Category Archives: Random thoughts

Books of the Year 2019: Part Three

Cover image This third instalment covers two months of what was a passably good summer here in the UK beginning with an unexpected treat in July. If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll have gathered that Kate Atkinson is one of my favourite writers. In September 2018 we were treated to Transcription then less than a year later Big Sky saw the return of Jackson Brodie after a hiatus of nine years. Jackson’s living in a cottage in his native Yorkshire looking after his teenage son while Julia, Nathan’s mother, finishes off the latest in the TV police procedural series in which she stars. It’s not long before Jackson becomes embroiled in a case that encompasses historical sex abuse, modern day slavery and people trafficking. As with the previous four Brodie novels, Big Sky tackles social issues with a sharp wit and dry humour. Fingers crossed that the BBC have Jason Isaacs lined up for an adaptation.

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s debut, Harmless Like You, was one of my books of 2016. I loved it for its poignancy leavened with wry humour, and for the striking images shining brightly from its pages. That same deft writing is evident in Starling Days which follows Mina and Oscar from New York to London where Oscar is hoping Mina will find some distraction from what ails her. Buchanan’s compassionate, empathetic novel explores the effects of mental illness from both sides of a relationship, switching perspectives between Mina and Oscar. It lays bare both the sheer exhaustion of living with the constant worry of what a beloved partner might do to themselves and the relentless debilitation of a disordered mind. Achingly sad at times, it’s an affecting, clearly heartfelt piece of fiction. Fingers crossed it will win the Costa Novel Award for which its been shortlisted.

Four August favourites, the first of which is set against the backdrop of the Bauhaus, the German art school whose designs I’ve long admired and whose centenary year this was. Naomi Wood’s The Hiding Game begins in 1922 with the admission of six students whose lives will become inextricably bound, telling theirCover image story through Paul whose memories are brought vividly into focus by the death of Walter, both friend and enemy. Written in the form of a confessional, it’s a story fraught with betrayal, jealousy and a tortured form of love, a tragedy in which the appalling events of Nazi Germany are personalised. It’s a smart, accomplished piece of fiction, through which Wood lightly weaves her meticulous research.

The next three novels are all published by small publishers although Paul Lynch’s Beyond the Sea is from Oneworld who’ve  bagged not one but two Booker Prizes in the last few years. Written in that spare, pared-back style which I so admire, this intense novella explores themes of faith, madness, survival and existential crisis through the story of two fishermen cast adrift after a dreadful storm. Hector and Bolivar are thrown upon themselves and each other in order to survive. As a bond forms between them, each begins to tell the other about their lives, their secrets and their fears but while Hector sees faith as their saviour, Bolivar puts his trust in resourcefulness.

My second small publisher, Charco Press, is a comparatively new kid on the block, set up to champion Latin American literature in the English-speaking world. Argentinian writer Selva Almada’s The Wind That Lays Waste is the tale of an encounter between a charismatic evangelist and the mechanic who spends much of a long hot day mending his car. Pearson and Gringo are each other’s antithesis: one a passionate believer in God and himself as God’s instrument; the other an atheist, dismissive of religion. As the day wears on, Pearson spots an opportunity resulting in a confrontation which reaches its climax as the skies crack open and the storm breaks. Almada unfolds her story in short chapters written in plain yet evocative often poetic prose, anchoring it in the parched Argentinean outback. The result is a striking, thought-provoking piece of fiction

High summer finished with a collection of short stories whose lovely jacket caught my eye on Cover imageTwitter. Comprising seventeen pieces, Chloe Turner’s Witches Sail in Eggshells is about relationships – with partners, exs and partners of exs, rivals and even old schoolmates – some with disturbing undercurrents, all delivered in nicely polished, insightful prose. There’s not one dud amongst them but you don’t have to take my word for it: the tiny Reflex Press have cleverly put one of Turner’s stories, ‘The Hagstone’, on their website for all to read.

Sadly, the end of my literary summer’s on the horizon and with it the advent of winter although autumn offered some gorgeous colours to distract me from the inevitable. The last quarter of 2019 turned up some of the best titles of the year for me including the story of a family told through the history of their house, the welcome return of Olive Kitteridge and an art heist which is very much more than that. All the above titles link to a full review on this blog should you want to know more, and if you’d like to catch up with the first two quarters they’re here and here.

