Paperbacks to Look Out For in June 2024: Part Two

June’s turned out to be an excellent month for paperback goodies: two favourites from last year in the first instalment, followed by two in this one which Cover iamge for Okay Days by Jenny Mustardonly failed to make it on to my books of the year list for fear of trying readers’ patience at its length.

Jenny Mustard’s Okay Days follows Sam and Lucas, both in their late twenties, over a year beginning at the party at which they become reacquainted after a decade and fall in love. Alternating Sam and Lucas’s narratives, Mustard cleverly structures her novel as two countdown sections so that we know we’re heading towards some kind of resolution but we’re not at all sure what it might be. Both are engaging and likeable characters, each very different from the other, yet they complement each other well. I found myself rooting for them as the novel follows the entirely believable trajectory of their relationship.Cover iumage for The Rachel Incident by Caroine O'Donoghue

Set largely in 2010, Caroline O’Donoghue’s The Rachel Incident is a witty coming-of-age story about the eponymous Rachel and her friend, James, who share a dilapidated house in Cork. When he spots her crush on her professor, James sets about helping her to act on it but things take a rather different and surprising turn. O’Donoghue tells her story from Rachel’s perspective, looking back on a very different Ireland from the one she visits in 2022, where women must travel to England for abortions, and same sex relationships are still largely under wraps. She vividly evokes the hothouse atmosphere of intense friendship when two young people click and fall into a kind of platonic love.

Cover image for Service by Sarah GilmartinSet in 2017, the year of #MeToo, Sarah Gilmartin’s Service follows a celebrity chef faced with rape accusations, his wife who’s chosen not to examine his behaviour too closely and a young woman still dealing with the fallout from the toxic culture over which he presided. Hannah recalls the pleasure of being picked out by Daniel and her discomfiture with the restaurant’s misogynistic atmosphere. Daniel is full of pride at his achievement, an egotism fostered by celebrity and the hierarchical working practices in which the chef rules the roost. Julie’s narrative is addressed to Daniel, recalling the many compromises she and their sons have made for him. Gilmartin’s acerbic, incisive novel makes abundantly clear that it’s not just movie moguls whose predatory behaviour needs to be checked.Cover image for Lazy City by Rachel Connolly

A young Irish woman comes home to Belfast from London, grieving the death of her best friend in Rachel Connolly’s Lazy City. Erin spends her evenings in the bar where an old friend works, meeting an American academic who’s also at a loss. ‘Lazy City explores coming of age in a place where everyone is picking up the pieces and belongs to a generation that, at the precipice of climate crisis, isn’t going to get the future it was expecting. A startlingly fresh and original voice – jarringly funny, sometimes cranky, often hungover – Rachel Connolly sharply depicts the strange, meandering aftermath that follows disaster’ says the blurb which sounds like an interesting take on a well-worn theme.

Cover image for The Fraud by Zadie SmithZadie Smith’s first historical novel, The Fraud is set in 1873 and follows Mrs Eliza Touchet, a woman of many interests and strong opinions who, along with the rest of the nation, is transfixed by the Tichborne Trial. Roger Tichborne was thought to have drowned but someone has turned up purporting to be him. Andrew Bogle, who grew up enslaved on a Jamaican sugar plantation, is an important witness in the trial which will decide the validity of the claim for the Tichborne baronetcy. ‘Based on real historical events, The Fraud is a dazzling novel about truth and fiction, Jamaica and Britain, fraudulence and authenticity, and the mystery of ‘other people” says the blurb promisingly although I’m not sure it met with quite the acclaim that Smith’s contemporary novels have.Cover iumage for Roman Stories by Jhumpa Lahiri

Written in elegant, precise language, Jhumpa Lahiri’s exquisite collection, Roman Stories was one of my books of 2023. Lahiri’s stories are suffused with a quiet empathy for characters who are often living far away from their family or have reached the middle of a life marked by loss or discontent. The experience of well-heeled professionals contrasts with economic and political migrants, often homesick and struggling to pay the rent. It’s a gorgeous collection which meets the extraordinarily high bar set by Whereabouts, one of my 2021 favourites.

That’s it for June. 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.

21 thoughts on “Paperbacks to Look Out For in June 2024: Part Two”

  1. A crop of young Irish writers in the mix again. Sarah Gilmartin’s book has been receiving very good reviews. I like Zadie Smith’s books, but have not got to this one yet, and wonder if its overcomplicated – the plotline appears to be so. Thanks for suggestions.

    1. You’re welcome, Lucy. I’ve gone off the boil with Zadie Smith’s writing over the years so will probably not read this one. Interesting, though, that she’s turned her hand to historical fiction.

  2. Ah so I’ve got the paperback release of Service via netgalley. I had mixed feelings about The Fraud but in many ways it’s a very impressive novel.

  3. How would you say that Okay Days fits with Sally Rooney’s writing about young people and relationships? I’ve read and enjoyed Lahiri’s stories recently, which you commented on already, and I’ve had Zadie Smith’s novel in my stack (but it was due back before I got to it unfortunately…I appreciate her writing, particularly her essays, but I also know what you mean about how deeply satisfying those earlier novels were…hard to compare).

    1. Oh, that’s an interesting comparison. Rooney has the edge, for sure, but Mustard’s characters are less angst-ridden. Lahiri can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned which no doubt as jinxed her next publication for me! I may try the Smith but I suspect without much enthusiasm.

  4. The Zaide Smith sounds rather fascinating, it’s a long time since I read anything by her. I particularly love the sound of those Jhumpa Lahiri stories, she’s such a good writer.

  5. I bought The Fraud when it appeared on the longlist for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction but didn’t get around to reading it before the shortlist was announced. It didn’t make it through so it’s still sitting unread on my bookshelf. I am still interested though because it would be the first book of hers I’ve read.

    1. I’ve enjoyed several of her books including her debut, White Teeth. This one’s quite a departure for her. I’d be interested to know what you think, Cathy.

  6. Thanks for the reminder about Lahiri’s collection, which is nestling somewhere in my TBR bookcase. I must get to it soon! Of the others here, The Rachel Incident will appeal to some of my subscription readers, and Okay Days sounds promising too. A good month. 🙂

  7. jenniferbeworr

    Well done, as ever, and I’ll look forward to the reviews of those you decide to go for!

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