Tag Archives: Anne Enright

Books to Look Out For in February 2020: Part One

Cover imageFebruary may be the shortest month but it’s jam-packed with potential literary goodies. This first instalment is pretty well all about women beginning with Jenny Offil’s Weather which sounds very much like a novel for our times. Librarian Lizzie Benson is asked by her old mentor to take on the job of answering the mail from her podcast’s listeners. Hell and High Water attracts both Left and Right, each with something to say and say it vociferously. ‘As she dives into this polarized world, she begins to wonder what it means to keep tending your own garden once you’ve seen the flames beyond its walls’ says the blurb. It’s a long time since Dept. of Speculation which I enjoyed very much.

Which can also be said of Carol Anshaw’s Carry the One although I read that so long ago that I can remember little about it other than that I liked it. Her new novel sees a woman in her early forties whose comfortable, if unconventional, world is shattered when she witnesses an act of violence. ‘Right After the Weather explores what happens when two worlds collide. Written with astonishing insight into the nuances of human nature, this is a beautifully observed and compassionate novel about love, trauma and the reverberations of our actions’ say the publishers promisingly.

Curtis Rye’s debut Kingdomtide sees another woman undergo a trauma. Seventy-two-year-old Chloris Waldrip is the sole survivor of an air crash in 1986, lost in the Montana wilderness with little or no hope of seeing her Texan home again. Debra Lewis is the park ranger, still bruised from her messy divorce, who assembles the raggle-taggle search party to find her. Suspenseful, wry and gorgeously written Kingdomtide is the inspiring account of two unforgettable characters, whose heroism reminds us that survival is only the beginning’ say the publishers temptingly but it’s the praise from Ron Rash, one of my favourite writers, that seals the deal for me.

Not so much heroism as everyday events seem to be the subject of Miranda Popkey’s debut,Cover image Topics of Conversation, which follows one woman over two decades through the conversations she has with other women, from confidantes to strangers, chronicling her own life through their stories. ‘Full of the uncertainty of the present and the instability of the past, sizzling with enigmatic desire, it is a seductive exploration of life as a woman in the modern world, of the stories we tell ourselves and of the things we reveal only to strangers’ according to the publishers. It’s a daring structure for a debut but a very attractive one for me.

Elisa Shua Dusapain’s Winter in Sokcho takes us to a tourist town on the border between South and North Korea where a young French Korean woman is working in a guesthouse. A French cartoonist, intent on discovering the real Korea, asks her to act as his guide revealing a beautiful country very different from the tawdry Sokcho. ‘An exquisitely-crafted debut, which won the Prix Robert Walser, Winter in Sokcho is a novel about shared identities and divided selves, vision and blindness, intimacy and alienation. Elisa Shua Duspain’s voice is distinctive and unmistakable’ according to the publishers, and it does sound very promising.

We’re staying in South Korea for Cho Nam-Joo’s Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 around which there’s already a great deal of brouhaha, if my Twitter timeline is anything to go by. A bright young woman, hard-working and exemplary, Kim has been forced into second place all her life by a patriarchal society which borders on institutionalised misogyny. Hard to make out much more from the blurb but it comes highly recommended by the likes of Sayaka Murata, author of Convenience Store Woman, who described it as ’a book about the life of a woman living in Korea; the despair of an ordinary woman which she takes for granted. The fact that it’s not about ‘someone special’ is extremely shocking, while also being incredibly relatable.’ It went down a storm in South Korea, apparently.

Cover imageYou could say I was saving the most anticipated until last, although Jenny Offil’s Weather offers some stiff competition even for a new Anne Enright novel. Told to us by her daughter, Actress is the story of Katherine O’Dell whose fame became notoriety when she committed a bizarre crime, apparently. ‘Brilliantly capturing the glamour of post-war America and the shabbiness of 1970s Dublin, Actress is an intensely moving, disturbing novel about mothers and daughters and the men in their lives. A scintillating examination of the corrosive nature of celebrity, it is also a sad and triumphant tale of freedom from bad love, and from the avid gaze of the crowd’ say the publishers, whetting my appetite nicely.

That’s it for the first part of February’s preview. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis if you’d like to learn more. Second batch soon which will roam far and wide, and may even include a few men.

