Paperbacks to Look Out for in May 2019: Part One

Cover image Rather like April, May’s paperback publishing schedules are chock full of potential delights, some of which I’ve read but most not. I’ll begin with one I haven’t: Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman which constantly popped up in my neck of the Twitter woods in the latter part of last year, lauded by all manner of people many of them readers whose opinions I trust. It’s about thirty-six-year-old Keiko who’s never had a boyfriend and who’s been working in the same store for half her life. Others may wonder why she doesn’t find someone to settle down with but Keiko’s happy with what she has.

Given Keiko’s apparent contentment with her single, childless lot she may not have troubled herself with the question of whether to have children or not, the subject of Sheila Heti’s Motherhood. Heti’s narrator struggles to make a decision while everyone else has something to say on the matter. ‘Motherhood raises radical and essential questions about womanhood, parenthood, and how – and for whom – to live’ says the publisher in a blurb that gets straight to the point and is all the better for it. I’ve seen mixed reviews of this one but I’m keen to read it.

Eva Meijer’s Bird Cottage sounds most unusual. It’s based on the life of Len Howard who was forty years old when she decided to turn her back on her life in London and move to a cottage in Sussex to pursue her passion for birds. The result was two bestselling books based on her observations of the birds that lived nearby, some of which became so used to her they would perch on her shoulder as she typed, apparently. ‘This moving novel imagines the story of this remarkable woman’s decision to defy society’s expectations, and the joy she drew from her extraordinary relationship with the natural world’ say the publishers which sounds lovely.

Based on the early life of Madame Tussaud, Edward Carey’s Little takes its readers from eighteenth-century Switzerland to Revolutionary France before arriving at its destination in Baker Street. When six-year-old Anne Marie Grosholtz is orphaned, she attaches herself to the otherworldly Dr Curtius who make his living from modelling wax busts. Fleeing the bailiffs, these two take themselves off to France where they become embroiled in the French Revolution. Grudges are borne, scores settled in the worst of ways and when it’s all over Marie Cover image is alone. Sharp and resourceful as ever, she finds her own pragmatic way. Marie is an engaging narrator whose story is made all the more enjoyable by Carey’s line drawings. One of my 2018 books of the year.

It’s the gorgeously written Moonstone that’s whetting my appetite for the multi-talented Sjón’s Codex 1962 in which a character is fashioned out of clay carried in a hatbox by his Jewish fugitive father in WW2 Germany. The woman his father meets in a smalltown guesthouse nurses him back to health and together they mould the clay into the shape of a baby. It’s not until 1962 that Joseph enters the world, growing up with a rare disease which will attract the attention of an Icelandic geneticist fifty-three years later. ‘At once playful and profoundly serious, this remarkable novel melds multiple genres into a unique whole: a mind-bending read and a biting, timely attack on nationalism’ say the publishers promisingly.

I enjoyed Simon Mawer’s The Glass Room, so much so that we visited the eponymous building in Brno on out first central European railway jaunt a few years back. I’m hoping for something similar from Prague Spring which sees two English students, Elli and James, hitching across Europe and into Czechoslovakia in 1968 when the world’s eyes are on Alexander Dubcek’s ‘socialism with a human face’. A British diplomat in Prague is engaging in his own explorations of this new idealism but the Kremlin has other ideas. ‘How will the looming disaster affect those fragile lives caught up in the invasion?’ asks the publisher although I think we know the answer.

Quite some time ago, having spent several holidays in the Four Corners area of the US, I went through a phase of reading Native American fiction which is what attracts me to Tommy Orange’s There There. It revolves around the Big Oakland Powwow, following several celebrants not all of whose intentions are good. Described as ‘a propulsive, groundbreaking novel, polyphonic and multigenerational, weaving together an array of contemporary Native American voices into a singularly dynamic and original meta-narrative about violence and recovery, about family and loss, about identity and power’ it sounds both ambitious and enticing. Rebecca over at Bookish Beck counts it among the three best books she’s read this year.

Cover image Over five years since I reviewed it on this blog, Cristina Henríquez’s brilliantly named The Book of Unknown Americans is being published in paperback. It explores the immigrant experience through one family who have left their beloved Mexico for the US in the hope of helping their young daughter Maribel, brain-damaged in an accident. Narrated by Maribel’s parents, the novel is punctuated by the testimonies of their fellow tenants in the Delaware apartment block where they live, some of whom have fled unrest and persecution while others are hoping to escape poverty, seeking a better life for themselves and their children. Filled with warmth as well as sorrow, it’s a sad story humanely told.

That’s it for the first batch of May’s paperbacks. As ever a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis or to my review for Little and The Book of Unknown Americans. If you’d like to catch up with May’s new titles they’re here and here. More soon but not until next week when I’m back from a short break in Genoa about which no doubt I will be posting.

26 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out for in May 2019: Part One”

  1. I love Simon Mawer’s work and I have such vivid memories of my own from 1968 that I read this the moment it was published. I don’t think it is quite as good as The Glass Room, which was superb, but nevertheless it was still one of my reads of the year.

      1. Yes, I’ll be posting about There There for the Rathbones Folio Prize blogtour in a few weeks time. BTW – just read West by Carys Davies (which is also shortlisted for the above) and adored that – you’d like that one I’m sure.

  2. Some wonderful sounding reads here. Like you, I’ve only heard good things about Convenience Store Woman so I’m very keen to read it. And anything by Sjon is a reason to get excited!

  3. So kind of you to link to my thoughts on There There; it’s a stunner. Motherhood and Little were my #2 and #3 fiction reads from last year. I’m keen to read Convenience Store Woman, which I have on request at the library.

    1. You’re welcome, Rebecca. It’s good to have a good, reliable review to link to if I haven’t reviewed a title myself. Lots of love for Convenience Store Woman here today!

  4. Is The Glass Room good, or very good? I’ve been wondering about reading it since visiting the Tugendhat Villa but it’s such a wonderful building that I’m wary of adding less wonderful images to my memories of it..

    1. Ah, that’s a difficult question! I went to Brno because I’d read the novel, albeit quite a few years ago, and enjoyed it so much. Were you able to book a tour of the Villa?

  5. We just turned up on the day and were able to join a Czech-language tour. The guide very kindly translated for us in English as well. It was in January a few years ago, we might not have been as lucky had we gone there in the summer. As a bonus, there was a snowstorm outside as we stood in “the glass room”, it was really wonderful! Such a beautiful building, and such a sad history too. I hope you get to go back and visit.

    1. That sounds magical, a memory to treasure. We were there in early September. I’d been trying to book a place on the tour for months. We were allowed into the garden from where we had a good view of the inside of the house. I particularly liked Brno – a welcome break from the Prague crowds!

  6. There’s been a lot of buzz around Convenience Store Woman, hasn’t there? It does sound very good, just the right kind of quirky (if you know what I mean).

    I also enjoyed Simon Mawer’s The Glass Room – a book-group read if my memory serves me correctly. His new one sounds very appealing too. 1968 was such a pivotal time in European history, so lots of potential for interesting fiction there.

    1. I do know what you mean about Convenience Store Woman. Hopes are high for that.

      I was disappointed by Simon Mawer’s The Girl Who Fell From the Sky having enjoyed The Glass Room so much but the Prague Spring theme is very appealing.

  7. Five years to get to a paperback version – that sounds an unusually long time. Any reason why it didn’t come out within the usual 2 year timeframe?

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