Paperbacks to Look Out For in September 2023: Part Two

September’s second batch of paperbacks begins with two of my books of 2022, the first of which I was reluctant to read despite it being by one of my favourite Cover iumage for Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Stroutauthors. Elizabeth Strout’s Lucy by the Sea is both the second outing in quick succession for Lucy Barton and a pandemic novel hence the wariness. Lucy and her ex-husband spend covid’s first year in Maine where Lucy’s life, like many others, is changed in surprising sometimes shocking ways. William is quick to see which way the wind is blowing as the virus grips Europe, whisking the sceptical Lucy off to the coastal town of Crosby. Things are a little scratchy at first, but they settle into a routine, Lucy making some surprising friends while William finds an unexpected contentment. As ever, Strout’s writing is empathetic and insightful, vividly summoning up the introspective, claustrophobic bubble of lockdown before vaccinations offered us freedom.

I’m delighted to say that Jonathan Coe’s Bournville hit the spot after a series of disappointments with his writing. At its centre is Mary ClarkeCover ima\ge for Bournville by Jonathan Coe who on V.E. Day is living with her parents in Bournville next door to the Lambs whose son she’ll marry. Coe’s novel follows this extended family through seventy-five years in which the nation sits down and watch elaborate state ceremonies, a moment of sporting triumph, a royal wedding and a funeral. Telling the country’s story through one family, structuring it around seven occasions that apparently united it is a clever idea and Coe executes it well. There’s humour to enjoy but this is also an elegiac book. As the touching author’s note makes clear this is a work of fiction, but Mary is based very much on Coe’s mother who died during the pandemic. A thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing novel, both heartfelt and funny.

Cover image for Instructions for the Working Day by Joanna CampbellJoanna Campbell’s Instructions for the Working Day takes us to a rundown village in former East Germany, unexpectedly inherited by Neil Fischer from his father whose hometown it was. Neil is determined to restore the village but is met with resistance and hostility. Silke, his only friend and a Cold War survivor, uncovers a shocking truth which ratchets up the tension further. Neil finds himself forced to face his own difficult past while contending with an increasingly dangerous present. It’s the setting that attracted me to this one and it didn’t disappoint.Cover image for Really Good, Actually by Monica Heisey

Surrounded by oodles of pre- and post-publication hype, comedian and Schitt’s Creek screenwriter Monica Heisey’s Really Good, Actually covers a year in twenty-nine-year-old Maggie’s life after her husband takes her at her word, packs up his belongings and leaves, taking the cat with him. Once he’s gone, she goes to pieces, barely leaving the house, failing to turn up to work, obsessively scrolling, checking Jon’s social media profiles and at risk of annoying everyone who knows her but by the end of the novel redemption’s in sight. I very nearly gave this one up after thirty or so pages of Maggie’s dive into self-absorption, but her snarky narrative became curiously addictive although Heisey’s novel is overlong.

Cover image for We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine NewmanNora Ephron’s mentioned in the puffs for Catherine Newman’s We All Want Impossible Things which made me think twice about this novel which follows Ash and Edie, best friends for over forty years, one of whom steps into the role of carer when the other is diagnosed with terminal cancer. ‘Life is about squeezing the joy out of every moment, about building a powerhouse of memories, about learning when to hold on, and when to let go’ says the blurb wisely. A very different approach from Helen Garner’s The Spare Room which explores a similar theme.

That’s it for September. A click on a title will take you 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.

27 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out For in September 2023: Part Two”

  1. Bournville’s been on my radar for ages – so long in fact that I’d slightly forgotten about it. Also Instructions for the Working Day, which took my eye when you first reviewed it. Well, if they’re about to appear in paperback … no excuses then.

  2. I am hesitant about reading books that feature Covid and lockdowns as it is too close for comfort. I am however interested in Instructions For The Working Day. Thanks for the list.

  3. I loved Bournville, esp as I live near the place and know a lot of the locations well. I don’t always like Coe so I didn’t get all the characters from others of his books who appeared, but I so enjoyed it.

  4. I like the sound of the Elizabeth Strout very much though I have about five of her novels tbr already and have only read the first Lucy Barton book. I have been meaning to get hold of Bournville for ages. It’s a beautiful area of Birmingham, with an interesting history and I have a good friend who lives there.

    1. I hope Olive Kitteridge is one of those five. Still my favourite Strout. I’m sure you’d enjoy Bournville. I know that Liz from Adventures in Reading… liked it very much.

  5. I’m glad to see paperbacks of Bourneville and Really Good, Actually on the horizon as they should appeal to some of my book subscription readers. A colleague at the shop read the Catherine Newman in h/b recently and very much enjoyed it, despite the poignancy of the characters’ circumstances.

  6. I don’t know why it is but I can’t get excited by the Elizabeth Strout books. I read one and it was OK but not as remarkable as other bloggers had indicated.

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