Books of the Year 2019: Part Two

Cover imageEarly summer, which seems so very long ago now, was packed with literary goodies for me, particularly May which began with A Stranger City, Linda Grant’s portrayal of a post-referendum London through a set of disparate characters brought together by their connection with a woman whose body has been pulled from the Thames. Each character’s story is subtly woven through the others’ into a bright tapestry – some of it ragged and frayed – of a city Grant clearly loves but about which she’s deeply concerned. Her book reveals a London which is always in flux, shaping and reshaping itself to fit the constant flow of people drawn to it – a Brexit novel if ever there was one. I ended Part One by saying I’d try to avoid politics in the next instalment but as you can see, I’ve already failed.

Flotsam, May’s second favourite, is by Meike Ziervogel, the founder of Peirene Press. Set on the German coast in the 1950s, this strange, unsettling book is a beautifully expressed exploration of the legacy of war and the grief it brings through the story of a young girl and her mother. Told in often lyrical yet spare, clean prose, first from Trine’s perspective then Anna’s, it’s the briefest of novellas yet it provokes more thought than many books three times its length. Far from an easy read but certainly a rewarding one, Ziervogel’s book leaves much for readers to deduce and is all the better for it.

Vesna Main’s Good Day? sported the second jacket I fell in love with this year, fitting its book as perfectly as the gloriously pink cover of Aylet Gundar-Goshen’s Liar, which popped up in Part One. Always a joy when publishers use an image which is both strikingly original and appropriate. Main’s Good Day? recounts a daily conversation between a Writer and her Reader, who is also her husband, describing the progress of her novel about a couple whose marriage is strained to breaking point. It’s such a clever piece of writing and a daring one, too. To write a novel almost entirely in dialogue and carry it off as well as Main does requires quite a degree of chutzpah. Thoroughly deserving of its place on this year’s Goldsmiths Prize shortlist.

May’s last choice is much more straightforward, a piece of fictionalised biography which introduced me to a someone I’d never come across but who turned out to be an internationally popular figure. Eva Meijer’s Bird Cottage is based on the life of Len Howard who, aged forty, threw up her life as a violinist in London and took herself off to Sussex to pursue her lifelong passion for birds, determined to devote herself to researching their habits. Using simple, clean prose, Meijer lets her subject tell own story, weaving through it observations of Star, one of Howard’s favourites. A delightful book, the story of a true English eccentric.

June began with another piece of fictionalised biography by Jill Dawson who often chooses that form for her work. When I read that The Language of Birds was based on the notorious Lord Lucan affair my heart sank but far from being a rehash of the infamous murder replete with the usual speculation as to Lucan’s fate, Dawson’s book reimagines the story from the nanny’s perspective. Her careful, compassionate and compelling novel honours Sandra Rivett’s memory, tipping the balance away from a media which reduced her to ‘the lovely young nanny’ rather than a vibrant young woman with a life of her own. For me, it’s one of Dawson’s best, and that’s saying something after The Crime Writer, a wonderful piece of literary fan fiction starring Patricia Highsmith.

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The first half of 2019’s books of the year ends with Craig Cliff’s The Mannequin Makers, an inventive and imaginative piece of storytelling which takes its readers from 1902 to 1974 with a tale of castaways and mannequins, the like of which had never been seen before. Not just one story but several nested within each other, this is a novel haunted by madness and grief with more than a touch of the gothic brightened with moments of humour. Absolutely gripping – I loved it.

All of the above are linked to my reviews here if you’d like to know more. Part Three takes us into high summer with the return of Jackson Brodie after a nine-year hiatus, a tale of love, jealousy and betrayal in the Bauhaus and another beautiful jacket, perfect for its book’s contents. If you missed the first quarter on 2019’s favourites and would like to catch up, it’s here.

