Set in a small American town, Katherine Heiny’s Early Morning Riser follows Jane who meets the handsome Duncan when she locks herself out of her new home dressed in her pyjamas. They quickly become a couple but there’s a fly in the ointment: Duncan seems to have slept with every woman in Boyne City and beyond. Jane finds herself constantly faced with one of his exs. Over the 17 years Heiny’s novel spans, Jane continues to yearn for romantic love – although not always for herself – picks up a burden of guilt that leads to more happiness than she’d hoped for and, ultimately, experiences a quietly joyous epiphany. I loved this novel and the ending is a delight.
Marriage of a very different kind features in The Inverts, Crystal Jeans’ first novel for a large publisher having had two published by Welsh indie Honno Press. In the early 1920s childhood friends Bettina and Bartholomew decide to marry, giving themselves themselves a veneer of respectability beneath which they can let their true desires rip. Theirs is a marriage as stormy as it is unconventional, ruptured by a particularly vituperative row until an awful mishap leads to a reconciliation. If you’re after a bit of a romp with an unusual premise and don’t mind a bit of filth with your humour, I’d recommend this one.
I’ve yet to read Mary Lawson’s 1970s-set A Town Called Solace which explores the disappearance of a little girl through three people: her eight-year-old sister, the family’s new neighbour who comes under suspicion and a dying woman who needs to make amends for a long ago crime. ‘By turns gripping and darkly funny, it uncovers the layers of grief and remorse and love that connect us,but shows that sometimes a new life is possible’ promises the blurb. I’ve read and enjoyed several of Lawson’s novels which makes me hopeful for this one.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegantly slim novella, Whereabouts, was written by her in Italian which she then translated into English. It records a year or so in the life of a middle-aged woman who lives on the fringes of other people’s worlds. Her friends envy her quiet, self-contained life, their own filled with the bustle and mess of family. As she walks the streets she’s known all her life, she speculates about the people she sees, embroidering lives for them while they treat her with courtesy but little else. Lahiri slips small details into poetic, impressionistic vignettes so that we come to understand why her character’s life is so circumscribed. In its precise, understated beauty Whereabouts reminded me of Mary Costello’s Academy Street: high praise indeed from me.
Not only was Nathan Harris’ The Sweetness of Water longlisted for last year’s Booker but President Obama cited it as one of his summer book recommendations, quite something for a debutante novelist. It follows two brothers, newly freed slaves in the last days of the American Civil War, who find an unlikely saviour in a plantation owner still grieving his soldier son’s death until the local townspeople get wind of what’s happening. ‘Conjuring a world fraught by tragedy and violence yet threaded through with hope, The Sweetness of Water is a debut novel unique in its power to move and enthrall’, say the publishers promisingly.
There was a great deal of brouhaha around the hardback publication Yaa Gyasi’s second novel, Transcendent Kingdom, which follows a Ghanaian family who begin a new life in the American south, a story which Gifty loves to hear her parents tell. Tragedy in the shape of opioid addiction strikes leaving Gifty ‘tracing her family’s story through continents and generations will take her deep into the dark heart of modern America’ according to the blurb. I still haven’t got around to reading Gyasi’s Homegoing despite it being on my list for quite some time.
That’s it for the first instalment of March’s paperbacks. As ever, a click on a title will take you either to my review or to a longer synopsis, and if you’d like to catch up with the month’s new titles, they’re here and here. Part two soon…