I’m beginning this second instalment of August paperbacks with one I’ve already read. Linda Grant’s A Stranger City looks at how we’re all both connected and unconnected, portraying a post-referendum London through a set of disparate characters brought together by their links with a woman whose body has been pulled from the Thames. Each character’s story is subtly woven through the others’ into a bright tapestry – some of it ragged and frayed – of a city Grant clearly loves but about which she’s deeply concerned. Her book reveals a London which is always in flux, shaping and reshaping itself to fit the constant flow of people drawn to it.
Staying in London, Rosie Price’s debut, What Red Was, follows the inseparable Kate and Max through their four years at university. Max’s wealthy, socially assured family are very different from Kate’s whose life is shattered by an incident in a bedroom during a party at Max’s parents’ London house just after graduation. ‘What Red Was explores the effects of trauma on mind and body, the tyrannies of memory, the sacrifices involved in staying silent, the courage of a young woman in speaking out’ say the publishers. Price’s novel has drawn comparisons with a broad swathe of authors, from David Nicholls to Meg Wolitzer, but I’m taking my cue from a couple of people whose opinions I trust in my Twitter feed where it was popping up for months before last year’s hardback publication.
Dominic Brownlow’s The Naseby Horses follows a family who’ve recently left the capital, moving to the Fens. Seventeen-year-old Simon is convinced that the local curse has something to do with his sister’s disappearance and becomes determined to investigate it himself despite the increasing severity of his epilepsy. ‘Drawing on philosophy, science, and the natural world, The Naseby Horses is a moving exploration of the bond between a brother and his sister; of love; and of the meaning of life itself’ say the publishers which sounds very promising.
I’m leaving the UK behind for the next two novels, beginning with a book by an author who’s become a favourite of mine: Hiromi Kawakami’s The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino. Mr Nishino makes his advances to all manner of women: young, old, independent, grieving, cat-loving or interested in making their own conquests – all are considered fair game. ‘For each of them, an encounter with elusive womaniser Mr Nishino will bring torments, desires and delights’ say the publishers. I’m hoping for some of the understated prose infused with a gentle humour that characterised both The Nakano Thrift Shop and Strange Weather in Tokyo the covers of which are nicely referenced by this one.
Last year was the centenary year of the Bauhaus school of design, the background for Theresia Enzensberger’s Blueprint which opens at the beginning of the 1920s. Luise dreams of becoming an architect, enrolling herself in the Bauhaus university where she’s taught by Walter Gropius and Wassily Kandinksy. While her art school friends immerse themselves in their work, street fights are breaking out in Berlin. ‘From technology to art, romanticism to the avant-garde, populism to the youth movement, Luise encounters themes, utopias and ideas that still shape us to the present day’ say the publishers. I loved Naomi Wood’s The Hiding Game which shares the Bauhaus theme setting the bar high for this one but that blurb makes me hopeful.
Back home for me with my last August choice, which is bound to be a surefire bestseller: David Nicolls’ Sweet Sorrow. I loved One Day which was commercial fiction perfection as far as I’m concerned. This new one explores young love over a summer in which sixteen-year-old Charlie meets Fran. It’s described by the publishers as ‘a hymn to the tragicomedy of ordinary lives, a celebration of the reviving power of friendship and that brief, blinding explosion of first love that perhaps can only be looked at directly once it has burned out’. I tend to the more literary end of the fiction spectrum but this kind of novel slips down a treat now and then.
That’s it for August. As ever, a click on a title will either take you to my review or to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. If you’d like to catch up with the first paperback instalment, it’s here; new novels are here and here. How lovely to be previewing so many potential treats again.