Quite a mixed bunch for this second batch of June goodies. I’ll start off with what is probably my most commercial choice as we edge towards summer reading: Laura Barnett’s enticing sounding The Versions of Us which explores that old Sliding Doors idea of the role chance plays in our lives. It unfolds three different versions of the possible lives led by Eva and Jim who meet in Cambridge in 1958, aged nineteen. Each version hinges on a pivotal moment, a snap decision or random event. I like the sound of this very much – if handled deftly it could well be an excellent summer read.
Will Cohu’s Nothing But Grass doesn’t sound like the cheeriest of reads but it has the elements of an absorbing novel. Set in a small village riven with dark secrets – always the best kind – it begins with the murder of one workmate by another seemingly for no other reason than a fit of irritation. It’s a ‘portrait of a tarnished Albion’, apparently, with a strong vein of dark humour running through it. Cohu is the author of The Wolf Pit, an exploration of his rural childhood. This is his first novel – let’s hope it’s not autobiographical, too.
Sophie McManus‘ The Unfortunates sounds like the kind of absorbing summer read you can sink into and forget about everything else. It’s about the wealthy Somners who face a difficult future, both financial and otherwise, as the matriarch of the family wastes away from a rare disease and her son goes to the bad. It’s described as ‘a rollicking wide-ranging story – of pharmaceutical drug trials and Wall Street corruption; of pride and prejudice, of paranoia and office politics, of inheritance, influence, class, power.’ I’m looking forward to some comeuppance, in fiction, at least, if not in real life.
Tod Wodicka’s The Household Spirit sounds like a bit of light relief after that. Howie and Emily have been neighbours in upstate New York since Emily was born. Each is very different from the other: Emily is outgoing and irreverent while the desperately shy Howie has been a recluse since his wife and daughter moved out. He’s a little worried about Emily who seems to have taken to gardening at night. What to do? Lifelong neighbours they may be but they’ve never exchanged a word. It’s described as a ‘poignant, big-hearted, and often humorous novel’ which might mean horribly sentimental but the premise is intriguing enough to give it a try.
Gerbrand Bakker’s an author I’ve been meaning to get around to for some time. June, his appropriately named new novel, is set over the course of one hot summer’s day in 1969 when all are gathered to greet Queen Juliana apart from Anna Kaan and her little daughter, Hanne, who arrive just as the Queen is about to leave. The queen graciously acknowledges them both – a golden day, then, but later Hanne is knocked down by a speeding baker’s van. The novel explores the effects of tragedy on both the family and its community.
Finally, Jean-Paul Didierlaurent’s The Reader on the 6.27 has been described as ‘Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore meets Amelie’ which could either mean that it’s wonderful or overly whimsical tosh but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Guylain hates his job at a book pulping factory, consoling himself every day with reading aloud the pages he’s saved from the pulping machine on the 6.27 train. When he discovers the diary of a young woman who seems as lonely as he is, he begins to fall in love. See what I mean about the possibility of whimsical tosh? We’ll see. It’s published under the usually reliable Mantle imprint so I’m willing to give it a try.
That’s it for June. If you missed part one you can catch up here, and a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis at Waterstones website should you be interested.