The second batch of February’s paperback treats begins with one of my books of 2023. Sebastian Barry’s Old God’s Time follows a recently retired police officer whose ex-boss has been told to reopen a cold case which involved two priests, both child sex abusers, one of whom had been brutally murdered while the other was moved on to another parish. Tom’s narrative reflects a confusion which may be memory loss or the aftereffects of trauma, slowly unfolding a story the details of which he has been hiding from himself for thirty years. There’s a beauty in Barry’s telling of this desperately sad story which makes its ugliness all the more stark. I was delighted to see his novel on the Booker longlist although disappointed not to see it make the shortlist.
I was one of the few people in the literary universe that didn’t get on with Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, or at least that’s how it felt, but Greek Lessons sounds appealing. A young woman under great stress has lost her voice while her Greek language teacher’s sight is fading by the day. A bond grows between these two both of whom have suffered great difficulty in their lives, drawn together by the loss of their senses. ‘Greek Lessons is a tender love letter to human intimacy and connection, a novel to awaken the senses, vividly conjuring the essence of what it means to be alive’ according to the blurb which sounds very promising. Fingers crossed for this one.
Dizz Tate’s Brutes takes her readers back to adolescence with a gang of thirteen-year-old girls in small town Florida, fixated on the preacher’s daughter who suddenly disappears, leaving them desperate to know what has happened to her. What they discover is shocking. ‘Through a darkly beautiful and brutally compelling lens, Dizz Tate captures the violence, horrors, and manic joys of girlhood. Brutes is a novel about the seemingly unbreakable bonds in the ‘we’ of young friendship, and the moment it is broken forever’ says the blurb more than hinting at a dark read. It’s the endorsement of Nicole Flattery, author of Show Them a Good Time and Nothing Special that’s swung this one for me.
Christy Edwall’s History Keeps Me Awake at Night sees Margit drifting from one precarious job to another, despite her degree, and rootless although married. The case of forty-three Mexican students who disappeared in 2014 snags her attention and soon she’s caught up in an obsession that threatens to take over her life. ‘From a sharp and singular new literary voice, this is a novel that captures the texture of life in a frictionless city with drop-pin accuracy, while asking: is it possible to recover what is lost without losing oneself?’ says the blurb. Slightly lukewarm about this one but having fallen down a few internet rabbit holes myself I’m willing to give it a go.
Lucy Barker’s The Other Side of Mrs Wood is set in world of Victorian London’s mediums and seances. One of the city’s most revered practitioners, Mrs Wood is perturbed by the uptick in cancellations, not to mention reports of spectacular manifestations by American mediums. Knowing she needs to up her game, she takes on a protegee who may not be quite what she seems. Barker’s novel comes billed as an ’irresistible historical comedy about two rival mediums in Victorian London’. Another one I’m not entirely sure about but it sounds like a possible winter read.
That’s it for February. 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. If you’d like to catch up with part one, it’s here, new fiction is here and here.