Paperbacks to Look Out For in September 2021: Part One

Cover image for Trio by William BoydI like to have a theme running through these preview posts, a pleasing link between one title and the next but this first batch of September paperbacks is made up of such a disparate bunch of books I’ve given up, kicking off with one that I have hopes for despite a string of disappointments. Unsurprisingly, three characters are the focus of William Boyd’s Trio, set in the summer of 1968, about the making of a movie in Brighton, a world away from the Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy assassinations of that year. The titular trio comprises a producer, a novelist and an actress who become increasingly focused on each other until it all becomes too much, apparently. A new Boyd on the horizon once signalled a treat in store for me. Not so in recent years but that premise sounds very tempting.

Despite rampant enthusiasm for it on social media, I only got around to Fiona Mozley’s Elmet for my stint as a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year shadow judge. It wasn’t my first choice, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by the confidence of Mozley’s writing. Set in gentrified Soho where a brothel is under threat from the building’s billionaire owner, Hot Stew sounds equally assured. Determined to keep their home, Precious and Tabitha launch a campaign against the steely Agatha. ‘Hot Stew is an insightful and ambitious novel about property, ownership, wealth and inheritance. It is about the place we occupy in society and the importance placed on class and money. It doesn’t shy away from asking difficult questions but does so with humour and intelligence’ say the publishers promisingly.

This one’s a step or three outside my usual reading territory but Annabel at Annabookbel was such a persuasive champion of it last year that I’ve had to think again. In Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi the eponymous character charts the many wonders of the house he’s lived in all his life, from the multitude of statues to the clouds flitting through the upper floor. Apart from two weekly meetings with a friend, it’s a solitary life suddenly disrupted by the knowledge that someone new has entered the house. ‘The world that Piranesi thought he knew is becoming strange and dangerous. The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite’ according to the blurb. If you want to know more, Annabel’s hymn of praise is here.

Years ago, I read Abdulrazak Gurnah’s beautifully expressed, poignant By The Sea, including it in my Five Books I’ve Read About Immigrants post. In Afterlives Gurnah explores the return of two men to their homeland: one kidnapped and forced to fight against his own people; the other sold into the same war. Both are connected by Afiya, the sister of one, beloved by the other. ‘As fate knots these young people together, as they live and work and fall in love, the shadow of a new war on another continent lengthens and darkens, ready to snatch them up and carry them away…’ says the blurb of a novel much acclaimed when it was published in hardback.

That’s it for the first rather brief instalment of September’s paperbacks. A click on a title with take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more and if you’d like to catch up with the month’s new titles, they’re here. Part two soon…

36 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out For in September 2021: Part One”

  1. Like you, my eyes always used to light up with the prospect of a new Boyd novel, but he has lost me in recent years. I was lucky to get a review copy of Trio last year but could not get into it at all. I think it was the wrong book at the wrong time (pretty much all reading felt like that for me in 2020) so I will be giving it another go, with fingers crossed for a better outcome.

  2. The summer of 1968 is hugely appealing to me (because of REASONS), so, although I too have somewhat lost touch with Boyd in recent years, I might make an effort to seek that one out. The others don’t tempt me too much – but then I am feeling a bit humdrum about a lot of books and especially blurbs lately.

  3. Thank you so much for the link, my championing of Piranesi has known no bounds! There is a 5×15 online event with Susanna Clarke and Neil Gaiman on Sept 2 by the way. Meanwhile, I have both Trio and Hot Stew on my shelves – will take the Mozley first though I think.

  4. Very enjoyable, as always — I depend on you, Susan, to keep me up to date! From this bunch I’m mildly tempted by Trio. Unlike many, I was never a super fan of Boyd’s (let’s just say I was mildly appreciate) and haven’t read anything by him in quite some time. I’m always interested, however, in shifting relationships and what could be more apropos in this respect than a trio? Piranesi, well — I feel I should read it, just to form my own opinion. I know, however, that my mood will have to be just right for it or else it’s a no go. The other two sound interesting, but probably insufficiently so to earn a spot on my TBR mountain, which is now threatening to bury my house!

    1. Thank you and if I don’t hear from you next preview I may fret you’ve been buried by that mountain! It was the string of thrillers that dulled Boyd’s shine for me. I’ve been persuaded to give Piranesi a whirl. We’ll see…

      1. Oh, don’t worry — I really don’t have real fear that my TBR mountain will collapse. In that respect, I’m probably akin to the inhabitants of Pompeii, who watched the pretty smoke from Mount Vesuvius ascend skywards . . . .

  5. The last Boyd novel I read was so insipid I decided my love affair with him had come to an end…..

    Of all these books, the one that interests me most is Afterlives. This summer’s reading has been marked by novels with an African or Indian setting so this would fit right into the theme..

  6. A varied selection there. I have heard such good things about Boyd, though never sure if he would be for me, this one appeals though especially with it being set in 1968. Hot Stew sounds interesting, and I enjoyed Elmet very much though the brutality at the end took me back a bit, this one sounds like it might be set in a rather brutal world.

  7. September? I can’t quite believe the year is going so fast! I have been meaning to read Piranesi since it came out. I’ve never read Boyd but have been told he can be quite hit or miss.

    1. I know exactly what you mean. Summer, if you can call it that, is racing past. Sadly true of Boyd these days but at least he seems to have said goodbye to writing thrillers. Any Human Heart is my favourite of his novels.

  8. Like you, I wouldn’t normally be rushing to read Piranesi, but the wave of enthusiastic reports keep coming, particularly from readers I trust. Hot Stew sounds interesting too, although I’ve yet to read Elmet…maybe I ought to rewind and start there!

  9. So the theme is their resistance to theme? Heheh Bound to happen. This is such a rich publishing season…hard to choose where to begin. (Lovely “problem” to have!)

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