Books to Look Out For Out for in January 2023: Part Two

Cover image for Kick the Latch by Kathryn Scanlan The second instalment of January fiction is all about and written by women beginning with a novel set in a world which tends to be dominated by men. Based on interviews with a female horse trainer, Kathryn Scanlan’s Kick the Latch follows one woman’s career while exploring all aspects of life at the racetrack, from the track winners to the grooms, jockeys and racing secretaries. ‘As Scanlan puts it, “I wanted to preserve—amplify, exaggerate—Sonia’s idiosyncratic speech, her bluntness, her flair as a storyteller. I arrived at what you could call a composite portrait of a self.”’ which sounds like a fascinating insight into a world I know nothing about, having visited a racetrack just once in my life and lost every single bet. Cover image for Avalon by Nell Zink

I’ve not had much luck with Nell Zink’s writing, either, but was attracted by the premise of Avalon which sees a young woman with a less than favourable upbringing, trying to find her place in the world, becoming caught up in a relationship which seems doomed from the get-go. Bran is a social outcast, introduced to the pedantic Peter, with whom she becomes besotted, by a fellow high school misfit. An enjoyable enough read, Avalon will please Zink’s many fans, I’m sure. Review shortly…

Cover image for Backy by Sarah May Set in the ‘90s, Sarah May’s Becky sees the determined Becky Sharp focussed on a successful journalistic career, far away from her dull hometown, no matter what it takes to achieve it. ‘In this viciously funny, darkly entertaining and ultimately moving read, the much-loved classic Vanity Fair finds itself in 90s London, and Becky couldn’t be a more perfect fit’ says the blurb which, inevitably, also compares the book with Succession. I didn’t get on with that at all but May’s novel sounds like a smart slice of entertainment to brighten up winter. Cover image for Now She is Witch by Kirsty Logan

I’ve long been interested in cunning women, healers sometimes known as witches, which is what attracts me to Kirsty Logan’s Now She is Witch. Else seeks out Lux, persecuted for her knowledge and the power it wields, enlisting her help in taking revenge against a man who has wronged her. ‘In rich and immersive prose Kirsty Logan conjures a world of violence and beauty in which women grasp at power through witchcraft and poisons, through sexuality and childbearing, through performance and pretence, and most of all through throwing other women to the wolves’ say the publishers which sounds like a brilliant read to me.

Cover image for For Thy Great PainHave Mercy on My Little Pain by Victoria Mackenzie It was Logan’s enthusiastic puff that made me read Victoria Mackenzie’s debut For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy on My Little Pain. Mackenzie takes Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, both religious visionaries, each very different from the other, and reimagines a meeting between them, telling us their stories before she does so. Such an impressive debut, fascinating in its depiction of religion and women’s place in medieval society, and so beautifully written. Review to follow…

That’s it for January’s new fiction. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more, and if you’d like to catch up with part one it’s here. Paperbacks soon…


18 thoughts on “Books to Look Out For Out for in January 2023: Part Two”

  1. I have just ordered two of these having read your descriptions. I may give For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy on My Little Pain to an old friend who often referenced Julian of Norwich in her teaching. The other is Now She is Witch. It’s a gutsy title, a gutsy idea. These, along with Jenni Fagan’s Luckenbooth and Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These, should round out my reading year for 2023… Cheers!

  2. The Scanlan has garnered a lot of praise from writers and reviewers (based on the conversations I’ve seem on social media), which leaves me curious to try it. Such a striking cover, too!

  3. Kirsty Logan’s Now She is Witch sounds promising, I did enjoy her debut The Gracekeepers back in 2015, attracted to the blurb and sealed after listening to her in an interview at the Edinburgh International Festival (and your review, “a rattling good tale, beautifully told”, as I recall). Alice Tarbuck’s excellent A Spell In the Wild, A Year and Six Centuries of Magic (2020) gave me an appetite for stories of women with witchy inclinations, I think there is a revival in these kinds of stories, as the traits of women previously labelled as such, begin to return to the mainstream.

    The Victoria MacKenzie book sounds equally intriguing, I look forward to reading your review of it Susan.

    1. The Mackenzie is superb. It didn’t initially appeal so I’m very pleased I picked it up.

      You may be right about a renewed interest in the idea of witches aka wise women or cunning women. Jill Dawson published a novel about a witch trial last year. They were much maligned by those fearful of the power their healing skills gave them.

      1. That’s interesting that you concur, I guess I’m thinking this too because I just read Hamnet and Agnes had very well developed intuitive abilities and knowedge of the natural world and remedies; it was a relief that she didn’t appear to be persecuted for it, even if looked askance by some. I guess it had only just been outlawed, so she escaped the grand persecution that would follow.

        1. Oh, that’s interesting. Hannah Kent looks at a similar theme in Devotion with a woman healer surrounded by suspicion and gossip stemming from her community’s resentment at their dependence on her skills.

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