Books to Look Out For Out for in November 2023

Christmas is well and truly in publishers’ sights come November with lots of big hitting titles taking centre stage. Fewer appealed to me than usual, just Cover image for Baumgartner by Paul Austerenough for one lengthy post rather than the two I was expecting, starting with one from an author who was once a favourite of mine.

There was a time when I’d be eagerly anticipating a new Paul Auster but my enthusiasm faded over the past decade or so. That said, I like the sound of Baumgartner whose eponymous protagonist, now entering his seventies, must learn to live without his beloved wife. ‘Rich with compassion, wit and Auster’s keen eye for beauty in the smallest, most transient episodes of ordinary life, Baumgartner is a tender late masterpiece of the ache of memory’ says the blurb promisingly. Very much like that cover.

I’m not a huge Jonathan Lethem fan but the premise of Brooklyn Crime Novel is very appealing. Spanning several decades, Cover image for Brooklyn Crime Novel by Jonathan Lethem beginning in the ‘70s, Lethem’s novel follows kids with an eye to the main chance, witnessing shootings, perpetrating petty crimes and fighting, one gang against another on the streets of Brooklyn. Behind the scenes, cops, landlords, gentrifiers, journalists play their part in influencing changes to the neighbourhood with sometimes unintended results. ‘Written with kaleidoscopic verve and delirious wit, Brooklyn Crime Novel is a breathtaking tour de force of a quarter of a city and the humanity it contains, and an epic interrogation of how we fashion stories to contain the uncontainable: our remorse at the world we’ve made’ says the blurb a little portentously whetting my appetite, nevertheless.

Cover image for The Caretaker by Ron Rash Set during the Korean War, Ron Rash’s The Caretaker has at its heart the cruellest of deceptions. Before he left for Korea, Jacob had asked his childhood friend to look after Naomi when his parents disinherited him after their elopement. When the telegram arrives at the town’s post office, addressed to Naomi telling her of Jacob’s return after he’s wounded, a misguided act of kindness leads to a deception which causes terrible heartache. As ever, Rash’s use of language is strikingly evocative, his descriptions of the natural world marking the change of seasons beautifully but it’s the characterisation that stood out in this one for me. The ending wasn’t quite what I expected but that’s no bad thing. Review shortly… Cover image for Hled by Anne Michaels

Held is Canadian poet Anne Michaels’ sublimely beautiful third novel in almost three decades, an indication of the care and thought with which she approaches her craft. Made up of a series of gorgeously poetic snapshots unfolding a family’s history, it opens with a wounded man, slipping in and out of consciousness on a battlefield in France in 1917 and ends, over a century later, in the Gulf of Finland where a spark of attraction is both made and remembered. It’s an extraordinary piece of fiction which demands a great deal of thought and concentration from its readers but more than repays them. Review to follow…

Cover image for Bird Life by Anna Smail Set in Tokyo, Booker longlisted author Anna Smaill’s Bird Life opens arrestingly with two women in a city park, one a foreigner prostrate on the grass, carefully ignored by passersby, the other striding out perfectly groomed but with one shoe missing. Each of these two women is carrying a terrible burden. Yosuko becomes convinced Dinah can help her find her son, drawing her into her orbit while Dinah hopes their friendship with soothe her grief. Anna Smaill’s narrative slips smoothly between them, unfolding their stories of madness and loss in lyrical dreamlike prose which leaves readers with much to think about. Review soon… Cover image for Playing Games by Huma Qureshi

Huma Qureshi’s Playing Games follows two sister – divorce lawyer Mira and Hanna, an aspiring playwright – who lost their mother a decade ago when they were in their twenties. Hana is the eldest, the lynchpin of Mira’s life, providing practical help but unable to talk to her sister about the loss of their mother. Nothing deflects Hana from her life plan until her assumption that her husband shares her determination to have children is challenged provoking a crisis. When Mira overhears an exchange between the couple she shouldn’t, an idea for a play is sparked. I enjoyed Qureshi’s novel which explores themes perennially appealing to me but it didn’t quite match her short story collection, Things We Do Not Tell the People We Love, which missed my 2021 books of the year list by a squeak. Review to follow…

