Tag Archives: David Szalay

Books to Look Out for in December 2018

Cover imageDecember’s not the shiniest of months for new titles but there are some potential treats to be found if you look hard enough. One such is Tom Barbash’s The Dakota Winters, set in 1979 New York where twenty-three-year-old Anton Winter returns home after a stint in the Peace Corps to be greeted by his father Buddy. ‘Before long Anton is swept up in an effort to reignite Buddy’s stalled career, a mission that takes him from the gritty streets of New York, to the slopes of the Lake Placid Olympics, to the Hollywood Hills, to the blue waters of the Bermuda Triangle, and brings him into close quarters with the likes of Johnny Carson, Ted and Joan Kennedy, and a seagoing John Lennon’ say the publishers, promisingly. This one comes garlanded with praise from all manner of writers, from Jennifer Egan to Michael Chabon.

I wasn’t overly impressed by David Szalay’s All That Man Is which never seemed to coalesce as a novel but that hasn’t stopped me from casting an eye over Turbulence, described by his publishers as a short story sequence, which follows twelve characters en route across the globe. ‘Szalay deftly depicts the ripple effect that, knowingly or otherwise, a person’s actions have on those around them, and invites us to consider our own place in the vast and delicately balanced network of human relationships that is the world we live in today’ according to the blurb. It’s the idea of the journey that attracts me to this one.

Just one paperback for December but it’s one of 2018’s unexpected favourites for me. Lissa Cover imageEvans’ Old Baggage tells the story of Mattie, once met never forgotten, picking it up in 1928, ten years after British women who met a property qualification were enfranchised, and it’s an absolute treat. Evans’ story romps along replete with period detail, wearing its historical veracity lightly while exploring themes of social justice with wit, humour and compassion. I loved it. For those of us struggling with the current political climate, Old Baggage is a happy reminder that things can get better.

That’s it for December. Click on either of the first two titles if you’d like a more detailed synopsis; the third will take you to my review. It’ll soon be time to cast an eye back over my books of 2018 before looking ahead to the goodies the publishing world has planned for us in 2019.

Paperbacks to Look Out for in April 2017: Part Two

Cover imageBack from sunny Antwerp, safe and sound, more of which later in the week but in the meantime here’s the second batch of April’s paperbacks beginning with Marie Ndiaye’s 2016 Man Booker Prize longlisted Ladivine. Unable to admit her mother’s lowly origins to her husband and daughter, Clarisse Riviere pretends to be an orphan, visiting her mother in secret. Inevitably, her lies catch up with her. Although she’s more open with the new man who enters her life, tragedy eventually ensues. ‘Centred around three generations of women, whose seemingly cursed lineage is defined by the weight of origins, the pain of alienation and the legacy of shame, Ladivine is a beguiling story of secrets, lies, guilt and forgiveness by one of Europe’s most unique literary voices’ according to the publisher. I like the sound of this one.

David Szalay’s All That Man Is sat alongside Ladivine, on last year’s Man Booker longlist, then made it on to the shortlist. It follows nine men, all of whom are away from home, each at different stages in their lives. Set in a variety of locations, from the suburbs of Prague to a Cypriot hotel, it’s ‘a portrait of contemporary manhood, contemporary Europe and contemporary life from a British writer of supreme gifts – the master of a new kind of realism’ say the publishers. The structure is a very appealing one although the predominantly male set of voices may become a bit wearing.

‘Postmodern’, a word that crops up in the blurb for the next novel, tends to run up a warning flag for me but the synopsis for Álvaro Enrigue’s Sudden Death is hard to resist. It begins with a brutal tennis match in which Caravaggio takes on the Spanish poet Quevedo before an audience which includes Galileo and Mary Magdelene. According to the publisher ‘there are assassinations and executions, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bawdy criminals, carnal liaisons and papal dramas, artistic and religious revolutions, love and war. A blazingly original voice and a postmodern visionary, Álvaro Enrigue tells the grand adventure of the dawn of the modern era, breaking down traditions and upending expectations, in this bold, powerful punch of a novel.’ There’s every chance, of course, that it’s the kind of book that’s just too tricksy for its own good although H, who bought it at my suggestion, says it’s good and he’s as sceptical of that postmodern tag as I am, if not more so.

