This second part of November’s new titles is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of themes which often promises more interesting reading if not easy linking. I’ll begin with a new novel by Anne Youngson whose debut, Meet Me at the Museum, I loved for its quietly thoughtful writing and characterisation. Hopes are high then for Three Women and a Boat which sees two women who’ve turned their backs on career and family, respectively, taking to the canals in a narrowboat to help out a third with her own crisis to face, all strangers to each other. ‘As they glide gently – and not so gently – through the countryside, the eccentricities and challenges of canalboat life draw them inexorably together, and a tender and unforgettable story unfolds’ say the blurb, promisingly.
I’ve often thought work and the workplace are strangely rare in contemporary fiction given how long most of us spend doing it but perhaps that’s just a reflection of my reading. The young woman in Kikuko Tsumura’s There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job begins her search for employment at an agency, specifying she wants something close to home with no reading, writing and preferably little thinking. Tsumura’s novel follows her from job to job in her quest for the easiest one she can find, beginning with watching a hidden camera monitoring an author who may be involved in illegal activity. Eventually, she comes to the conclusion it’s time to look for more meaningful occupation. Not a riveting premise at first glance, perhaps, but I find it appealing.
With its geologist intent on making his reputation on a small expedition, the synopsis for Willem Frederik Hermans’ Beyond Sleep reminds me a little of Jean-Baptiste Andrea’s A Hundred Million Years and a Day. Unlike Andrea’s, Hermans’ novel is a comedy, apparently, following young Alfred who, unable to escape the ghost of his scientist father, puts the entire expedition in danger in an act of vanity. Described by the publishers as ‘a unique and illuminating examination of how hard it is to be a true pioneer in the modern world’ it sounds very different from Hermans’ An Untouched House which impressed me a few years ago.
I was a huge fan of Nicole Krauss’ bestselling The History of Love, an altogether more straightforward read than Forest Dark which was rewarding but hard work. That’s not going to deter me from reading To Be a Man, her first short story collection, described by the blurb as ‘beautiful, taut and dark, spinning across the world, from Switzerland, Japan and New York to Tel Aviv, Los Angeles and South America, To Be a Man delves with originality and timeliness into questions of masculinity and violence, regret and regeneration, control and desire; and shines a fierce, unwavering light onto men and women, and into the uncharted gulfs that lie between them’. I like the sound of that.
I’ve read and enjoyed several of David Leavitt’s novels although none to match the excellent The Lost Language of Cranes. His new novel, Shelter in Place, sounds as if it might be in state of the nation territory. It opens the Saturday after the 2016 presidential election with a group of liberal New York friends gathered to lick their wounds. Leavitt’s novel follows their hostess whose obsession with property and interior design leads her and her husband to buy a wreck of an apartment in Venice unexpectedly catapulting him into an affair. ‘A comic portrait of the months immediately following the 2016 election, Shelter in Place is also a meditation on the unreliable appetites–for love, for power, for freedom–by which both our public and private lives are shaped’ say the publishers which sounds quite tempting to me.
That’s it for November’s fiction preview. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should any have snagged your attention, and it you missed the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks soon…