Paperbacks to Look Out for in October 2020: Part One

Cover imageNot 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.Cover image

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.

Cover imageIt’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…

24 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out for in October 2020: Part One”

  1. Looking back at your Costello review, I see that I was daunted then as now by the Joyce link It made me smile to see your advice to ditch thoughts of Joyce and just read MC instead! It’s good to have that reminder because I really like the sound of her work. I have a copy of Silver Sparrow ready to read in the near future, and also like the sound of the Parrett and the O’Connor. Thanks for the post and wishing you a great week.

  2. Great! I want to read Silver Sparrow having enjoyed An American Marriage. Academy Street I think I have on my kindle, it must have been there ages, and The River Capture also sounds good.

  3. I enjoyed An American Marriage so I’m definitely going to try Silver Sparrow if you rate it more highly. I have my eye on Academy Street as well, together with the Favel Parrett and Shadowplay, which I really liked the sound of when it came out in hardback but haven’t got around to reading yet. Good job I have a birthday coming up in October!

  4. I didn’t get past the first couple of pages of Shadowplay, I’m afraid. I can’t take O’Connor’s writing; he never uses one word where five will do and has no idea of sentence structure. I hope you have better luck.

  5. I loved the lyricism and ambition of The River Capture, so it’s great to see the paperback coming through. Interesting to see your thoughts on Silver Sparrow, particularly in comparison to An American Marriage. I’m hoping that the paperback will do well as the cover is very distinctive.

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