Paperbacks to Look Out For in May 2024: Part One

Cover image for Prophet Song by Paul LynchMay’s first batch of paperbacks features lots of Irish writers beginning with last year’s Booker winner, followed by a close contender. I’d been so impressed by Paul Lynch’s Beyond the Sea I was delighted when Prophet Song popped through my letterbox. Set in a near future Ireland in the grips of an increasingly authoritarian regime with civil society breaking down, it follows scientist Eilish Stack whose trade unionist husband never returns from his appointment with the security services, leaving her to look after their four children and her demented father. Her plight and that of her family is all too believable, uncomfortably familiar from the news with its reports of conflict zones, political oppression and tragic stories of refugees drowning. I included Lynch’s novel on my Booker wishlist not really expecting it to be longlisted let alone bag the prize which, of course, it did.Cover image for The Bee Sting by Paul Murray

There was an outpouring of love for Paul Murray’s The Bee Sting in my bit of social media when it was shortlisted for the Booker. It follows the once prosperous Barnes family, now facing bankruptcy, a marriage on the rocks, a teenage son in full on rebellion and old mistakes making themselves known all over again. I passed on this one when it was first published but will be investing in the paperback edition for sure.

Cover image for The Wren, the Wren by Anne EnrightMany readers no doubt expected Anne Enright’s The Wren, the Wren to appear alongside Lynch and Murray’s novels. It follows Carmel and her daughter Nell, both living in the shadow of their coercive poet ancestor who left the family when Carmel was a child. Enright tells these two women’s stories through alternating narratives interspersed with Phil’s cheesily romantic poems in which he extols the virtues of the love he’d failed to practice in life. Themes of family and its legacy are familiar from Enright’s previous novels; it’s emotional territory she handles expertly, and her writing is reliably excellent but, although I enjoyed her new novel, it didn’t match The Gathering or The Green Road for me.Cover image for The Paper Man by Billy O'Callaghan

Billy O’Callaghan’s The Paper Man sees a son finding a box of love letters after the death of his mother, a Jewish refugee who had fled Vienna in the Second World War. Rebekah never told Jack who his father was but the cache of newspaper cuttings about a famous Austrian football player solves the puzzle. ‘Based on true events, The Paper Man is the story of twentieth-century Europe and love against the odds. It is a story that will take Jack far from Cork and all the way back to Vienna, and towards The Paper Man’ according to the blurb. I’ve been a fan of O’Callaghan’s writing since I read My Coney Island Baby way back when.

Cover image for Becky by Sarah MaySarah May’s Becky is a twenty-first-century reworking of William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, telling the story of a young woman from a disadvantaged background who works her way up the tabloid press ladder, determined to get to the top whatever the cost to herself and others, cultivating contacts in the guise of friendships and keeping a mental dossier on the inhabitants of this new glittering world. When a young girl goes missing, Becky does everything she can to win the confidence of her parents, launching a campaign that will see the Mercury’s circulation soar but whose execution will land her in court. May draws on decades of tabloid bad behaviour in this pleasingly entertaining yarn which has something serious to say about our media.

Amanda Craig’s The Three Graces is set in Tuscany where the neighbour of three British retiree friends shoots an illegal immigrant from his bedroom window. Ruth, Tania and Marta find themselves drawn into the ensuing events together withCover image for The Three Graces by Amanda Craig their guests and the inhabitants of the local community. ‘Over two weeks in May, all these characters will face challenging choices as they grapple with their own past and with present dangers. For although the Tuscan spring looks as ravishing as a Renaissance painting, the realities of modern life make it harder and harder to believe that there is more that unites us than what keeps us apart’ says the blurb. A change of location for Craig although I suspect similar themes will pop up along with characters from her previous loosely connected state-of-the-nation novels.

That’s it for May’s first batch of paperbacks. A click on a title will take you 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 and here.

No more from me until next week. H and I are off on our annual trip north to catch up with some dear friends. Happy reading!

21 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out For in May 2024: Part One”

  1. I loved The Prophet Song. The Bee Sting our is next Book Group choice, and all the others you highlight today are already on my radar, so it’s good to know they’ll soon be in paperback.

  2. Some great Irish writers in this batch. Still to read the two Paul’s. Loved Anne Enright’s book.

  3. Unsurprisingly, I believe Paul Lynch’s book is out in paper sooner for y’all over there (I believe it’s November here, and hold lists remain long), but of course there’s no shortage while waiting. Becky sounds like fun. And it’s been awhile since I’ve read Anne Enright, but perhaps that’s just as well-I’m sure even one of hers that’s not amazing is still pretty great-and I’ve recently picked up a copy at the library!

    Enjoy your holiday!

  4. Prophet Song was a novel that really intrigued me when it first came out. I still haven’t got a copy, but I feel it’s a novel I will read eventually. The Wren, The Wren has been chosen by my book group for a couple of months time. Enright is an excellent writer.

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