Books to Look Out for in September 2020

Cover imageJust a one-part new title preview for September despite it being jam-packed with pandemic-postponed books. I’m beginning with one originally slated for much earlier in the year, Megan Hunter’s The Harpy, which I’ve already read. This brief novella is about a couple in the aftermath of infidelity, narrated from the perspective of Lucy whose husband has become involved with a colleague. Contrition is not enough to staunch her fury; another way must be found. It’s a gorgeously written piece of fiction which incorporates the eponymous mythological creature in an exploration of female anger in response to men’s bad behaviour. An extraordinary book, stunningly jacketed – not a description I use often – and one which more than lives up to the expectations raised by The End We Start From, one of my books of 2017. Very disappointed not to see this one on the Booker longlist. Review to follow…

I’m continuing the theme of marriage with another novel I’ve read, Sue Miller’s Monogamy. It’s been quite some time since The Arsonist which I reviewed in the early days of this blog so I was delighted to see a new one from her on the horizon. Annie and Graham are both different and well matched. Their daughter has established her own life, living happily away from home. All looks set for a contented middle age but events intervene. That may not sound overly exciting, perhaps even a little hackneyed, but Miller’s writing is quietly intelligent and perceptive. I’ve yet to read a book by her I haven’t enjoyed. Review shortly…

Ayad Akhtar’s Homeland Elegies looks at a very different section of US society through the experience of an immigrant father and his American son struggling to find a foothold in Trump’s divided country. Hard to work out much of a story from the book’s blurb but this is the description that caught my eye: ‘Part family drama, part satire, part picaresque, at its heart it is the story of a father and son, and the country they call home. Ranging from the heartland towns of America to palatial suites in Davos to guerrilla lookouts in the mountains of Afghanistan, Akhtar forges a narrative voice that is original as it is exuberantly entertaining’. I like the sound of that and Jenny Egan rates it very highly, apparently.

Andrew O’Hagan’s Mayflies explores friendship, a favourite theme for me. James and Tully become friends in 1986, leaving their small, insular Scottish town for a weekend in Manchester, then the epitome of cool. ‘There, against the greatest soundtrack ever recorded, a vow is made: to go at life differently. Thirty years on, half a life away, the phone rings. Tully has news. Mayflies is a memorial to youth’s euphorias and to everyday tragedy. A tender goodbye to an old union, it discovers the joy and the costs of love’ say the publishers which sounds right up my literary alley.

Vigdis Hjorth’s Long Live the Post Horn sounds intriguing with its story of a thirty-five-year-old media consultant who embarks on what may be a premature mid-life crisis after leafing through an old diary, closely followed by the sudden disappearance of a colleague. The consequent meeting with the Norwegian Postal Workers Union sets in train a strange turn of events, apparently. ‘This is an existential scream of a novel about loneliness (and the postal service!), written in Vigdis Hjorth’s trademark spare, rhythmic and cutting style’ say the publishers. I particularly like the sound of the spare and cutting style.

Specalising in German literature in translation, V & Q Books launches in September with just three books, one of which, Lucy Fricke’s Daughters, sounds very appealing to me. Two middle-aged women set out on a road trip, one with her terminally ill father in the back seat, supposedly on his final trip but as the blurb promises ‘nothing ends the way we imagine, least of all life’, describing their journey as ‘a grotesque road trip heading south from Berlin, through Switzerland and Italy all the way to Greece, leading deeper and deeper into their own history’. Very much like the sound of that.

Emma Cline’s debut, The Girls, was one of those titles you couldn’t get away from back when it was published in 2016. I enjoyed it but rereading my review reminds me that it was a wee bit overwritten for my taste. I’m hoping that won’t be the case with Cline’s first collection of short stories, Daddy which explores masculinity and relationships between men and women in all their complexity. ‘Subtle, sophisticated and displaying an extraordinary understanding of human behaviour, these stories are unforgettable’ according to the publishers. I’m interested to see how Cline’s writing has developed.

That’s it for September’s new fiction, fewer than I’d hoped but no doubt October will make up for that. As ever a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that’s taken your fancy. Paperbacks soon…

26 thoughts on “Books to Look Out for in September 2020”

  1. I have Harpy on order – can’t wait. Two that are in my September review pile is the new Hari Kunzru, Red Pill – I always look forward to his books; and the new Susanna Clarke – Piranesi which is going to be simply wonderful (I’ve read the first chapter).

    1. So sorry that the Booker judges didn’t pick up The Harpy, Annabel, it’s fabulous. I’ve a chequred history with Kunzru’s writing but I’ll probably give Red Pill a try. I’ll look out for your review of the Clarke.

  2. I read Daughters in German and enjoyed it but felt it wasn’t quite as innovative as the German critics made it out to be (although perhaps it was for German literature). I even wrote a review for WIT Month in 2018 about it, although obviously it hadn’t been translated at that point.

  3. Mayflies sounds really good, especially with the characters harking back to that time in the 80s. I read Vigdis Hjorth’s Will and Testament, and to be honest was left quite cold.

  4. I got almost to the bottom of this post, feeling virtuous because I wasn’t tempted bu anything and my TBR would remain as it is…. And then I read about V & Q books. And the new Cline. So there, the damage is four!

  5. I’m really looking forward to the Hunter, like you I thought The End We Start From was excellent. And its a novella, hooray! That jacket image is so powerful too.

    V&Q Books sound interesting, I’ll look out for their publications.

  6. I loved The Girls but haven’t gone for her new one since I’m not in general a major fan of short stories. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of it – and if you will sway me towards it!

  7. I saw O’Hagan discussing his new book at a Faber Preview Event back at the end of February when gathering together in a room was still a thing. It sounded excellent, I must admit. And your description of The Harpy reminds me a little of Sarah Hall story I read last year. Lots for readers of new fiction to look forward to here…

    1. I wondered if Mayflies was autobiographical. Did O’Hagan talk about that? Was the Hall story from Sudden Travellers? I think there’s a paperback edition of that due soon.

  8. Adding Harpy to my wishlist. I also have my eye on Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi which is due out in September; I enjoyed Homegoing so am hoping for more of the same with this new book. Also looking forward to another episode in the Louise Penny crime series set in Canada.

  9. Well, I’m generally interested in all of these but not particularly or burningly interested in any single on. As you’ve mentioned, it’s such a crazy busy time of year that it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the number of offerings. And one does tend to think that it’s more so the case every year, but I think it really is true this year, with the usual fall releases plus the postponed ones plus the not-exactly-postponed-but-not-properly-launched-either ones.

    1. It’s a crazy day here today with over 600 titles being published. My heart goes out to the poor booksellers trying to find ways to display them all, let alone process them through the goods-in department.

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