Books to Look Out for in January 2022: Part One

Cover image for Pandor by Susan Stokes-ChapmanHere we go again – new year, well almost, and shiny new books too salivate over, beginning with one I’ve already read. Susan Stokes-Chapman’s much-trailed debut, Pandora, is set in Georgian London in the final year of the 18th century. This tale of orphans, evil uncles, stolen antiquities and ancient curses sees Dora trying to make her name as a jewellery designer while her uncle runs down the shop he took on when her parents were killed at their dig in Greece, crushed when their excavations collapsed. What ensues is a mystery, a love story and an adventure whose pace becomes page turning as it races towards its conclusion. I enjoyed Stokes-Chapman’s novel – she knows how to spin a good yarn – but not without reservations. Review to follow…

A different kind of well spun yarn, Louise Welsh’s The Cutting Room caused quite a literary stir 20 years ago with its Cover image for The Second Cut by Louise Welshauctioneer with a taste for the seamier side of Glasgow and a determination to solve a particularly nasty mystery. In The Second Cut, Rilke’s still working at Bowery Auctions, happy to take up a house clearance tip from Jojo, an old friend, only for JoJo to be found dead in circumstances the police seem unwilling to investigate. ‘Thrilling and atmospheric, The Second Cut delves into the dark side of twenty-first century Glasgow. Twenty years on from his appearance in The Cutting Room, Rilke is still walking a moral tightrope between good and bad, saint and sinner’ say the publishers. I practically inhaled this one. It fulfilled all my sky high hopes. Review shortly…

Cover image for To Paradise by Hanya YanagiharaMore recently, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life caused an even bigger stir, so hyped on social media that I was thoroughly put off. To Paradise has received the same treatment, of course, but I’m toying with reading this one. It’s set across three centuries, portraying three different reimagined Americas. ‘The great power of this remarkable novel is driven by Yanagihara’s understanding of the aching desire to protect those we love – partners, lovers, children, friends, family and even our fellow citizens – and the pain that ensues when we cannot’ say the publishers which sounds extremely ambitious.

As does Michelle de Krester’s Scary Monsters. I’m a bit unsure about this one whose structure both attracts me and makesCover image for Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser me think it might fall flat on its face but I enjoyed de Kretser’s Questions of Travel and The Life to Come very much. This new one is divided into two parts either of which can be read first, apparently. One is set in a near-future Australia beset by climate change and racism where an Asian immigrant fears repatriation while the other is set in 1980s France where an Asian-Australian observes the treatment of North African immigrants. ‘Three scary monsters – racism, misogyny and ageism – roam through this mesmerising novel. Its reversible format enacts the disorientation that migrants experience when changing countries changes the story of their lives’ according to the blurb. We’ll see.

Cover image for Late City by Robert Olen ButlerEx-newspaperman Sam Cunningham lies on his deathbed discussing his story, and by extension, the story of the 20th century, with God in Robert Olen Butler’s Late City. Cunningham’s is a life marked by the emotional damage of an abusive childhood, exacerbated by his experiences in the trenches in World War One. ‘As he contemplates his relationships – with his parents, his brothers in arms, his wife, his editor, and most importantly, his son – Sam is amazed at what he still has left to learn about himself after all these years in this heart-rending novel from the Pulitzer Prize winner’ say the publishers of a novel whose premise reminds me a little of William Boyd’s Any Human Heart.

Dialling back a few years from today to 2017, Xochitl Gonzalez’s Olga Dies Dreaming is set in a Latinx BrooklynCover image for Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez neighbourhood on the up where Olga is a wedding-planner and her brother Pedro is a congressman. Beneath their success lies another story brought into sharp focus when their political activist mother turns up out of the blue having abandoned them 27 years ago when they were children. ‘Olga Dies Dreaming is a story that examines political corruption, familial strife and the very notion of the American dream’ according to the publishers putting it in state-of-the-nation territory, a favourite for me.

January’s short story collection is Lily King’s Five Tuesdays in Winter which I was delighted to spot on Twitter having Cover image for Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily Kingenjoyed both Writers & Lovers and Father of the Rain, reading it almost as soon as it came through my letterbox. It’s her first collection, comprising ten pieces some with a darker edge than I remember from her novels. Family break-ups, adolescence, addiction and its consequences, and writing are all explored but her dominant theme is love, in one form or another, and the contradictions that often accompany it. A couple of the shorter pieces are a little unsatisfying but it’s an enjoyable collection, written with a pleasing insight and perception. Hoping for a novel next time, though.