Paperbacks to Look Out For in December 2019

Cover imageJust about enough paperbacks for a December post starting with a book I wasn’t entirely sure I’d read and ended up loving. I thought Meet Me at the Museum might be a little too sentimental for my cynical literary heart but Anne Youngson’s novella proved me wrong. It’s made up of letters between Tina, who is mourning her best friend, and, Anders, the Danish museum curator she contacts about an Iron Age man preserved in peat whose discovery captivated the two friends when they were schoolgirls. Tina and Anders’ characters are beautifully drawn. Each is enduring a quiet loneliness, each is dealing with grief yet there are unexpected joys to share. Rather than the schmaltzy piece of fiction I’d feared, it’s a quiet contemplation of the power of love and a reminder that change is possible at any stage of life.

Given that it’s billed as a thriller, I’d probably not have included Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing had it not been popping up on various blogs I’ve read for what feels like years. It’s set in a small, North Carolina coastal town in 1969 where the discovery of a man’s corpse sees a beautiful young woman, living alone out on the marshes, coming under suspicion. Described as ‘a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder’ by the publishers, it doesn’t sound entirely up my alley but I know I’ve read some excellent reviews of it. If only I could remember where, I might be able to explain what it was about the novel that snared my interest.

Nuruddin Farah’s North of Dawn sounds much more my kind of thing. A Somali couple have lived quietly for years in Oslo until their jihadi son’s widow arrives from Somalia with her two children. ‘A nuanced quietly devastating family soap opera’ according to the New York Times which sounds just the ticket for this time of the year.Cover image

I’m rounding off this tiny handful of paperbacks with Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s Crossing Borders. The title alone would have been enough for me to take notice but apparently, it’s a collection of essays and short stories about translation from a wide range of authors including Primo Levi, Joyce Carol Oates and Lydia Davis. Sounds excellent.

A click on a title will take you to my review for Meet Me at the Museum and to a longer synopsis for the others. If you’d like to catch up with December’s new novels they’re here. Next stop January. Hard to believe we’re almost at the end of another year…

Books to Look Out For in December 2019

Cover imageJust enough new novels in December to fill a post, two of them in translation beginning with Annette Hess’ The German House, set against a backdrop of the 1963 Frankfurt war crimes trials. The war’s a dim memory for 24-year-old Eva, keen to start her new life with her wealthy fiancé. When an American investigator offers her a job as a translator, she finds herself questioning both her family’s role in the horrors of the past and her own future. Hess’ novel is one of three published to launch, HarperVia, a new literature in translation imprint from HarperCollins. Always happy to see more of that and if It Would Be Night in Caracas is anything to go by it’s a list to keep an eye on. That’s a stylish jacket, too.

Anne Catherine Bomann’s Agatha was a bestseller in Germany, apparently, but was originally published in Denmark. A 71-year-old psychiatrist with no family or friends is eagerly awaiting retirement when a young German woman walks into his clinic and demands an appointment. He finds her fascinating, beginning a joint course of therapy with her which forces him to confront his fear of intimacy according to the blurb which sounds very promising to me.

Angela Meyer’s Joan Smokes is a mere 76 pages, apparently, more a short story than a novella although it won this year’s Mslexia Novella Award. Set in the ‘60s, it’s about a woman who arrives in Las Vegas determined to reinvent herself. Calling herself Joan, she gets to work on her appearance – choosing red lipstick and dying her hair – but turning her back on her past may not be so easy. ‘This city of flashing neon, casinos and shows is full of distractions. Finding a job will be quick and easy. Things to do. New people to meet. A clean sheet. She’s certainly not thinking about Jack, or … No. Not any more. Her new life starts right here, right now’ says the blurb. I rather like the sound of this one.

I’m finishing the last new title post for 2019 with Etaf Rum’s A Woman is No Man. Eighteen years Cover imageafter her mother left Palestine, betrothed within a week, Deva finds herself facing a string of suitors in Brooklyn, arranged by her formidable grandmother whose care she has been in since her parents were killed in a car crash. Shocking truths are revealed, apparently, forcing Deva to question everything she thought she knew about her family. ‘Three generations of Palestinian-American women living in Brooklyn are torn between individual desire and the strict mores of Arab culture in this heart-wrenching story of love, intrigue and courage’ say the publishers. The New York Times described it as ‘a love letter to storytelling’.

