Some very tempting paperback goodies to look out for this May, most of which I’ve already read beginning with one that made it on to both my books of the year list last year and this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction wishlist. Megan Hunter’s gorgeously written The Harpy sees Lucy’s anger unleashed when she discovers her partner’s affair despite his professed contrition. A way must be found to deal with this fury and the couple makes a bargain: Lucy will hurt Jake three times, the nature and time of the hurt to be of her choosing. Hunter punctuates Lucy’s narrative with brief impressionistic observations, exploring the loss of female identity, subsumed in domesticity, motherhood and the imbalance between men and women. Her writing is spare but often lyrical, her images dramatic and powerful, each word carefully chosen.
Joanna Briscoe’s The Seduction sees a woman seek help when her own adolescence comes back to haunt her, triggered by her daughter’s imminent thirteenth birthday. Intrigued by her therapist, Beth suggests they see each other outside the clinic. Tamara at first demurs but then agrees, insisting on discretion. By the time the planned family trip to the States comes around, Beth is caught in the grips of a full blown obsession, heedless of anything else. It took me a little while to get into this one – a wee bit too much descriptive writing for me – but once its pace took off, I was gripped.
Elizabeth Ames’ The Other’s Gold follows a set of friends from young adulthood into later life, a catnip structure for me. Four students, all with childhood demons to face down, become roommates in their first year. Each of the four will make a dreadful mistake as they move from their wild student days into motherhood. ‘The Other’s Gold reveals the achingly familiar ways our life-defining turning points prompt our relationships to unravel and re-knit, as the women discover what they and their loved ones are capable of, and capable of forgiving’ say the publishers whetting my appetite further.
Childhood demons put in an appearance in Irish poet Susannah Dickey’s debut Tennis Lessons, a dark coming-of-age novel which follows its unnamed narrator from her childhood into her late twenties, unfolding the story of a young woman, out of step with her peers, struggling to find a niche for herself. Dickey leaves much unsaid, crediting her readers with the intelligence to infer, and her book is all the better for it. Not always a comfortable read but a witty, compassionate one which champions the value of friendship.
Beginning in the roaring Celtic Tiger years of the early noughties, Caoilinn Hughes’ The Wild Laughter explores family, faith and death. Two very different brothers are held together by the father they dub the Chief. Even when it’s clear he’s mortally ill, the Chief continues to work, chipping away at the debts that have ruined him. Then he makes an oblique request to his sons which they both interpret in the same way. The question is how to accomplish it and who will bear the brunt. There’s a rich vein of very black humour running through this novel until it reaches its sombre closing chapters. I found Hughes’ vernacular style tricky at first but grew accustomed to it, enjoying her sardonic, snarky observations.
Entirely different, Jean-Baptiste Andrea’s A Hundred Million Years and a Day is about a palaeontologist who thinks he may have found a clue to the discovery which will enshrine his legacy, hidden deep in the mountains of Southern France. In July 1954, the four-man expedition begins with Stan at its head, his dear friend Umberto arriving late with an assistant in tow and their guide Gio. False starts are made, tempers fray, disappointments are suffered, and worse. Meanwhile the season changes. Against Gio’s better judgement, the team reluctantly agrees to continue until a decision must be made. A gorgeously written, gripping piece of fiction, Andrea’s novella is both reflective and page-turning.
That’s it for May’s first batch of paperbacks, all but one tried and tested. As ever, a click on a title will take you either to my review or to a more detailed synopsis, and if you’d like to catch up with May’s new fiction it’s here and here. Part two soon…