Books to Look Out For in May 2015

Cover imageBack from sunny Spain on Saturday to a UK where spring has most definitely sprung. More of that later in the week but here’s a taster of things to come next month to be going on with and there are three absolute corkers to look forward to in May’s list. Let’s start with the jewel in the crown which you may well know about already given how much pre-publicity there’s been for it: Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins, a companion volume to the wonderful Life After Life. I’m still mystified as to why that hasn’t been garlanded with prizes, but then, what do I know. A God in Ruins, interweaves Ursula Todd’s younger brother Teddy’s experiences as a bomber pilot with his life lived into the twenty-first century. To an extent it sounds a little like a state of the nation novel but don’t expect a straightforward linear narrative.

An exponent of that elegant, pared-back writing that the Irish seem to excel at, Anne Enright has a new novel out in May. The Green Road is about the Madigan family of County Clare. When their mother decides it’s time to sell the family home and divvy up the proceeds between her four children they return from all over the world to spend one last Christmas in the house they grew up in.

Jane Smiley’s Early Warning is set in similar territory, picking up the story of the Langdons Cover image in the second in her Last Hundred Years trilogy. It opens in 1953 at a funeral attended by Rosanna and Walter’s sons and daughters, all grown up with children of their own. Some Luck was among the best books I read last year so I’m looking forward to this middle volume which takes the family into the 1980s. I gather that the third will be appearing not long after this one.

Still in North America but moving on to Canada, Sarah Leipciger’s The Mountain Can Wait has been compared to Margaret Atwood by no less than Nickolas Butler, author of the sublime Shotgun Lovesongs. I imagine that’s a mixed blessing when you’ve only just published your first novel. It’s about a father trying to track down his son in the Canadian Wilderness after a terrible accident, and so enamoured am I with Mr Butler’s writing that a claim extravagant enough to bring out the old cynic in me has still made me want to read it.

The GracekeepersAnd finally, my last choice for May is actually an April title: Kirsty Logan’s The Gracekeepers which was brought forward a little in the publishing schedules. Her short stories are so highly rated by several people whose opinions I trust that I didn’t want to miss it out. It’s set in a flooded world in which sails a circus boat, home to North who dances with her bear in return for food. Callanish is a gracekeeper, tending the graves on an island in the middle of the sea. When these two are thrown together by a storm they are irresistibly drawn to each other but find may obstacles in their way. Perhaps a little fantastical for my usual taste but I’ve been promised some very fine writing and what a wonderfully eye-catching jacket.

That’s it for May. As ever, a click will take you to Waterstones website for a fuller synopsis. Here are my April hardback choices if you’d like to catch up with those. Such were the splendours of April paperback offerings that I’ve posted on them twice – here and here.

What’s in a genre? A reprise

Catching the train home after Philip French’s fascinating Fifty Years as a Film Critic talk on Cover imageSaturday we had ten minutes to spare at the station. I walked into W H Smiths and H gave a barely audible sigh. Now that I’m no longer a reviews editor I think he’d got it into his head that I might get the TBR pile under control.  Ron Rash’s Nothing Gold Can Stay caught my eye immediately. How could I not know about a new novel from Mr Rash? The Cove was one of the best things I read last year. Along with Kent Haruf, Rash’s pared down, spare prose is right up my alley. I grabbed a copy along with M L Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, paid and headed for the train. Once ensconced, I took a closer look at the book and the penny dropped – it’s a collection of short stories. My turn to sigh this time. I know that there are many readers out there who think that the short story is a superior form to the novel and in terms of skill I can see their point but I struggle to work up the same kind of eager anticipation that I have for a favourite author’s novel. Perhaps it’s because I read too fast so that the stories tend to blur into one another, then I forget them. Or perhaps it’s because I like to be drawn into a narrative and dislike being dumped at the end of ten pages. Whatever it is, I realise it’s my loss, and I have read some excellent collections – Annie Proulx’s Close Range comes to mind as does Polly Sampson’s Perfect Lives. Anyway, the Rash is now on the TBR shelves.

The Forgotten WaltzYesterday I finished The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright, no slouch herself when it comes to short stories. It’s about an affair between a young woman and an older man set in Dublin just before and after the 2008 crash.  The affair follows the usual trajectory – flirtation, passion, living together, disenchantment – which makes it sound like tens of other books you may have read before but Enright’s style is such that Gina Moynihan’s recollection of how she and Seán Valleley came together and apart engages absolutely. She catches the Dublin lilt perfectly so that Gina’s voice sings out. Even the chapter headings are slightly cheesy song titles giving the whole thing a nicely wry, self mocking tone. Wonderful stuff!