Paperbacks to Look Out For in October 2019: Part Two

Cover imageI’m kicking off this second instalment of October paperbacks with the only one I haven’t read. I’d have expected to be hell-bent on getting my hands on it but after the hardback reviews, I’m not so sure. Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore sees a portrait painter discover a strange painting in the attic of a famous artist, opening a Pandora’s box in the process. To close it he must do all manner of things involving ‘a mysterious ringing bell, a two-foot-high physical manifestation of an Idea, a dapper businessman who lives across the valley, a precocious thirteen-year-old girl, a Nazi assassination attempt during World War II in Vienna, a pit in the woods behind the artist’s home, and an underworld haunted by Double Metaphors.  A tour de force of love and loneliness, war and art – as well as a loving homage to The Great GatsbyKilling Commendatore is a stunning work of imagination from one of our greatest writers’ say the publishers. Others weren’t so keen.

Frances Liardet’s We Must Be Brave is in altogether more straightforward fictional territory. Set in a small Hampshire village, it opens in 1940 with the discovery of a child fast asleep at the back of a coach filled with frightened women fleeing the bombing of Southampton. When Ellen comes across five-year-old Pamela, her first impulse is to find the girl’s mother but the child is alone. Much to her surprise Ellen warms to this adventurous, heart-broken child whose plight mirrors her own experience. Nothing much in the way of literary fireworks here, just good old-fashioned, satisfying storytelling.

War, and its legacy, is also the theme of Georgina Harding’s Land of the Living. Returning from the Second World War, Lieutenant Charlie Ashe buries himself in farming his uncle’s land. As he sets about his work, his wife wonders about the things he witnessed, colluding with the silence of this man she barely knew before they were married by asking few questions and playing the part of the frivolous woman until a figure from Charlie’s past turns up. A new Georgina Harding is always something to celebrate for me. I’m a great fan of her elegant yet lyrical writing and her quiet perceptiveness. Very disappointed not to see this one on the Booker longlist.

Last, but by no means least, Joan Silber’s Improvement traces the repercussions of a fatal Cover imageaccident through a set of characters, exploring themes of love and redemption. This carefully constructed novel reads almost like a series of tightly linked short stories beginning and ending with Reyna as Silber explores the ripple effects of Claude’s accident through a range of characters from his girlfriend to the three Germans who visit Reyna’s aunt’s Turkish home decades before the carpet she brought back to the States contributes to Reyna’s redemption. Silber’s characters are sharply observed, her writing subtly understated leaving her readers to draw their own conclusions. Improvement is her only book published here in the UK: all I can say to her publishers is ‘more please’.

That’s it for October’s paperbacks. A click on any of the last three titles will take you to my review or to a more detailed synopsis for Killing Commendatore should you wish to know more. If you’d like to catch up with October’s new titles they’re here and here, the first paperback instalment is here.

12 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out For in October 2019: Part Two

  1. MarinaSofia

    In tribute to my old love for Murakami, I did actually get Killing Commendatore when it first came out. I can see how it is problematic and too long and more of the same tired tropes, but I nevertheless enjoyed it surprisingly, more than many of his recent offerings.

    Reply
  2. JacquiWine

    I’ve had mixed experiences with Murakami over the years. Some positive (Norwegian Wood, A Wild Sheep Chase), others negative (Kafka on the Shore). I get the feeling that you have to pick your moment to read him, just to ensure you’re in the right frame of mind for something surreal.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Yes, I think that’s right, Jacqui. Some are rather more surreal than others, aren’t they. I’ve been a fan since listening to a recommendation for A Wild Sheep Chase on Radio 4’s A Good Read well over twenty years ago so it would be quite a break not to read it.

      Reply
  3. Liz

    I love the sound of the Silber in particular, and how interesting to read about the mixed Murakami reviews – I suppose these great writers are actually humans and so cannot necessarily be expected to deliver masterpieces every single time!

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Your absolutely right! I don’t have even a mediocre novel in me so it does seem greedy to expect writers to continue to deliver top-knotch goods. The Silber is excellent. I’m hoping it does well enough for more of her work to be published here.

      Reply

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