Time to turn my sights away from 2020, at least my anticipatory reading ones, and explore what’s on offer in 2021. If the January publishing schedules are anything to go by, it will at least offer some distractions if we need them beginning with Raven Leilani’s Luster which has been popping up in my Twitter feed since September. Having failed to make her mark as an artist, Edie’s life seems to have hit the skids when she begins an affair with Eric, middle-aged and white with an adopted black daughter, after his wife appears to have agreed to an open marriage. ‘Razor sharp, provocatively page-turning and surprisingly tender, Luster by Raven Leilani is a painfully funny debut about what it means to be young now’, according to the publishers. I’m not entirely sure about this one but Zadie Smith is a big fan, apparently.
I’m much more confident about Salena Godden’s Mrs Death Misses Death which sounds wonderfully imaginative. Mrs Death is a black, working-class woman given to shape-shifting, and she’s exhausted. Spotting a keen listener, she unburdens herself to a troubled young writer eager for stories, time-travelling with him while discussing humanity’s likely future. ‘As the two reflect on the losses they have experienced – or, in the case of Mrs Death, facilitated – their friendship grows into a surprising affirmation of hope, resilience and love’ say the publishers promisingly. Impossible for a wordplay fan like me to resist that title.
Olivia Sudjic’s Asylum Road comes garlanded with praise from the likes of Daisy Johnson and Megan Hunter, a particular favourite of mine. After a holiday in Provence, a young couple returns to London engaged despite Anya’s reservations about Luke. Anya escaped Sarajevo as a child, a past whose effects she finds increasingly hard to stifle on her return to see her family with Luke. ‘Lean, sly and unsettling, Asylum Road is about the many borders governing our lives: between men and women, assimilation and otherness, nations, families, order and chaos’ says the blurb promising ‘a startling climax’. I didn’t get around to reading Sudjic’s Sympathy but it’s been on my TBR list for some time.
That old favourite, dark secrets, is a theme of Delphine de Vigan’s Gratitude by the sound of it. Michka is no longer able to look after herself so Marie has moved her to a home where she hopes she’ll be safe but Michka is haunted by a past which she’s long buried out of guilt. As she begins to lose her words, a speech therapist does all he can to help her tell her story and repay the debt she owes. ‘Delicately wrought and darkly gripping, Gratitude is about love, loss and redemption; about what we owe one another, and the redemptive power of showing thanks’ say the publishers. I loved de Vigan’s Based on a True Story, Loyalties not so much so I’m hoping for a return to form.
I’d not come across Billy O’Callaghan’s writing until I read My Coney Island Baby early in 2019. I loved it for its wistful, melancholy tone. Life Sentences sounds very different in scale but just as enticing with its story of three generations spanning more than a century. Apparently based on stories O’Callaghan heard in his home village, it follows a family from young Nancy’s departure from her small island home, the sole family member to survive the Great Famine, to the 1980s when her granddaughter is nearing the end of her life with something on her conscience. ‘A taut domestic drama of epic emotional scope, and a moving portrait of life in Ireland throughout modern history, this novel goes on making the heart lurch long after the final page’ say the publishers.
That’s it for the first part of January’s new fiction preview. As ever a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for anything that’s snagged your attention. Part two soon…