Books to Look Out for in April 2019

Cover imageFewer titles than usual to whet my appetite in April, enough for just one longish post kicking off with Jill Dawson’s The Language of Birds. Dawson frequently uses historical figures in her fiction and this time it’s the turn of the notorious Lord Lucan. In 1974, Mandy River arrives at her new job as a nanny to find a household in the midst of a bitter domestic feud. Mandy is warned by her employer that her estranged husband has a violent streak but can she be trusted? ‘Drawing on the infamous Lord Lucan affair, this compelling novel explores the roots of a shocking murder from a fresh perspective and brings to vivid life an era when women’s voices all too often went unheard’ say the publishers. I’ve enjoyed several of Dawson’s novels, particularly The Crime Writer, so I have hopes for this one.

I loved Nickolas Butler’s debut, Shotgun Lovesongs; The Hearts of Men, its follow-up, not so much. I’m a wee bit cautious, then, about Little Faith which tells the story of the family of a young woman and her involvement with a fundamentalist preacher who is convinced her five-year-old son has the power to heal the sick. ‘Set over the course of one year and beautifully evoking the change of seasons, Little Faith is a powerful and deeply affecting novel about family and community, the ways in which belief is both formed and shaken, and the lengths we go to protect our own’ say the publishers, setting us up for more gorgeous descriptions of Butler’s beloved WisconsinCover image

Altogether more urban, Andrea Lawlor’s Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is set in 1993 and sounds like it might be a take on Orlando. The eponymous Paul is a bartender in a university town gay bar, studying queer theory by day, but he has a secret. ‘Oscillating wildly from Riot Grrrl to leather cub, Women’s Studies major to trade, Paul transforms his body at will in a series of adventures that take him from Iowa City to Boystown to Provincetown and finally to San Francisco – a journey through the deep queer archives of struggle and pleasure’ promise the publishers which sounds wildly ambitious but well worth investigating.

I first came across Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love on Kate’s Books Are My Favourite and Best blog. She described it as ‘easily one of the most original stories I’ve read. Ever’ so I’m delighted to find it’s to be published here in the UK. Film composer Arky has promised his dying wife not to visit her in hospital. She wants to spare him the burden of her suffering but it’s destroying him. ‘One day he finds his way to MOMA and sees Mariana Abramovic in The Artist is Present. The performance continues for seventy-five days and, as it unfolds, so does Arky. As he watches and meets other people drawn to the exhibit, he slowly starts to understand what might be missing in his life and what he must do’ say the publishers.

The husband in Marion Poschmann’s The Pine Islands is also seeking succour by the sound of it, this time from a cheating wife although only in his dreams. He takes himself off to Tokyo where he decides to follow in the footsteps of Basho meeting a young student seemingly bent on suicide along the way. ‘Gilbert travels with Yosa across Basho’s disappearing Japan, one in search of his perfect ending and the other the new beginning that will give his life meaning’ Cover imageaccording to the publishers. I like the sound of travels in a ‘disappearing Japan’.

Unusually for me, I’ve got ahead of myself with Tash Aw’s We, the Survivors and have already read it. Set in rural Malaysia, it tells the story of a man born into poverty, a decent man whose attempts to better himself end in tragedy. Ah Hock tells his story to a young woman who is writing about him, revealing what led up to the uncharacteristic act of violence that resulted in a man’s death and his own incarceration. It’s a quietly powerful, compelling piece of fiction, beautifully expressed. Review to follow next month.

Isabella Hammad’s The Parisian is a doorstopper, the kind I’d usually avoid, but Zadie Smith has called it ‘a sublime reading experience: delicate, restrained, surpassingly intelligent, uncommonly poised and truly beautiful’ so I think I might have to give it a try. It follows a young Palestinian from the Middle East to Paris during the First World War. ‘Hammad delicately unpicks the tangled politics and personal tragedies of a turbulent era – the Palestinian struggle for independence, the strife of the early twentieth century and the looming shadow of the Second World War’ say the publishers. Apparently, Smith has never spoken of a student in such glowing terms in the fifteen years she’s taught.

I’m ending with Season Butler’s Cygnet which has been in the offing for six months. It sees a Cover imageyoung girl, stranded on an island seemingly abandoned by her parents. Swan Island is home to an ageing separatist community who have turned their back on the mainland to create their own haven and have no wish to have their carefully constructed idyll shattered by an incomer, let alone a young one. ‘Cygnet is the story of a young woman battling against the thrashing waves of loneliness and depression, and how she learns to find hope, laughter and her own voice in a world that’s crumbling around her’ according to the publishers. This one could go either way but it’s an interesting premise.

