Books to Look Out For in April 2021: Part One

Cover image for My Phantoms by Gwendoline RileyApril signals spring for most of us in the UK although I tend to get excited about it in early March. This year there’s more hope than usual vested in the longed-for change of weather and the possibility of socialising outside. Plenty of books to keep us occupied if that hope proves unfulfilled, four of which I’ve already read but not the first which I’m not expecting to be particularly cheerful.

It’s almost four years since I reviewed Gwendoline Riley’s discomfiting First Love, admiring her precise writing which left me distinctly unsettled. My Phantoms explores another relationship, this time between a middle-aged daughter and the mother who has been a constant puzzle to her. They see each other once a year, sufficient for Bridget but her mother has decided she wants more. ‘My Phantoms is a bold, heart-stopping portrayal of a failed familial bond, which brings humour, subtlety and new life to the difficult terrain of mothers and daughters’ according to the publishers. I’m sure the writing will be excellent but I’m not in a hurry to read it.

Mothers and daughters feature in Gabriela Garcia’s Of Women and Salt which follows five generations of Cuban women linked by blood, secrets and a book. It begins in the nineteenth century with Maria, the only woman employed in a cigar factory whose workers are given daily readings from Victor Hugo’s novels, something I first came across in Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth, and ends in 2016 with Carmen in Miami, horrified at her daughter’s plans to visit her grandmother Cover image for The Performance by Claire Thomasin Cuba where a secret links all five generations. ‘A haunting meditation on the choices of mothers and the tenacity of women who choose to tell their truth despite those who wish to silence them’ say the publishers which doesn’t sound entirely my cup of tea but the Cuban theme is appealing.

I’ve already read Claire Thomas’ The Performance which unfolds the stories of three women watching a Beckett play, each of them preoccupied. One is a professor contemplating her difficult relationship with her sick husband, the second is a philanthropist with a difficult past while the third is worried about her girlfriend, too close to the bushfires raging on the edges of the city. By the end of the performance much has been revealed about these three very different women. I thoroughly enjoyed this witty, perceptive novel which hangs together beautifully as its characters reveal themselves through thoughts, memories and reflections, occasionally offering their views on the play enacted in front of them. Review shortly…

I read Daniela Krien’s Love in Five Acts almost as soon as it dropped through my letterbox having enjoyed the haunting Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything back in 2015. Born in the GDR, Krien was a teenager when the Wall came down as were the five women whose stories she tells in this new novel. Each of its sections is devoted to one of these very different women whose lives are interlinked, sometimes in ways they’re unaware. As the title suggests, love and what it means to each of them is Krien’s overarching theme, whether it’s sexual, familial or parental, together with their perceived roles in society. An impressive piece of fiction, both enjoyable and thought Cover image for Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heinyprovoking not least in its ending. Always worth looking out for Jaimie Bulloch’s name. I’ve yet to read a novel he’s translated I’ve not enjoyed. Review soon…

Lots of pre-publication brouhaha in my neck of the Twitter woods around Katherine Heiny’s Early Morning Riser another novel I couldn’t resist reading as soon as it arrived. Set in a small American town, always a lure for me, it follows Jane who meets the handsome Duncan when she locks herself out of the house dressed in her pyjamas. Over the seventeen years Heiny’s novel spans, Jane will yearn for romantic love – although not always for herself – pick up a burden of guilt that leads to more happiness than she’d hoped for and, ultimately, experience a quietly joyous epiphany. I loved this funny and absorbing novel which combines Ann Tyler’s sharp social observation with a pleasingly sly wit. Undemanding but immensely enjoyable, it’s the perfect novel to lose yourself in when times are tough, and the ending is a delight. Review to follow…

It was the mention of The Stinging Fly in her biographical notes that made me want to read Louise Kennedy’s The End of the World Is a Cul de Sac. I’veCover image for The End of the World is a Cul de Sac by Louise Kennedy yet to read a set of stories from one of their contributors that hasn’t hit the spot for me. Kennedy’s collection comprises fifteen vividly powerful stories that draw you into her characters’ worlds, from a young girl, bullied at school, admiring of her new neighbours’ bohemian habits but eager to spill the beans when they become the subject of gossip, to the story of a family in a series of photographs which show a distorted version of the truth. Sharp, smart and to the point, Kennedy’s collection is a treat. Review shortly…

That’s it for the first batch of April’s fiction which has been all about women, just as it should be on International Women’s Day. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that have snagged your attention. Part two soon…

20 thoughts on “Books to Look Out For in April 2021: Part One”

  1. I really loved the Riley when I read a proof last year, a brilliant piece of writing. As a theatre and Beckett nerd, I need to get my hands on The Performance right away! Sounds fantastic.

  2. Some really interesting sounding books there. I like the sound of The Performance and also Early Morning Riser. Your comment about it having that same observational eye as Anne Tyler particularly appeals, especially as I am currently reading Anne Tyler.

  3. Hello! I’ve only just now found my way to your lovely blog and website. I find the premise of The Performance really intriguing. What a creative way to frame a plot! I’ll be adding this to my TBR. Thank you!

  4. Odd choice of cover for My Phantoms – looks like a crime novel but the publisher’s description sounds more literary. I hope the right readers find it!

  5. This week’s weather has been quite spring-y. It feels early… it’s probably just a tease. But you never know!
    Five generations of Cuban women sounds good to me. And so does Early Morning Riser. I like the cover of that one, too!

    1. I hope you’re enjoying it, Naomi, even if it is a tease. We’re admiring lots of spring colour here while being buffeted about by very strong winds.

      I loved Early Morning Riser. I might have to go as far as to use that tired old phrase ‘life-affirming’!

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