Paperbacks to Look Out For in April 2021: Part Two

Cover image for A Theatre for Dreamers by Polly SamsonPart two of April’s paperback preview is a little less starry than the first instalment with its two prize winners but still full of goodies, a few of which I’ve already read beginning with Polly Samson’s A Theatre for Dreamers. Set in 1960, it’s the story of a group of artists, writers and hedonists drawn to the beautiful Greek island of Hydra, where Leonard Cohen meets his muse, Marianne. Eighteen-year-old Erica is left £1,000 by her mother, deciding to spend it on a year living with her boyfriend on Hydra, the setting for the novel written by her mother’s friend. Erica is drawn into the island’s creative circle while a romance plays out that will capture the imagination of many for decades. Samson wisely keeps Leonard and Marianne in the background of this immersive, escapist read.

I reviewed Emma Straub’s The Vacationers just over a year after starting this blog having enjoyed it very much but I’ve read nothing by her since. Her new novel, All Adults Here, is about Astrid and her three grown-up children who seem anything but that, although she’s hardly a paragon herself by the sound of it. When her granddaughter arrives, full of curiosity, it seems Astrid’s life may be turned upside down. ’Witty, astute, and irresistibly readable, All Adults Here is a novel about how to survive inside a modern family’ says the publisher which sounds like a smart slice of fiction to take your mind off things. Cover image for Out of Touch by Haleh Agar

Haleh Agar’s debut, Out of Touch is also about ambivalent family reunions by the sound of it. A woman is knocked down by a man who visits her in hospital, bringing her flowers in apology together with the letter she dropped when she fell. Her brother has received the same letter in New York telling him that their estranged father is dying and wants to see them both. ‘With sharp wit and sensitivity, Out of Touch is a deeply absorbing story about love and vulnerability, sex and power, and the unbreakable bonds of family’ say the publishers promisingly.

The theme of reassessing the past pops up in Kathleen MacMahon’s Women’s Prize longlisted  Nothing But Blue Sky as David discovers that the long marriage he’d always assumed to be perfect may not have been quite what it seemed. His wife’s sudden death sees him re-examining their lives together faced with the fact that Mary Rose had many secrets, some of them hidden in plain sight.  ‘Nothing But Blue Sky is a precise and tender story of love in marriage – a gripping examination of what binds couples together and of what keeps them apart’ says the blurb putting me in mind a little of Penelope Lively’s The Photograph.

Cover image for Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne TylerThe past comes back to haunt Michah in Anne Tyler’s Redhead By the Side of the Road. Eccentric but fondly regarded by family and friends, he’s quite content with his life until his partner tells him she’s to be evicted because of a cat. Then a teenager knocks on his door claiming to be his son further discombobulating him. ‘Redhead by the Side of the Road is an intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who sometimes finds those around him just out of reach – and a love story about the differences that make us all unique’ say the publishers promisingly. Always good to have a Tyler to look forward to.

Entirely different, there’s something of the mad fable about Scarlett Thomas Oligarchy, the story of a Russian oligarch’s daughter who spends a year in a British boarding school and finds herself turning detective, convinced that there’s more to a fellow pupil’s disappearance than meets the eye. Then someone else goes missing and Tash’s sleuthing takes off in earnest. It’s a whirlwind novella which slings a multitude of well-aimed barbs at all manner of things, from private schools to social media. Well worth reading for Thomas fans but no match for the bonkers The Seed Collectors, sadly

April’s short story collection is Dima Alzayat’s Alligator and Other Stories which was my first toe in the Netgalley water last year. Not an Cover image for Alligator and Other Stories by Dima Alzayatunalloyed success but I don’t think that’s Alzayat’s fault. Her collection comprises nine stories whose overarching theme is family and dislocation, otherness and racism, often told through recollections in quietly understated, sometimes poetic language. Many are about women whose strength and resilience see them through the challenges that loss and standing outside the mainstream of society presents. It’s an enjoyable collection, both poignant and hopeful, but the experimental titular story didn’t make good ebook material.

That’s it for April. As ever, a click on a title will either take you to my review or to a more detailed synopsis. If you’d like to catch up with part one of April’s paperback’s it’s here, new titles are here and here.

31 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out For in April 2021: Part Two”

  1. I bought the Polly Samson in hardback (a rare thing!) after hearing her talk about it on Mary Beard’s Culture show and because I’m a great Leonard Cohen fan and have even many years ago sailed into the harbour of Hydra and moored up there for a few days, so could picture it vividly. I’m sure all that contributed to my enjoying the book a lot but it’s good escapist stuff.

  2. Polly Samson is on my shelf – should have read it by now. My hardback review of Oligarchy is one of the few Shiny posts that was irrevocably lost which was a shame, as it was a good piece of writing from me on an interesting/infuriating/bonkers book.

  3. I want to read the Polly Samson too… Australian writers George Johnston and Charmaine Clift were leaders of that set and looked after Leonard Cohen. Be interesting to see if they’re name checked…

  4. I quite enjoyed Theatre for Dreamers although I thought that Cohen was a pretty vague character in it. I did, however, love the introduction to Charmain Clift and was delighted to see that her work is now going to be republished.

  5. I discovered Straub last year and would like to read more from her. Nothing But Blue Sky sounds so much like Monogamy (with the genders reversed); I have it on order from the library and will be interested to see how they compare. I wasn’t keen on this particular Tyler, or Oligarchy, but A Theatre for Dreamers was a great read. I’m interested in the Alzayat now that it’s made the Dylan Thomas Prize shortlist.

  6. A Theatre for Dreamers seems like a good read for the summer, something escapist in lieu of physical travel. I’m always a little wary of fictional stories featuring real people, but in this case it sounds subtly done.

    1. I think some readers might be disappointed by Samson’s handling of the Cohen/Marianne story but keeoing it in the background rather than making the novel all about them seemed a wise strategy to me.

  7. I was late to reading this time. In fact I’m a VERY slow reader. The Dima Alzayat looked v. interesting. Tessa Hadley has been a supporter of an author, Dina Nayeri, whose work seems to run along similar lines. I’m still trying to get to the Nayeri! Thank you.

      1. The one book of hers I have is The Ungrateful Refugee, yet it was in the short story form where Hadley seemed to take interest (unsurprisingly!).

          1. You might like Sulaiman Addonia’s Silence is My Mother Tongue, then. It’s a novel but draws on the author’s experience. I’ve reviewed it on here.

  8. Emma Straub really does seem like great summer reading. Then again, it’s not like there’s an “off season” for reading, is there?

  9. Just dropping back to see if you decided to read the Straub? I’m just wondering about its suitability some of the readers on our subscriptions, particularly where it ‘sits’ on the literary–commercial spectrum…

    1. I haven’t got around to it, I’m afraid, Jacqui. My memory of The Vacationers is that it sat somewhere in the middle. I remember seeing positive reviews of this one from bloggers who enjoy literary fiction.

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