As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Paperbacks soon…

The Sunday Times/ University of Warwick Young Writer Award 2019 Shortlist

Sunday Times Young Writer Award 2019Last year I was lucky enough to be asked to shadow judge the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award along with Amanda, Lizzi, Paul and Lucy. It was such an enjoyable experience, both reading the shortlisted titles – all very different, all more than worthy of the award – and meeting other bloggers plus, of course, the authors. This year another five bloggers will be taking a turn and I hope their experience is as rewarding as ours. Announced yesterday, this year’s shortlist looks just as enticing, made up of two novels, one short story collection and one book of poetry. Here they are:

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The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield

Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler

Testament by Kim Sherwood

It’ll be a tough choice for both the sets of judges, I suspect. If you’d like to keep up with what the shadow judges are up to you can follow their posts via the links below or on Twitter using  #YoungWriterAwardShadow.

Anne Cater at Random Things Through My Letter Box

David Harris at Blue Book Balloon

Linda Hill at Linda’s Book Bag

Clare Reynolds at Years of Reading Selfishly

Phoebe Williams at The Brixton Bookworm

The shadow judges will annouce their winner on 28th November followed by the judges a week later. The prize will be awarded at the London Library on Thursday, December 6th. Good luck to all and have fun!

Paperbacks to Look Out For in November 2019

A mere handful of November paperbacks after a very satisfying two-part new title preview, but all four look pretty enticing to me beginning with Walter Kempowski’s Homeland which opens in 1988, the year before the fall of the Berlin Wall. A journalist living in West Berlin is commissioned to write a piece about the former East Prussia where he was born in 1945 as refugees fled the Russian advance. ‘Homeland is a nuanced work from one of the great modern European storytellers, in which an everyday German comes face to face with his painful family history, and devastating questions about ordinary Germans’ complicity in the war’ say the publishers.

Marie Benedict’s The Only Woman in the Room is about a woman whose fate was also decided by the Second World War. Hedy Lamarr, as she came to be known, fled the Hitler regime and landed up in Hollywood where her beauty secured her future. A scientist by training, Lamarr had learnt secrets about the Nazis at the side of her Austrian arms dealer husband and had devised an idea to help defeat them. ‘A powerful novel based on the incredible true story of the glamour icon and scientist whose groundbreaking invention revolutionised modern communication, The Only Woman in the Room is a masterpiece’ according to the publishers. It sounds a little improbable but intriguing nevertheless.

Poverty is the enemy in Alessandro D’Avenia’s What Hell is Not, set in Sicily where seventeen-year-old Federico is asked to help at a youth club in a destitute neighbourhood controlled by the Mafia. While the children of Brancaccio lack Federico’s privilege, their spirit and will change his life forever, apparently. ‘Written in intensely passionate and lyrical prose, What Hell Is Not is the phenomenal Italian bestseller about a man who brought light to one of the darkest corners of Sicily, and who refused to give up on the future of its children’ says the blurb which sounds distinctly cheering.

One man looks set to make a difference in a negative way in Jeffrey Lewis’ Bealport which sees a financier buying the New England factory where his favourite shoes are made. The sale will have a profound effect on the people of Bealport for whom the factory provides both livelihood and community. ‘Bealport is a portrait of a place, at once sympathetic, mordant, unsparing, comic, tragic and universal, and of a way of life that is passing. It is a novel of a town, and to no small degree of every town in America and beyond’ according to the blurb which sounds right up my street.

That’s it for November’s paperbacks. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that have taken your fancy, and if you’d like to catch up with new titles, they’re here and here. If past performance is anything to go by there will be very few books to look out for in December, but you never know…

Books to Look Out For in November 2019: Part Two

Cover imageBack from Portugal – more of which next week – with part two of November’s preview which has its feet firmly placed in Europe with one novel set in Norway, two in Germany, one in France and two in the UK. Let’s work our way south, starting in a remote small town in northern Norway where a single mother has forgotten her young son’s birthday. Hanne Orstavik’s Love follows the separate journeys of Jon, as he sets off to sell lottery tickets for his sports club, and Vibeke, who heads off to the local library and a fairground, in what the publishers are calling ‘an acknowledged masterpiece of Norwegian literature’, and they’re quite right. Gorgeous jacket, too. Review to follow.

