Category Archives: Random thoughts

Paperbacks to Look Out for in June 2018: Part Two

Cover imageThis second batch of June paperbacks begins with a book from a favourite author. Comprising nine stories, two of them pleasingly lengthy, William Boyd’s The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth ranges from a philandering art dealer who gets his comeuppance to a novelist fleeing eviscerating reviews who bumps into one of his worst maulers and spots an opportunity for revenge. There’s much to enjoy here, not least the thread of humour reminiscent of the comedy in Boyd’s earlier work. Both writing and film feature but it’s the art barbs that are the most satisfying reminding me of the Nat Tate trick he and David Bowie pulled off back in the ’90s. Well worth reading even for those who aren’t short story fans.

Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko was one of last year’s literary bestsellers no doubt prompting the re-issue of Free Food for Millionaires which I remember reading and enjoying when it was first published here in the UK eleven years ago. It’s about Casey Han, the daughter of working-class Korean immigrants, whose years at Princeton have left her with a decent education and a set of expensive habits but no job. She and her parents both live in New York but they inhabit very different worlds. ‘As Casey navigates an uneven course of small triumphs and spectacular failures, a clash of values, ideals and ambitions plays out against the colourful backdrop of New York society, its many layers, shades and divides…’ say the publishers. I remember Casey as a particularly endearing character.

Roland Buti’s Year of the Drought tells the story of the Sutters who have farmed the same patch of Swiss land for many years but for whom the events of the long hot summer of 1976 will prove momentous. Thirteen-year-old Gus spends the summer holidays helping his father and his cousin Rudy who has Down’s Syndrome. When a young woman turns up, clad in a long patchwork dress and spouting hippie ideas, Rudy becomes besotted but it’s Gus’ mother who’s the object of Cécile’s attentions. Buti unfolds his story from Gus’ perspective as he looks back on the dramatic events of that summer.

In contrast to the Sutters Josephine’s life is spent almost entirely indoors in Helen Cover image Phillips’ gripping parable, The Beautiful Bureaucrat. Unemployed for many months, Josephine is offered a job by an oddly faceless bureaucrat with a nasty case of halitosis. All she has to do is input the relevant date for each ID-number in a constantly replenished pile of files. When she sees a newspaper listing casualties from a plane crash whose names seem familiar she begins to think about what her work means. Phillips’ strange compelling novella unsettles from the get-go. Not one for readers currently engaged in repetitive, seemingly pointless bureaucratic employment.

That’s it for June’s paperbacks. A click on a title will take you to a longer synopsis for Free Food for Millionaires and to my review for the other four novels should any have snagged your interest. If you’d like to catch up with the first part of the paperback preview it’s here. New titles are here and here.

Paperbacks to Look Out for in June 2018: Part One

Cover imageFewer paperbacks than I’d expected for June, which may come as a relief to some of you, but still rather too many to keep to just one post. I’ll start with André Alexis’ The Hidden Keys, a funny, clever and intricately plotted piece of storytelling full of puzzles within puzzles involving an honourable thief, a rich beyond imagining junkie and a treasure hunt. It’s a hugely enjoyable novel, a good old-fashioned caper which twists and turns in a baroque fashion as its many conundrums unfold. Highly recommended, particularly for fans of Robin Sloan’s Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and Scarlett Thomas’ The Seed Collectors.

Back in 2001, I was very taken with a novel called Pages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg. It was a love story, telling of the intense almost visceral affair between seventeen-year-old Flannery and her teacher Anne, ten years her lover’s senior. Pages for Her is its sequel written sixteen years later in which Flannery is married to a bombastic, self-centred yet affable sculptor. She’s surprised to be invited to a conference on women’s writing but as soon as she sees Anne’s name on the schedule, she’s determined to accept. What will happen when these two women meet after so many years? While not as riveting as its precursor, Pages for Her is well worth a read.

Phil Harrison’s The First Day is also about an intense affair beginning when pastor and family man Samuel Orr meets Anna, a young Beckett scholar. When Anna becomes pregnant their affair is made public with disastrous results. Thirty years later their son lives in New York, turning his back on his childhood and family until ‘the past crashes inevitably into the present, and Sam is forced to confront the fears he has kept close for decades’ according to the blurb. That New York lure is undeniable but it’s also an attractive premise.

