Publishing schedules are beginning to look much more tempting now that the worst of the pandemic-related slippage has worked its way through, at least let’s hope so. I like to kick off proceedings with a title that made my heart sing when I spotted it and this time it’s Sarah Moss’ Summerwater. From Names for the Sea, her memoir of a year spent in Iceland, to the wonderful Ghost Wall, her last novel, everything I’ve read by Moss has impressed me. Hopes are high, then for this new one. Set in the Scottish Highlands over a single rainy day, the longest of the summer, Summerwater sees a dozen people cooped up in a rundown cabin park, watching what the other residents get up to and quick to judge what they see. ‘Tensions rise and all watch on, unaware of the tragedy that lies ahead as night finally falls’ says the blurb promisingly.
Carys Davies’ West is one of those debuts which actually lived up to the often used ‘stunning’ label, whetting my appetite for The Mission House. Set in Ooty, a South Indian hill station, against a backdrop of rising religious tension it follows Hilary who is taken under the wing of the local priest and his adopted daughter who forms a friendship with the incomer. ‘The Mission House boldly and imaginatively explores post-colonial ideas in a world fractured between faith and non-belief, young and old, imperial past and nationalistic present. Tenderly subversive and meticulously crafted, it is a deeply human fable of the wonders and terrors of connection in a modern world’ say the publishers which sounds very enticing to me.
I reviewed Xiaolu Guo’s I Am China in the early days of this blog, describing it as a love story in fragments which could also be applied to her new novel, A Lover’s Discourse, by the sound of it. A Chinese woman comes to London, hoping her relationship will ease her loneliness in this country so different from her own. Her new life is explored through snatches of conversation between the woman and her lover in a multitude of different settings. ‘Suffused with a wonderful sense of humour, this intimate and tender novel asks universal questions: what is the meaning of home when we’ve been uprooted? How can a man and woman be together? And how best to find solid ground in a world of uncertainty?’ according to the blurb. Very much like the sound of that.
Anna Krien’s, Act of Grace, sounds very ambitious with its intertwining of four characters’ lives at least three of whom are living in the shadow of the Iraq War. ‘Crossing the frontiers of war, protest and cultural reconciliation, Act of Grace is a meditation on inheritance: the damage that one generation bestows upon the next, and the potential for transformation. It is a searing, powerful and utterly original work by an exceptional Australian writer’ say the publishers. Krien’s novel was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award which bodes well.
Anna Bruno’s debut, Ordinary Hazards, sees a successful woman steadily drinking herself into oblivion in the bar where she met her ex-partner a few years ago on a blind date. Nine months after their divorce, she’s trying to understand how her life has taken such a turn. Her story emerges over the course of the evening until, apparently, she’s forced to face her past. The blurb temptingly sets us up for an evening ending in ‘shocking results’.
Emily St John Mandel’s dystopian Station Eleven was one of those titles impossible to avoid in my neck of the Twitter woods when it was published back in 2014 but I wasn’t a fan so you might wonder why I’m including The Glass Hotel here but I like the sound of both its settings and themes. The wealthy owner of the Hotel Caiette and its bartender begin a relationship on the same day as a hooded figure is seen scrawling a violent message on the hotel’s wall. Thirteen years later the erstwhile bartender disappears from the deck of a ship. ‘Weaving together the lives of these characters, Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel moves between the ship, the towers of Manhattan, and the wilderness of remote British Columbia, painting a breathtaking picture of greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghosts of our pasts’ according to the publishers which sounds like an altogether different kind of dystopia.
That’s it for the first part of August’s new fiction preview. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Second instalment soon…