Nana Oforiatta Ayim’s  The God Child takes us to Germany where Taiye Selasi Maya grows up aware of her parents’ difference. One Christmas her cousin arrives, spinning stories about Ghana, colonialism and its fallout, awakening Maya to the reasons why her parents might be the way they are. When, as a young woman, Maya is reunited with her cousin in Ghana, she finds him troubled. ‘Her homecoming will set off an exorcism of their family and country’s strangest, darkest demons. It is in this destruction’s wake that Maya realises her own purpose: to tell the story of her mother, her cousin, their land and their loss, on her own terms, in her own voice’ say the publishers of what they’re calling ‘a brave reinvention of the immigrant narrative’ which sounds right up my alley.

We’re staying in Germany for Amanda Lee Koe’s Delayed Rays of a Star in which a photographer captures Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong and Leni Riefenstahl in a single photograph at a Berlin party in 1928. Koe’s novel follows the three women through their careers and private lives. ‘In the murky world these women navigate, their choices will be held up to the test of time. And the real question is, how much has anything changed? This fierce and exquisite debut Cover imageabout womanhood, ambition, and art, played out against the shifting political tides of the twentieth century, introduces a mesmerizing new literary talent for our times’ according to the publishers which sounds very tempting to me.

Heading across the border to France for Marie NDiaye’s The Cheffe about the daughter of a  poor family in Sainte-Bazeille who displays a remarkable talent for cooking when she grows up, even dreaming in recipes. An acknowledged genius in the kitchen, the Cheffe is intensely private, refusing to reveal the name of her daughter’s father when she gives birth.  Despite the sucess of her restaurant, her relationship with her daughter becomes so fraught it threatens to destroy her career, apparently. I have a weakness for novels set in restaurants and about food hence the appeal of this one.

Off to London for Jane Rogers’ Body Tourists set in a small private clinic. The bodies of the teenage poor are being used to rejuvenate the old and rich willing to pay the price. ‘It’s an opportunity for wrongs to be righted, for fathers to meet grandsons, for scientists to see their work completed. Old wine in new bottles’ according to the publishers. Not entirely convinced about this one. I usually avoid dystopian fiction but Jane Rogers is a writer whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past, not least her last novel, Conrad and Eleanor back in 2016.

Cover imageI’m finishing this second part of November’s preview with Scarlett Thomas’ welcome return to adult fiction, Oligarchy, set in an English boarding school where the daughter of a Russian oligarch is finding it hard to fit in. Then her friend disappears plunging her into a dark world. It seems a very long time since The Seed Collectors so hopes are high for what the publishers are calling a ‘fierce new novel about power, privilege and peer pressure’.

That’s it for November’s new titles. A click on any that take your fancy will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more, and if you’d like to catch up with the first batch, it’s here. Paperbacks soon…

Books to Look Out for in October 2019: Part Two

Cover imageOctober’s first batch of new titles began with several novels bound up with art. This second instalment kicks off with a couple of cinematic connections starting with The Crossed-Out Notebook by Nicolás Giacobone who co-wrote the screenplay for Birdman. An Argentinean screenwriter is imprisoned in a basement by a director determined that his captive will produce a world-changing screenplay. Every evening, the writer crosses out his writing from the previous night. ‘The clash between the two men and their different approaches leads to a movie being made, a gun going off, an unlikely escape, and a final confrontation. In the end, The Crossed-Out Notebook is a darkly funny novel full of intrigue and surprise about the essence of the creative process; a short, crazy ode to any artist whose brilliance shines through strangeness and adversity’ say the publishers which sounds promising to me.

I’m sure Werner Herzog has never indulged in a spot of kidnapping or coerced his screenwriting son, Rudolf, whose short story collection Ghosts of Berlin is my next choice. Herzog’s stories are all set in Kreuzberg, the city’s gentrified hipster district, which formed the border between the old East and West. They offer what the publishers are calling a ‘macabre and madcap vision of Berlin… … conjuring tech bros, acid-tripping artists, and forsaken migrants, each encountering the ghosts of the city’s complicated past’. Intriguing.

