Yet another thin month for paperbacks, only one of which I’ve read, starting with a novel from an author whose name may well be familiar from news updates. For several years Andrey Kurkov was the go-to man for the British media wanting comment on Ukraine. His new novel Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv sees odd goings-on in in Lviv, not least an unexpected alliance between an ex-KGB officer and the ageing hippy he once spied on. Unbeknownst to young lovers Taras and Darka, this unlikely pair will be hugely influential on the future of their lives and their city. ‘Shot through with Kurkov’s unique brand of black humour and vodka-fuelled magic realism, Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv is an affectionate portrait of one the world’s most intriguing cities’ say the publishers. I commissioned Kurkov several times when I worked in magazines. He was a delight to deal with. I’ve often thought of him over the past eighteen months.
Jonathan Dee’s Sugar Street sees a man drive off in search of a new life, cash stashed under his car seat. Arriving in a city where he’s unlikely to be followed, he finds himself somewhere to stay where no questions are asked. ‘In a story that moves with swift dark humour and insight, Dee takes us through his narrator’s attempt to disavow his former life of privilege and enter a blameless new existence’ says the blurb begging the question: why’s he so keen to avoid scrutiny?
Kai Thomas’ In the Upper Country is set in mid-nineteenth-century Canada where an elderly woman who arrived on the Underground Railway has been tracked down to a small town filled with her fellow escapees. Now on trial for the bounty hunter’s murder, she swaps stories with a young female reporter determined to record her testimony. ‘In the Upper Country is an unforgettable debut about the interwoven history of peoples in North America, slavery and resistance, and two women reckoning with the stories they’ve been given, and the ones they want to tell’ according to the publishers which sounds both ambitious and enticing.
I’ve long been interested in cunning women, healers sometimes known as witches, which is what attracts me to Kirsty Logan’s Now She is Witch. Else seeks out Lux, persecuted for her knowledge and the power it wields, enlisting her help in taking revenge against a man who has wronged her. ‘In rich and immersive prose Kirsty Logan conjures a world of violence and beauty in which women grasp at power through witchcraft and poisons, through sexuality and childbearing, through performance and pretence, and most of all through throwing other women to the wolves’ say the publishers which sounds like a brilliant read to me.
October sees two interesting reissues the first of which is Brigid Brophy’s Hackenfeller’s Ape which has an eye-catching premise featuring a professor saving an ape from being launched into space as part of an experiment. ‘A trailblazing animal rights campaigner, Brigid Brophy’s sensational 1953 novel is as provocative and philosophical seventy years on. An electric moral fable, it is as much a blazingly satirical reflection on homo sapiens as the non-human – on our capacity for violence, red in tooth and claw, not only to other species, but our own’ according to the blurb.
The second reissue is from the publishing arm of Daunts Books, an imprint I’ve learned to keep an eye on. Dinah Brooke’s Lord Jim at Home follows the unloved Giles Trenchard from one boarding school to another, always hoping, but failing to live up to his family’s expectations. Shortly after leaving the Navy when the Second World War comes to an end, he commits an act of shocking violence. ‘When Dinah Brooke’s Lord Jim at Home was first published in 1973 it was described as ‘squalid and startling’, and ‘nastily horrific’ and ‘a monstrous parody’ of the upper-middle class. It reveals Brooke to be a daring writer long overdue for reappraisal, whose work has retained all its originality and power. Seething with cruelty and darkness, this strange, compelling novel is as unforgettable as it is unnerving’ says the blurb.
I couldn’t get on with George Saunders’ 2017 Man Booker Prize-winning Lincoln in the Bardo but very much enjoyed Liberation Day which comprises nine stories, ranging from the dystopian near future to everyday office politics. Recurring themes include wealth, poverty and exploitation served up with wit and humour, some of it dark or surreal, blending the personal and the political. It left me keen to read more of Saunders’ short fiction.
That’s it for October. 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, and if you’d like to catch up with new fiction it’s here.