I’ve read all but one of August’s slim paperback pickings, beginning with a novel which made it on to my books of 2022 list. A coming-of-age story set in 1940s Tasmania with the Second World War a distant hum, Limberlost follows fifteen-year-old Ned who spends his summer hunting rabbits, saving his earnings in the hopes of buying a boat. He’s a lost boy without his brothers, longing for the approval of a father and sister whose thoughts are often far away from home. I loved both of Arnott’s previous novels but Limberlost feels more assured, the work of a novelist whose writing continues to mature in a way that many never achieve.
Hiroko Oyamada’s eye-catching Weasels in the Attic comprises three closely linked episodes in which a middle-aged man shares a meal with his best friend, Saiki, each momentous in its own way. Over the course of these three suppers Saiki changes from an urban male, none too inquiring about a mutual friend’s relationship with a subservient woman two decades his junior, to a considerate husband, father and neighbour. Meanwhile our narrator and his wife quietly struggle with the aching sadness of involuntary childlessness. A quick read but one whose striking images, touch of the surreal and occasional flashes of humour has stayed with me.
Janice Pariat’s Everything the Light Touches has the kind of ambitious structure that could easily fall flat on its face. Shai lives in northern India looking at new ways of living; Evelyn is a Cambridge student exploring the Himalayan foothills; Johan is a German writer travelling in Italy whose ideas will win him a place in history and a nameless Swede is embarking on an expedition that will change humankind’s understanding of the world. ‘A multi-layered literary saga bringing together people and places that seem, at first, far removed, Everything the Light Touches is a marvellous exploration of our ways of seeing, told through the eyes of four unexpectedly intertwined people’ say the publishers.
Rin Usami’s Idol, Burning follows Akari, an awkward teenager devoted to her ‘oshi’ whose reputation is rubbished when he allegedly assaults a fan. Akari first saw Masaki when she was only four and he was twelve performing in Peter Pan. Now he’s a member of a boy band, regularly winning popularity polls. Akari spends her life recording Masaki’s every utterance, in an effort to see the world through his eyes until she’s forced to face the fact of Masaki’s exit from public life and find a reason to live. Usami’s strikingly written novella explores the world of obsessive fandom and the consequences of flaming those who live their lives in the public eye.
Debut novelist Olivia Wenzel’s 1000 Coils of Fear draws heavily on her own life, following an unnamed narrator whose mother was an East German punk and whose father returned to Angola before she was born. Made up of long passages of questions and answers in which we’re never entirely sure who the questioner is, Wenzel’s novel dips in and out of our narrator’s life, offering striking snapshots into which details are slipped, sometimes bringing her readers up short. Many questions are left unanswered but our narrator succeeds in loosening the grip of her anxiety, although the relentless racism she suffers will inevitably continue. Not one for fans of linear narrative, it’s a deeply unsettling, impressive novel which kept me thinking about it for some time.
I took Joe Thomas’ White Riot on holiday to Glasgow earlier this year, an unusual choice for me given he’s a crime writer. Beginning in 1978, it follows Patrick Noble, Hackney born and bred, attached to the Met Race Crime Initiative, who sets up two undercover operatives when several racist murders are committed. Two years later, he’s called in again when Colin Roach, a young black man, dies in odd circumstances in the foyer of Stoke Newington police station. Rich in period detail backed up by a lengthy bibliography, Thomas’ novel pulls no punches in its depiction of a racist police element, not averse to running protection, prostitution and drug rackets or putting the boot in when the opportunity arises. As I so often say, it would make an excellent TV series in the right hands.
August’s paperback short story collection is Sidik Fofana’s meticulously constructed Stories From the Tenants Downstairs Each tenant of a rundown Harlem apartment block is given a distinct voice, often in a vernacular which sings out from the page so that you can almost hear it. For all of them, the urgency of making enough money to get by is a constant, made all the more so by the eviction notices served by a company intent on making a hefty profit from the sale of apartments some have lived in all their lives. An impressive collection, so confident and assured it’s hard to credit that it’s Fofana’s first.
That’s it for August. A click on a title will take you either to my review or to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more, and if you’d like to catch up with new fiction it’s here.