We’re staying in Berlin with Adrian Duncan’s Love Notes from a German Building Site which tells the story of Paul, a young Irish engineer who has followed Evelyn to the city and begins work on Cover imagerenovating a building in Alexanderplatz. ‘Set against the structural evolution of a sprawling city, this meditation on language, memory and yearning is underpinned by the site’s physical reality’ according to the publisher. I rather like the sound of that, and Berlin is an irresistible setting for me since visiting the city.

Mahir Guven’s Older Brother takes us over the border to France with its story of a Franco-Syrian family trying to find a way to integrate. The taxi-driving father and his eldest son are pitted against each other when the son takes up work with an app-based car service. Meanwhile the youngest son joins a Muslim humanitarian organization, helping wounded civilians in Syria and returning a changed man.Guven alternates between an ironic take on contemporary society and the gravity of terrorist threats. He explores with equal poignancy the lives of “Uberized” workers and actors in the global jihad’ say the publishers of a book much acclaimed in France, apparently.

We’re moving on to London and back to the ‘80s with Emma Forrest’s Royals. Unsure of his sexuality, eighteen-year-old Steven ends up in hospital after being beaten up by his father. There he meets the glamourous, anarchic Jasmine, an heiress from a very different background to his own. Their mutual love of fashion leads to friendship, opening up a hedonistic life of glittering parties for Steven. ‘Devastating, dazzling, queer and radical, Royals is a love story between unlikely friends from completely different worlds. It’s about the power of art to transform lives and the power of families to destroy them. It’s about working out who you are and what you want’ according to the publishers which sounds like a good read to me.

Cover imageI’m rounding off October with Pursuit, a collection of short stories compiled by Alex Preston with contributions from the likes of Max Porter, Kamila Shamsie Daisy Johnson, Michael Donker and David Szalay to name but a few. These are stories that ‘tell of determination, endeavour and perseverance against the odds. They range across wildly different contexts and cultures, from the epic to the intimate, in fiction and non-fiction, illustrating and illuminating the outer limits of human character and achievement’ say the publishers which sounds enticing enough even without that roll call of literary names.

That’s it for October’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 the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks soon…

Books to Look Out for in October 2019: Part One

This October sees a nicely varied selection of tempting new titles on offer including one by an author whose name I’ve been hoping to spot in the publishing schedules for some time. I loved Mary Costello’s quietly beautiful Academy Street, one of my books of 2014. Her new novel, The River Capture, is about a man whose solitary existence is interrupted when a young woman knocks at his door, presenting him and his family with a dilemma. ‘This is a novel about love, loyalty and the raging forces of nature. More than anything, it is a book about the life of the mind and the redemptive powers of art’ say the publishers promisingly.

Neil Hegarty’s The Jewel sounds as if it’s also about art, although possibly not its redemptive powers. The final work of a woman who committed suicide hangs in a Dublin gallery, a piece she’d intended as her shroud. A collector covets it so much he’s prepared to pay to have it stolen. Hegarty’s novel follows the thief he commissions, the curator who loves the piece and the man charged with recovering it. ‘The lives of these three damaged people, each evoked with a calm, moving sympathy reminiscent of Michael Cunningham or David Park, come together around the hauntingly strange Victorian painting’ say the publishers, whetting my appetite nicely. I enjoyed Hegarty’s debut, Inch Levels, very much.

There’s something of a theme emerging here. In Jon Fosse’s The Other Name a widowed ageing painter is looking back on his life. Asle lives on the west coast of Norway and has just two friends – his neighbour and his gallerist who lives in Bjorgvin as does another Asle who is also an ageing painter leading a very different life. ‘Written in hypnotic prose that shifts between the first and third person, The Other Name calls into question concrete notions around subjectivity and the self. What makes us who we are? And why do we lead one life and not Cover imageanother?’ It’s the doppelganger idea that intrigues me with this one which is the first in a trilogy, apparently.

