Tag Archives: Andrew O’Hagan

Paperbacks to Look Out For in January 2016: Part 2

Cover imageAnother very tasty batch of paperback treats to keep  the dreary British winter at bay, kicking off with a writer who seems very underrated to me. Christine Dwyer Hickey’s The Lives of Women tells the story of Elaine who has come back to Ireland where her widowed father is wheelchair-bound after surgery. She’s lived in New York since she was sixteen but this is only her second visit home. Hickey slowly unfolds the tale of what lies behind Elaine’s long absence as she looks back to the 1970s and the tragedy that overshadowed her last Irish summer. Dwyer’s writing is quite beautiful – spare yet lyrical. If you haven’t yet read anything by her I hope you’ll give this one a try.

Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days tells the story of another woman looking back to a summer in the ‘70s but is entirely different. Peggy is the daughter of a German concert pianist and an English man. Ute is about to go on tour for the first time in many years while James and his North London Retreater friends play at being survivalists. After a murderous row with one of them, James tells Peggy that they are off on holiday to ‘die Hütte’ where Ute will meet them later. After a summer of repairing the derelict hut James delivers some devastating news: the rest of the world has been destroyed. It’s a wonderfully inventive, very powerful novel. I gather that Fuller has a new one in the works, to be published late 2016/early 2017. A treat to look forward to.Cover image

Judith Claire Mitchell’s A Reunion of Ghosts is another tale of a supremely dysfunctional family written in the form of a memoir which is to be the suicide note of the remaining Alters. Lady, Vee and Delph have grown up imbued with the knowledge of the family curse. Their great-grandfather Lenz first synthesised chlorine gas, used in the First World War. Both he and his wife Iris committed suicide, as did their son Richard unable to live with the misery of guilt by association. The third generation continued the family tradition. Now it’s the turn of the fourth then something entirely unexpected happens. Not to everyone’s taste, I suspect, but I thoroughly enjoyed this funny, irreverent novel.

I’m looking forward to Andrew O’Hagan’s The Illuminations set several years on from 2001. Anne, once a documentary photographer, meets her beloved grandson, a captain with the Royal Western Fusiliers and fresh from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Both have secrets which begin to emerge, taking them on a journey back to the old Blackpool guesthouse where Anne once had a room. I haven’t read an O’Hagan for some time but this one sounds interesting.

Cover imageI’m not at all sure about this last choice: T. Geronimo Johnson’s Welcome to Braggsville. The Washington Post called it ‘The most dazzling, most unsettling, most oh-my-God-listen-up novel you’ll read this year’ but it’s a book which I suspect will resonate much more with American readers than with British. When D’aron Davenport inadvertently reveals that his small Southern town plays host to a Civil War Reenactment every year, his liberal fellow students see red and descend on Braggsville to stage a dramatic protest. ‘A literary coming-of-age novel for a new generation, written with keen wit, tremendous social insight and a unique, generous heart, Welcome to Braggsville reminds us of the promise and perils of youthful exuberance, while painting an indelible portrait of contemporary America.’ say the publishers. Certainly worth investigating.

Quite an embarrassment of riches for January, in all. As ever, if you’d like more detail a click on the first three will take you to my review and to Waterstones website for the second two. If you’d like to catch up with the first batch of paperbacks they’re here, and  the hardbacks are here and here.

That’s it from me for a week or so. A very happy Christmas to you all. I hope it will bring you a least something that you’d like, be it a book, time with family and friends or perhaps a little to yourself.

Books to Look Out For in February 2015

A Spool of Blue ThreadFebruary is my least favourite month: dank, drizzly weather here in the UK; little or no colour in the garden; countryside bedraggled and grubby looking – ugh, I hate it. It’s not always a sparkling month in the publishing schedules, either, although given all the above there’s plenty of encouragement to stay indoors reading. This year, however, there’s a huge treat in store: Anne Tyler’s new novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, her twentieth. Abby and Red Whitshank live in the house Red’s father built in the 1930s. It’s where they brought up their four children, all of whom have assembled to help decide what Abby and Red  will do in old age, and what will happen to their beloved family home. Secrets, rivalries and tensions – all the bagage of family life – come into play as Tyler unfolds their story. If previous Tylers are anything to go by this will be a beautifully nuanced, acutely observed piece of fiction. And what a brilliant jacket.

Nicci Cloke’s Lay Me Down is about a very different stage of life. Eight months after their first kiss Jack and Elsa have moved to San Francisco from London after Jack secures his dream job working on the Golden Gate Bridge but he finds himself obsessed with thoughts of the Jumpers, suicides who make their leap from the bridge. Cloke’s narrative explores both Jack and Elsa’s past before they met – their failed relationships and mistakes – asking the question is their relationship strong enough to withstand their regrets. Handled well, this could be an absorbing read, and it’s a paperback original – always a plus.

Richard Bausch’s Before, During and After is also set in relationship territory, this time against the backdrop of 9/11. Michael and Natasha are apart when the Towers come down – Natasha in Jamaica where she suffers her own trauma and Michael in New York. Bausch explores the effect of both events on their love affair and whether it can survive. The tragedy that struck New York in 2001 seems an irresistible theme for a multitude of novelists and I might well have dismissed this one as just another 9/11 novel but I enjoyed Bausch’s Peace so much that I’m prepared to give it a go. For my money, the best novel written about 9/11 is Amy Waldman’s The Submission in which a woman, widowed in the attack, fiercely defends the architect picked to design its memorial when his Muslim identity is revealed. Let’s see if Bausch can better that.

Several years on from 2001, Andrew O’Hagan’s The Illuminations sees Anne, once a documentary photographer, meet her beloved grandson, a captain with the Royal Western Fusiliers and fresh from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Both have secrets which begin to emerge, taking them on a journey back to the old Blackpool guesthouse where Anne once had a room. I haven’t read an O’Hagan for some time but this one sounds interesting.

Last year I read John Ironmonger’s The Coincidence Authority which explored the human need to make sense of coincidence through a sweet love story. There were a few ‘here’s the science’ moments but I enjoyed it enough to try Not Forgetting the Whale in which a young man is washed up at St Piran in Cornwall, stark naked and convinced that his computer program, which is predicting an oil crisis, a virulent disease and a Middle East conflict, is about to plunge the world into a banking collapse – some of which sounds horribly familiar. Not entirely convinced but we’ll see.

I’m also a little unsure about Laird Hunt’s Neverhome but apparently Paul Auster’s a big fan so who am I to be sceptical. It follows the fortunes of Gallant Ash, American Civil War soldier, leader of men, legendary figure – and a woman, secretly, of course. Sounds intriguing.Our Endless Numbered Days

One of my weekly treats is Claire Fuller’s post at her flash fiction site where she uses a photograph as a starting point for the shortest of short stories. They’re often thought-provoking, occasionally funny and have sometimes fed into her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, apparently. It’s set in 1976 when Peggy Hillcoat is eight and happy. Her survivalist father takes her from London to a remote cabin in a wood somewhere in Europe and tells her the world has disappeared. I have great hopes for this one.

That’s it for February which I hope will be brighter than my doomy expectations. If you want a fuller synopsis of any of these titles a click will take you to Waterstones website.