Paperbacks to Look Out For in May 2021: Part Two

Cover inage for The Cat and the City by Nick Bradley This second batch of May paperbacks kicks off with a favourite from last year: Nick Bradley’s The Cat and the City. Set in Tokyo, Bradley’s episodic novel follows a set of characters through their teeming city as it prepares to play host to the Olympics, each of whose lives are touched by a very particular cat, a stray apparently just passing through. The cat flits in and out of the characters’ stories, even making an appearance in the manga a young boy draws for the agoraphobic man he befriends, brought together by its injury. It’s feline of very unusual qualities but this is a spoiler-free zone so you’ll just have to read the book to find out what they are.

Staying in Japan, Clarissa Goenawan’s The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida has an intriguing premise, following the eponymous Miwako’s closest friends and family as they try to piece together the jigsaw of her life after her death in a remote village. ‘Together, they realise that the young woman they thought they knew had more going on behind her seemingly perfect facade than they could ever have dreamed’ say the publishers. Only her best friend knows her true identity, apparently. I do like the sound of that. 

I reviewed Xiaolu Guo’s I Am China in the early days of this blog, describing it as a love story in fragments which could also be applied to her new novel, A Lover’s Discourse, by the sound of it. A Chinese woman comes to London, hoping her relationship will ease her loneliness in this country so different from her Cover image for A Lover's Discourse by Xiaolu Guo own. Her new life is explored through snatches of conversation between the woman and her lover in a multitude of different settings. ‘Suffused with a wonderful sense of humour, this intimate and tender novel asks universal questions: what is the meaning of home when we’ve been uprooted? How can a man and woman be together? And how best to find solid ground in a world of uncertainty?’ according to the blurb which sounds very enticing.

The daughter of a French father and an Algerian mother, Nina’s happy childhood in Algeria is brought to an abrupt end when her mother is subjected to a horrible act of violence in Nina Bouraoui’s All Men Want to Know. By the 1980s Nina is living alone in Paris frequenting a famous gay club, wary of her own desires, and begins to write about her mother. ‘A phenomenon in France, this is a defining portrait of womanhood from one of Europe’s greatest living writers’ say the publishers of a novel which sounds highly autobiographical given that its author and main protagonist share the same name.

Catherine Lacey’s Pew sees the eponymous character wake up in a church unsure of their identity, gender or otherwise. Pew won’t speak, unable or unwilling to answer the many increasingly strident questions put to them by the town’s people. ‘As the days pass, their insistent clamour will build from a murmur to a roar, as both the innocent and the guilty come undone in the face of Pew’s silence’ says the blurb of what sounds rather like a fable. I’m not at all sure about this one but I’ve enjoyed Lacey’s previous novels, Nobody is ever Missing and The Answers.

I also have doubts about David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue, much loved by music journo turned novelist Tony Parsons. It follows the brief, blazing career of the eponymous band who cut their musical teeth on the British gig circuit before taking off to America, just as hippiedom slips into something very dark. ‘A multi-faceted tale of dreams, drugs, love, sexuality, madness and grief; of stardom’s wobbly ladder and fame’s Faustian pact; and of the collision between youthful idealism and jaded reality as the Sixties drew to a close’ according to the publisher. Tempted by the premise but at nearly 600 pages there’s potential for a great deal of bagginess.

That’s it for May’s paperbacks. As ever, if you’d like to know more a click on a title will take you either to my review or to a more detailed synopsis. You can catch up with the first instalment of May’s paperbacks here, while new fiction is here and here.

22 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out For in May 2021: Part Two”

  1. Go for it with Pew. It’s short and fable-like and intriguing. I bailed very early on with the Mitchell and gave it to my husband (a more devoted fan) to read instead. He thought it was alright but a bit of an odd mix of the real and fictional, and overlong.

  2. I’m a David Mitchell fan from way back (loved Cloud Atlas and many of his earlier novels) but I’ve increasingly avoided his last few novels. I’m afraid this will include Utopia Avenue (the reviews I’ve read have been fairly lukewarm). All Men Want To Know and The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida sound very tempting . . .

  3. buriedinprint

    Nesting this beneath Rebecca’s comment because I remember that she recommended Pew previously too, so that got me to listen to an interview (one of David Naimon’s, in the Between the Covers series) recently and I found the way she talked about Pew’s story with him very interesting….it also made me want to read her other books (she’s also very down-to-earth about her ideas about writing, and not exactly self-deprecating, but humble and concerned with kindness?). It really intrigued me. More so than the description of the book out of context.

  4. buriedinprint

    Okay…well I *tried* to nest that comment under Rebecca’s. LOL Really, I did!

    Anyway. I was also going to say that I’d forgotten about The Cat and the City but I’m on the hold list now. (There are very few copies so I probably gave up right away, when you last mentioned it and it was even newer…looks like about an eight-month wait…which must be a good sign that so many other readers have discovered its charms and word has spread!)

  5. Last night at the Dylan Thomas Prize (online) ceremony, Catherine Lacey read an extract from Pew while sat in her closet! Hers wasn’t the best reading out of the six, but it was the most memorable for the setting.

  6. Maybe she thought the acoustics were best there! Did you know her partner is also a writer? Jesse Ball. (Sorry, I also tried to nest my comment, under BIP’s on Pew.)

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