This second instalment of potential April goodies begins with Kirstin Innes’ Scabby Queen which spans over half a century following the career of Clio Campbell who kills herself three days after her fifty-first birthday whereupon she becomes a posthumous heroine for our age. Taking in the miners’ strike, an anarchist squat, the Genoa G8 protests, the poll tax riots and Brexit ‘Scabby Queen is a portrait of a woman who refuses to compromise, told by her friends and lovers, enemies and fans’ according to the publishers which sounds very promising to me.
Set in Japan, Stephanie Scott’s What’s Left of Me is Yours has an intriguing premise: the employment of an agent to seduce a spouse in order to provide grounds for divorce in the employer’s favour. Based on a real case, Scott’s debut tells the story of one such agent who falls in love with his target. She moves in with him after her divorce, unaware of what he’s done. Truth will out, though, as it so often does. Wakaresaseya, as it’s known, is a thriving industry in the Japanese underworld, apparently.
Gangsters are feature in Juan Pablo Villalobos’ I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me narrated by a Mexican student with the same name as its author. He’s about to take up a scholarship in Spain when he’s kidnapped in a bookshop and tasked with inducing the daughter of a corrupt politician to fall in love with him in order to save his cousin’s life. ‘Exuberantly foul-mouthed and intellectually agile, this hugely entertaining novel finds the light side of difficult subjects – immigration, corruption, family loyalty and love – in a world where the difference between comedy and tragedy depends entirely on who’s telling the joke’ says the blurb which sounds splendid to me.
Souvankham Thammavongsa’s debut collection How to Pronounce Knife is about the daily lives of refugees and immigrants, from an ex-boxer turned nail salon worker to a mother and daughter harvesting earthworms by night. ‘Uncannily and intimately observed, written with prose of exceptional precision, the stories in How to Pronounce Knife speak of modern location and dislocation, revealing lives lived in the embrace of isolation and severed history – but not without joy, humour, resilience, and constant wonder at the workings of the world’ promise the publishers of what sounds like an excellent set of short stories. That title, alone, is enough to make me want to read this one.
C. Pam Zhang’s debut, How Much of These Hills Is Gold, is one of those debuts garlanded with so much praise from literary household names it must feel like a mixed blessing for a new author. So much to live up to. In this case Sebastian Barry, Emma Donoghue and Daisy Johnson are just three of the writers who love Zhang’s book. The story of two orphans carrying their father’s body on their backs as they walk through a bleak landscape looking for somewhere to bury him, it’s described as ‘a sweeping adventure tale, an unforgettable sibling story and a remarkable novel about a family bound and divided by its memories’. I have to confess, it’s that catalogue of starry names that’s swung this one for me.
Which may also be the case with Kawai Strong Washburn’s Sharks in the Time of Saviours, much praised by Sarah Moss, one of my favourite authors. Seven-year-old Nainora Flores is saved from drowning by sharks prompting his impoverished family to see it as a sign from the Hawaiian gods but as he and his siblings grow up, economic reality bites and they’re forced to look for work on the US mainland. ‘With a profound command of language, Washburn’s powerful debut novel examines what it means to be both of a place, and a stranger in it’ according to the publishers.
I first came across Dorthe Nors when I read her novella, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2017. Her crisp, plain style coupled with an undercurrent of humour hit the spot for me. I’m hoping for more of that with her short story collection, Wild Swims, which seems to be all about not quite connecting or choosing not to connect by the sound of it. ‘Dorthe Nors shines a light into forgotten corners and conjures darkness where it’s least expected. Her characteristic sharpness and sense of humour is ever-present, catching us when the melancholy threatens to come too close. Love, cruelty, friendship, and loneliness are all here, in these stories that brim with life’ promise the publishers whetting my appetite further.
That’s it for April’s new novels. 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 batch it’s here. Paperbacks soon…