The past also comes back to haunt in Elanor Dymott’s Silver and Salt, apparently. Ruthie’s father has Cover imagerecently died, prompting her return to his remote Greek villa from which she has been excluded for fifteen years. She and her elder sister settle into a sort of happiness, putting their dark childhoods behind them until the arrival of an English family and their daughter ’triggers a chain of events that will plunge both women back into the past, with shocking and fatal consequences. Devastating in its razor-sharp exploration of a tragic family legacy, Silver and Salt is the story of two sisters, bound by their history and driven to repeat it’ according to the publisher aiming it squarely at the summer reading market with that jacket.

That’s it for the first part of June’s paperback preview. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for The First Day and Silver and Salt, and to my review for the other two should any of them take your fancy. If you’d like to catch up with June’s new titles they’re here and here. Second batch soon…

Books to Look Out for in June 2018: Part Two

Cover imageWhereas there was no contest for my first June selection’s lead title, two novels jostle for that position in the second. Tim Winton wins by a whisker with The Shepherd’s Hut. Jaxie Clackton has long since put home behind him when a dramatic event leaves him with nothing, catapulting him into a journey across the arid Western Australian wilderness. ‘Fierce and lyrical, The Shepherd’s Hut is a story of survival, solitude and unlikely friendship. Most of all it is about what it takes to keep hope alive in a parched and brutal world’ say the publishers. A new book from Winton is always something to look forward to for me.

Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City met with tidal waves of critical acclaim in 2016 and deservedly so. Crudo is her much-tweeted-about first novel. Just turned forty, Kathy is coming to terms with the idea of a lifelong commitment against a backdrop of mad Trump tweets and post-referendum Britain, wondering if it’s worth the effort. ‘A Goodbye to Berlin for the 21st century, Crudo charts in real time what it was like to live and love in the horrifying summer of 2017, from the perspective of a commitment-phobic peripatetic artist who may or may not be Kathy Acker . . .’ say the publishers somewhat intriguingly given that Acker died in 1997.Cover image

The protagonist of Caoilinn Hughes’ debut Orchid and the Wasp also seems to be dealing with personal and global crises. The daughter of a wealthy dysfunctional family, Gael is finding her way around the London club scene and New York’s art world as the Occupy movement gains momentum. ‘Written in heart-stoppingly vivid prose, Orchid & the Wasp is a modern-day Bildungsroman that chews through sexuality, class and contemporary politics and crackles with joyful fury and anarchic gall’ say the publishers which sounds a little frenetic. Hughes is an award-winning poet which is always a lure for me.

Winding back to the scorching Los Angeles summer of 1965, A. G. Lombardo’s Graffiti Palace follows African-American graffiti artist Americo Monk as he tries to make his way home through the race riots sparked by the arrest of Marquette Frye. Monk maps his route using the intricately depicted identity tags on the streets, recorded in a notebook that both cops and gangs are eager to get their hands on. ‘Bursting at the seams with memorable characters – including Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, sewer-dwelling crack dealers and a legendary Mexican graffiti artist no-one’s even sure exists – Graffiti Palace conjures into being a fantastical, living, breathing portrait of Los Angeles in 1965’ say the publishers a little dramatically but perhaps justifiably so.

Cover imageI’m rounding off this selection of June titles as it began with another author whose books I’ve enjoyed. Rupert Thomson’s Never Anyone but You is based on the true story of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore who meet and fall in love in early twentieth-century small town France. Moving to Paris, they immerse themselves in the world of Hemingway and Dali, producing a series of avant-garde photographs. On the eve of war, they flee to Jersey where their anti-Nazi propaganda puts their lives in danger. ‘Never Anyone but You explores the gripping true story of two extraordinary women who challenged gender boundaries, redefining what it means to be a woman, and ultimately risked their lives in the fight against oppression. Theirs is a story that has been hidden in the margins of history’ according to the publishers which sounds fascinating.

That’s it for June’s new titles. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more and if you missed the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks soon…

 

Books to Look Out for in June 2018: Part One

Cover imageIt’s often tricky to decide which title should lead these previews but not this time. Written when she knew her death was imminent, Helen Dunmore’s gorgeously jacketed short story collection Girl Balancing, and Other Stories explores family ties, motherhood friendship and grief. ‘Capturing the passion, joy, loss, longing and loneliness we encounter as we navigate our way through life, each story sets out on a journey, of adventure, new beginnings, reflection and contemplation. With her extraordinary imagination and masterful storytelling, Girl, Balancing & Other Stories offers us a deep insight into the human condition and our place in history’ say the publishers and I’ve no doubt they’re right. Dunmore’s characteristic empathy and perception shone through her quietly graceful writing.

