Not a huge selection of paperbacks for October but enough to merit two posts I’m pleased to say. I’ve read three of the first batch already including one which at first sight seemed to be a piece of opportunistic publishing. Originally published in the US back in 2011, Tayari Jones’ Silver Sparrow was released here in the UK on the heels of her 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction triumph. Its premise is an intriguing one: two teenage sisters become friends but only one knows that they share the same father. Jones explores themes of family, trust, honesty and identity through Dana and Chaurisse, as first one then the other tells their story, neatly balancing her novel. Given the Oprah-like set up, it could easily have descended into soap opera but Jones is much too skilled for that. I enjoyed the prize-winning An American Marriage but, for me, Silver Sparrow is the better novel.
Mary Costello’s Academy Street was one of my books of 2014. The story of one woman’s attenuated life, I loved it for its small canvas and pared back prose. An homage to James Joyce, The River Capture is very different. Luke O’Brien, a teacher in his thirties, has taken a career break to write about his beloved Joyce but work has stalled. One day a young woman appears asking a favour and slowly a relationship begins until a bombshell is dropped precipitating an episode of madness that’s been flickering at the edges of Luke’s consciousness for some time. Costello’s novel was something of a curate’s egg for me, delicious in the main but with a long stream of consciousness section which veered away from the linear narrative I’d become absorbed in. I suspect if you’re a Joyce fan you might think differently.
Australian writer Favel Parrett’s beautifully expressed When the Night Comes is another novel published in 2014 that made quite an impression on me. From its dedication it’s clear that There Was Still Love is a tribute to her beloved grandparents. It takes us back and forth from Prague to Melbourne in the early ‘80s, following two sisters separated in 1938 at the beginning of the German occupation. Parrett unfolds her story in impressionistic episodes punctuated with snapshots of the family’s history reflecting the cataclysmic events that overtook Czechoslovakia. It’s such a touching novel, a work of fiction as Parrett makes clear in her author’s note, but undoubtedly a testament to the lives of the grandparents she adored.
I enjoyed Benjamin Markovits’ A Weekend in New York in which the Essinger family reunion for what looks like the last American Open match for Paul Essinger ends with much unresolved. Christmas in Austin sees another Essinger get together which matriarch Liesel hopes will heal the multiple rifts and tensions that came to a head in New York. ‘Rich, intimate, and deeply perceptive, Christmas in Austin beautifully explores the deep-rooted division between the world we grow up in, and the life we make for ourselves’ say the publishers. It sounds like something of a replay of the New York weekend which was an enjoyable exploration of family dynamics.
It’s a long time since I read anything by Joseph O’Connor but Shadowplay was highly recommended by Cathy at 746books so I’m keen to give it a try. Set in 1878, it follows Bram Stoker, newly installed as manager of London’s Lyceum Theatre where, despite his recent marriage, he and Henry Irving both find themselves falling under the spell of the celebrated actress Ellen Terry. Much acclaimed when it was first published, Shadowplay was shortlisted for the Costa Novel of the Year Award, one of my favourite literary prizes.
That’s it for the first batch of October paperbacks. As ever, a click on a title will take you either to my review or to a more detailed synopsis, and if you’d like to catch up with the month’s new title preview it’s here. Part Two soon which may have some of you relieved not to be tempted, swiftly switching to another blog or both…