Books to Look Out For in July 2020: Part Two

Cover image: The Rain Heron by Robbie ArnottUnlike the first, this second instalment of July’s preview begins with a book by a lesser known author, Robbie Arnott’s The Rain Heron, which I’ve already read. Set some time after a military coup against the backdrop of a world beset by weather extremes, Arnott’s beautifully expressed novel explores themes of love, redemption and hope through the story of two women, one a hermit living in the mountains, the other an army officer. Arnott’s last novel, Flames, was not only one of my books of 2018 but also ended up on my 2019 Booker Prize wishlist, more in hope than expectation it has to be said. Review soon…

I’ve also read Amanda Craig’s The Golden Rule, the latest in a series of loosely interconnected novels which explore the state of my particular nation. I’m a sucker for this kind of fiction and have enjoyed several of Craig’s contributions to it including The Lie of the Land, a Brexit novel that, for me, was very much better than Jonathan Coe’s Costa Award-winning, Middle England, and I’m a Coe fan. This new one follows Hannah who strikes a shocking bargain with a stranger she meets on a train, echoing Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock, but that’s just the hook on which Craig hangs this characteristically compassionate, absorbing novel which I thoroughly enjoyed. Review to follow…

 If I was a betting woman, I’d lay odds on Amanda Craig having read Mary McCarthy’s feminist classic, The Group. I read it when I was a teenager and loved Cover image for The Group by Lara feigelthis story of eight friends who graduate from Vasser college in 1933. Lara Feigel’s debut is also called The Group. It’s about a group of female friends turning forty and taking stock of their lives. ‘This is an engrossing portrait of contemporary female life and friendship, and a thrillingly intimate and acute take on female character in an age that may or may not have been changed by feminism in its different strands’ according to the publishers. Very keen to read this one, and I have to admire Feigel’s chutzpah in following so closely in the footsteps of McCarthy in what is clearly a tribute to her groundbreaking novel.

Amity Gaige’s Sea Wife sees a couple set off on an adventure some might call foolhardy. Novice sailors Michael, Juliet and their two children take to the sea, heading for Panama. At first the adventure breathes new life into the couple’s marriage but soon they’re struggling, particularly Juliet who suffers from post-natal depression. ‘Sea Wife is told in gripping dual perspectives: Juliet’s first-person narration, after the journey, as she struggles to come to terms with the dire, life-changing events that unfolded at sea; and Michael’s captain’s log – that provides a riveting, slow-motion account of those same inexorable events’ according to the blurb. I do love a dual narrative, if done well.

Cover image for All Adults Here by Emma StraubI reviewed Emma Straub’s The Vacationers just over a year after starting this blog having enjoyed it very much but I’ve read nothing by her since. All Adults Here is about Astrid and her three grown-up children who seem anything but that, although she’s hardly a paragon herself by the sound of it. When her granddaughter arrives, full of curiosity, it seems Astrid’s life may be turned upside down. ’Witty, astute, and irresistibly readable, All Adults Here is a novel about how to survive inside a modern family’ says the publisher which sounds like a smart slice of fiction to take your mind off things.

Long, long ago, at least that’s how it feels, I didn’t like short stories, seeing them as a poor substitute for a novel, a snack rather than a meal. I did come to enjoy linked collections but what finally sealed the deal for me were Lucia Berlin’s stories collected in A Manual for Cleaning Women and Evening in Paradise. Bette Howland’s Blue in Chicago is from the same publisher and sounds in a similar vein to Berlin’s work. ‘Bette Howland was an outsider: an intellectual from a working-class neighborhood in Chicago; a divorcee and single mother, to the disapproval of her family; an artist chipped away at by poverty and perfection. Each of these sides of her life plays a shaping role in her work. Mining her most precarious struggles for her art in each of these stories, she chronicles the fears and hopes of her generation’ says the blurb whetting my appetite nicely.Cover image for Antkind by Charlie Kaufman

I’m beginning to feel that I may over use the old Marmite cliché but I can’t think of a more apt analogy for the movies directed by the Charlie Kaufman whose debut, Antkind, sounds in a similar wacky vein. A film critic stumbles on what he thinks may be the greatest movie ever made, then all but a single frame is destroyed leaving B. Rosenberger Rosenberg attempting to reconstruct this three-month-long slow-motion epic which took its creator ninety years to complete. Thus begins a mind-boggling journey through the hilarious nightmarescape of a psyche as lushly Kafkaesque as it is atrophied by the relentless spew of Twitter’ according to the blurb. I’m a faithful Kaufman fan and it will be interesting to see if the man’s genius translates to fiction, although I am a little put off by the 700+ page count.

Eley Williams’ The Liar’s Dictionary takes us from the nineteenth century, where the wonderfully named Peter Winceworth is Cover image for The Liar's Dictionary by Eley Williamscompiling a much-anticipated encyclopaedic dictionary, to the present day as a young intern teases out fake entries known as mountweazels, often inserted for copyright protection, preparatory to digitising the dictionary. ‘The Liar’s Dictionary explores themes of trust and creativity, naming the unnameable, and celebrates the rigidity, fragility and absurdity of language. It is an exhilarating debut novel from a formidably brilliant young writer’ say the publishers. Very much like the sound of that. Williams is the author of the much acclaimed Attrib and Other Stories which I’ve yet to read.

Quite a varied bunch for this second batch of July’s new fiction. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a detailed synopsis should you want to know more, and If you’d like to catch up with the first part it’s here. Paperbacks soon…

25 thoughts on “Books to Look Out For in July 2020: Part Two”

  1. I love the sound of The Rain Heron. I also have issues with short story collections and would like to challenge that so thank you very much for these reviews. I will try Bette Howland.

    1. The Rain Heron is wonderful, beautiful writing and imagery. Good luck with the getting over the short story problem! I’m so pleased the Lucia Berlin collection helped me to squash my own. I’ve read lots of great collections since.

  2. ‘All Adults Here’ is wonderful. I enjoyed it more than Lily King’s ‘Writers & Lovers’ and you know how good I thought that was. I shall definitely be exploring her back catalogue.

  3. Love that cover of The Rain Heron and it sounds like a story that I might enjoy and an author I should try. Lots to tempt us here, but that’s the stand out one for me, off to request it – thanks for heads up Susan!

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