I’m ending April’s paperbacks with a short story collection from Kevin Barry whose Beatlebone Cover imagewas much admired and whose writing I was very struck by in the anthology A Kind of Compass a little while back. In There Are Little Kingdoms ‘a pair of fast girls court trouble as they cool their heels on a slow night in a small town. Lonesome hillwalkers take to the high reaches in pursuit of a saving embrace. A bewildered man steps off a country bus in search of his identity – and a stiff drink. These stories, filled with a grand sense of life’s absurdity, form a remarkably surefooted collection that reads like a modern-day Dubliners’ claim the publishers somewhat ambitiously.

That’s it for April. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that take your fancy. If you’d like to catch up with the first paperback preview, it’s here. New titles are here and here.

Books to Look Out For in April 2016: Part 2

Cover imageThis second batch of April titles kicks off with a book that’s been getting a fair bit of attention in my neck of the Twitter woods. Not always a good sign but it’s been from the kind of people who usually know what they’re talking about. Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You is set in Bulgaria where an American teacher looking for sex encounters a hustler in one of Sofia’s public toilets. What begins as a transaction turns into an obsession in what sounds like a powerful debut. ‘Lyrical and intense, it tells the story of a man caught between longing and resentment, unable to separate desire from danger, and faced with the impossibility of understanding those he most longs to know’ say the publishers.

Also getting a bit of Twitter attention a little while back, David Szalay’s All That Man Is follows nine men, all of whom are away from home, each at different stages in their lives. Set in a variety of locations, from the suburbs of Prague to a Cypriot hotel, it’s ‘a portrait of contemporary manhood, contemporary Europe and contemporary life from a British writer of supreme gifts – the master of a new kind of realism’ say the publishers. The structure is a very appealing one although the predominantly male set of characters may become a bit wearing. Cover image

‘Postmodern’, a word that crops up in the blurb for the next novel, tends to run up a warning flag for me  but the synopsis for Álvaro Enrigue’s Sudden Death is hard to resist. It begins with a brutal tennis match in which Caravaggio takes on the Spanish poet Quevedo before an audience which includes Galileo and Mary Magdelene. According to the publishers ‘there are assassinations and executions, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bawdy criminals, carnal liaisons and papal dramas, artistic and religious revolutions, love and war. A blazingly original voice and a postmodern visionary, Álvaro Enrigue tells the grand adventure of the dawn of the modern era, breaking down traditions and upending expectations, in this bold, powerful punch of a novel.’ There’s every chance, of course, that it’s the kind of book that’s just too tricksy for its own good.

Anais, the main protagonist of Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon, was one of those characters who stayed with me for quite some time: bright, sassy and fierce – she was extraordinarily vividly drawn. I’m hoping for something similar with The Sunlight Pilgrims which seems to be set in the near future on a Scottish caravan park. It tells the story of a small community who are beginning to think that the freak weather spells the end of the world. Strange things are happening, the economy has collapsed and public services are in the hands of volunteers. I’m not a fan of dystopian fiction but Fagan’s writing is so striking that I’ll be making an exception for this one.

Cover imageMy final choice for April new novels is Barney Norris’s Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain. I’ve included it partly because it’s set in Salisbury, not a million miles from where I live, and partly because it sounds like a piece of good old-fashioned storytelling. A car crash results in the intersection of five lives each disastrously effected by the accident. ‘As one of those lives hangs in the balance, the stories of all five unwind, drawn together by connection and coincidence into a web of love, grief, disenchantment and hope that perfectly represents the joys and tragedies of small town life’ apparently. It could, of course, be hopelessly sentimental but I think I’ll give it a try if only for its setting.

That’s it for April’s new books. Just click on whichever title catches your attention if you’d like a little more detail. If you missed part one and would like to catch up with it, here it is.