African backdrop on that particular day worked so well.

      Reply
  2. BookerTalk

    It’s taken a long time for Melrose’s novel to come out in paperback hasn’t it? I have an e-version but find these days I don’t use my reader so I have forgotten what I have. its one I really want to read because I love south africa as a country and am fascinated by its culture and political change

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      It used to be a rule of thumb, back in my bookselling days, that you could expect a year between hardback and paperback but now it seems completely unpredictable. I would be interested to hear what you think about the book, Karen, particularly in the light of your visits to South Africa.

      Reply
          1. BookerTalk

            Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia – almost two months away beg in February so we miss the worst of the winter. My husband had grand plans of including Cambodia and Los Angeles but I put my little foot down

  3. Kath

    I enjoyed Fiona Melrose’s Johannesburg very much and read it because I’d loved her debut Midwinter, so I really hope you enjoy that one as much as I did.

    Reply
      1. Kath

        Yes, more contemplative, quieter after the noise and colour of Johannesburg. But such beauty in her writing, some of the sentences made me stop and reflect, before writing them down, so I could move on.

        Reply

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