That’s it for April’s new novels. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Paperbacks soon…

34 thoughts on “Books to Look Out for in April 2019

  1. BookerTalk

    I like the sound of Jill Dawson’s novel – the Lucan affair is definitely one of those mysteries that refuses to go away no matter how many theories are propounded. The Tash Aw is a very different kind of book from the last one I read by him (five star billionaire)

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      It doesn’t, does it. His name popped up on Radio 4 recently in conection with something or other – not this book as it would be too early. The last book I read by Aw was his first novel, The Harmony Silk Factory, so long ago that I can’t remember much about it. We, the Survivors is excellent.

      Reply
  2. kimbofo

    Which publisher is publishing the museum of modern love? I loved that book so much my bookgroup decided to read it; everyone made a decision to order it from Oz or buy the kindle edition.

    Reply
  3. Café Society

    I love Jill Dawson’s work and already have a copy of The Parisian waiting to be read. Given other commitments those will have to do me from this list, I’m afraid.

    Reply
  4. Elle

    I’ve got The Language of Birds and The Parisian and am pretty excited for both; The Museum of Modern Love also sounds brilliant. April’s looking great for new stuff: The Confessions of Frannie Langton, You Will Be Safe Here, Wakenhyrst, The Dollmaker, Things In Jars, and then in nonfiction Sabrina Hatton-Cohen’s memoir of homelessness and firefighting, The Heat of the Moment. Unsure if I’ll get to them all in time… (I won’t, will I.)

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      That’s quite a list! I’m sure you will but maybe not all by April! I’m a little wary of The Dollmaker and Things in Jars as there seems to be a lot of hype around them but I may well end up reading them.

      Reply
      1. Elle

        I’ve heard great things about Nina Allan (especially The Race and The Rift) so am keen to try her first foray into non-explicitly-genre fiction; Things in Jars caught my eye bc Vicky Hoyle over at Eve’s Alexandria ADORED it, and our tastes often overlap.

        Reply
  5. Penny

    The Language of Birds sounds appealing and like you, I loved Shotgun Lovesongs – but haven’t read The Hearts of Men yet. But Little Faith is waiting for me at the library today – I’m looking forward to it definitely! And Cygnet looks interesting!

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I’ll be interested to know what you make of Little Faith. The Hearts of Men wasn’t a bad book but Shotgun Lovesongs was sublime raising expectations no doubt unreasonably high for me.

      Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      She’s so clever in the way that she mixes real people with fictional characters. My favourite of the ones I’ve read is The Crime Writer about Patricia Highsmith who was extraordinarily eccentric to put it mildly.

      Reply
  6. FictionFan

    I have We, The Survivors coming up soo, so I’m glad you seem to have thought it worth reading – I’ll look forward to your full review. I also have The Parisians, though as a Kindle ARC, which has clearly allowed it to slip unnoticed past my “no doorsteps” filter… 😉

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I have serious qualms about holding The Parisian up for lengthy periods. Haven’t yet examined the size of the font so it might not be quite as threatening as it looks squatting on my shelves.

      Reply
      1. hopewellslibraryoflife

        It amazes me how few big books I now read. Even 400 pages seems “huge.” I’m working on a manuscript and I limit myself instinctively to 300 pages max. Yet I used to love Herman Wouk and R.F. Delderfield and Taylor Caldwell and all those great BIG books of the 70s!

        Reply
  7. madamebibilophile

    Unbelievably for once I’m ahead – Kate’s review meant I ordered The Museum of Modern Love from Australia (it arrived quickly – not a good thing to know). It’s a great read 🙂

    I’m a bit wary of invented biography of real people, especially when friends/family of the person are still alive, but I do really like Jill Dawson so I’m tempted to give The Language of Birds a try.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Ha! I can see an Australian import habit looming… I know what you mean about real people and fiction but Dawson exels at melding the two. Her novel about Patricia Highsmith is a triumph.

      Reply
  8. Kate W

    Yay! I’m so glad Museum is being published in the U.K. (thanks for the link).
    Tempted as I am but some of the books on this list, I’m determined to keep my head down this month and stay focused on my Stella Prize reading!

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      You’re welcome. It was your review that made me so eager to read it. Funny you should mention the Stella : I’m sure that’s why Museum is being published here.

      Reply
  9. JacquiWine

    An intriguing selection as ever, Susan. One of my neighbours loved Shotgun Lovesongs so much that she’s given me her copy of it to try. I’ll have to let her know that he’s got a new one on the way – I’m sure she’ll be interested in hearing more about that. Shame about The Hearts of Me – hopefully Little Faith will mark a return to form for this author.

    Reply
  10. Naomi

    The Language of Birds and We, the Survivors sound good. But I’m also intrigued by Cygnet, which I don’t think anyone else commented on (I was hoping to see someone praise it). I like islands and segregated communities… if it’s done well.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I can vouch for We, the Survivors which is excellent. Cygnet sounds good, doesn’t it. It was due to be published some time ago but must have been delayed by some reason.

      Reply

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