Part two of March’s preview begins with a novel I hope to see on a multitude of awards lists. Carys Davies’ Clear is set in 1843 against the backdrop of two massive upheavals in Scottish history: the continuing, brutal clearance of its estates by voraciously greedy landlords and the formation of the Free Church of Scotland. It follows Clergyman John Ferguson who must take up work he detests, having impoverished himself and his wife by joining the breakaway church, making a startling discovery about his nature in the process. Davies’ novella is written in elegantly spare prose from which gorgeous images sing out together with the occasional flash of humour. I loved this brief vivid book which is heading straight for my books of the year list. Review shortly…
Years ago, I read Jonathan Buckley’s So He Took the Dog and although I remember little or nothing about it, I do know I enjoyed it. I like the sound of his new one, Tell, which explores the way we weave stories out of both our lives and the lives of others. ‘Structured as a series of interview transcripts with a woman who worked as a gardener for a wealthy businessman and art collector who has disappeared, and may or may not have committed suicide, it is a thrilling novel of strange, intoxicating immediacy’ says the blurb, making me keen to investigate.
I reviewed Alex Schulman’s quietly gripping debut, The Survivors, a few years back which is what attracts me to Malma Station which spans three timelines. A married couple grappling with a crisis, a single father and his daughter together with a woman hoping to solve a mystery left behind by her mother are amongst the passengers on the same train route. ‘Malma Station traces the crooked lines of family and history and shows how memories morph to take new shape, postulating that perhaps the past is actually what we can change, rather than the future. The narrative builds like a train hurtling through time, each chapter a separate car hooking into the next’ says the publishers somewhat mystifyingly. Had I not been impressed with his previous novel, I’d probably have give this one a miss given that blurb.
I wasn’t as enamoured with Charlotte Wood’s The Weekend as many readers were but I suspect I’ll be trying again with her new one, Stone Yard Devotional which sees a middle-aged woman seeking peace and refuge fetching up in a small religious community in the Australian outback, almost by accident. Three things disrupt the tranquillity she finds there: a plague of mice, the unearthing of the remains of a nun, long since disappeared, and the arrival of someone who forces her to examine her past. I’m not entirely sure what to think of that but we’ll see.
Despite being a little disappointed with Calla Henkel’s Other People’s Clothes when I read it on holiday last year, I’m still keen to read Scrap which sees an artist, freshly dumped and broke, take on the job of putting together a scrapbook for a wealthy woman. Esther must sign an NDA and only use a burner when contacting her patron which should set a few alarm bells ringing but she’s too seduced by Naomi’s glittering life to care. ‘Laced with pitch-black humour and conspiratorial unease, Scrap is a razor-sharp examination of wealth and power, art and truth, of the line between justice and revenge – and who gets to cross it’ says the blurb, whetting my appetite nicely.
It’s been a little while since I’ve previewed two short story collections in a month but I like the sound of Rebecca Ivory’s Free Therapy which explores the inner lives of men and women, all of whom seem to know they need to change their lives but lack the will, or perhaps the wherewithal, to do so. ‘As her characters try and fail to connect – via sex, friendship, screens and work – Rebecca Ivory explores desire in all its forms, revealing the ways in which we posture and present, and the softness and insecurities that lie beneath’ says the blurb which may suggest too much introspection for some.
That’s it for March’s new fiction. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more, and if you’d like to catch up with part one it’s here. Paperbacks soon…