Hard to match part one of June’s preview, having led with a new Kate Atkinson but Hiromi Kawakami is one of my favorite authors so I’ll start with The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino. Mr Nishino makes his advances to all manner of women: young, old, independent, grieving, cat-loving or interested in making their own conquests – all are considered fair game. ‘For each of them, an encounter with elusive womaniser Mr Nishino will bring torments, desires and delights’ say the publishers. I’m hoping for some of the understated prose infused with a gentle humour that characterised both The Nakano Thrift Shop and Strange Weather in Tokyo the covers of which are nicely referenced by this one.
I’m jumping from a favourite writer to one I know nothing about with Helon Habila’s Travellers which tackles the theme of migration through a diverse set of characters, from a Nigerian American couple who have been awarded an arts fellowship to a Somalian trying to save his daughter from a forced marriage. ‘Moving from a Berlin nightclub to a Sicilian refugee camp to the London apartment of a Malawian poet, Helon Habila evokes a rich mosaic of migrant experiences. And through his characters’ interconnecting fates, he traces the extraordinary pilgrimages we all might make in pursuit of home’ say the publishers. It sounds both ambitious and fascinating.
Carrying on the theme of migration, award-winning poet, Ocean Vuong’s lyrically named On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous takes the form of a letter from a son to his mother who cannot read, telling her the story of his life and exploring the family’s history in Vietnam before he was born. ‘At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity… … With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years’ say the publishers in the somewhat overwrought blurb. It does sound extraordinary, and I’ve a weakness for novels by poets.
Carolina Setterwall’s Let’s Hope for the Best is apparently based on events in her own life, knowledge of which is likely to make her novel all the more wrenching. Written in the form of a dual narrative which flits back and forth between past and present, it tells the story of thirty-six-year-old Carolina whose partner dies in the night leaving her to bring up their infant son alone. Setterwall takes the story to the point where new love appears on Carolina’s horizon but will she be able to accept it. Reading the synopsis for Let’s Hope for the Best, I can’t help being reminded of Tom Malmquist’s powerful, moving piece of auto-fiction, In Every Moment We Are Alive.
The next two novels are reissues rather than brand spanking new ones but I’ve read neither of them. The first comes garlanded with praise from the likes of Alan Hollinghurst, who has written an introduction, and Rupert Everett who laments the passing of the New York City portrayed in Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance. Set in the 1970s, it follows Anthony Malone who turns his back on small town America to throw himself into the dance parties, discos, saunas and orgies of the New York gay scene. ‘First published in 1978, Dancer from the Dance is widely considered the greatest, most exciting novel of the post-Stonewall generation. Told with wit, eroticism and unashamed lyricism, it remains a heart-breaking love letter to New York’s hedonistic past, and a testament to the brilliance of our passions as they burn brightest’ say the publishers. I like the sound of that even if it won’t be possible to read it without the sadness of knowing what comes next.
The second reissue is a feminist classic which I’ve heard of but never read. Alix Kates Shulman’s Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen follows Sasha Davis who drops out of college to marry but finds herself rebelling against her conservative 1950s upbringing as her thirtieth birthday draws near. ‘Alix Kates Shulman’s landmark novel follows Sasha’s coming of age through the sexual double standards, discrimination and harassment of the 1950s and 60s. Originally published in 1972, Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen was the first great novel of second-wave feminism. Five decades later, it remains a funny, honest and heartbreakingly perceptive story of a young woman in a man’s world’ says the blurb. According to the New York Times ‘women will like it and men should read it for the good of their immortal souls’. Amen to that.
That’s it for June’s new novels. As ever, a click on any title that’s snagged your attention will take you to a more detailed synopsis, and if you’d like to catch up with the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks soon…