There’s geographical link rather than an artistic one to Lars Saabye Christensen’s Echoes of the City which has been hailed a Norwegian masterpiece. It charts the changes in an Oslo neighbourhood through its inhabitants as the city emerges from wartime austerity. ‘The minutes of the local Red Cross meetings give an architecture to the narrative of so many lives and tell a story in themselves, bearing witness to the steady recovery of the community. Echoes of the City is a remarkably tender observation of the rhythms and passions of a city, and a particular salute to the resilience of its women’ according to the publishers which sounds very inviting.

Years ago, in the very early days of this blog, I reviewed Susan Fortes’ Waiting for Robert Capa which introduced me to Gerda Taro, an unsung hero of war photography. Helena Janeczek’s The Girl with the Leica is also about Taro, telling her story through several characters attending her funeral held on what would have been her twenty-seventh birthday and placing it firmly in the context of the time. ‘Gerda Taro is at the heart of this kaleidoscopic novel but another of its main characters is the era itself, the 1930s, with economic depression, the rise of Nazism, hostility towards refugees in France, the century’s ideological warfare, the cultural ferment, and the ascendency of photography as the age’s quintessential art form’ say the publishers. I’m very pleased to see such attention devoted to Taro who, I was annoyed to discover, is barely given a mention at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Centre which we visited in Budapest.

Cover imageI’m sure Zadie Smith would have shared that annoyance. I’m rounding this first October batch off with Grand Union, her first published collection. Smith’s stories take us from the last day of an Antiguan immigrant’s life in 1959 to a meditation on the nature of desire to a policeman in disgrace, apparently. ‘Moving exhilaratingly across genres and perspectives, from the historic to the vividly current to the slyly dystopian, Grand Union is a sharply alert and prescient collection about time and place, identity and rebirth, the persistent legacies that haunt our present selves and the uncanny futures that rush up to meet us’ say the publishers which sounds good to me.

As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you be interested. Part two to follow soon.

That’s it from me until the end of the week. I’m off to see a friend who lives in Holmfirth in Yorkshire where I believe there’s a spanking new indie bookshop…

Paperbacks to Look Out for in September 2019

Cover imageSadly, paperbacks on offer this September are as disappointing as new titles for me. Just the smallest of handfuls appeals, one of which I’ve already read, I owe my short story conversion largely to Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women. Given that she died in 2004, I’d assumed that was it and so was delighted when Evening in Paradise turned up. Comprising twenty-two stories, it lacks the more detailed biographical notes included in A Manual for Cleaning Women but it’s clear that it also draws on her own life and what a rackety life it was: several marriages, four children and alcoholism followed a peripatetic childhood spent in mining towns with a brief glamorous teenage period in Chile. Even if you’re not a short story fan, please do give Berlin’s writing a try. It’s superb.

Lidia Yuknavitch’s Dora: A Headcase is billed as a coming-of-age story which draws on Freud’s famous case study of the eponymous young woman. Ida is secretly in love with her best friend but is struck dumb or faints whenever intimacy appears on the horizon. Her father sends her to a shrink but Ida, together with her alter ego, Dora, sets about subverting Siggy’s head games by covertly filming him. The result goes viral and Ida finds herself the victim of hackers.  ‘Yuknavitch’s Dora is radical and unapologetic – you won’t have met a character quite like her before’ say the publishers. It sounds intriguing.

I do like a good satire but one which deals with war is  tricky to pull off. The Guardian Cover imageclearly thought that Mohammed Hanif managed it with Red Birds, naming it one of their books of last year. An American pilot crashes his plane in the middle of the desert and is taken in by the very refugee camp he was supposed to bomb. Major Ellie finds his views turned upside down by both refugees and aid workers, by the sound of it, in what the publishers describe as a ‘savage, irreverent and deliciously dark’ novel.

And that, I’m afraid, is it for September. A click on Evening in Paradise will take you to my review and to a more detailed synopsis for the other two. If you’d like to catch up with new titles, they’re here. With publishers’ marketing eyes firmly fixed on Christmas, I’m sure October will offer a plethora of potential goodies to make up for September’s dearth. At least, I hope so.