February’s first instalment kicked off with a highly anticipated novel as does this one. Monica Ali’s Love Marriage sees Yasmin engaged to a fellow doctor and looking forward to a bright future. Her family’s reaction to her prospective mother-in-law’s feminism sparks revelations and a reassessment by Yasmin of her family and what her marriage might mean. ‘What starts as a captivating social comedy develops into a heart-breaking and gripping story of two cultures, two families and two people trying to understand one another’ says the blurb. It’s been a decade since Untold Story was published but Love Marriage sounds worth the wait.
Set in New York, Coco Mellors’ debut, Cleopatra and Frankenstein is about a marriage between a young woman, broke and a little ragged from partying, and a man 20 years her senior who seems to have everything in life she’s hoping for. ‘He offers her the chance to be happy, the freedom to paint, and the opportunity to apply for a green card. She offers him a life imbued with beauty and art-and, hopefully, a reason to cut back on his drinking’ according to the publishers which sounds a little fluffy but I can’t resist a New York setting.
Staying in New York, Daphne Palasi Andreades’ Brown Girls is so assured I had to keep reminding myself it’s a first novel. Opening in working-class Queens where Andreades grew up, it follows the many and varied experiences of brown girls born to parents who’ve arrived in the USA, hoping for a better future for their American kids. Brown girls are American but they’re also something else. They’re Haitian, Pakistani, Flipina, Chinese, to name but a few but they’re all the same to their teachers who can never get their names straight. I practically inhaled this novel which is written in the first-person plural. Quite a risk for a debut but it works beautifully.
From one irresistible setting to another – Berlin is the backdrop for Emma Harding’s Friedrichstrasse 19, set both before and after the Wall came down. It spans several decades in the lives of its characters who all live at the eponymous address, from Sara thrilled by her liberating move to the city before the Second World War to recently divorced Heike who leapt over the Wall in 1989. ‘Time-travelling between decades, through the interlocking lives of six people, Friedrichstrasse 19 relives the tumultuous experience of a city on the frontline of history’ says the blurb which sounds right up my alley.
Elvia Wilks’ Oval is also set in Berlin, exploring themes of inequality and economic upheaval. Anja and Louis are part of a pioneering eco-community powered by trash. As climate change bites and the weather becomes increasingly unpredictable, Louis becomes obsessed with a pill that reprograms people to become more generous. Anja is horrified but Louis is convinced this is a universal panacea. A novel with an interesting premise that could go either way for me.
February’s second preview ends as the first one did with an accomplished short story collection by an Irish writer: Wendy Erskine’s Dance Move. Erskine’s stories are snapshots of ordinary, lives in which characters often face a crisis or decision that jolts them, sometimes leaving them irrevocably changed. Many are shot through with a humour that raises a wry smile. Quiet stories, unflashy in their brilliance, they make an impression that deepens as they sink in. I found myself thinking about several long after I’d read them.
That’s it for February’s new fiction. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that take your fancy and if you missed the first part, it’s here. Paperbacks soon…