Cover image for Water by John Boyne The first in a series of four, John Boyne’s Water begins with a woman arriving on a sparsely populated island. Naturally the islanders are intrigued, some recognising her as the wife of the disgraced director of the National Swimming Association, jailed for molesting young girls. While Willow may have dodged the judgement of Dublin’s elite, she’s forced to face the possibility that she’s been wilfully blind to Brendan’s crimes, not least under their own roof. It’s a powerful theme but despite that Boyne’s novella felt a little slight to me; characters, particularly men, are somewhat two-dimensional. That said, I enjoyed it enough to want to read the second in the series when it appears. Review soon…

I’ve had a slightly mixed experience with Delphine de Vigan’s fiction – Based on a True Story was superb but Loyalties failed to hit the spot. Her new one, Kids Run the Show, follows two very different mothers: Melanie, a social media superstar who has become famous for broadcasting her children’s lives on YouTube, and Clara who is investigating the abduction of Melanie’s daughter. ‘Traversing the Big Brother generation, the social media influencer generation, and right up to the 2030s, Delphine de Vigan offers a bone-chilling expose of a world where everything is broadcasted and profited from, even family happiness’ says the blurb. I suspect this one might be a difficult read.

That’s it for November’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…

51 thoughts on “Books to Look Out For Out for in November 2023”

  1. I’m reading Held at the moment and I’m with you on it demanding thought and concentration. The writing is beautiful but I’m still trying to decide if I’m actually enjoying it, if you know what I mean.

  2. I thought The Caretaker was lovely. I was a little disappointed that the ending was ‘off stage’, as it were, but I would certainly recommend it whether one is new to Rash or not. The brevity of the Auster has convinced me to give it a try — probably the Boyne, too, for that reason.

    1. Without wanting to say to much, I thought the ending was unexpected but welcomed it! Yes, I’d agree about the Auster. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of the Boyne if you do read it.

  3. I have Baumgartner on order from my bookshop and I can’t wait for it. I’ve loved Auster’s work for years. Of the rest, Brooklyn Crime Novel appeals. I adored Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels pre-blog so am looking forward to a new one and the new Delphine de Vigan sounds intriguing. Great round up!

    1. Thanks, Cathy. I picked up the de Vigan today. Interesting premise but too soon to tell! Absolutely loved Held. Let me know what you think of the Auster when you get to it.

  4. I loved Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces, discovered thanks to you, so I’m waiting for your review of Held and for a chance to get my own copy. I’m also curious about Ron Rash as I’ve heard so much good about his work.

  5. Ooh a new Anne Michaels. That’s exciting. Like you I kind of went off Auster but there was a time I’d have been jumping for joy to see he had a new book out.
    Nice selection, as always. All those celeb biographies neatly avoided

  6. Two of these are calling to me – The Caretaker and Bird Life. sadly neither is in the library and since I am trying to clear space on the shelves I had better not buy them! So will have to wait to see if they order them in,

  7. I read Baumgartner recently and found it ok but not spectacular: quiet, conventional and with an oddly abrupt ending. Not as interesting as his earlier work but perhaps warmer. I have the De Vigan and am looking forward to it, and of course you tempt me with Ron Rash and the one set in Japan.

  8. I’ve been disappointed by some of the newly (or recently) published fiction I’ve read this year so will probably give these a miss. The Caretaker sounds good though, especially as Ron Rash is such a reliable writer!

  9. I’m late to the party, having been on Granny Duty. But I’m glad to see that most of these titles are currently on order at my library, so I should soon get my hands on some of these. This looks a pretty appetising bunch.

  10. I’m late to the party also, but it’s been great reading your summaries and thoughts, and also everyone’s comments. I have Held on my list, but I think I’ll wait to read everyone’s reviews first. (I haven’t read Fugitive Pieces.) I’m also interested to see what you think of the Lethem. I loved Motherless Brooklyn, but I seem to be hesitating over this new novel.

Leave a comment ...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.