Paperbacks to Look Out For in October 2023

Cover image for Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv by Andrey KurkovYet 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.Cover image for Sugar Street by Jonathan Dee

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?

Cover image for In the Upper Country by Kai ThomasKai 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.

Cover image for Hackenfeller's Ape by Brigid BrophyOctober 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.

Cover image for Liberation Day by George SaundersI 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.

28 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out For in October 2023”

  1. I surprised myself by much enjoying Lincoln in the Bardo, as well as Liberation Day. But there seems to be plenty to enjoy in your latest haul. You’re right, Daunt books seems to have a knack of choosing winners.

  2. Loved these choices for review! I actually bought the hard cover of Now She Is Witch due to your having highlighted it. I have yet to read it, but now want to more than ever! Lord Jim and In the Upper Country both sound brilliant. I have to note these titles and live in hope!

  3. Ooh, I should like to read Hackenfeller’s Ape. And Lord Jim At Home sounds enticingly dark… Really enjoyed Liberation Day, too, despite feeling that some of the stories were a bit too similar to each other.

  4. Glad to see another Kurkov after having very much enjoyed Grey Bees though I do have a nonfic by him waiting as well. Henderson’s Ape sounds one that will resonate with me a lot.

  5. I’ve enjoyed some of Andrey Kurkov’s satires in the past, so it’s good to see his latest coming through in p/b. Did you hear any of Kurkov’s Letters from Ukraine on Radio 4 last year? They were so poignant to listen to in the early weeks of the invasion. (Still available on BBC Sounds if anyone is interested in catching them.)

  6. I’ve been on the hold list for In the Upper Country for ages. I’m curious that it’s available over there, so unusual for that sort of story.

    Rich time of year for publishing, of course: a delight.

    1. You’re right, it’s unusual for me not to be reading about the Thomas on a Canadian blog and wondering how I might get my hands on a copy. Yes, Christmas is definitely in publishers’ sights by October!

  7. Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv is a great title. Not sure about the sound of the story though. Lord Jim–maybe. Ugh Lincoln in the Bardo! lol. I gave it good marks for the audio performance, but the story!!! Lincoln is rolling in his grave. Good stuff today, as always.

          1. No–I adopted my kids 20 years ago. We are concerned and have donated, but we don’t have any real contacts there–just don’t want the country taken over. That they found a cousin is great, but she has had honest things to say and that’s been interesting. But, like in the Blitz, she’s living her life. When it gets too much–she goes to the rural areas for a while

  8. What a thoroughly interesting selection. I really like the sound of In the Upper Country and it’s great to see the Brophy being reissued, I’d like to read that very much.

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