February may be the shortest month but it’s jam-packed with potential literary goodies. This first instalment is pretty well all about women beginning with Jenny Offil’s Weather which sounds very much like a novel for our times. Librarian Lizzie Benson is asked by her old mentor to take on the job of answering the mail from her podcast’s listeners. Hell and High Water attracts both Left and Right, each with something to say and say it vociferously. ‘As she dives into this polarized world, she begins to wonder what it means to keep tending your own garden once you’ve seen the flames beyond its walls’ says the blurb. It’s a long time since Dept. of Speculation which I enjoyed very much.
Which can also be said of Carol Anshaw’s Carry the One although I read that so long ago that I can remember little about it other than that I liked it. Her new novel sees a woman in her early forties whose comfortable, if unconventional, world is shattered when she witnesses an act of violence. ‘Right After the Weather explores what happens when two worlds collide. Written with astonishing insight into the nuances of human nature, this is a beautifully observed and compassionate novel about love, trauma and the reverberations of our actions’ say the publishers promisingly.
Curtis Rye’s debut Kingdomtide sees another woman undergo a trauma. Seventy-two-year-old Chloris Waldrip is the sole survivor of an air crash in 1986, lost in the Montana wilderness with little or no hope of seeing her Texan home again. Debra Lewis is the park ranger, still bruised from her messy divorce, who assembles the raggle-taggle search party to find her. ‘Suspenseful, wry and gorgeously written Kingdomtide is the inspiring account of two unforgettable characters, whose heroism reminds us that survival is only the beginning’ say the publishers temptingly but it’s the praise from Ron Rash, one of my favourite writers, that seals the deal for me.
Not so much heroism as everyday events seem to be the subject of Miranda Popkey’s debut, Topics of Conversation, which follows one woman over two decades through the conversations she has with other women, from confidantes to strangers, chronicling her own life through their stories. ‘Full of the uncertainty of the present and the instability of the past, sizzling with enigmatic desire, it is a seductive exploration of life as a woman in the modern world, of the stories we tell ourselves and of the things we reveal only to strangers’ according to the publishers. It’s a daring structure for a debut but a very attractive one for me.
Elisa Shua Dusapain’s Winter in Sokcho takes us to a tourist town on the border between South and North Korea where a young French Korean woman is working in a guesthouse. A French cartoonist, intent on discovering the real Korea, asks her to act as his guide revealing a beautiful country very different from the tawdry Sokcho. ‘An exquisitely-crafted debut, which won the Prix Robert Walser, Winter in Sokcho is a novel about shared identities and divided selves, vision and blindness, intimacy and alienation. Elisa Shua Duspain’s voice is distinctive and unmistakable’ according to the publishers, and it does sound very promising.
We’re staying in South Korea for Cho Nam-Joo’s Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 around which there’s already a great deal of brouhaha, if my Twitter timeline is anything to go by. A bright young woman, hard-working and exemplary, Kim has been forced into second place all her life by a patriarchal society which borders on institutionalised misogyny. Hard to make out much more from the blurb but it comes highly recommended by the likes of Sayaka Murata, author of Convenience Store Woman, who described it as ’a book about the life of a woman living in Korea; the despair of an ordinary woman which she takes for granted. The fact that it’s not about ‘someone special’ is extremely shocking, while also being incredibly relatable.’ It went down a storm in South Korea, apparently.
You could say I was saving the most anticipated until last, although Jenny Offil’s Weather offers some stiff competition even for a new Anne Enright novel. Told to us by her daughter, Actress is the story of Katherine O’Dell whose fame became notoriety when she committed a bizarre crime, apparently. ‘Brilliantly capturing the glamour of post-war America and the shabbiness of 1970s Dublin, Actress is an intensely moving, disturbing novel about mothers and daughters and the men in their lives. A scintillating examination of the corrosive nature of celebrity, it is also a sad and triumphant tale of freedom from bad love, and from the avid gaze of the crowd’ say the publishers, whetting my appetite nicely.
That’s it for the first part of February’s preview. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis if you’d like to learn more. Second batch soon which will roam far and wide, and may even include a few men.