Several titles are having their second outing here thanks to pandemic-related postponements, but not the book I’m most eagerly anticipating which was originally to be published in May. I remember rattling through Curtis Sittenfeld’s riveting fictionalised biography of Laura Bush, American Wife, one holiday in North Norfolk over a decade ago. I was delighted, then, when I spotted her new novel, Rodham, on the publishing horizon. This time it’s Hillary Clinton in the spotlight but in Sittenfeld’s alternate version of her life, Ms Rodham turns down Bill Clinton’s proposal, choosing to remain single. I’m sure it will be superb.
Originally due to be published in April, Kirstin Innes’ Scabby Queen 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.
Kristen Arnott’s Mostly Dead Things follows a family thrown into disarray by a suicide. Jessa has taken on her father’s failing taxidermy business while her brother withdraws into himself and his wife, the object of Jessa’s affections, walks out. Meanwhile, her mother is expressing herself in odd pieces of animal art. Several unexpected events open up a way back for all of them, apparently, in this ‘darkly funny family portrait; a peculiar, bighearted look at love and loss and the ways we live through them together’ according to the publishers. I like the sound of that.
Susannah Dickey’s Tennis Lessons is about the pain and delight of becoming an adult by the sound of it – the constant litany of self-doubt and insecurity coupled with gossiping with your best friend and the first glimmers of sexual awakening. ‘From dead pets and crashed cars to family traumas and misguided love affairs, Susannah Dickey’s revitalizing debut novel plunges us into the private world of one young woman as she navigates her rocky way to adulthood’ says the blurb of a book which comes highly recommended by Cathy at 746 Books who chose it as one of her Reading Ireland 2020 titles.
I failed to get on with Caoilinn Hughes’ Orchid and the Wasp, although I think I may have been in the minority. I seem to remember it popping up on several books of the year lists last December. Perhaps I should try again with her new one, The Wild Laughter, set in 2008 in an Ireland reeling from the financial crash. Two brothers, already at loggerheads, are left with a choice that will risk their livelihoods, leaving their much-loved father distraught, apparently. ‘A sharp snapshot of a family and a nation suddenly unmoored, this epic-in-miniature explores cowardice and sacrifice, faith rewarded and abandoned, the stories we tell ourselves and the ones we resist’ say the publishers which does sounds enticing.
A teenager faces a difficult coming of age in Sanae Lemoine’s The Margot Affair in which the illegitimate daughter of a renowned actress and an influential politician lives in secrecy, ashamed of her parentage. Then she meets a well-connected journalist and takes things into her own hands. ‘In this simmering debut Sanae Lemoine explores private and public faces, truth and deceit, love and persuasion. The Margot Affair is a novel about the bone-deep bond between mothers and daughters, the devotion and betrayal of friendship and the dangers of pushing beyond the boundaries of a life lived in the shadows’ say the publishers. Very much like the sound of this one.
Coming-of-age has emerged has something of a theme for this first batch of new titles. I’m finishing with Anbara Salam’s Belladonna which sees fifteen-year-old Bridget meet Isabella, a confident, worldly newcomer to her small Connecticut home town in 1956. When they’re both offered the chance to study in Italy for a year, Bridget is delighted, thrilled at the idea of traveling to Europe and the prospect of cementing her friendship with Isabella but things may not turn out as she hopes. ‘Belladonna is a hypnotizing coming-of age story set against the stunning and evocative backdrop of rural Northern Italy. Anbara Salam tells a story of friendship and obsession, desire and betrayal, and the lies we tell in order to belong’ says the publisher promisingly, and that jacket is a delight.
That’s it for the first instalment of July’s new novels. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a detailed synopsis should any have snagged your attention. More soon…