Hard to follow that but I’ve chosen a writer whose work I think Dunmore may have enjoyed, although it’s very different from her own. In Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion a young student is taken up by a prominent feminist and finds herself treading a very different path from the one she’d expected to be on. ‘Expansive and wise, compassionate and witty, The Female Persuasion is about the spark we all believe is flickering inside us, waiting to be seen and fanned by the right person at the right time, and the desire within all of us to be pulled into the light’ say the publishers, promisingly. I’ve long been a fan of Wolitzer’s novels, reviewing The Interestings here way back in 2013. Cover image

Kenji Tanabe, the protagonist of Thomas Bourke’s The Consolation of Maps, also finds himself on a surprising path by the sound of it. Tenabe sells antique maps in a prestigious Tokyo gallery but is presented with an unexpected offer of a job in America working for a woman who has never recovered from the death of her lover. ‘Moving across countries and cultures, The Consolation of Maps charts an attempt to understand the tide of history, the geography of people and the boundless territory of loss’ say the publishers which sounds interesting if a little woolly.

Quite a brave move to make your first novel a fictionalised account of Truman Capote’s career, focussing on the ‘literary grenade’ he threw into the circle of  socialite confidantes who had entrusted him with their gossip and secrets but that’s what Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott has done in Swan Song. ‘A dazzling debut about the line between gossip and slander, self-creation and self-preservation, SWAN SONG is the tragic story of the literary icon of his age and the beautiful, wealthy, vulnerable women he called his Swans’ say the publishers confidently although Paula at BookJotter begs to differ.

I’m bookending this first batch of June titles with a second collection of short stories, also with a splendid cover. This one comes from Joseph O’Neill, author of the much-lauded Neverland. Good Trouble’s characters are brought face to face with both who they are and who they will never be, apparently. ‘Packed with O’Neill’s trademark acerbic humour, Good Trouble explores the maddening and secretly political space between thoughts and deeds’ say the publishers, whetting my appetite.

That’s it for the first batch of June goodies. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you be interested. Second selection soon…

 

Six Degrees of Separation – from The Poisonwood Bible to The Eyre Affair #6Degrees

Six Degrees of Separation is a meme hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. It works like this: each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the others on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month we’re starting with Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. Drawing on her own childhood experiences with her missionary family in Africa, it’s the book that made her name but I much prefer her earlier novels.

Another Barbara whose novels I’ve enjoyed is Barbara Trapido whose Noah’s Ark is about a scatty single mother who falls for Noah, her polar opposite, but a decade later finds herself drawn back into her complicated past. I’m not entirely sure it would stand up to a second reading.

Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark became Schindler’s List for Stephen Spielberg’s blockbusting adaptation. I was told by the publisher’s rep that Americans did not know what an ark was hence the renaming which sounds a wee bit far-fetched not to mention insulting to me.

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron takes a somewhat starker view of the Holocaust with the story of a Polish concentration camp survivor married to a Jewish intellectual in Brooklyn and haunted by a dreadful secret.

The eponymous fourteen-year-old in Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World is led through a history of Western philosophy by a mysterious mentor and a multitude of postcards posing riddles in this international bestseller which was one of the first crossovers between young adult and adult book buyers that I remember from my bookselling days.

A description that could also be applied to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time about fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone who has Asperger’s syndrome and whose world is thrown into chaos by the discovery of his neighbour’s murdered dog.

The Boone family live in Swindon as does Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next, detective extraordinaire, who first made her appearance in The Eyre Affair which sees Thursday determined to get a whole series of literary characters back on their rightful pages. One of those books that has you constantly sniggering, annoying everyone within earshot.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from missionary work in Belgian Congo to fantastical literary conundrums in Swindon. Part of the fun of this meme is comparing the very different routes other bloggers take from each month’s starting point. If you’re interested, you can follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #6Degrees, check out the links over at Kate’s blog or perhaps even join in.

My Blog’s Name in Books

This meme was the brainchild of Fictionophile although I spotted it at Lisa’s ANZ Litlovers blog and was very taken with it. I’ve a feeling mine was much quicker to put together than Lisa’s as she has over 1,000 books in her TBR which has made me feel so much better about my own. Thank you, Lisa.

