Unusually for me, I’ve read just two of the second batch of January paperbacks. I put up my hand for Neel Patel’s Tell Me How to Be in response to the heartfelt, very personal enthusiasm of its editor. There’s such a difference between that and the hype that so often puts me off. Patel’s debut brings together Renu and her two sons one year after the sudden death of the man who dearly loved them all. All three are hiding secrets from each other, all are unhappy, but it is Renu and Akash who take centre stage as their stories of love and longing unfold. Patel explores themes of racism and homophobia through Akash and Renu’s alternating narratives, each addressed to their first loves. Absorbing and at times heartrending, Patel’s novel ends on a note of hope and a flash of self-knowledge while neatly avoiding schmaltz.
I wasn’t at all sure about Jan Carson’s The Raptures before I read it but I’d been meaning to try one of Carson’s novels for quite some time. Set in a small Ulster village in the early ‘90s, it’s about a class of eleven-year-olds all struck down by a fatal illness apart from Hannah who has conversations in her head with Jesus, longs to watch Coronation Street, strictly forbidden by her fervently Evangelical father, and loves her Granda Pete who can’t stand his son’s religiosity. There’s a great deal of humour, black and otherwise, in Carson’s novel, much of it provided by Hannah and her grandfather.
I suspect there might not be much of that in Sara Stridsberg’s The Antarctica of Love in which a woman tells us the story of her death and the events that led up to her life on the streets. ‘The Antarctica of Love is the unflinching testimony of a woman on the margins, giving voice to the voiceless and offering an insight into depths of absolute vulnerability, brutality and isolation. Hauntingly beautiful yet at times disturbing, this is a devastating story of unexpected love, tenderness and light in the total darkness’ say the publishers. Not entirely sure about this one but I’m attracted by the ‘giving voice to the voiceless’ idea.
Two short story collections to round off this second January paperback preview, the first from Elizabeth McCracken whose The Souvenir Museum strikes a comic tone while exploring the rich theme of family. ‘With sentences that crackle and spark and showcase her trademark wit, McCracken shows how the mysterious bonds of family are tested, transformed, fractured, and fortified’ say the publishers. I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything I’ve read by McCracken but have yet to sample her short stories.
Finally, Saba Sams’ Send Nudes is all about girlhood and growing up in a world that can be difficult to navigate. ‘With striking wit, originality and tenderness, Send Nudes celebrates the small victories in a world that tries to claim each young woman as its own’ says the blurb of a debut collection much praised by Nicole Flattery whose own short stories, Show Them a Good Time, I loved, and Megan Nolan author of Acts of Desperation.
That’s it for January. A click on a title will take you to either to my review or to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. If you’d like to catch up with part one, it’s here, new fiction is here and here. Just one more post before Christmas…