Whereas I’d read all the books in the first part of May’s paperback preview, I’ve only managed two in the second, starting with Joan Silber’s Secrets of Happiness which begins with the sudden revelation of the second family of an apparently happily married man. Ethan and Allyson took their parents’ happiness for granted until the arrival of legal demands for the maintenance of his two teenage sons, tucked away with their Thai mother in Queens. From this revelation radiates out a series of connections, all of which are knitted together to form a work of fiction which reads like an intricately connected set of short stories. After loving both this one and last year’s quietly impressive Improvement, I’m hoping her UK publishers won’t forget Silber’s extensive backlist.
I also enjoyed Vendela Vida’s We Run the Tides which follows four friends through the summer which will mark them for life. One day in 1984, on their way to school, they spot a man in a white car, a stranger who Maria Fabiola says is touching himself while watching them. Eulabee sees no such thing and finds herself ostracised. Then Maria Fabiola disappears, apparently kidnapped. By the end of the summer, Eulabee will have reassessed her friendship with Maria Fabiola but another disappearance will ensure that this summer casts a darker shadow on all their lives. Vida narrates this absorbing coming-of-age tale through Eulabee’s voice, smartly capturing the heady intensity of adolescent girls’ friendship.
Lots of pre-publication brouhaha last year for Francesca Reece’s Voyeur which sees a young woman leave London for Paris, delighted to get a job as a writer’s assistant. Leah’s enthusiasm proves infectious inspiring Michael to draw on his diaries, full of his life in ’60s Soho, which she transcribes in his family’s property in the South of France. All seems set fair, but Leah is nagged by suspicions about her new boss. I’m attracted by that writer/assistant relationship.
Cathy Rentzenbrink’s name will be familiar to many already, not least for her lovely reading memoir, Dear Reader. Her first novel, Everyone is Still Alive, sees Juliet move her family into her late mother’s home on Magnolia Road. Unbeknownst to her, her writer husband has scented new material for his latest novel, making new friends while Juliet is distracted by grief. ‘Funny and moving, intimate and wise; a novel that explores the deeper realities of marriage and parenthood and the way life thwarts our expectations at every turn’ according to the blurb.
Entirely different, I suspect Antonio Muñoz Molina’s To Walk Alone in the Crowd will fall into the love it or hate it bracket. We’re invited to join the author on a series of walks through Madrid, Paris, London and New York for this novel made up of newspaper headlines, billboards and overheard conversations. ‘This is the digital metropolis, captured in notebooks, recorded on the iPhone, where Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Charles Baudelaire, Thomas de Quincey, Fernando Pessoa and Walter Benjamin step beside us, all of us writing the unfinished poem of the crowded city’ says the blurb. Well worth giving a try although I’m prepared for disappointment.
In Niven Govinden’s Diary of a Film, a moviemaker meets a woman in a café in the backstreets of a European city hosting a prestigious festival. She takes him for a walk, showing him her city, while telling him a story of love and tragedy which he sees in his mind’s eye translated to the screen in his next film. ‘This is a novel about cinema, flaneurs, and queer love – it is about the sometimes troubled, sometimes ecstatic creative process, and the toll it takes on its makers. But it is also a novel about stories, and the ongoing question of who has the right to tell them’ say the publishers. It’s that last sentence that makes me want to read this one. I remember enjoying Govinden’s All the Days and Nights which I reviewed in the early days of this blog.
That’s it for May’s previews. As ever, a click on a title will take you either to my review or to a longer synopsis. If you’d like to catch up with part one of the month’s paperbacks, it’s here. New fiction is here and here.