Tag Archives: Books published in April 2020

Books to Look Out For in April 2020: Part Two

Cover imageThis second instalment of potential April goodies begins with Kirstin Innes’ Scabby Queen which spans over half a century following the career of Clio Campbell who kills herself three days after her fifty-first birthday whereupon she becomes a posthumous heroine for our age. Taking in the miners’ strike, an anarchist squat, the Genoa G8 protests, the poll tax riots and Brexit ‘Scabby Queen is a portrait of a woman who refuses to compromise, told by her friends and lovers, enemies and fans’ according to the publishers which sounds very promising to me.

Set in Japan, Stephanie Scott’s What’s Left of Me is Yours has an intriguing premise: the employment of an agent to seduce a spouse in order to provide grounds for divorce in the employer’s favour. Based on a real case, Scott’s debut tells the story of one such agent who falls in love with his target. She moves in with him after her divorce, unaware of what he’s done. Truth will out, though, as it so often does. Wakaresaseya, as it’s known, is a thriving industry in the Japanese underworld, apparently.

Gangsters are feature in Juan Pablo Villalobos’ I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me narrated by a Mexican student with the same name as its author. He’s about to take up a scholarship in Spain when he’s kidnapped in a bookshop and tasked with inducing the daughter of a corrupt politician to fall in love with him in order to save his cousin’s life. ‘Exuberantly foul-mouthed and intellectually agile, this hugely entertaining novel finds the light side of difficult subjects – immigration, corruption, family loyalty and love – in a world where the difference between comedy and tragedy depends entirely on who’s telling the joke’ says the blurb which sounds splendid to me.

Souvankham Thammavongsa’s debut collection How to Pronounce Knife is about the daily lives of refugees and immigrants, from an ex-boxer turned Cover imagenail salon worker to a mother and daughter harvesting earthworms by night. ‘Uncannily and intimately observed, written with prose of exceptional precision, the stories in How to Pronounce Knife speak of modern location and dislocation, revealing lives lived in the embrace of isolation and severed history – but not without joy, humour, resilience, and constant wonder at the workings of the world’ promise the publishers of what sounds like an excellent set of short stories. That title, alone, is enough to make me want to read this one.

C. Pam Zhang’s debut, How Much of These Hills Is Gold, is one of those debuts garlanded with so much praise from literary household names it must feel like a mixed blessing for a new author. So much to live up to. In this case Sebastian Barry, Emma Donoghue and Daisy Johnson are just three of the writers who love Zhang’s book. The story of two orphans carrying their father’s body on their backs as they walk through a bleak landscape looking for somewhere to bury him, it’s described asa sweeping adventure tale, an unforgettable sibling story and a remarkable novel about a family bound and divided by its memories’. I have to confess, it’s that catalogue of starry names that’s swung this one for me.

Which may also be the case with Kawai Strong Washburn’s Sharks in the Time of Saviours, much praised by Sarah Moss, one of my favourite authors. Seven-year-old Nainora Flores is saved from drowning by sharks prompting his impoverished family to see it as a sign from the Hawaiian gods but as he and his siblings grow up, economic reality bites and they’re forced to look for work on the US mainland. ‘With a profound command of language, Washburn’s powerful debut novel examines what it means to be both of a place, and a stranger in it’ according to the publishers.

Cover ImageI first came across Dorthe Nors when I read her novella, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2017. Her crisp, plain style coupled with an undercurrent of humour hit the spot for me. I’m hoping for more of that with her short story collection, Wild Swims, which seems to be all about not quite connecting or choosing not to connect by the sound of it. ‘Dorthe Nors shines a light into forgotten corners and conjures darkness where it’s least expected. Her characteristic sharpness and sense of humour is ever-present, catching us when the melancholy threatens to come too close. Love, cruelty, friendship, and loneliness are all here, in these stories that brim with life’ promise the publishers whetting my appetite further.

