Books to Look Out For Out for in July 2023: Part Two

Cover image for The Half Moon by Mary Beth KeaneThis second instalment of July’s new fiction has more chunksters than usual beginning with one I wasn’t sure I’d read. Despite feeling somewhat disappointed by Mary Beth Keane’s Ask Again, Yes I put my hand up for The Half Moon mostly because of that cover. Set in a small New York town, it follows the recently separated Malcolm and Jess over a blizzard-hit weekend in which he’s facing a financial meltdown and she’s taking the first tentative steps in a new relationship, slipping smoothly between the two of them as their story unfolds. No literary fireworks here but an absorbing story well told that might be just the ticket if you’re looking for something to pack in your holiday suitcase. Review shortly…Cover image for Commitment by Mona Simpson

I remember reading and enjoying Mona Simpson’s Anywhere but Here many years ago but I’ve not read anything by her since. Opening in the ‘70s, her new novel, Commitment, looks decidedly tempting with its story about the children of a single mother who falls into a deep depression after the eldest’s departure for college. ‘A resonant story about family, duty, and the attendant struggles that come when a parent falls ill, it honours the spirit of imperfect mothers, and the under-chronicled significance of friends. With Commitment, Mona Simpson has written her most important and unforgettable novel’ according to the blurb which sounds like a book to get your teeth into.

Cover image for The Couples by Lauren MackenzieIn Lauren Mackenzie’s The Couples the titular characters have hired a rundown mansion to celebrate Frank’s forty-eighth birthday. After supper, they walk to the local pub, score some ecstasy and raid the honesty bar back at Harwood House where a partner-swapping game is proposed: the three women are to text the man of their choice. The morning after, no one is quite sure what their partners did, or who they did it with. So far, so cliched you might think, but Mackenzie engages our sympathy for characters easily recognisable at the school gate, supermarket, or wine bar, deftly weaving their lives into a very pleasing narrative arc with a nicely ambivalent ending. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Review to follow…

Which can also be said of Chloe Ashby’s Wet Paint, brought to mind on two recent visits to the Courtauld Gallery where her main protagonist communes with the barmaid in Manet’s ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergères’. In Second Self, Cathy works as a conservator at the National Gallery, preoccupied with thoughts about whether or not to have a child, something neither she nor her husband considered as part of their future. ‘Second Self is a novel about confronting expectations, and learning to cope with the nagging, complex questions that shape a life. It’s about minds and bodies at the mercy of natural forces and social pressure. Above all, it’s an ode to big decisions, small, tender moments, and how we choose to be’ according to the blurb. Hoping for more of the darkly funny, insightful writing I enjoyed in her debut.

Cover image for Okay Days by Jenny MustardJenny Mustard’s Okay Days follows Sam and Lucas, both in their late twenties, over a year beginning at the party at which they begin a fling they both know will end when Sam returns to Stockholm. Neither, it seems, can quite let each other go, Sam engineering a brief reprise on a Greek island which leads to a decision, later upended by the first serious crisis in their relationship. Both Sam and Lucas are engaging and likeable characters, each very different from the other, yet they complement each other well. I found myself rooting for them as the novel follows the entirely believable trajectory of their relationship. An enjoyable, absorbing and ultimately cheering piece of fiction whose quiet jacket suits it well. Review soon…Covedr image for After the Funeral by Tessa Hadley

July’s short story collection is Tess Hadley’s After the Funeral, comprising twelve stories about small events that have surprisingly large repercussions, ranging from two estranged sisters pretending not to recognize each other in a hotel to a teenager waking up one morning suddenly aware of her parents’ faults. ‘As psychologically astute as they are emotionally rich, these stories illuminate the enduring conflicts between responsibility and freedom, power and desire, convention and subversion, reality and dreams’ says the blurb, promisingly. I’ve had mixed experiences with Hadley’s novels but I think I might get on better with her short stories.

That’s it for July’s new fiction. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more, and if you’d like to catch up with part one it’s here. Paperbacks soon…

22 thoughts on “Books to Look Out For Out for in July 2023: Part Two”

  1. jenniferbeworr

    I admit to preferring Tessa Hadley’s short stories to her novels. This collection would be worth a go if they are new… Sometimes if you’ve read her stories already in the New Yorker it can be a disappointment to pick up a collection and find you’ve read a number of them already. Anyway, looks like another good crop overall!

  2. Commitment and After the Funeral are ones that jump out at me most from this set. One day, I might actually get to them (if I ever wade through or jump right over the ones already waiting) 😀

  3. Some very striking covers in this selection! I especially like the Keane and the Mustard. I’ve only read novels by Tessa Hadley but I can imagine her style really suiting short stories.

  4. I read that older Mona Simpson, too, had no idea she’d kept going! I keep getting recommended Tessa Hadley as someone I should like because I love Iris Murdoch so much. Some of her novels do seem intriguing so I’ll probably take the plunge at some point.

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