Books to Look Out For in May 2021: Part One 

Cover image for Whereabouts by Jhumpa LahiriI’m going to risk calling May early summer which it’s hoped will usher in a degree of longed-for liberation here in the UK, although not too much for obvious reasons. Lots of books to enjoy in the sunshine if we’re lucky, beginning with one I’ve read already.

Four years ago, I was sent Jhumpa Lahiri In Other Words, her account of a passion for the Italian language so intense she uprooted her family from the States so that she could immerse herself in it. The memoir was written in Italian, then translated by Anne Goldstein. Her new book, Whereabouts, was also written in Italian but this time translated by herself. It records a year or so in the life of a middle-aged, childless, single woman whose life is spent on the fringes of other people’s worlds. As she walks through the streets she’s known all her life, she speculates about the people she sees, embroidering lives for them while they treat her with courtesy but little else.  Lahiri’s prose is beautiful in its simplicity, descriptions of the unnamed Italian city in which it’s set singing off the page. In its precise, understated beauty, it reminded me of Mary Costello’s Academy Street: high praise indeed from me. Review soon…

David Annand’s Peterdown tells the story of a very different town through two people on opposing sides of a plan to redevelop it. Ellie is an architect determined to save a modernist estate shortlisted as a property to be demolished while her partner is a passionate football fan, equally determined to save his team’s stadium. The plans unleash all sorts of mayhem in the town, apparently. ‘Peterdown brings England’s beleaguered streetscape to life and finds lurking there a playful and storied counterculture: mad monks and machine breakers, avant-gardists and non-conformists’ promises the blurb whetting my appetite nicely.

Mayhem may well be on the cards in Lisa McInerney’s The Rules of Revelation which sounds like quite a rollercoaster with its intertwined stories of disparate individuals, ranging from a former sex-worker to a Brexit Britain refusenik returning to Ireland whose secrets may be about to be revealed to the world. ‘A riotous blast of sex, scandal, obsession, love, feminism, gender, music, class and transgression from an author with tremendous, singular talent’ according to the publishers which sounds great although I still haven’t got around to reading The Glorious Heresies.

I had mixed feelings about Maylis de Kerangal’s Birth of a Bridge and gave Mend the Living a miss but I’m keen to read Painting Time with its Brussels setting and what sounds like an art theme. Twenty students begin their apprenticeship in decorative painting, spending a tough year learning their trade and partying when they can. For one of them, her initiation into the art of trompe l’oeil will prove to be transforming in what the publishers are billing as ‘a coming-of-age novel like no other: an atmospheric and highly aesthetic portrayal of love’.

Cover image for The Netanyahus by Joshua CohenA Jewish historian teaching in an upstate New York college finds himself reviewing the application of an exiled Israeli scholar specialising in the Spanish Inquisition in Joshua Cohen’s The Netanyahus. Benzion Netanyahu arrives at the interview, unexpectedly accompanied by his family, and the historian must put them up. ‘Mixing fiction with non-fiction, the campus novel with the lecture, The Netanyahus is a wildly inventive, genre-bending comedy of blending, identity, and politics’ according to the blurb. Not so sure about this one which could either be very funny or fall flat on its face.

I remember enjoying Vendela Vida’s The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty with its distinctly Sheltering Sky vibe way back in the earlyish days of this blog. We Run the Tides, her new novel, is set in a San Francisco neighbourhood where two teenage best friends witness a horrible act, or at least one is convinced she has triggering a split with the other who is equally convinced she hasn’t. Then one of them disappears. ‘Told with a gimlet eye and great warmth, We Run the Tides is both a gripping mystery and a tribute to the wonders of youth, in all its beauty and confusion’ say the publishers. Sounds intriguing.

Lastly, a childhood game comes back to haunt its players in Victoria Gosling’s debut Before the Ruins which sees a young woman reluctantly responding when her old friend’s mother calls to say he’s missing. Andy and three schoolfriends befriended a young man hiding out in a ruined mansion. Together they devised a game, hiding a replica of a diamond necklace thought to be lost in its grounds in the hopes of stumbling upon the real thing, a game that sparked years of resentment and betrayal. ‘Now, Andy’s search for Peter will unearth unimaginable secrets – and take her back to the people who still keep them’ says the blurb, hinting at skullduggery. Not entirely convinced by that but Sarah Waters is a big fan.

That’s it for the first instalment of May’s potential goodies. 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…

 

21 thoughts on “Books to Look Out For in May 2021: Part One ”

  1. I managed to get a copy of the De Kerangal, looking forward to that very much. Having loved The Glorious Heresies (even if the sequel didn’t quite live up to the first), I will definitely read McInerny’s third novel, it sounds fab.

  2. The Lahiri sounds excellent, all the more so with your comparison to Mary Costello’s Academy Street. I haven’t read anything by Lahiri since The Lowland, which feels likes 8 or 9 years ago, so I have to admit to being somewhat out of the loop with her more recent writing. One to look out for, I think…

  3. I loved Mend the Living, so very much look forward to reading Maylis de Kerangal. I have both the French and English versions of the book, so look forward to reading them in parallel. I enjoed Lisa McInerney’s first book far more than the other young Irish women writers currently being praised, so I hope this one lives up to the first (wasn’t that enamoured with the second).

    1. I’ve a copy of the de Kerangal so will be reviewing that. I’d be interested to hear how the translation and the original compare. I suspect I’ll read The Glorious Heresies before this one.

      1. I read your blurb to my husband and he agreed with me. This one is a non-starter for us (unless it makes them out to be really disgusting, and then it would be realistic)!

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