This second part of February’s new fiction preview kicks off with two novels which explore something on which I spend far too much of my time. I’ve already read Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This which explores the seductive, addictive world of social media through a woman who finds herself a celebrated internet commentator thanks to a gnomic, one-line post which goes viral. A text from her mother brings her up short, dragging her back into the real world away from the endless round of international travel and what she calls ‘the portal’. Lockwood’s is very much a novel for our times: sharp, savvy and, ultimately, sobering. Review to follow…
Lauren Oyler’s Fake Accounts also has a foot in social media territory, taking us back to Donald Trump’s inauguration and the unnamed narrator’s discovery that her partner is a popular, anonymous internet conspiracy theorist. After a series of twists, she takes herself off to Berlin where she practices her own brand of manipulation, both in cyberspace and the real world. ‘A wry, provocative and very funny debut novel about identity, authenticity and the self in the age of the internet’ say the publishers, piquing my interest.
Social media is firmly in the picture in Ali Benjamin’s satirical The Smash-Up by the sound of it. After years of working in the city, Ethan is having trouble settling into small town life. Then his business partner is caught in the spotlight with accusations about his behaviour, while at home his wife is preoccupied with #MeToo politics and his daughter refuses to sleep. ‘With magnetic energy and doses of comic wit, Benjamin creates a world of social media algorithms, extreme polarization, the collapsing of identity into tweet-sized spaces, and the spectre of violence that can be found even in the quietest places’ say the publishers. Not entirely sure about this one which might fall flat on its face. We’ll see.
I’m more confident about Kiare Ladner’s debut, Nightshift, in which Londoner Meggie becomes so fascinated by Sabine that she gives up her daytime life to work alongside her on the nightshift, opening up an entirely different world. Sleep deprivation, obsession and drinking take their toll as Meggie slips further into the disorienting world of night-working. ‘A novel of obsession and desire, Kiare Ladner’s Nightshift is a beautiful and moving debut which asks profound questions about who we are and if we can ever really truly escape ourselves’ say the publishers temptingly. I do like the sound of that.
I’ve seen Caleb Azumah Nelson’s debut, Open Water, billed as the new Normal People which makes my heart sink in the way that these comparisons so often do. It’s about two young, bright, Black British people, both artists and both struggling to make their mark, who meet in a London pub and fall in love. ‘At once an achingly beautiful love story and a potent insight into race and masculinity, Open Water asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a Black body, to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength, to find safety in love, only to lose it’ say the publishers. I’m keen to read this one despite that Rooney comparison.
These days, no month’s preview feels complete without a short story collection for me. February’s is Alice Ash’s Paradise Block set in the titular apartment block which is far from paradise by the sound of it. Mould-covered walls, constant alarms and difficult neighbours seem to be the order of the day. ‘With a haunting sense of place and a keen eye for the absurd, these thirteen surreal stories lure us into a topsy-turvy world where fleatraps are more important than babies and sales calls for luxury coffins provide a welcome distraction. Lonely residents live in close proximity while longing for connection’ say the publishers which sounds well worth investigating to me.
That’s it for February’s new fiction. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis, and if you missed the first part it’s here. Paperbacks soon…