The first part of May’s paperback preview had a strong thematic link running through it. Nothing so clear cut with the second, beginning with Jill Dawson’s The Bewitching, the first title I spotted in what seems to have become a publishing witch-lit trend. It takes us back to the sixteenth century, a time of superstition and social inequality when misogyny was rife. Shortly after the Throckmortons are installed in the village of Warboys, tasked with reporting seditious activity, their youngest daughter is seized by a fit and denounces the local healer as a witch. As each of Throckmortons’ daughters become similarly afflicted, a trial becomes inevitable and Alice finds herself in the dock. Loosely based on a pamphlet written a few years after the trial took place, Dawson’s novel is an engrossing piece of storytelling, atmospheric and immersive.
Aysegül Savas’ White on White charts the uncomfortable friendship between a student who’s moved to a city to study art and the painter from whom she’s rented her apartment. Agnes lives with her husband in a nearby town but moves into the upstairs apartment one day without explanation. Over the next few months, the student comes to understand that Agnes’ mental health is disintegrating. ‘Alongside the research into human figures, the student is learning, from a cool distance, about the narrow divide between happiness and resentment, creativity and madness, contentment and chaos’ according to the blurb. I’m intrigued by this one. Marina Abramovic’s a fan, apparently, which bodes well.
I remember Emilie Pine’s memoir, Notes to Self, popping up in my Twitter timeline a few years back but didn’t get around to reading it. Ruth & Pen, her debut novel, looks very tempting. Set in Dublin in 2019, it’s about the eponymous women, neither of whom know each other, both of whom are questioning their lives. Ruth’s marriage is in crisis while teenage Pen is about to take a crucial step in a friendship. ‘Deeply involving, poignant and radiantly intelligent, it is a portrait of the limits of grief and love, of how we navigate our inner and outer landscapes, and the tender courage demanded by the simple, daily quest of living’ says the blurb. Definitely like the sound of that.
Set over a long holiday weekend, New Zealand writer Chloe Lane’s The Swimmers is about assisted dying, not the easiest theme to explore but Lane does it with wit and humanity. We know within a few pages that twenty-six-year-old Erin’s terminally ill mother has asked Erin’s aunt to help her end her life before it becomes unendurable. Arriving on Saturday, Erin’s faced with a clear plan laid out by her mother to be put in train the following Tuesday. Over the days in between, Erin comes to understand that’s there’s much more to this family she and her mother turned their backs on for so many years. A powerful novella whose poignancy creeps up on you.
Fiona Vigo Marshall’s The House of Marvellous Books sees a publishing house facing bankruptcy. Things are falling apart seemingly unnoticed by the chief editor, obsessed with tracking down a manuscript, long since lost, while the head publisher diverts himself into health and safety, all carefully noted in his logbook by the company’s junior editor. Meanwhile, shady Russian buyers lurk in the background. It all sounds a little cartoonish but it’s hard to resist a novel billed as a satire set in the publishing world.
I’m keen to read Benjamin Myers’ The Perfect Golden Circle having enjoyed The Offing with its beautiful descriptive writing. Myers’ new novel is set in 1989 when two Falklands war veterans spend their summer marking out increasingly elaborate patterns in England’s crops as their friendship deepens. ‘Moving and exhilarating, tender and slyly witty, The Perfect Golden Circle is a captivating novel about the futility of war, the destruction of the English countryside, class inequality – and the power of beauty to heal trauma and fight power’ say the publishers promisingly. I remember those crop circles, the mystery of which has yet to be solved as far as I know.
That’s it for May. 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.