The rules are:

  1. Spell out your blog’s name
  2. Find a book from your TBR that begins with each letter. You cannot add books from another source other than your shelves.
  3. Have fun looking through your shelves finding books that meet the criteria.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

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Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

Insomniac City by Bill Hayes

Fifteen Dogs by Andrë Alexis

Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates

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Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta

Next Year, for Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson

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Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain

Old Buildings in North Texas by Jen Waldo

Oneiron by Laura Lindstedt (transl. Owen Witesman)

Karate Chop by Dorothe Nors (transl. Martin Aitken)

Silence in October by Jens Christian Grøndhal (transl. Anne Born)

No links to my own reviews, obviously, but a click on a title will either take you to a more detailed synopsis or a review on another blog if you’d like to know more. Coincidentally, Karen at Bookertalk has posted one of these today. Anyone else fancy joining in?

Paperbacks to Look Out for in May 2018: Part Two

Cover imageI’ve read just one of this second selection of May paperbacks – Dorthe Nors’ Mirror, Shoulder, Signal which picked up a bit of attention when it was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize. It sees fortysomething Sonja attempting to learn to drive, something she feels she really should have done some time ago, while failing to find a place for herself in the world. Nothing much happens in Nors’ sharp, very funny novella. Sonja stumbles from perplexity to perplexity, occasionally making stands, constantly finding herself out of step with everyone else until one day she has an epiphany.

With her pleasing eccentricities, Sonja wouldn’t be out of place in one of the seven stories comprising Haruki Murakami’s Men Without Women if past performance is anything to go by. Each of them bears many of the hallmarks no doubt familiar to fellow fans – ’vanishing cats and smoky bars, lonely hearts and mysterious women, baseball and the Beatles’ – promises the publishers who also quote the author on writing short stories in the book’s blurb: ‘I find writing novels a challenge, writing stories a joy. If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writing short stories is more like planting a garden.’

Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Gravel Heart will no doubt be rather more sombre than Murakami’s stories. It moves between revolutionary Zanzibar in the 1960s and 1990s London, following writer Paradise Salim whose happy childhood is disrupted by his father’s departure from his brother’s house where the family has been living. ‘Evoking the immigrant experience with unsentimental precision and profound insight, Gravel Heart is a powerfully affecting story ofCover image isolation, identity, belonging and betrayal, and is Abulrazak Gurnah’s most dazzling achievement’ say the publishers. Gurnah’s By the Sea remains one of the most powerful depictions of exile I’ve read.

I’m hoping for some light relief with Katherine Heiny’s Standard Deviation after that. It’s about modern marriage, a second marriage to be precise. Graham is charmed by the fun-loving, spontaneous Audra but tired out by her. When his first wife turns up again, Graham finds himself in a quandry: ’How can anyone love two such different women? Did he make the right choice? Is there a right choice?’ ask the publishers which doesn’t sound entirely up my street and there’s every possibility that I’ve been persuaded to look at it by Twitter, something I’ve had cause to regret in the past. We’ll see.

Francesca Segal’s The Awkward Age also tackles modern family life through Julia who has fallen in love with James. All looks set for happiness but their teenage children put several spanners in the works. ‘Uniting two households is never easy, but the teenagers’ unexpected actions will eventually threaten everyone’s hard-won happiness’ say the publishers which, once again, sounds a little outside my usual literary purview but I enjoyed Segal’s The Innocents very much

Cover imageI’m ending this preview with a book by an author whose first novel is still sitting on my shelves unread although it is now the next in line. Paula McGrath’s A History of Running Away follows three women: one wanting to box at a time when boxing is illegal for women in Ireland; the second contemplating a job offer but wondering if she can bring herself to abandon her mother in her nursing home; and a third who takes up with a biker gang as a means of escape. ‘A History of Running Away is a brilliantly written novel about running away, growing up and finding out who you are’ say the publishers, promisingly.

That’s it for May. A click on a title will take you to my review for Mirror, Shoulder, Signal and to a more detailed synopsis for the other titles. If you’d like to catch up with the first batch of May’s paperbacks they’re here, new novels are here and here.

Paperbacks to Look Out for in May 2018: Part One

Cover imageI seem to start most of these posts with promises of many treats, or potential treats, on the paperback horizon and May’s no exception with publishers not yet assuming that we’ve put our brains away in preparation for summer reading.

At the top of May’s goodie list for me is Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From which appeared on both my books of 2017 list and my Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 wish list. A mere 140 pages long – barely that given its fragmentary structure, some paragraphs no more than a sentence –  it’s the story of a London submerged by flood from which our unnamed narrator, her husband and her newborn son flee for their lives. It’s a highly ambitious debut but Hunter carries it off beautifully – flashes of humour shine out, her use of language is captivating, the risky structure tackled with great confidence and it ends on a ringing note of much-needed optimism.

