Paperbacks to Look Out For in May 2024: Part Two

Back from my Northern jaunt (more of that later in the week) with a second batch of May paperback goodies which begins with one of my 2023 favourites, Jenny Erpenbeck’s International Booker Prize shortlisted Kairos. Erpenbeck explores Cover image for Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeckidentity through a love affair beginning in 1985 between Hans, a successful writer born in 1933, and Katharina, born in East Berlin in 1967, the same year in which she herself was born. They meet often and are besotted with each other but then something happens that irrevocably changes their relationship which becomes increasingly abusive and dysfunctional. Ostensibly the story of an affair between two people unable to let each other go despite the increasing harm inflicted by their relationship, Erpenbeck’s novel is an allegory which explores the history of her native country, a country that no longer exists. All three of the books I’ve read by Erpenbeck have been impressive, particularly The End of Days, but with Kairos she’s excelled herself.Cover image for August Blue by Deborah Levy

I’ve read only two novels by Deborah Levy – Hot Milk and The Man Who Saw Everything – both of which have stayed with me in the way that fiction often doesn’t. August Blue sounds similarly thought provoking. A classical pianist sees a woman in an Athens flea market she recognizes as her double and wonders if she is also looking for reasons to live. These two women crisscross Europe, with a final encounter in a summer rainstorm. ‘A vivid portrait of a long-held identity coming apart, August Blue expands our understanding of the ways in which we seek to find ourselves in others and create ourselves anew’ says the blurb rather obliquely.

Cover image for Watch Us Dance by Leila SlimaniI somehow never got around to reading either Leïla Slimani’s Lullaby or The Country of Others, both much acclaimed. Set in 1968, Watch Us Dance follows two siblings, children of a French mother and Moroccan father, who anticipate a vibrant future in their newly independent country. Studious Aicha has her eyes set on becoming a doctor while her younger brother finds himself caught up with American and European hippies who have travelled to Morocco bent on a hedonistic life. Both find their ideals punctured in a country once united against its coloniser now caught up in in-fighting for wealth and influence. Very much like the sound of that.Cover image for The Late Americans by Brfandon Taylor

I much preferred Brandon Taylor’s The Late Americans to his much-hyped debut, Real Life, but perhaps all that brouhaha had raised my expectations unrealistically high. Reading like a series of intricately linked short stories, his new novel follows a group of post-grad students in their final year, all facing an uncertain future when they leave their Iowan campus. There’s a lot going on in Taylor’s portrayal of this diverse set of young Americans as they prepare to launch themselves into life outside academia. Characters are complex, fleshed out with backstories that occasionally surprise.

Cover image for Lioness by Emily PerkinsI’m not entirely sure about New Zealand writer Emily Perkins’ Lioness but I remember reading Leave Before You Go many years and enjoying it. Her new one follows Therese who’s grown used to the luxury that marrying into a wealthy family has brought. When the rumour mill cranks into action spreading stories of corruption about her husband, she’s shocked at the abuse that’s unleashed. Prompted to examine the privilege she’s come to take for granted, she’s drawn to an alternative way of living offered by her neighbour. Lots of praise for this one when it was first published.Cover image for The Three of Us by Ore Agabaje-Williams

The unnamed wife in Ore Agbaje-Williams’ The Three of Us hasn’t seen her best friend for a month when she arrives, bottle of wine in hand, keen to catch up. Both women are from high achieving Nigerian families but the wife has chosen not to work. She’s been married for three years, ambivalent about having children, but her husband has persuaded her it’s time to start a family much to Temi’s disgust. When he joins the two women, tired and stressed from work, he and Temi edge closer and closer to a showdown as the wife anxiously looks on. Readers who prefer likeable characters might have trouble with this clever, slyly humorous debut but I enjoyed it.

Cover image for Collected Works by Lydia SandgrenGiven its door stopping 732 pages, I’m not sure I’ll get around to Lydia Sandgren’s Collected Works but I like the sound of its premise which sees a promising young writer stalled after his beautiful girlfriend disappears leaving him to bring up their two children. Years later their daughter finds a clue which may explain the puzzle of her mother’s absence and becomes determined to uncover the full story.
Cover image for Normal Rules Don't Apply by Kate Atkinson

The title of Kate Atkinson’s short story collection – Normal Rules Don’t Apply – gives us a hint that the contents are unlikely to be straightforward. ‘Witty and wise, with subtle connections between the stories, Normal Rules Don’t Apply is a startling, and funny feast for the imagination. In Kate Atkinson’s world nothing is over until the talking dog speaks’ say the publishers. The blurb also mentions a talking horse which would usually have me running screaming for the exit but it’s Kate Atkinson so I will, of course, give it a try.

That’s it for May. 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 part one it’s here. New fiction is here and here.

30 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out For in May 2024: Part Two”

  1. Levy will be a must-read for me, although reviews of this one were slightly mixed, but her prose reads like no other author I can think of, love it. I also like the sound of the Slimani and Taylor books.

    1. So much hype surrounding Real Life that disappointment was almost inevitable. I’ve read a few negative reviews of The Late Americans but it made me think much more than his debut.

  2. I like Levy generally, but was not quite as taken by this book as I’ve been by some of her others. Kairos did move me profoundly, but then… I feel like I have a strong connection with Jenny Erpenbeck.

    1. I remember liking the sound of Kairos when you reviewed it before. The time period and setting especially appeals. I have been very hit and miss with Kate Atkinson over the years, so not sure if those stories would be for me.

  3. I love Deborah Levy’s non-fiction (e.g. her Living Autobiography series and other essays), but August Blue wasn’t for me. It’s good to see Kairos coming into paperback, though, especially given its inclusion on the International Booker shortlist.

  4. I loved Kairos, and Watch us Dance. And a friend has just lent me the Kate Atkinson. So I’ve made a decent start. But I may stick at that for a while. My TBR is out of control!

  5. I am really interested in exploring Jenny Erpenbeck’s work after reading more about her background and books. Really enjoyed Levy’s The Man who knew Too Much. And I loved Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum which I read a few weeks ago. Such a quirky imagination. Hope you enjoyed your trip Susan.

    1. I did, thanks, Lucy. Posting about it tomorrow. Highly recommend Erpenbeck’s fiction and Kairos in particular. I think Behind the Scenes might still be my favourite Atkinson.

  6. There are so few New Zealand authors that get published in the UK that I’m tempted by Lioness just because it’s from NZ.

    Atkinson is normally someone I don’t hesitate when she has a new book out but the combination of short stories and a talking horse has me thinking this is one I will forgo

  7. So many enticing titles here; I’ve seen a few different reactions to Kairos which makes me want to try it out myself; Watch Us Dance and August Blue sound very good too and I do like the cover of that Atkinson (as well as the description)

    1. I think my enjoyment of previous Erpenbeck novels and my interest in the period it covers in that part of the world predisposed me to like Kairos. I’m particularly keen on Watch Us Dance and cautiously hopeful about the Atkinson!

  8. Wow, it’s been ages since Kate Atkinson’s last story collection, no? I remember liking them. Collected Works sounds intriguing: I’m curious. And I liked that Brandon Taylor but lost track of it between sections, and will have to reread when I finally pick up my copy again. Kairos is on my TBR but not in a “soonish” way, you know what I mean.

Leave a comment ...

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