Books to Look Out For Out for in September 2023

Cover image for The Fraud by Zadie SmithSurprisingly few titles caught my eye in September’s schedules, but there are some gems to be found starting with a big shiny one: Zadie Smith’s first historical novel, The Fraud. Set in 1873, it follows Mrs Eliza Touchet, a woman of many interests and strong opinions who, along with the rest of the nation, is transfixed by the Tichborne Trial. Roger Tichborne was thought to have drowned but someone has turned up purporting to be him. Andrew Bogle, who grew up enslaved on a Jamaican sugar plantation, is an important witness in the trial which will decide the validity of the claim for the Tichborne baronetcy. ‘Based on real historical events, The Fraud is a dazzling novel about truth and fiction, Jamaica and Britain, fraudulence and authenticity, and the mystery of ‘other people” says the blurb promisingly.Cover image for Prophet Song by Paula Lynch

I was a big fan of Paul Lynch’s beautifully expressed Beyond the Sea but initially a little unsure about Prophet Song set in a near future Ireland slipping into authoritarianism. Scientist Eilish Stack is horrified when her trade unionist husband fails to reappear after an interrogation by the newly formed secret police. Eilish is left to look after their four children, the youngest an infant, the oldest about to turn seventeen. As the regime becomes increasingly draconian, civil society begins to break down, armed insurrection following in its wake. I was so struck by this dark, powerful novel I included it on my Booker wish list, a wish that came true along with Sebastian Barry’s Old God’s Time. Review to follow…

Cover image for Land of Milk and Honey by C Pam ZhangI was very impressed with C Pam Zhang’s debut, How Much of These Hills is Gold, making me keen to read Land of Milk and Honey, a slice of near future dystopia. Our narrator looks back at the year she spent as a cook in a mountain top hotel, catering to the decadent uber rich fed delicacies as her employer tries to raise funds for a research project while the rest of the world starves. Zhang evokes the powerful link between food, memory and home, describing flavours and textures in vividly sensual language. A dark novel, which I admired rather than loved, but ultimately a hopeful one, and certainly the first I’ve read whose acknowledgements are devoted to dishes eaten and books about food read by its author. Review soon…Cover image for Arms and Legs by Chloe Lane

New Zealand writer Chloe Lane’s Arms and Legs is set in Florida where Georgie finds a body in the woods. Faced with the fallout from her grisly discovery and a doomed affair, Georgie reassesses her past and the effects it’s had on her life. ‘Arms & Legs is a deliriously insightful excavation of relationships at their best – and at their very worst’ say the publishers which may not sound very exciting, but I enjoyed Lane’s The Swimmers very much raising hopes for this one.

Cover image for The Wren, the Wren by Anne EnrightI’ve yet to read Anne Enright’s last novel, Actress, but that didn’t stop me putting up my hand for The Wren, the Wren which follows Carmel and her daughter Nell, both living in the shadow of their coercive poet ancestor who left the family when Carmel was a child. Enright tells these two women’s stories through alternating narratives interspersed with overly romantic poems, samples of Phil’s somewhat cheesy style, in which he extols the virtues of love which he’d failed to practice in life. Themes of family and its legacy are familiar from Enright’s previous novels; it’s emotional territory she handles expertly, and her writing is reliably excellent but, although I found her new novel absorbing and enjoyable, somehow it doesn’t quite match The Gathering or The Green Road for me. Review shortly…Cover image for The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff’s Matrix was a surprising hit for me given that I’m not a fan of historical fiction, making it on to my books of 2023 list. Her new one, The Vaster Wilds, sees a servant girl escape her settlement, attempting to survive in the wilderness with few possessions but her faith to sustain her. ‘The Vaster Wilds is a work of raw and prophetic power that tells the story of America in miniature, through one girl at a hinge point in history, to ask how – and if – we can adapt quickly enough to save ourselves’ says the publishers. Can’t quite put my finger on why that blurb doesn’t appeal but given how much I enjoyed Matrix perhaps I should push aside my scepticism.