That’s it for April’s new novels. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that have snagged your attention and if you’d like to catch up with the first batch it’s here. Paperbacks soon…

 

Books to Look Out For in April 2020: Part One

Cover imageI’m beginning to sound like a broken record, although in a good way, introducing yet another preview as full to bursting with potential goodies beginning with Anne Tyler’s Redhead By the Side of the Road billed as ‘an offbeat love story’. Micah sounds a bit of an eccentric. Odd yet fondly regarded by family and friends, he’s quite content with his life until his partner tells him she’s to be evicted because of a cat. Then a teenager knocks on his door claiming to be his son further discombobulating him. ‘Redhead by the Side of the Road is an intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who sometimes finds those around him just out of reach – and a love story about the differences that make us all unique’ say the publishers. A new Tyler is always cause for celebration for me.

Haleh Agar’s debut, Out of Touch is also about ambivalent family reunions by the sound of it. A woman is knocked down by a man who visits her in hospital, bringing her flowers in apology together with the letter she dropped when she fell. Her brother has received the same letter in New York telling him that their estranged father is dying and wants to see them both. ‘With sharp wit and sensitivity, Out of Touch is a deeply absorbing story about love and vulnerability, sex and power, and the unbreakable bonds of family’ say the publishers promisingly. Quite a lot of brouhaha in my neck of the Twitter woods over this one and it does sound intriguing.Cover image

There’s a good deal of that surrounding Naoise Dolan’s debut, Exciting Times, which is about Ava, fresh from Dublin and teaching rich children English in Hong Kong, Julian, a banker who pays Ava a good deal of sexual attention but little of any other kind, and Edith, a lawyer who likes to take Ava to the theatre and listens to what she says. ‘Politically alert, heartbreakingly raw, and dryly funny, Exciting Times is thrillingly attuned to the great freedoms and greater uncertainties of modern love. In stylish, uncluttered prose, Naoise Dolan dissects the personal and financial transactions that make up a life and announces herself as a singular new voice’ say the publishers. I do like the sound of stylish, uncluttered prose.

Nicolas Mattieu’s And Their Children After Them follows a young boy over four summers, beginning in 1992 when fourteen-year-old Anthony steals a canoe, an act which will lead him to his first love, apparently. He and his friends are desperate to escape their small town which is caught in nostalgia and decline. ‘Winner of the Goncourt Prize and praised for its portrayal of people living on the margins of French society, Nicolas Mathieu’s eloquent novel Cover imagebecomes a mirror for the struggles of society today’ according to the blurb.

Elizabeth Ames’ The Other’s Gold follows a set of friends from young adulthood into later life, a catnip structure for me. Four students, all with childhood demons to face down, become roommates in their first year. Each of the four will make a dreadful mistake as they move from their wild student days into motherhood. ‘The Other’s Gold reveals the achingly familiar ways our life-defining turning points prompt our relationships to unravel and re-knit, as the women discover what they and their loved ones are capable of, and capable of forgiving’ say the publishers whetting my appetite further.

Ilaria Bernardini’s The Portrait narrows the focus to just two people. A well-known author is horrified when her prominent lover is struck down with a massive stroke, finding a way into his family home by commissioning his wife to paint her portrait. These two women become entranced with each other, apparently, sharing the stories of their lives while one sits and the other paints. ‘…as the portrait takes shape, we watch these complex and extraordinary women struggle while the love of their lives departs, in an unforgettable, breathless tale of deception and mystery that captivates until the very end’ according to the publishers which sounds excellent to me.Cover image

Grief is also a theme for my last choice, Conor O’Callaghan’s We Are Not in the World about a man trying to escape the pain of a long drawn out affair by taking a job driving a truck through France in the company of his twentysomething daughter, unkempt and disturbed. ‘As the pair journey down the motorways and through the service stations of France, a devastating picture reveals itself: a story of grief, of shame, and of love in all its complex, dark and glorious manifestations’ according to the blurb. Given that it was praised to the skies by the likes of Donal Ryan and John Banville, I’ve no idea how I managed to miss O’Callaghan’s debut, Nothing on Earth, but I did.

That’s it for April’s first instalment of new novels. Quite a promising selection, I hope you’ll agree. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that take you fancy. More soon…