Catherine Lacey’s The Answers is a caustic satire which takes a distinctly dystopian view of relationships, our obsession with celebrity and the seemingly inexorable march of technology into even our most private moments. It’s about a scientific study commissioned by movie star to investigate what makes us fall in love and stay that way. Desperate for money, Mary enrolls in The Girlfriend Experiment as Emotional Girlfriend alongside Angry Girlfriend, Maternal Girlfriend and Mundane Girlfriend, to name but a few. The ensuing shenanigans skewer the contemporary pursuit of the perfect partner in a novel which lives up to its Margaret Atwood puff.

Technology comes in for a bashing in The Chalk Artist which sees Allegra Goodman contrasting the world of gaming with the older more established one of literature. Despite her antipathy to it, Nina prods Collin into a job in her father’s business which designed the game that Cover imageconsumed his teenage years. As Nina struggles to imbue her students with a love of literature, Collin is pulled further into Arkadia with its playground offices and exacting taskmasters. Meanwhile, sixteen-year-old games-obsessed Aidan has been given a black box which opens up a virtual reality game to him. The Chalk Artist is an absorbing, all too believable read but I preferred Goodman’s previous novel, The Cook Book Collector, which explores similar thematic territory.

I had a similar reaction to Jennifer Egan’s first historical novel Manhattan Beach to which I had been looking forward very much having enjoyed A Visit from the Goon Squad. Beginning in the Great Depression, it tells the story of Anna Kerrigan, who has learned to fend for herself after the disappearance of her beloved father, and Dexter Styles who may be able to tell her what has happened to him. Anna is assigned to work in the shipyards during the Second World War but manages to argue, cajole and doggedly train her way onto the all-male diving programme while still trying to find answers to the mystery of her father’s disappearance. It’s an accomplished, enjoyable piece of fiction but all stitched in a little too neatly for me – to say more on that would be to give too much away.

I’m hoping Claire Messud’s The Burning Girl won’t continue the disappointment trend after the excellent The Woman Upstairs. Her new novel looks at female friendship through two women who have been friends since nursery school but whose paths diverge leaving one of them feeling cast aside. ‘Disturbed, angry and desperate for answers, she sets out on a journey that will put her own life in danger, and shatter her oldest friendship. Compact, compelling, and ferociously sad, The Burning Girl is at once a story about childhood, friendship and community, and a complex examination of the stories we tell ourselves about childhood and friendship’ say the publishers which sounds right up my street.

I’m ending this selection with Jamie Ford’s Love and Other Consolation Prizes which I’m not at all sure about largely because of the cover which looks somewhat soapy to me but I like the sound of the premise. At the 1909 Seattle World’s Fair Ernest, a half-Chinese boy, is raffled off as a prize and ends up working in a brothel where he falls in love with the daughter of its madam. In 1962, on the eve of the new World’s Fair, Ernest looks back at his past while his daughter attempts to unravel her family’s story. Quite an eye-catching synopsis but it I’m still not convinced by that jacket.

That’s it for the first batch of May paperback delights. A click on any of the first four will take you to my review and to a more detailed synopsis for the other two should you want to know more. If you missed May’s new titles, they’re here and here. Second batch of paperbacks shortly…

Books to Look Out for in May 2018: Part Two

Cover imageMore than once I’ve proclaimed myself not to be a thriller fan on this blog, usually before going on to review one, so it may seem surprising that several of the books in the second part of May’s preview appear to have a definite thread of suspense running through them beginning with Rachel Edwards’ Darling which has cropped up frequently recently in my neck of the Twitter woods. It seems to be a spin on the old stepmother/daughter trope. Lola is unwilling to have much to do with her new stepmother who’s only been with her father for three months. Darling’s not so fond of Lola either but she is of her dad and so has to put up with his teenage daughter. Lola, it seems, has other plans. That may sound a little hackneyed but what spices this premise up a little is that Lola is white and Darling is black.

