Tag Archives: David Nicholls

Books to Look Out for in July 2019

Cover imageInevitably, July means summer reading which means fewer books for me, not being of the reading by the pool persuasion or doing anything by the pool for that matter. That said, I’m starting off with what will be a surefire summer bestseller: David Nicolls’ Sweet Sorrow. I loved One Day which was commercial fiction perfection as far as I’m concerned. This new one explores young love over a summer in which sixteen-year-old Charlie meets Fran. It’s described by the publishers as ‘a hymn to the tragicomedy of ordinary lives, a celebration of the reviving power of friendship and that brief, blinding explosion of first love that perhaps can only be looked at directly once it has burned out’. I suspect I’ll probably be reading this one happily ensconced on a sofa.

Nicola Barker is the other end of the literary spectrum from David Nicholls, often wacky and innovative. I still haven’t got around to reading H(a)ppy but have fond memories of The Cauliflower®. I Am Sovereign follows a forty-year-old teddy bear maker trying to sell his Llandudno house. A viewing by prospective buyers sets in train a series of events that cause all concerned to question reality. ‘As religious epiphanies bump up against declarations of love, examinations of subjectivity hurtle into meditations on the history of culture, our entire understanding of the book – and of the boundaries between fiction and real life – is radically upended. A tour de force in miniature form that twists the novel into new shapes as the characters sabotage the fictional world they inhabit, I Am Sovereign sees Nicola Barker at her most joyful, provocative and riotous’ say the publishers promisingly.

We’re back in much more straightforward territory with Anna Hope’s new novel, I suspect. I enjoyed both Wake and The Ballroom very much so hopes are high for Expectation which sees three friends living in East London, their lives full of art, love and delight. A decade later, Hannah, Cate and Lissa are trying to cope with the inevitable disillusionments and difficulties of adult life, each thinking the others’ lives are better than theirs, and each wondering how to make their life more meaningful. ‘Expectation is a novel of the highs and lows of friendship – how it can dip, dive and rise again. It is also about finding your way: as a mother, a daughter, a wife, a rebel. Most of all, it explores that liminal space between expectation and reality, the place – full of dreams, desires and pain – in which we all live our lives’ say the publishers whetting my appetite nicely.

Naomi Wood’s The Hiding Game is about the Bauhaus movement, a school of art and design whose ethos and style I find very appealing. Wood’s novel follows Paul Beckermann who arrives at the school in 1922 and becomes entranced by both the teaching and his fellow students, falling in love with one of them. Political tensions and its own internal rivalries result in the group’s disintegration leaving Paul with a secret he’s forced to face when an old Bauhaus friend contacts him, many years later. ‘Beautifully written, powerful and suspenseful, Naomi Wood’s The Hiding Game is a novel about the dangerously fine line between love and obsession, set against the most turbulent era of our recent past’ say the publishers. I very much enjoyed Mrs Hemingway, Wood’s take on Ernest Hemingway’s marriage so I’m looking forward to this one.

Cover imageTwo American novels published in July sound like catnip to me. The first, Regina Porter’s The Travelers, follows two families – one Irish-American, the other African-American – beginning in 1942 as America recovers from the Second World War. ‘Illuminating more than six decades of sweeping change – from the struggle for civil rights and the chaos of Vietnam to Obama’s first year as President – James and Agnes’s families will come together in unexpected, intimate and profoundly human ways. Romantic and defiant, humorous and intellectually daring, Regina Porter brilliantly explores how race, gender and class collide in modern-day America – and charts the mishaps and adventures we often take to get closer to ourselves and to home’ say the publishers which sounds right up my literary alley.

As does Salvatore Scribona’s The Volunteer which spans four generations of fathers and sons, beginning in 1966 when Vollie Frade enlists in the US Marine Corps to fight in Vietnam. ‘From the Cambodian jungle, to a flophouse in Queens, to a commune in New Mexico, Vollie’s path traces a secret history of life on the margins of America, culminating with an inevitable and terrible reckoning. Scibona’s story of a restless soldier pressed into service for a clandestine branch of the US government unfolds against the backdrop of the seismic shifts in global politics of the second half of the twentieth century’ say the publishers promisingly.Cover image

I’m ending July’s new titles as I began with a novel I’d be amazed if I didn’t love – Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s Starling Days. Oscar and Mina move to London after a patrol car picks her up on the George Washington Bridge, apparently about to jump off. Oscar hopes that getting away from New York will help Mina recover but finds their love tested when another woman offers Mina both friendship and attraction. I loved Buchannan’s debut, Harmless Like You, which was both poignant and wryly humorous. I’m hoping for more of the same with Starling Days.

