Tag Archives: Books published in February 2020

Books to Look Out For in February 2020: Part Two

Cover imageThis second batch of February’s new titles begins with one I’m eagerly anticipating although a novel set against the backdrop of the Thirty Years’ War wouldn’t usually appeal. Daniel Kehlmann’s Tyll is based on the German legend of the eponymous trickster, born in an ordinary village but destined to expose the folly of kings and the wisdom of fools, apparently. ‘With macabre humour and moving humanity, Daniel Kehlmann lifts this legend from medieval German folklore and enters him on the stage of the Thirty Years’ War. When citizens become the playthings of politics and puppetry, Tyll, in his demonic grace and his thirst for freedom, is the very spirit of rebellion – a cork in water, a laugh in the dark, a hero for all time’ say the publishers. I’m not at all sure about that but I’ve yet to read anything by Kehlmann I’ve not both enjoyed and admired.

If the historical setting of Tyll is a little outside my literary territory, thrillers are practically on a different continent but I enjoyed A. D. Miller’s The Faithful Couple, a favourite holiday read in Palma, a few years back. With Independence Square, Miller returns to Ukraine where his bestselling first novel, Snowdrops, was set, a country whose turbulent recent history he covered as a journalist. Once a senior diplomat in Kiev, Simon Davey spots a woman on the Tube he’s convinced is the person who unwittingly brought about his downfall and decides to follow her. ‘Independence Square is a story of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary times. It is a story about corruption and personal and political betrayals. It is a story about where, in the twenty-first century, power really lies’ say the publishers. William Boyd is a fan, apparently.Cover image

Not entirely sure this one is up my street either but the stories that make up Escape Routes by Naomi Ishiguro were apparently inspired by her stint at the lovely Mr B’s Emporium here in Bath. Her pieces are speculative ranging from a musician who befriends a flock of birds to two newlyweds inhibited by a large, watchful stuffed bear in their lives. I wonder if it’s the Orvis bear which disappeared mysteriously from outside our local branch. ‘Stories that start like delicate webs and finish like unbreakable wire traps’ according to Neil Gaiman.

I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every book by Colum McCann I’ve read but I’m an admirer of his writing. His new novel, Apeirogon, sounds extremely ambitious. It follows the friendship of two men – one an Israeli, the other a Palestinian – both of whom have lost their daughters – one killed in a suicide bomb attack, the other shot by a border guard. ‘Colum McCann crosses centuries and continents, stitching time, art, history, nature and politics into a tapestry of friendship, love, loss and belonging. Musical, muscular, delicate and soaring, it is a book for our times from a writer at the height of his powers’ promise the publishers. Finger crossed for this one.

Cover imagePetina Gappah’s Out of the Darkness, Shining Light sounds just as ambitious as Apeirogon, following a procession of sixty-nine Africans carrying the remains of a white man 1,500 miles to the sea so that he can be buried in his own country. The body is David Livingstone’s but Gappah concentrates on the funeral procession, apparently, giving voice to his cook and three of his most devoted servants. ‘Their tale of how his corpse was borne out of nineteenth-century Africa – carrying the maps that sowed the seeds of the continent’s brutal colonisation – has the power of myth’ say the publishers of what sounds like a novel that deserves the rather over-used description ‘epic’. I still haven’t got around to Gappah’s short stories despite being so impressed by The Book of Memory back in 2015.

Painted on a much smaller, twentieth-first century canvas, Luke Brown’s Theft sees a journalist granted an interview with a cult author who welcomes him into her London home. There he meets Sophie, celebrated for her controversial political views. Meanwhile, his sister has disappeared after their falling out over their dead mother’s house. Paul‘s life becomes increasingly fraught as he travels back and forth between his rundown northern home town and the Nardinis’ rather grand London house in what the publishers are describing as ‘an exhilarating howl of a novel’. Couldn’t resist that line.Cover image

My final choice is Ben Halls’ The Quarry which offers a small twist on state-of-the-nation fiction in the form of a collection of interlinked short stories rather than a straightforward novel. Set on the eponymous West London estate, Halls’ stories explore contemporary masculinity and changing gender roles through a diverse set of working-class men, apparently. That state-of-the-nation theme is catnip for me and this take on it sounds intriguing.

That’s it for February’s new fiction. As ever 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 instalment it’s here. Paperbacks soon…

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.