Books to Look Out For in May 2021: Part Two

Cover image for Last Days in Cleaver Square by Patrick McGrath We’ll soon be hurtling into summer reading territory with blockbusters aplenty to read somewhere other than beside a foreign pool again this year, although they may not appear on this blog. I’m more partial to a well turned out novella. I’m kicking off May’s second new fiction preview with an author whose writing often has a touch of the gothic.

I was delighted to spot a new Patrick McGrath in the publishing schedules, having enjoyed many of his previous novels, not least The Wardrobe Mistress, published back in 2017. The blurb for his new novel begins promisingly ‘An old man is sleeping fitfully. It’s too hot. The air is thick with Spanish Jasmine floating in from his overgrown garden. And he’s not sure whether he’ll be woken by General Franco sitting on the end of his bed’. Set in 1975, Last Days in Cleaver Square sees a Spanish civil war veteran close to death, haunted by Franco’s spectre thanks to a terrible act of betrayal committed during the war. When his daughter, with whom he lives, tells him she’s engaged he realises he can no longer avoid the past. Eager to read this one.

Maggie Shipstead’s Great Circle also includes an historical figure, this time corporeal, telling the story of Marian Graves, an orphan growing up in 1920s Montana, who went on to achieve her dream of becoming a pilot but disappeared while on an attempt to fly from pole to pole in 1950. Hadley Baxter is the actor cast to play Graves in a 2015 biopic who becomes obsessed with the female aviator and what happened to her. Not entirely sure about this chunkster which weighs in at just over six hundred pages, particularly as I wasn’t a fan of Seating Arrangements, Shipstead’s debut, but it looks worth a try.

I loved Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways with its depiction of the precarious lives of economic migrants sharing a Sheffield house. His new novel, China Room, follows Mehar a young bride in 1929, married in a single ceremony with two other women to three brothers in the Punjab. In 1999, a young man fleeing addiction and racism travels from England to the farm where Mehar lived hoping to recover before returning home. Described by the publisher as ‘a multigenerational novel of love, oppression, trauma and the pursuit of freedom, inspired in part by the author’s own family history’ it sounds excellent.

Esther Freud’s I Couldn’t Love You More also spans several generations and sounds like one of those books to immerse yourself in when you want to shut out the world, telling the stories of three women. In the ’60s Rosaleen meets a raffish sculptor, an adventure which takes her to Marseilles; in the ‘90s, Kate sets out to discover what’s troubling her when her marriage runs aground; present day Aoife tells her dying husband the story of their marriage from which a piece of the jigsaw is missing. ‘Spanning three generations of women, I Couldn’t Love You More is an unforgettable novel about love, motherhood, secrets and betrayal – and how only the truth can set us free’ say the publishers which sounds a trifle cliched but I enjoyed Mr Mac and Me very much.

From several novels stretching over decades to one which plays out for the duration of a plumbing repair. James Clammer’s Insignificance sees Joseph trying to concentrate on the job in hand but unable to keep his mind off his family, distracted by what he believes are his son’s murderous intentions. ‘Placing the reader right inside the head of its struggling narrator, it works double time, both as an act of empathy a taste of the uncertainty and awkwardness of one vulnerable man, and his relationship with the world and also as a tense, emotional and gripping drama’ according to the blurb which sounds both riveting and claustrophobic. Clammer is already established as a children’s author, apparently.

Cover image for Intimacies by Lucy Caldwell May’s short story collection is Lucy Caldwell’s Intimacies which explores the theme of young women finding their place in the world via stories of ‘love, loss and exile, of new beginnings and lives lived away from home’ according to the blurb. It’s Kevin Barry’s puff which has persuaded me with this one: ‘Precise and beautifully controlled fictions but with strange, wild energies pulsing along just beneath the surface. A tremendous collection’. Sold!

That’s it for May’s new fiction. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that take your fancy and if you’d like to catch up with the first part, it’s here. Paperbacks soon…

23 thoughts on “Books to Look Out For in May 2021: Part Two”

  1. Rachel Moffitt

    Looking forward to the Sahota – I have just finished Ours are the Streets, his first novel, which was excellent.

  2. I’m keen to find the Sahota. I’m on the library holds list for Great Circle — I’ll let you know via a future Library Checkout post whether it’s any good 🙂 (I am a fan of hers, though.)

  3. You got me thinking how I’ve never read Esther Freud, although I keep meaning to. I found Mr Mac and Me on the library app and the audio sample made me laugh so I downloaded it. I like the sound of the new one too.

  4. It looks like lots of great books are headed our way — thanks for the update. I’ve read several of Esther Freud’s novels (although I missed Mr Mac & Me). Although she’s not stylistically experimental, she’s a fine writer IMO and her work is wonderful to settle into, in certain moods. My favorite so far is Gaglow — terrible title, but wonderful story. I’ll probably pre-order her new novel.
    I loved Sahota’s Runaways, which I thought was one of the best things I read the year it was published. I think it was shortlisted for the Booker, but lost out to Marlon James’ Brief History of Seven Killings (which I admit I thought was just a little bit better).
    I might give the McGrath novel a look when it comes out. I think McGrath is really, really talented but emotionally I’m not quite on his wave length. But still . . .
    As for Shipstead? I thought Seating Arrangements was o.k. but . . . her new one is 600 pages???? Unless I read some fabulous reviews, I’ll probably give her new one a pass!

    1. I’ve not read Gaglow but can certainly recommend Mr Mac and Me. I think you’re right in describing her work as writing you can settle into. The Year of the Runaways was wonderful, wasn’t it. Such a skilfully structured novel written with such compassion. I suspect I’ll be giving the Shipstead a miss.

  5. I’ve got high expectations for the Shipstead, although I’ve not requested an ARC and plan to read a library copy, an indication of hesitant commitment. Insignificance is on my list, to be released here in the States in September (they’re calling it a plumber’s Mrs. Dalloway, which I find hilarious). I’m intrigued by the McGrath. I haven’t read him for a while and would love to revisit his work!

    1. I love that phrase ‘hesitant commitment’ although not as much as ‘a plumber’s Mrs dalloway’! Last Days in Cleaver Square sounds a little less Gothic than Mc Grath’s usual style but we’ll see.

      1. I think I first heard of Caldwell when she was shortlisted for the BBC Short Story Award. Not sure if you’re a podcast person, but if so, it might still be available as a podcast (or as a broadcast on BBC Sounds).

  6. I’ve heard it said that, as one gets older, one is less interested in reading about young women finding themselves, but that hasn’t happened to/for me yet. That Lucy Caldwell collection intrigues me in particular!

  7. I’m drawn to the women’s stories in Intimacies and I Couldn’t Love You More, but I’m also intrigued by the plumber – I want to know what’s going on inside his head!

    1. I’ve read and enjoyed I Couldn’t Love You More since posting this. I was amused to hear that the American blurb for Insignificance calls it a plumbing Mrs Dalloway!

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