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.
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…