That’s it for July’s new novels. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Paperbacks soon…

Paperbacks to Look Out For in May 2015

UsI tend to read what’s often described as literary rather than commercial fiction – I’d be hard pressed to tell you what the difference is although I know it when I see it – but, for me, David Nicolls is king of the commercial fiction castle which is why Us is top of my May paperback list. I’m sure Nicholls must have felt under pressure after the phenomenally successful One Day but he seems to have risen to the challenge with a novel which explores how a long marriage survives. Douglas is a little discombobulated when Connie announces she’s leaving him, insisting that they take his long-planned European Grand Tour in the hope that it will keep them together. I do hope that Hollywood will keep its mitts of this one.

The title of Michel Guenassia’s The Incorrigible Optimists Club is enough to make me want to read it but I like the sound of the structure, too. Set in Paris in 1959, it follows twelve-year-old Michel as he eavesdrops on a group of Eastern European men who play chess and tell their stories of life before they came to France. I’ve been warned that it’s a bit of a door-stopper but it sounds right up my alley.

Robin Black’s Life Drawing is one of the two books in this round-up I’ve reviewed. There’s a nice little edge of suspense running through this story about an artist and her writer husband, not least because we know right from the start that he has died and that his death wasn’t a natural one. Taut and claustrophobic, it reminded me a little of Joanna Briscoe’s Sleep with Me.

The other is Favel Parrett’s When the Night Comes which I rated enough to include in both my books of last year and my wish list for the Baileys Women’s Fiction Prize. Based on a true story – the sinking of the Nella Dan – it’s about the deep bond that forms between a young Tasmanian girl and the Danish sailor who lodges with them in between supply trips to the Antarctic aboard the Nella Dan. It’s an absorbing story but what struck me about the book was the beauty of Parett’s writing. Gorgeous descriptive prose.

Finally, Philippe Claudel’s debut Grey Souls is being reissued and if you missed it the first Grey soulstime around please do keep your eyes peeled for it. Three mysterious deaths in an isolated French village during the First World War still haunt the local policeman twenty years later: the new schoolmistress killed herself; a ten-year-old girl was found strangled; and the policeman’s wife died alone in labour while her husband was hunting the girl’s murderer. Claudel’s prose has a lovely, elegant expressiveness to it, trimmed of the flourishes and curlicues that some writers indulge in. He’s a very fine film maker, too.

That’s it for May paperbacks a click on a title will take you to Waterstones website for a more detailed synopsis of anything I haven’t reviewed and if you’d like to catch up with my hardback choices they’re here.

The A-Z of You and Me: A lexicon of love

The A - Z of You and MeI wasn’t at all sure about James Hannah’s debut when it arrived. The press release claimed it was for David Nicholls fans of which I have been one since the immensely enjoyable One Day but I’ve been suckered by that kind of comparison before. Having decided to give it a try, I was distracted by another arrival then picked it up again a week or so later. Half-way through, having completely forgotten the press release, I made a note ‘David Nicholls school of commercial fiction’. So there you are – that’ll teach me to be so cynical, although I doubt that will last.

Forty-year-old Ivo lies in his hospice bed. To help him combat his distress and occasional panic, his nurse has suggested he names parts of his body starting with A, working through the alphabet telling himself stories about each bit. He must use respectable anatomical terms, though, no vulgarity allowed. Despite his scepticism, Ivo decides to take her advice and begins with Adam’s apple and a funny little anecdote from his childhood. He decides to tell his stories to his still-beloved ex-girlfriend, unfolding his life to us as he recounts them to her: the loss of his father when he was six; his friendship with Mal, rebellious and smart; his diagnosis with diabetes and the times he and Mia shared, good and bad. As each letter is dispatched it becomes clear that there is a good deal of unfinished business in Ivo’s life with little time left to finish it.

Adopting an alphabetical structure could have easily backfired if stuck to rigidly but Hannah knows when to use it and when to let the narrative flow. Each story reveals telling details about his life – sometimes small, occasionally delivering shocks with a punch which comes out of the blue. Hannah has a sharp ear for dialogue, using it to bring his characters to life as Ivo remembers scenes with those who have meant most to him, for good or ill. You need a strong vein of humour to balance the melancholy in a book like this and Hannah delivers it beautifully: ‘how many die of politeness’ unable to decide if they’re ill enough to bother the nurse nicely sums up the not wanting to make a fuss attitude, typical of the British. There’s a sense of life carrying on in plain sight as Ivo gradually recedes from it but an urgency about what he needs to do. Altogether an accomplished piece of fiction, both entertaining and thought-provoking. I won’t be so sceptical about Hannah’s next novel.