Just one post for April’s paperbacks which includes five I’ve already read, beginning with a novel by an author who doesn’t get nearly the attention she deserves. Georgina Harding’s Harvest is the third in a loosely linked trilogy about the Ashe family and echoes both The Gun Room and Land of the Living in its exploration of the legacy of war. When Jonathan invites his Japanese lover to visit the farm his father took on after the Second World War, Kumiko decides to spend the summer there while Jonathan helps his brother bring in the harvest. As the summer wears on, tension between the brothers tightens and Kumiko feels increasingly like an outsider. Harding’s prose is eloquently spare, punctuated with gorgeous descriptions of the Norfolk countryside.
Tensions run high in Miranda Cowley Heller’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlisted The Paper Palace which sees Elle in the midst of the messy aftermath of the previous night’s drunken dinner party, not least her infidelity with her childhood best friend, telling her story over the course of 24 hours in a series of flashbacks. Happily married, with three children, she’s faced with the lies on which so much of her life has been built and finds her own way out. I’d expected a light but absorbing read with this one – parties on the beach, gossipy and entertaining – but Heller’s story is very much darker than that, and all the better for it. A gripping, thoroughly engrossing novel with a disconcerting ending. Don’t be put off by that rather lurid cover.
Love in its many forms is explored in Anna Krien’s meticulously constructed Love in Five Acts which follows five very different women, all born in the GDR, whose lives are interlinked, sometimes in ways they’re not aware. These are women who, like Krien, were teenagers when the Berlin Wall fell. Now middle-aged, they’re faced with a multitude of choices and pressures, each dealing with the freedom denied their parents in their own way. An impressive piece of fiction, both absorbing and thought provoking not least in its ending. Always worth looking out for Jaimie Bulloch’s name. I’ve yet to read a novel he’s translated I’ve not enjoyed.
Jen Silverman’s a playwright which left me wondering how much of herself was in We Play Ourselves about a woman in her 30s, suddenly in the glare of publicity after a decade of putting on plays in obscure New York venues, whose star plummets as quickly as it rises. Desperate to take her mind off the scandal that’s scuppered her career, Cas flees New York for Los Angeles, eventually immersing herself in her neighbour’s project, a feminist version of Fight Club which turns out to be distinctly dodgy. A thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining yet serious novel which left me wanting to explore Silverman’s short stories.
It was its setting and structure that attracted me to Claire Thomas’ The Performance, the backdrop for which is a Melbourne theatre where three women are watching a performance of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days in which Winnie first appears half-submerged in a mound of grass into which she sinks further in the second act while Willie is largely offstage. Meanwhile a bushfire rages in the mountains overlooking the city. Thomas structures her novel so that we spend a good deal of time in Margot, Summer and Ivy’s heads, bringing them together neatly at the interval. I thoroughly enjoyed this witty, perceptive novel which hangs together beautifully as its characters unfold their stories through thoughts, memories and reflections, occasionally offering their views on the play enacted in front of them. One of my Women’s Prize wishes which, sadly, didn’t come true.
It was Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best who alerted me to Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss which did make it onto the judges’ longlist. It’s about a woman on the cusp of 40, whose loving husband leaves her. Friendless and on the breadline, Martha returns to her dysfunctional parents’ home and tries to understand what happened to her when a breakdown left her apparently irrevocably changed, aged 17. Kate’s review is much more persuasive than that synopsis gleaned from the publishers’ blurb. You can read it here.
Entirely different, Chris Powers’ A Lonely Man sounds intriguing with its premise of a writer who meets a man claiming be the ghostwriter for a Russian oligarch, recently found hanged, who insists someone’s following him. Should Robert believe Patrick’s unlikely story or not? ‘An elegant and atmospheric twist on the cat-and-mouse narrative, A Lonely Man is a novel of shadows, of the search for identity and the elastic nature of truth. As his association with Patrick hurtles towards tragedy, Robert must decide: are actual events the only things that give a story life, and are some stories too dangerous to tell?’ asks the blurb, whetting my appetite for an answer.
I’ve read and enjoyed several of David Leavitt’s novels although none to match the excellent The Lost Language of Cranes. His new novel, Shelter in Place, sounds as if it might be in state of the nation territory. It opens the Saturday after the 2016 presidential election with a group of liberal New York friends gathered to lick their wounds. Leavitt’s novel follows their hostess whose obsession with property and interior design leads her and her husband to buy a wreck of an apartment in Venice unexpectedly catapulting him into an affair. ‘A comic portrait of the months immediately following the 2016 election, Shelter in Place is also a meditation on the unreliable appetites–for love, for power, for freedom–by which both our public and private lives are shaped’ say the publishers which sounds quite tempting to me.
That’s it for April’s paperbacks. As ever, a click on a title will take you either to my review or to a more detailed synopsis, and if you’d like to catch up with the month’s new fiction it’s here and here.