The second instalment of April’s paperbacks begins with a favourite from 2022. Set in a small New England town, Sarah Manguso’s Very Cold People sees a woman explore her childhood, brought up by two people desperately ill equipped for the job. Affection is rare, and when it happens isn’t repeated no matter how much Ruth begs for it. School offers some sort of respite with its opportunity to make friends but that doesn’t come easily to her. As the years wear on, Ruth begins to understand why her mother is the way she is and seeks a way out for herself. Written in cool, crisp, clean prose with glimmers of deadpan humour, it’s undeniably bleak but the writing is superb as was the jacket for the hardback edition which, sadly can’t be said of the paperback.
Both the title and its cover are a perfect fit for Chloë Ashby’s Wet Paint. Ashby’s debut is about a twenty-six-year-old woman who has encased herself in a defensive shell against the loss of, first, her mother, then her dearest friend for which she blames herself. Eve lives in Bill and Karina’s flat at a reduced rent in exchange for a day’s cleaning, juggles a series of jobs and is clearly heading for a crisis. That may not sound particularly inspiring but Eve’s sardonic voice is darkly funny and entirely convincing, quite heartrendingly so at times. I thoroughly enjoyed this debut which ends on a welcome note of hope.
Much praised by Naoise Dolan of Exciting Times fame, Catherine Prasifka’s None of This is Serious sees Sophie coming to the end of her time as a student in Dublin. While her friends seem to have everything sorted, Sophie feels unsure of her future, not least with Finn with whom she’s in love. After a disastrous party, she finds herself in limbo, obsessively scrolling social media. ‘None of This Is Serious is about the uncertainty and absurdity of being alive today. It’s about balancing the real world with the online, and the vulnerabilities in yourself, your relationships, your body. At its heart, this is a novel about the friendships strong enough to withstand anything’ says the blurb which sounds promising although a bit similar to several other novels I’ve read in the past few years.
Charlotte Leonard’s Afterwards sees Emma faced with the sudden disappearance of her photographer husband who has left his camera behind and with it five photographs very unlike his other work. Emma takes herself off to Cornwall where the images were captured beginning a journey which may be the unravelling of her. ‘Could her unlikely salvation lie in the sea, a small community of swimmers and the promise of something Emma thought she didn’t want?’ asks the blurb. Not entirely sure about this one but I like the sound of that photograph hook.
I was attracted by the blurb for Colleen Hubbard’s Housebreaking which suggested a satisfyingly dysfunctional family set up. Faced with homelessness and determined to wreak as much damage on her detested uncle’s construction company as possible, twenty-four-year-old Del comes up with a novel way to prevent him taking possession of the house she’s inherited from her mother: she wants six months to disassemble and move it. As Del battles on with what is essentially a pointless, seemingly insurmountable task, you find yourself rooting for her, hoping she’ll meet her deadline. An easy, enjoyable read with an eye-catching premise and a cast of engaging characters which would make an excellent Netflix movie.
From intergenerational households whose elders fail to understand their grandchildren to a university dropout who knows a secret about a family friend riding high in the music charts, Gurnaik Johals’s We Move is a collection of short stories set within Heathrow’s flight path. ‘Mapping an area of West London, these stories chart a wider narrative about the movement of multiple generations of immigrants. In acts of startling imagination, Gurnaik Johal’s debut brings together the past and the present, the local and the global, to show the surprising ways we come together’ according to the publishers. Very much like the sound of stories linked by neighbourhood and the immigration theme is a perennial favourite for me.
That’s it for April. 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.