Tag Archives: Diane Setterfield

Books to Look Out for in January 2019: Part Two

Cover imagePart two of January’s preview kicks off with a debut from a former Waterstones bookseller: When All is Said by Anne Griffin. Over the course of a single evening, eighty-four-year-old Maurice Hannigan raises five toasts to five different people all of whom have changed his life in different ways, all of whom are now gone. ‘Exquisitely written and powerfully felt, When All is Said promises to be the next great Irish novel’ say the publishers and it seems that both Donal Ryan and John Boyne agree. It sounds like a very appealing way of telling a story to me, and I have a weakness for both debuts and Irish writing.

Rebecca Kaufman’s The Gunners follows six childhood friends who become like family to each other, playing together and finding their way from childhood into adult life. Then one of them stops speaking to the others and won’t say why. Years later, her suicide forces them back together for her funeral where the truth about what happened between them is finally faced. ‘This is a generous and poignant novel about the difficulty – and the joy – of being a true friend’ according to the publishers. I do like a novel that revisits childhood friendships; lots of potential for dark secrets and character development.

I read Magda Szabo’s Iza’s Ballad on holiday in Antwerp and regretted it. It’s a book that deserves more attention than a short city break allows. I’m determined that won’t happen with Katalin Street which follows the sole surviving family of the three who grew up together on the same street in pre-war Budapest, picking their story up in the Soviet era. ‘Magda Szabo conducts a clear-eyed investigation into the ways in which we inflict suffering on those we love. Katalin Street, which won the 2007 Prix Cevennes for Best European novel, is a poignant, somber, at times harrowing book, but beautifully conceived and truly unforgettable’ say the publishers. I’m hoping for more of the quiet understatement and elegant prose that struck me in Iza’s Ballad.Cover image

Gerald Murane’s Border Districts takes us somewhere entirely different. A man moves to an isolated town intending to spend his last years casting his mind back over a lifetime of reading and considering which characters, metaphors and lines of glittering prose have caught in his memory. ‘Feeling an increasing urgency to put his mental landscape in order, the man sets to work cataloguing this treasure, little knowing where his `report’ will lead and what secrets will be brought to light’ say the publishers. This is the first book by Murane to be published in the UK, apparently, which seems surprising given he’s a literary star in his native Australia. Kim at Reading Matters is a big fan.

Lightening the tone a little after two rather sombre sounding novels, Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer sounds darkly humorous. Korede’s sister has issued yet another cry for help after ridding herself of her third boyfriend. Korede jumps to, disposing of the body, but alarm bells start to ring when Ayoola begins dating the man Korede’s had her eye on for some time. Ayobami Adebayo has called it ‘Disturbing, sly and delicious’ which is what’s caught my eye with this one.

‘Delicious’ is a word which may well apply to Pascal Pujol’s Little Culinary Triumphs set in Montmartre where Sandrine is eager to set up a restaurant and willing to go to any lengths to do so. ‘A carousel of extravagant characters follows: the giant Senegalese man, Toussaint N’Diaye; the magical chef, Vairam; the extravagantly flatulent Alsatian, Schmutz and his twelve-year-old daughter Juliette—IQ 172!; the alluring psychologist and Kama Sutra specialist, Annabelle Villemin-Dubreuil’ promises the publisher but all does not go well, apparently.

Cover imageI’m ending this preview with Diane Setterfield’s nineteenth-century set Once Upon a River which sounds like a piece of good old-fashioned storytelling, entirely appropriate for January evenings. A stranger knocks on the door of a riverside inn, badly injured and holding the body of a drowned girl in his arms. Hours later, the girl revives. Who is she, and how has she survived? It’s been over twelve years since the publication of Setterfield’s debut, The Thirteenth Tale, the book for which she’s best known, and I’m sure this one will be eagerly anticipated.

That’s it for January. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis if any take your fancy and if you’d like to catch up with the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks soon…

Bellman & Black: A right gothic tale

Cover imageForgive me if this review is not the best thing you’ve ever read here: I’m sliding down the same slippery slope H did last weekend and my head is full of cotton wool but having just finished Diane Setterfield’s Bellman & Black I need to get my thoughts down before my brain is entirely sodden. It opens strikingly with four boys playing in the Oxfordshire countryside, one with a catapult and an unerring aim takes what seems to be an impossible shot killing a young rook, half wanting to startle it away before the stone hits but anticipating the glory to be won if he stays silent. William Bellman grows up to be a delightful young man with a mellifluous singing voice. Popular with all, handsome, intelligent and imaginative, he leads a charmed life. His uncle welcomes him into the family mill despite his father’s determined disapproval and Will turns it into a thriving concern. He falls in love and fathers four children but work slowly, but surely, takes him over so that every moment is spent in calculation. Tragedy seems to strike Will more often than most, and a mysterious stranger attends all the funerals. When Will is at his lowest he makes a drunken bargain with the stranger – or at least he thinks he does – one that will have him in thrall for the rest of his life. The result is the setting up of Bellman & Black, a splendid emporium filled with all the finest accoutrements of Victorian mourning. It’s a roaring success which sees Will more and more obsessed, leaving no room for his ailing daughter, his dying friend or himself. There are no real surprises in Bellman & Black – readers know from the start the way things are likely to go – but it’s a tale well spun and a subtle one which cleverly avoids the pitfalls of bludgeoning its readers with heavy-handed horror. Setterfield’s descriptions are striking and memorable, from the image of the young rook in all his iridescent glory to the descriptions of the sumptuous contents of Will’s emporium. She keeps up a page-turning pace while engaging her readers’ sympathy for Will as he clatters down an ever narrower path. It’s a satisfying read and its ending has an important meaning for us all.

Many congratulations to Man Booker winner Eleanor Catton for The Luminaries which I’ve yet to read but am looking forward to, and to Kate Atkinson who bagged The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize for the extraordinary Life After Life. Avid Booker fans will probably already have seen the Guardian’s behind the scenes timeline but others might find it amusing. I’m off to boil the kettle for yet another Lemsip.