Paperbacks to Look Out For in October 2021

Cover image for Before My Actual Heart Breaks by Tish DelaneySlim pickings for October’s paperback preview, sadly. I’m beginning with the only one I’ve yet to read – Tish Delaney’s Before My Actual Heart Breaks which is about Mary who grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Five children and a quarter of a century later, she’s finally glimpsed a chance of the happiness she’s long hoped for. This one popped up frequently in my Twitter feed when it was first published last year. I wasn’t at all sure about it but Roddy Doyle’s endorsement’s swung it for me.

No such doubts about Bryan Washington’s Memorial to which I’d been looking forward very much having loved Lot, his short story collection. Mike and Benson’s relationship is already a little rocky when Mike announces his mother is due to arrive in Houston from Japan the very day he will be flying in the opposite direction. What ensues is a surprising companionship between Benson and Mitsuko who decides to teach him how to cook while her own son doggedly tracks down his father in Osaka. By the end of this empathetic novel all the messiness of relationships and family has been explored. Lot set the bar very high, for me, but Memorial cleared it with ease.

I was a big fan of Bill Clegg’s debut, Did You Ever Have a Family, back in 2015 although I know many others weren’t so impressed. Hopes were high, then, for The End of the Day which follows a set of characters over six days when a multitude of beans are spilled thanks to the failing memory of one and the death of another. Clegg’s story gets off to something of a slow start, so much so that I began to wonder if I would stick with it but then a bombshell was delivered, the fallout from which kept me going until the end as smaller bomblets were dropped.

Peace Adzo Medie’s debut, His Only Wife, is the story of a young Ghanaian woman caught up in a web of obligation yanked tight by a manipulative matriarch whose generosity comes at a very high price. Afi and Eli’s wedding is as lavish as might be expected from a rich family, the only difference being the groom’s absence. Twenty-one-year-old Afi knows she’s been chosen in an attempt to lure Eli away from the Liberian woman with whom he has a daughter. In this enjoyable novel, Afi tells us her own story, from her unusual wedding to her decision, two years later, to take control of her life.

Kikuko Tsumura’s There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job is about a thirty-six-year-old woman, burnt out after fourteen years in a demanding job. Needing an income, she takes herself off to an employment agency where the sympathetic Mrs Masakado helps her in her quest for the easiest job she can find as near to home as possible. So begins a series of short-term contracts in humdrum assignments which prove to be much more stressful than she’d expected. A quietly enjoyable novel with a message for those who give themselves entirely to work.

Cover iamge for Dog Island by Philippe ClaudelEach book I’ve read by Philippe Claudel has been different from the others. What they have in common is a strong sense of humanity, beautifully expressed, and Dog Island is no exception. When the corpses of three young black men wash up on a tiny volcanic island in a remote archipelago, the islanders are presented with a moral dilemma: what to do about this tragedy which risks ruining the tourism industry if the discovery becomes public. Claudel’s novel reads like a fable, a twenty-first century morality tale which explores the darker side of human nature. Not a cheery read, although there’s a glimmer of grim humour at times, but it’s a salutary one.

That’s it for October paperback preview. As ever, a click on a title will take you either to my review or to a more detailed synopsis for my first choice should you wish to know more, and if you’d like to catch up with the month’s new titles they’re here and here.

16 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out For in October 2021”

  1. Like you, I really liked Bill Clegg’s previous novel (Did You Ever Have a Family) and I have his current one on my list. I actually have copies of His Only Wife (I’ve read a few pages and it looks gripping) & Bryan Washington’s Memorial, although at the rate I’m making my way through the TBR list it will probably be years before I get to either! (I’m currently bogged down in Mona Awad’s All’s Well . . .)

    1. Definitely two treats in store with His Only Wife and Memorial. A bit of patience paid off with the Clegg for me. The Awad looks interesting but it doesn’t sound as if it’s working for you.

  2. Not totally but I suspect the fault lies, not in Ms. Awad, but in myself! I expected a comedy albeit a black one and was thrown off by the novel’s more complicated emotional tone. The plot is interwoven with a college production of All’s Well That Ends Well, which is one of the “problem plays,” i.e., neither comedy nor tragedy. Had I been more familiar with the play, I wouldn’t have been surprised at the tone of the novel! Awad is a really skillful writer, quite witty at times and is exploring the interesting idea that society is literally blind to women’s physical & emotional pain. The novel has several “magical” elements, requires no prior knowledge of Shakespeare (although some basic familiarity enriches the read) and is really very well done. Although it wasn’t quite right for me at this particular moment, for a different reader it could work beautifully!

  3. Before my Actual Heart Breaks sounds great, glad to be introduced to several books I haven’t heard of previously. The End of the Day is another that I might like.

        1. Readers don’t find out what her job was until towards the end of the novel. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this one, perhaps because my expectations weren’t particularly high when I started it.

  4. Memorial was such a joy. I would have read onandonandon with those characters. Nothing happens. Everything happens. I just wanted to spend time with them while they waded through it all…

    1. Such a talented writer! It’s always a little nerve-wracking reading a second book by an author whose first you’ve so admired particularly when it takes a different form but Washington pulls it off beautifully.

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