I’ve read just one from February’s second batch of paperbacks, attracted by its Berlin setting and its structure. Telling a city’s story through a single building and its inhabitants is such an appealing device. Żanna Słoniowska did it memorably with Lviv in The House with the Stained-glass Window. Emma Harding’s The Berliners – originally published under the title Friedrichstrasse 19 – takes a similar tack exploring the history of Berlin through the lives of the tenants at the titular address from 1906, when the Academy of Magical Arts occupied the building, until 2019 as a recently divorced woman who crossed from East to West in November 1989 contemplates her future. Harding’s narrative criss-crosses the century or so her enjoyable atmospheric novel spans, each character telling us their story.
As I say all too often on here, then promptly read the exception that proves the rule, I’m not a fan of historical fiction but Karen Joy Fowler’s Booth certainly appeals. The children of a celebrated but unstable Shakespearean actor, the six Booth siblings grow up in rural Baltimore in the 1820s. One of them will be responsible for changing the course of history by assassinating Abraham Lincoln. ‘Booth is a riveting novel focused on the very things that bind, and break, a family’ according to the publishers.
Julia May Jonas’ debut, Vladimir, explores the well-trodden territory of sexual harassment although with a different spin from the usual. Two professors, married to each other, are faced with accusations made against one for his relationships with former students. Then the wife becomes infatuated with a young novelist, a literary rising star who has just arrived on campus. ‘With her bold, edgy, and uncommonly assured literary debut, Julia May Jonas takes us into charged territory, where the strictures of morality bump up against the impulses of the human heart’ says the blurb, piquing my interest.
The eponymous Mona of Pola Oloixarac’s novel is a Peruvian writer with a penchant for recreational substance abuse. Singled out as a writer of colour on the whitest of campuses, Mona finds herself nominated for a prestigious literary award and heads off to a Swedish village where she and her fellow nominees from all over the world are thrust together in intimate proximity. In a sinister twist, Mona finds evidence of a physical violence that she can’t, or won’t, remember happening to her. Mona comes garlanded with praise from a starry list of writers from Rachel Cusk to Joshua Cohen, and it does sound intriguing.
Published over a decade since her last novel, Monica Ali’s Love Marriage sees Yasmin engaged to a fellow doctor and looking forward to a bright future. Her family’s reaction to her prospective mother-in-law’s feminism sparks revelations and a reassessment by Yasmin of her family and what her marriage might mean. ‘What starts as a captivating social comedy develops into a heart-breaking and gripping story of two cultures, two families and two people trying to understand one another’ says the blurb promisingly.
I’m a wee bit unsure about Margaux Vialleron’s The Yellow Kitchen but I’ve a weakness for novels with food or friendship themes and this one seems to combine both. Billed as Expectation meets Julie and Julia, both of which I enjoyed, it’s set in pre-Covid London and follows three very different women, all friends, all united in their love of food. ‘Exploring the complexities of female friendship, The Yellow Kitchen is a hymn to the last year of London as we knew it and a celebration of the culture, the food and the rhythms we live by’ says the blurb.
The friendship theme is the lure for Nikki May’s Wahala which sees three thirtysomething women of Nigerian-British heritage living in London, each on very different paths. When a mutual friend arrives in town all hell breaks loose. ‘A darkly comic and bitingly subversive take on love, race and family, Wahala will have you laughing, crying and gasping in horror. Boldly political about class, colorism and cooking, here is a truly inclusive tale that will speak to anyone who has ever cherished friendship, in all its forms’ say the publishers. Not sure about the ‘gasping in horror’ but this one sounds worth investigating.
That’s it for February. 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.