June’s first instalment of paperbacks begins with three novels about which I had my doubts although after reading the first, it ended up on my books of 2022 list. I should have had more faith in Miriam Toews’ ability to overcome the pitfalls of child narration, something I usually avoid like the plague. Fight Night takes the form of a letter written by nine-year-old Swiv to her father who her grandmother has told her is off fighting fascists. Swiv’s currently following an eccentric home-schooling curriculum overseen by Grandma with whom she and her mother live. Grandma regales Swiv with tales of her family, fighters all of them, then decides it’s time to see her nephews in California, taking Swiv with her. Toews’ novel fizzes with energy and wit but there’s a soberness underpinning it.
Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow didn’t initially appeal but so many readers on social media whose opinions I trust have sung its praises I think I may have to investigate. Sam and Sadie are gamers who first meet in 1987, forming a collaboration eight years later which leads them to gaming stardom, plunging them into the usual trappings of success. ‘Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow takes us on a dazzling imaginative quest, examining identity, creativity and our need to connect’ says the blurb. Not my usual cup of tea but I’m willing to give it a try.
I’m tad perturbed by the time travel element in Emma Straub’s This Time Tomorrow in which a woman on the cusp of forty is on her way to see her father in hospital. Alice falls asleep outside the old family apartment to be greeted early the next morning by a much younger version of her father bearing a sixteenth birthday card for her. Somehow, she’s found herself back in 1996. ‘With her celebrated humour, insight, and heart, Emma Straub cleverly turns all the traditional time travel tropes on their head and delivers a different kind of love story – about the lifelong, reverberating relationship between a parent and child’ say the blurb which makes me a little apprehensive but given how much I’ve enjoyed Straub’s previous novels, I’m sure I’ll read it.
Jessica Andrews’ Milk Teeth follows a restless young woman who meets a man at a party for the opening of her friend’s exhibition, sparking a passion that consumes them both. When he’s offered a research position in Barcelona, she’s bereft, visiting him for a month which she finds both liberating and constraining. A second visit brings about a crisis and a choice must be made. Shot through with an aching sadness for this young woman – lost, self-destructive, longing to understand what she wants and needs from life and to be able to take it – this is an impressive piece of fiction, accomplished and insightful.
Obviously, I couldn’t resist Bea Setton’s Berlin, set in one of my favourite European cities. Setton’s debut is about a young woman who’s fled London leaving a trail of emotional fallout behind her, planning a fresh start in this city that seems to promise so much. Daphne tells her story in her own slightly snarky, superior, increasingly paranoid voice. There’s some sly humour to enjoy and it’s clear before too long that Daphne’s a deeply unreliable narrator, unhealthily obsessed with her ex. Things become increasingly dark as small details gradually emerge to reveal the extent of her problems.
I’m finishing this first batch of June’s paperbacks with Yiyun Li’s The Book of Goose, the story of two young girls in 1950s rural France, one of whom will briefly find fame as a literary prodigy. Fabienne is the storyteller who inveigles the postman into helping them write a book which she passes off as the work of Agnés, resulting in her departure from the village. Li tells the story of this intense, obsessive friendship through Agnés’ voice as she looks back at a relationship that led her down a path that seems almost fantastical for a peasant girl. Li’s storytelling is immersive, her writing incisive but it’s the characterisation that really impresses.