Part two of February’s paperback preview is something of a mixed bag, albeit an interesting one, beginning with. David Annand’s Peterdown which tells the story of a town through two people on opposing sides of a plan to redevelop it. Ellie is an architect determined to save a modernist estate shortlisted as a property to be demolished while her partner is a passionate football fan, equally determined to save his team’s stadium. ‘Peterdown brings England’s beleaguered streetscape to life and finds lurking here a playful and storied counterculture: mad monks and machine breakers, avant-gardists and non-conformists’ promises the blurb whetting my appetite nicely.
Ali Benjamin’s satirical The Smash-Up sees Ethan having trouble settling into small town life after years of working in the city. Then his business partner is caught in the spotlight with accusations about his behaviour while at home his wife is preoccupied with #MeToo politics and his daughter refuses to sleep. ‘With magnetic energy and doses of comic wit, Benjamin creates a world of social media, algorithms, extreme polarization, the collapsing of identity into tweet-sized spaces, and the spectre of violence that can be found even in the quietest places’ say the publishers. Not entirely sure about this one which might fall flat on its face. We’ll see.
Mothers and daughters feature in Gabriela Garcia’s Of Women and Salt which follows five generations of Cuban women linked by blood, secrets and a book. It begins in the 19th century with Maria, the only woman employed in a cigar factory whose workers are given daily readings from Victor Hugo’s novels, something I first came across in Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth, and ends in 2016 with Carmen in Miami, horrified at her daughter’s plans to visit her grandmother in Cuba where a secret links all five generations. ‘A haunting meditation on the choices of mothers and the tenacity of women who choose to tell their truth despite those who wish to silence them’ say the publishers which doesn’t sound entirely my cup of tea but the Cuban theme is appealing.
Emily Layden’s All Girls is set in a girls’ boarding school in rural Connecticut. Staffed by feminist intellectuals, Atwater prides itself on its progressive thinking which makes it all the more shocking when allegations of sexual misconduct are made against a teacher, exacerbated by the school’s administration’s dismal failure to deal with the crisis. ‘The story that emerges is a richly detailed, impeccably layered, and emotionally nuanced depiction of what it means to come of age in a female body today’ says the blurb promisingly. Shame about that cover, though.
I was delighted to spot a new Patrick McGrath in the publishing schedules, having enjoyed many of his previous novels, not least The Wardrobe Mistress. The blurb for his latest novel begins well ‘An old man is sleeping fitfully. It’s too hot. The air is thick with Spanish Jasmine floating in from his overgrown garden. And he’s not sure whether he’ll be woken by General Franco sitting on the end of his bed’. Set in 1975, Last Days in Cleaver Square sees a Spanish Civil War veteran close to death, haunted by Franco’s spectre thanks to a terrible act of betrayal committed during the war. When his daughter, with whom he lives, tells him she’s engaged he realises he can no longer avoid the past. Eager to read this one.
That’s it for February, a short month but lots to explore. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that snag your attention and if you’d like to catch up with part one it’s here. New fiction is here and here.