The synopsis for Melanie Finn’s The Underneath reminds me a little of Elizabeth Brundage’s All Things Cease to Appear which I enjoyed very much. A journalist and her children are left in their rented Vermont farmhouse when her husband is called away. Kay becomes convinced that something dreadful has happened in the house and enlists the help of a local man who is wrestling with his own demons just as she is with hers. ‘The Underneath is a tense, intelligent, beautifully written thriller which is also a considered exploration of violence, both personal and national, and whether it can ever be justified’ say the publishers.Cover image

Louise Levene’s Happy Little Bluebirds is set in 1940s Hollywood with recently widowed Evelyn, fresh from her mundane life in Woking. Evelyn is to help persuade an Anglo-Hungarian producer to create war propaganda but when she arrives she finds her contact has been called to Bermuda leaving her to fend for herself. ‘Happy Little Bluebirds has all the allure, glamour and intrigue of a golden age Hollywood film. Packed with meticulous historical research which is handled with a light, deft touch, Louise Levene brings her acerbic, whip-smart wit to a glittering period in recent history’ says the publishers which sounds great and I enjoyed Levene’s debut, The Following Girls, very much.

Alison Moore has quietly gained a growing following for her atmospheric novels. Her new one, Missing, is set in the Scottish Borders to where Jessie Noon has moved. Her husband walked out a year ago and she hasn’t seen her son for years, leaving her free to begin a relationship with a local man until she begins to receive messages. ‘This is a novel about communication and miscommunication and lives hanging in the balance (a child going missing, a boy in a coma, an unborn baby), occupying the fine line between life and death, between existing and not existing’ say the publishers which seems like an awful lot going on but Moore’s writing makes it well worth investigating.

Cover imageRounding off May’s new title preview is Janice Pariat’s The Nine-Chambered-Heart which sounds more like a collection of linked short stories but is billed as a novel. Nine characters tell the story of one woman’s life from their own points of view, ranging from her art teacher to the female student who comes to love her. That’s a catnip structure for me but what seals the deal is the blurb’s description of ‘gem-like chapters’ in ‘deeply intimate, luminous and fine-boned novel that explores the nature of intimacy and how each connection you make forms who you are’.

A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that take your fancy and if you’d like to catch up with part one it’s here. Paperbacks soon…

Books to Look Out for in May 2018: Part One

Cover imageThere are several juicy looking short story collections on offer in May, three of which I’m including in the first part of this preview kicking off with the excellent Curtis Sittenfeld’s You Think It, I’ll Say It which explores both the ineptitude some people display in reading others and our ability to deceive ourselves, apparently. ‘Sharp and tender, funny and wise, this collection shows Sittenfeld’s knack for creating real, believable characters that spring off the page, while also skewering contemporary mores with brilliant dry wit’ say the publishers whetting my appetite further.

Sittenfeld fans will remember her brilliant depiction of a First Lady, based on Laura Bush, in American Wife which leads me neatly to Amy Bloom’s White Houses, set in 1933 when President Franklin Roosevelt and his wife move into the presidential residence. Bloom’s novel explores the relationship between Lorena Hickock, the celebrated journalist who accompanied them, and Eleanor Roosevelt. ‘Filled with fascinating back-room politics, the secrets and scandals of the era, and exploring the potency of enduring love, it is an imaginative tour-de-force from a writer of extraordinary and exuberant talent’ say the publishers. That alone would pique my interest but I’m a huge fan of Bloom’s writing, from her short stories to novels like Lucky Us, so I have high hopes for this one.

Geir Gulliksen’s Story of a Marriage also puts a relationship under the microscope as a husband whose wife has fallen in love with another man after twenty years together tries to understand the disintegration of their marriage from her point-of-view. ‘Intense, erotic, dramatic, raw – Story of a Marriage examines two people’s inner lives with devastating and fearless honesty. It is a gripping but slippery narrative of obsession and deceit, of a couple striving for happiness and freedom and intimacy, but ultimately falling apart’ according to the publishers which sounds very ambitious to me but definitely worth a look.

Back to short stories for Christine Schutt’s Pure Hollywood. ‘Schutt’s sharply suspenseful and masterfully dark interior portraits of ordinary lives are shot through with surprise and, as Ottessa Moshfegh has it, “exquisitely weird writing”’ say AndOtherStories who are publishing this collection as part of their response to Kamila Shamsie’s provocation exhorting publishers to release only books by women. ‘Exquisitely weird’ could go either way for me.Cover image

I’m bookending this post with the third short story collection of the month from the late master of the craft. William Trevor’s Last Stories comprises ten pieces described by the publishers as ‘exquisite, perceptive and profound’ and for once I won’t be arguing with their superlatives. This will undoubtedly be a treat to savour for all who treasure quietly understated, elegantly lyrical prose.

That’s it for the first instalment of May’s new novels. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you wish to know more. Part two to follow at the end of the week with not a short story collection in sight.