That’s it for the first batch of January’s new fiction. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis if you’d like to know more. Part two shortly…

36 thoughts on “Books to Look Out for in January 2022: Part One”

  1. I wonder if Yanagihara has allowed her editors to edit her work this time. She didn’t with A Little Life. I did enjoy that book though some editing would have tightened it and made it even more effective.

  2. An interesting line up for January, I’ll be looking forward to see what you think of them, good to see familiar authors bringing out more titles, the last two years have been quite productive for some it feels like.

    1. You may have a point there, Claire. I’ve long thought that author event tours must be a drain on writers’ time and energy, creative and otherwise. Perhaps the online events covid has forced upon us have been a blessing!

      1. It does seem that some have become more prolific, I think the forced isolation can indeed foster creativity and having just read an article about top nonfiction books of the year, it seems it’s been an excellent year for more serious subjects as well.

  3. Recently read Yanigihara’s ‘To paradise’ and can confirm she has told her editors to take some time off. Set over 200 years and 720 pages, it’s divided into three parts – like a lot of heavy things it really sags in the middle. But there are parts that are very readable and immersive and she certainly knows how to write. It’s also the first book I’ve read that features pandemics since you-know-what, so if you’re looking a break from that, or isolating, definitely not recommended. I have had ‘A little life’ on my shelf a couple of years and I think it will stay there a wee while longer – I think one Yanigihara is enough for a year.

      1. Same as what you said Susan – the hype put me off. I keep hearing that it was a book that was tough to read, bleak and depressing, but so worthwhile and I just never found the right moment to read it. I will, eventually, but when a book is so hyped a bit of distance does it no harm.

        Lovely site by the way.

      1. From what I heard, she was insistent on the ending which I understand to be that kind of ending which is a realistic sort of ending but not necessarily a “happy ending” and that she didn’t want to reduce the complexity (whereas she was advised that her readers wouldn’t want to track so many characters and wouldn’t want the tone of some of the characters’ storylines…being a bit vague here to avoid full-on spoilers, which I didn’t manage to avoid myself, even though I’ve not read the novel myself yet either).

  4. Such an interesting selection, but not sure if any of them are for me. I was also put off by the hype of A Little Life, but my sister and her friend both read it recently and absolutely loved it and went on about it. So that, and her latest novel are on my radar.

      1. The first one was pretty dark, but how creative – an auctioneer finding those pictures and stumbling onto a mystery! I’ve been to Scotland, but never got to see much of Glasgow, only passing through. There are some cousins of my Husband in Edinburgh, so when we visited we went there mostly.

        1. This one’s also dark but I’m not sure Rilke would work as a character without that. I have such fond memories of September in Edinburgh this year. It’s a beautiful city.

  5. I’ve avoided A Little Life too – I didn’t know about the refusal of an editor, but the hype, its length and readers saying what a tough read it was has put me off.

    The Louise Welsh is very tempting though! A 20 year gap is unusual and makes me think she must have had a great story to want to return to the character. I love a Glasgow setting.

    1. That refusal to have an editor has put me off even more.

      I was amazed and delighted at the way Welsh picked up Rilke’s character, ageing him convincingly by 20 years. I’m usually wary of sequels but no need to worry with this one.

  6. All of these intrigue me to some degree (except the first, of which I’ve not heard). And, imagine, a return to that Louise Welsh book a couple decades later-wow!

    I’m particularly keen to try the Robert Olen Butler, which I’ve heard is beautifully told. He’s not someone whose work I know well (I’ve only read one) but I’ve been impressed by what I’ve read and what I’ve heard in interviews.

    1. The Welsh is so good. I’m amazed at the way she managed to pick the threads of Rilke’s life up again as if she’d only finished The Cutting Room last year. Quite a feat!

      I’ve read two Butlers and enjoyed them both. The structure of this one sounds very appealing.

  7. I’m currently reading the King – so far so good, although not as brilliant as Writers & Lovers (which is hard to beat in my opinion!).
    Looking forward to the new Yanagihara but like you, unsure about the de Kretser. I’ve enjoyed her previous novels but there is something about this one (the dystopian element?) that doesn’t grab me.

    1. I’ve since read both the King and the de Kretser – both to be reviewed later in the month. I’d agree about the King, most of which I enjoyed very much but there were a few unsatisfying stories. The de Kretser is interesting. I preferred one half to the other.

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