Books to Look Out For in November 2021: Part Two

Cover image for Dog Park by Sofi OksanenThis second instalment of November goodies is a rather more cosmopolitan affair, beginning with a book by an author whose work I’ve been meaning to read for some time. Sofi Oksanen’s Dog Park switches between 2016 Helsinki, where Olenka is joined on her park bench by a woman whose life she’s ruined, and Ukraine just after independence from Soviet Russia. ‘Oksanen brings fearless psychological acuity to this captivating story about a woman unable to escape the memory of her lost child, the ruthless powers that still hunt her, and the lies that could well end up saving her’ say the publishers of a novel that sounds well worth investigating.

As does JJ Bola’s The Selfless Act of Breathing although I suspect it’s one of those books that could go either way for me. It’s about a millennial Londoner who’s taken himself off to America having decided to end his life once his money runs out despite the promising future that appears to lie ahead for him. ‘As he grapples with issues bigger than him – political conflict, environmental desecration, police brutality – Michael seeks to find his place within a world that is complicated and unwelcoming’ say the publishers. Interesting premise but I’m prepared for disappointment.Cover image for The Woman from Uruguay by Pedro Mairal

I’m not sure what attracted me to Pedro Mairal’s The Woman from Uruguay which reads almost like a confessional as a writer looks back over the day he left his Argentinean home for Uruguay, planning to withdraw the $15,000 he’s been paid in advances for his next books, visit an old friend and spend time with Guerra, the woman he’s been fantasizing about since they met at a literary festival, before returning home. A year later, he tells his wife what really happened that day. I enjoyed this novella, full of atmospheric descriptions that summon up its backdrop in clean, elegant prose. Review shortly…

With its memorably quirky, unreliable narrator, Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead brought her writing into the literary mainstream but it was The Books of Jacob that caught the Nobel Prize judges’ attention in 2018. In the mid-eighteenth century, Jacob Frank, a young Jewish man, changes his name and apparently becomes the subject of ecstatic experiences. Tokarczuk’s novel follows him over a decade in which he constantly reinvents himself, converting first to Islam, then Catholicism, acquiring a following of devoted disciples and determined detractors. ‘Olga Tokarczuk writes the story of Frank through the perspectives of his contemporaries, capturing Enlightenment Europe on the cusp of precipitous change, searching for certainty and longing for transcendence’ say the publishers.

Cover image for LearWife by J R ThorpI’m in two minds about this last one but it’s published by a favourite publisher. J R Thorp’s Learwife plucks King Lear’s queen out of obscurity and puts her in a nunnery where she’s been sent after her broken husband and their daughters have been killed or vanquished. Furious and grief-stricken, she’s desperate to understand what’s happened and why she’s been exiled. ‘Giving unforgettable voice to a woman whose absence has been a tantalising mystery, Learwife is a breathtaking novel of loss, renewal and how history bleeds into the present’ according to the blurb. We’ll see.

As ever, 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 first instalment, it’s here. Paperbacks soon … 

That’s it for me until next week. H and I are off to London for a few days tomorrow to celebrate my birthday.


24 thoughts on “Books to Look Out For in November 2021: Part Two”

  1. I’m almost afraid to read The Books of Jacob, for fear it will disappoint me or be too difficult (I didn’t get on with Piranesi recently, but absolutely loved Too Loud a Solitude, so go figure, as they say…). I have loved all of Tokarczuk’s previous work which has been translated into English, so hopefully…

  2. Dog Park sounds very, very interesting! As does The Book of Jacob but I haven’t previously read anything by Tokarczuk and this lengthy book is probably not the best place to begin!
    The Woman from Uruguay was publlished in the U.S. this summer (with a different cover, naturally. I like this cover much better). I’ve looked at it a couple of times and been tempted but I just have so very many unread books now I passed despite its relative brevity. I don’t know if you’re interested in NYT reviews, but it received a very negative review there, much to my surprise. The reviewer did admit, however, that it was a bestseller throughtout Latin America, so perhaps Mairal trod unwittingly on a reviewer toe or something!

    1. I gather Tokarczuk’s writing is quite taxing. Drive Your Plow… is more for lightweights like me. Thanks for the link. I’ve already written my review so will take a look. I came to it cold (and obviously from a very different background) which might explain my reaction.

  3. Dog Patk really appeals to me, it sounds powerful and haunting, but I will look out for it. I am interested in The Books of Jacob but it sounds challenging and I still haven’t read Flights, I absolutely loved Drive Your Plow…

  4. The Books of Jacob sounds as if it could be wonderful… or terrible! I shall await your review. I also have a copy of Learwife and it’s another that could easily go either way – fingers crossed.

  5. I’ll be watching the Book of Jacob from the sidelines, having still not ventured into her world yet, but definitely intrigued by the concept. Certainty and transcendence being complete opposites, no wonder it’s such a long journey.

    The Woman from Uruguay sounds interesting too.

    Have a lovely visit and happy birthday, how wonderful after such a long isolation, to be venturing out again. I hope you have time to visit some bookshops and report back on them, just the thought of it lifts the spirits.

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