Cover image for Canoes by Maylis de KerangalSeptember’s short story collection is Maylis de Kerangal’s Canoes made up of seven interlinked pieces plus a novella in which a woman watches her husband and son slip seamlessly into a new life in the Denver suburb to which they’ve moved so that he can take up a research post. ‘In this moving and deeply poetic collection, Maylis de Kerangal casts light on the balance between life and death, exploring the traces we leave upon each other’s lives and creating space for women of all ages to be heard’ according to the blurb which sounds right up my alley, and I loved Painting Time.

That’s it for September’s new fiction. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Paperbacks soon…

36 thoughts on “Books to Look Out For Out for in September 2023”

  1. As ever, this looks promising, though I was disappointed in both Pam Zhang and Lauren Groff when I tackled them. Maylis de Karangal can do no wrong for me though. The Heart remains one of my best-reads and maybe I should read it again to re-evaluate it. And I’d definitely give the Anne Enright and Chloe Lane a whirl.

    1. I was impressed by the Zhang but didn’t love it which seems to be a pattern so may not read her third, but the Groff was a different matter. High hopes for Canoes and I hope you enjoy the other two.

  2. Despite not being a lover of historical fiction either – but being prepared to like it when I do read it – I’d read all of these! Esp Lynch (on order), Zhang and of course Maylis de Kerangal.

    1. Excellent! I was so pleased to see the Lynch on the Booker longlist, not least because it’s published by Oneworld. Just a word of warning, though. It’s a tough read and tiring but well worth it.

    1. I wasn’t expecting to love Matrix as much as I did. I think I’ve seen the word ‘visceral’ used when describing this new one which is probably what’s putting me off!

  3. I’ve put the Groff on my wishlist (though haven’t yet read Matrix). Zhang’s previous novel was a bit of a letdown for me, although this seems like an enormous departure in terms of content—I’ll wait for some reviews to come out, I think. And I’m also not sure about Zadie Smith doing historical fiction: it could either be brilliant or a car crash…

    1. Spot on about the Smith! I’ve admired rather than loved both the Zhangs. This second one is certainly different, though. Perhaps I’ll wait to see how you get on with the Groff.

  4. Love the cover for Canoes – reason enough to get it! The only other on my wishlist is the Enright (I still haven’t read Actress either!).

  5. Eeee…. so many on this list that appeal. The Fraud for one since it reminds me very much of The Prince and the Sanyasi, a non fic I read about a real life case in colonial India like this one (no drowning there and he reappears as a sanyasi); Prophet Song and Land of Milk and Honey too.. If only there were more hours in the day (sighs)

      1. That immediately stood out. In the indian case the wife refused to accept that the claimant was her husband while others on his estate (he was a large landowner) were more inclined to do so. I’ve clean forgotten what the court decided.

        1. How strange! You’ve made me remember a French film – The Return of Martin Guerre on a similar theme. Both Martin and the Tichborne Claimant were judged fraudulent.

          1. There was film in Bengali made of the case in which they advanced a complicated conspiracy theory, and such–but I just looked up wikipedia and was reminded that the courts did hold in his favour and a forensic study conducted after his death proved that it was actually him!

  6. I’m undecided on the Smith and Zhang. Currently enjoying the Enright (though would agree it doesn’t match The Green Road). And you’ve already heard me stick up for The Vaster Wilds, but with the warning that the “visceral” labels are accurate!

    1. I knew I’d had an exchange about the ‘visceral’ issue! I’ll probably get to the Smith at some stage but I’m in no rush. The Zhang’s impressive but I didn’t warm to it.

  7. Hm, not sure about the Zadie Smith. I’ve not been enthralled by her books so far……

    I’ll look out for the Enright though it would be hard to beat The Gathering IMHO

    1. I’ve not enjoyed anything by her as much as White Teeth. The Enright is certainly worth reading but doesn’t match The Gathering although, as you say, that’s a hard one to beat.

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