June’s second batch of paperbacks begins with two novels by Irish writers, one of which I’ve read the other, the other I’m keen to read. Opening with a beginning and an end Donal Ryan’s The Queen of Dirt Island follows four generations of women in one unconventional household. Left to bring up her daughter alone, Eileen Aylward becomes so close to her mother-in-law that Nana moves in. Saoirse grows up loving the background banter between the two women, straining her ears to catch the whispered gossip Nana can’t resist. Eileen and Nana continue their litany of affectionate insult until Nana slips into an inevitable decline. Ryan’s novel gently unfolds their story in short, elegantly mellifluous snapshot chapters.
I may well not have included Adrian Duncan’s The Geometer Lobachevsky had I not enjoyed Love Notes from a German Building Site so much. Set in 1950, it sees Nikolai Lobachevsky, great grandson of his celebrated mathematician namesake, called to Leningrad from his work in Ireland for a ‘special appointment’, one he knows it would be folly to keep. Instead, he goes into hiding on a small Irish island hoping to avoid a death sentence, wondering if he’ll ever be able to return home. Hoping for more of the quietly atmospheric writing that I loved so much in Duncan’s previous novel.
Tess Gunty’s debut, The Rabbit Hutch, takes place in an apartment block, a setting which always appeals to me. The bright, beautiful, Blandine holds herself apart from the rest of the inhabitants of the dilapidated complex, reading Dante and harbouring dreams of becoming a mystic. A shocking act of violence jolts her out of her reveries but might offer the chance of escape she’s desperate for. ‘Savage and hilarious, The Rabbit Hutch is a piercing look at the power structures that shape us, and the tale of a young woman with irrepressible strength’ say the publishers. Much acclaimed in hardback, Gunty’s novel won Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize last year.
I’ve read several novels with a social media theme recently but Hanna Bervoets’ We Had to Remove This Post tackles it from an unusual angle as a content moderator reviews offensive material, from videos to rants, deciding which should be taken down. Life seems to be improving for Kayleigh who may even have found a new girlfriend at work but the job begins to have alarming effects. ‘We Had to Remove This Post by Hanna Bervoets is a chilling, powerful and gripping story about what – or who – determines how we see the world’ says the blurb of a novel whose theme sounds relevant to us all.
I enjoyed Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fires but much preferred Best of Friends which follows Zhara and Maryam, friends since they met age four in Pakistan. In 1988, they’re fourteen years old thinking only of their own small worlds but within months, dramatic events see a woman elected to lead their patriarchal country. On the night of Benazir Bhutto’s inauguration, a misjudgement is made which puts them both in danger and will have repercussions neither can imagine. Both Zhara and Maryam are brilliantly realised, deeply flawed but engaging, complex and convincing. Another politically astute, absorbing novel from Shamsie
June’s paperback short story collection is Niamh Mulvey’s debut, Hearts and Bones, comprising ten pieces most about women looking back at those points in their life which marked a turning point. Mulvey explores fraught family relationships, class, religion and love mostly from the perspective of female narrators who experience anger, resentment, liberation and often epiphanies as they navigate their way through the difficulties of life. There’s humour and wit to enjoy but these are mostly sober stories, many of which capture the pain and confusion of childhood and adolescence. Another brilliant Irish woman writer to add to my ever-lengthening list.
That’s it for June. 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.