Books to Look Out For in February 2020: Part Two

Cover image This second batch of February’s new titles begins with one I’m eagerly anticipating although a novel set against the backdrop of the Thirty Years’ War wouldn’t usually appeal. Daniel Kehlmann’s Tyll is based on the German legend of the eponymous trickster, born in an ordinary village but destined to expose the folly of kings and the wisdom of fools, apparently. ‘With macabre humour and moving humanity, Daniel Kehlmann lifts this legend from medieval German folklore and enters him on the stage of the Thirty Years’ War. When citizens become the playthings of politics and puppetry, Tyll, in his demonic grace and his thirst for freedom, is the very spirit of rebellion – a cork in water, a laugh in the dark, a hero for all time’ say the publishers. I’m not at all sure about that but I’ve yet to read anything by Kehlmann I’ve not both enjoyed and admired.

If the historical setting of Tyll is a little outside my literary territory, thrillers are practically on a different continent but I enjoyed A. D. Miller’s The Faithful Couple, a favourite holiday read in Palma, a few years back. With Independence Square, Miller returns to Ukraine where his bestselling first novel, Snowdrops, was set, a country whose turbulent recent history he covered as a journalist. Once a senior diplomat in Kiev, Simon Davey spots a woman on the Tube he’s convinced is the person who unwittingly brought about his downfall and decides to follow her. ‘Independence Square is a story of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary times. It is a story about corruption and personal and political betrayals. It is a story about where, in the twenty-first century, power really lies’ say the publishers. William Boyd is a fan, apparently. Cover image

Not entirely sure this one is up my street either but the stories that make up Escape Routes by Naomi Ishiguro were apparently inspired by her stint at the lovely Mr B’s Emporium here in Bath. Her pieces are speculative ranging from a musician who befriends a flock of birds to two newlyweds inhibited by a large, watchful stuffed bear in their lives. I wonder if it’s the Orvis bear which disappeared mysteriously from outside our local branch. ‘Stories that start like delicate webs and finish like unbreakable wire traps’ according to Neil Gaiman.

I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every book by Colum McCann I’ve read but I’m an admirer of his writing. His new novel, Apeirogon, sounds extremely ambitious. It follows the friendship of two men – one an Israeli, the other a Palestinian – both of whom have lost their daughters – one killed in a suicide bomb attack, the other shot by a border guard. ‘Colum McCann crosses centuries and continents, stitching time, art, history, nature and politics into a tapestry of friendship, love, loss and belonging. Musical, muscular, delicate and soaring, it is a book for our times from a writer at the height of his powers’ promise the publishers. Finger crossed for this one.

Cover image Petina Gappah’s Out of the Darkness, Shining Light sounds just as ambitious as Apeirogon, following a procession of sixty-nine Africans carrying the remains of a white man 1,500 miles to the sea so that he can be buried in his own country. The body is David Livingstone’s but Gappah concentrates on the funeral procession, apparently, giving voice to his cook and three of his most devoted servants. ‘Their tale of how his corpse was borne out of nineteenth-century Africa – carrying the maps that sowed the seeds of the continent’s brutal colonisation – has the power of myth’ say the publishers of what sounds like a novel that deserves the rather over-used description ‘epic’. I still haven’t got around to Gappah’s short stories despite being so impressed by The Book of Memory back in 2015.

Painted on a much smaller, twentieth-first century canvas, Luke Brown’s Theft sees a journalist granted an interview with a cult author who welcomes him into her London home. There he meets Sophie, celebrated for her controversial political views. Meanwhile, his sister has disappeared after their falling out over their dead mother’s house. Paul‘s life becomes increasingly fraught as he travels back and forth between his rundown northern home town and the Nardinis’ rather grand London house in what the publishers are describing as ‘an exhilarating howl of a novel’. Couldn’t resist that line. Cover image

My final choice is Ben Halls’ The Quarry which offers a small twist on state-of-the-nation fiction in the form of a collection of interlinked short stories rather than a straightforward novel. Set on the eponymous West London estate, Halls’ stories explore contemporary masculinity and changing gender roles through a diverse set of working-class men, apparently. That state-of-the-nation theme is catnip for me and this take on it sounds intriguing.

That’s it for February’s new fiction. As ever a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that have snagged your attention, and if you’d like to catch up with the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks soon…

21 thoughts on “Books to Look Out For in February 2020: Part Two”

  1. I was smugly thinking none of these hugely appealed and for once my TBR was safe, and then we got to The Quarry, which sounds great. You think I’d learn by now that my TBR is never safe from your posts Susan

  2. Excellent round-up. I’m really looking forward to Naomi Ishiguro’s stories, which are on my shelf. The two I’m most interested in though -and they’re ones I wasn’t aware of – are Theft and The Quarry. You only have to mention the word class and I’m there.

    1. Thanks, Naomi. I can’t not read those stories, given the local connection. I have a copy of Theft which looks great while The Quarry plays neatly into my love of both linked short stories and state-of-the-nation fiction. A busy month!

  3. I have The Quarry and Tyll on my Kindle. I also like Petina Gappah, and the premise of her latest novel sounds rather unusual – perhaps slightly bonkers. I’ve read a few of her short stories during the Christmas holidays, she is very good at those.

  4. I’m looking forward to Tyll too – I haven’t read much Kehlmann but have loved what I have. I decided to hold of on the Colum McCann till reviews start coming in. I feel it could be wonderful or awful…

    1. Agreed on both counts! Kehlmann explores such diverse territory but always does it so well and I’ve had more than one disappointment with McCann although his writing can be superb.

  5. I’ll be interested to hear more about Tyll – it doesn’t sound like something I’d normally read, but sounds intriguing all the same.
    I think I feel most drawn to Gappah’s book – so interesting!

  6. I love your comment about reading territories and continents! It’s good to keep our literary tourism passport renewed and add a new stamp here and there. Each of these sounds good to me in its own way. I’m with you on McCann although you’ve likely read more than I have – I simply admire his crafting and attention to detail, so in theory I will read on any subject from him (although I have only read one book IIRC). The linking in The Quarry sounds like it’s right up my proverbial alley. Oh, and I also quite enjoyed Gappah’s The Book of Memory – such a memorable voice and interesting way to parse out the story…I didn’t register that she had a book of short fiction!

    1. Thank you – literary travel can broaden the mind just like the real thing, can’t it! All three of those sound appealing, don’t they, but perhaps I should get around to those short stories before leaping in with Gappah’s new novel.

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