All but the first of the six books in January’s second batch of paperbacks are new to me although most are by authors whose previous books I’ve enjoyed which can also be said of Timur Vermes whose sharp, very funny satire, Look Who’s Back nailed the internet’s potential for political manipulation with admirable, if unsettling, prescience. His new novel, The Hungry and the Fat, takes on Europe’s failure to deal with the refugee crisis in similar blistering style, following hundreds of thousands of refugees as they march towards Germany, all broadcast on prime time TV, led by a ditzy reality TV star and watched by horrified politicians. It’s a little too long but Vermes’ novel makes its sober point loud and clear while having a great deal of fun doing so.
Tim Murphy’s Correspondents takes us from the twentieth-century and on into the twenty-first, through the story of Rita Khoury, an Irish-Lebanese woman whose parents immigrated to the US. Rita studies Arabic, becoming a journalist, and is posted to Iraq to cover the 2003 American invasion. It’s described by the publishers as ‘a powerful story about the legacy of immigration, the present-day world of refugeehood, the violence that America causes both abroad and at home, and the power of the individual and the family to bring good into a world that is often brutal’ which sounds excellent. I loved Christodora, Murphy’s previous novel.
Last year, two titles by Israeli authors made it on to my books of the year lists – Aylet Gundar-Goshen’s Liar and Etgar Keret’s Fly Already – which is what drew me to Emuna Elon’s House of Endless Waters in the hope of another interesting piece of Israeli fiction. After his mother dies, Yoel begins a search for the truth after seeing footage of her in Amsterdam’s Jewish Historical Museum with a small child that’s not him. His quest reveals a dark history of the city they both fled where Jewish children were hidden from the Nazis often at great cost. Much acclaimed in Israel, apparently.
I was a big fan of Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn which I reviewed back in 2017, hoping that it might be the start of a career writing adult fiction for this author better known for her YA novels. Her second adult novel, Red at the Bone, is set in 2001 when sixteen-year-old Melody wears the same dress her mother did at her age for her coming-of-age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn home. Woodson’s novel tells the story of the sixteen years leading up to Melody’s birthday. ‘As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives – even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be’ says the blurb promisingly
Kristen Arnott’s Mostly Dead Things follows a family thrown into disarray by a suicide. Jessa has taken on her father’s failing taxidermy business while her brother withdraws into himself and his wife, the object of Jessa’s affections, walks out. Meanwhile, her mother is expressing herself in odd pieces of animal art. Several unexpected events open up a way back for all of them, apparently, in this ‘darkly funny family portrait; a peculiar, bighearted look at love and loss and the ways with live through them together’ according to the publishers. I like the sound of that.
I’m finishing part two of January’s paperback preview in the same way as the first with a collection of short stories this time written by Billy O’Callaghan whose My Coney Island Baby I enjoyed so much last year. The Boatman and Other Stories comprises twelve pieces which span a century and two continents, apparently. ‘Ranging from the elegiac to the brutally confrontational, these densely layered tales reveal the quiet heroism and gentle dignity of ordinary life. O’Callaghan is a master celebrant of the smallness of the human flame against the dark: its strength, and its steady brightness’ say the publishers. I’m hoping for more of the beautifully restrained writing which characterised his novel.
That’s it for the first month of 2021 which promises a good deal in the way of books to look forward to if nothing else. As ever, a click on a title will take you either to my review or to a more detailed synopsis, and if you missed part one it’s here. New fiction is here and here.
I lost my Christmas mojo a long time ago but I know for many it’s a high point, no doubt surrounded by a great deal of disappointment this year. How ever you spend it, I hope the day passes easily for you and remember, spring isn’t so very far away. Liberation in the form of a vaccine is on our horizons.