Not as many July paperbacks as I might have hoped, too many for one post but fewer than I’d usually pick for two. Top of my list is Jonathan Coe’s Mr Wilder and Me which I’m hoping will be a return to form after several Coe disappointments. This one takes us back into cinema territory with a story of a young woman who finds herself working for Hollywood director Billy Wilder in Athens in 1977. While Calista is thrilled by the turn of events, Wilder fears his career has hit the skids. ‘In a novel that is at once a tender coming-of-age story and an intimate portrait of one of cinema’s most intriguing figures, Jonathan Coe turns his gaze on the nature of time and fame, of family and the treacherous lure of nostalgia’ according to the publishers.
I’m sure Coe is familiar with Charlie Kaufman’s movies of which I’m a fan even if some of them have left me perplexed. His debut, Antkind, sounds in a similar wacky vein. A film critic stumbles on what he thinks may be the greatest movie ever made, then all but a single frame is destroyed leaving B. Rosenberger Rosenberg attempting to reconstruct this three-month-long slow-motion epic which took its creator ninety years to complete. ‘Thus begins a mind-boggling journey through the hilarious nightmarescape of a psyche as lushly Kafkaesque as it is atrophied by the relentless spew of Twitter’ according to the blurb. I’m a faithful Kaufman fan and it will be interesting to see if his genius translates to fiction, although I’m a tad put off by the 700+ page count.
It’s the possibility of dark secrets long hidden in the family closet which attracts me to Caroline O’Donoghue’s Scenes of a Graphic Nature. Charlie’s career working in film and photography has stalled when she travels to her family home just off the west coast of Ireland with her best friend. Once there, Charlie finds she has questions that need answering. ‘Before long, she’s embroiled in a devastating conspiracy that’s been sixty years in the making . . . and it’s up to her to reveal the truth’ according to the blurb suggesting a thriller element which might not work for me but it still sounds well worth investigating.
Set in 1950s Connecticut and rural northern Italy, Anbara Salam’s Belladonna is a coming-of-age novel about Bridget and Isabella who meet, aged fifteen. Bridget is a bright scholarship girl from a poor background who becomes smitten with the beautiful, charismatic Isabella, the child of wealthy parents. When both win a competition to study art history in Italy, Bridget is thrilled, hopeful for the intimacy she longs for. Clearly aimed at the summer reading market, Salam’s novel manages to combine serious themes with a smart piece of storytelling and a page-turning pace.
Hopes were high for Anne Youngson’s Three Women and a Boat, thanks to her debut, Meet Me at the Museum, a surprise favourite for me back in 2018. Her second novel brings together the three titular women, strangers to each other and all at a crisis in their lives at its beginning when two of them offer to sail the third’s canal boat from Uxbridge to Chester for essential repairs. All three become firm if disparate friends by the end of this enjoyable novel which is a pean of praise to friendship and cooperation, steeped in storytelling and canal lore.
That’s it for the first instalment of July’s paperbacks. As ever a click on a title will either take you to my review or to a more detailed synopsis and if you’d like to catch up with the month’s new fiction, it’s here. Part two soon…