Tag Archives: Echoland

Paperbacks to Look Out for in October 2017

There’s a nicely varied bunch of paperbacks in the offing for October. I’ll start off with a book that’s been popular in my neck of the Twitter woods for quite some months. ‘What if I don’t want to hold your baby? – Can I date you without ever hearing about your divorce? – What can I demand of my mother now that I am an adult? – Is therapy pointless? – At what point does drinking a lot become a drinking problem? – Why does everyone keep asking me why I am not married?’ are some of the questions posed by Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up, about twenty-first century womanhood narrated by a thirty-nine-year-old childless woman battling through society’s expectations and her own desires. I haven’t enjoyed everything Attenberg’s written but her last novel, Saint Mazie, was excellent and that blurb reminds me a little of Claire Messud’s take on the same subject, The Woman Upstairs, which immediately piques my interest.

My next choice also met with a good deal of tweeted enthusiasm when it was published in hardback although I’ve haven’t see much about it lately. Yaa Gyasi’s debut, Homegoing, follows the fortunes of two sisters – one sold into slavery, the other a slave-trader’s wife – taking her readers across three continents and seven generations. Homegoing tells ‘the very story of America’ according to the publishers, a somewhat ambitious claim but it does sound well worth a read.

I’m not sure I can say that about Paul Auster’s Man Booker shortlisted chunkster, 4321 which weighs in at over 850 pages. It’s the story of Archibald Isaac Ferguson, born on March 3rd 1947, just a month after Auster’s own birth – make of that what you will. The novel tells four parallel Cover imagestories of Ferguson’s life. ‘Each version of Ferguson’s story rushes across the fractured terrain of mid-twentieth century America, in this sweeping story of birthright and possibility, of love and the fullness of life itself’ say the publishers which is all very enticing and I’m a fan of much of Auster’s writing but the size of this one is intimidating to say the least. Perhaps Annabel’s review over at Annabookbel will help you to make up your mind about this one.

Per Petterson’s Echoland explores childhood through twelve-year-old Arvid, on holiday with his family at his grandparents’ in Denmark. About to make the leap from childhood to adolescence, Arvid takes himself off exploring on his bike, escaping the household’s intergenerational tensions and glorying in his new-found freedom. ‘Echoland is an extraordinarily subtle and truthful snapshot of growing up, with an emotional depth that lingers long after its final pages’ say the publishers which sounds very much in Petterson territory to me. He writes the kind of beautifully clipped yet often lyrical prose of which I’m very fond.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler’s Perfume River looks at the fallout of the Vietnam War through the lens of one family, also beset by divisions. Although his father is close to death, Robert’s estranged brother refuses to come home. Instead a homeless stranger appears who will rock the entire family’s foundations. ‘Profound and poignant, Perfume River is an examination of relationships, personal choice, and how war resonates down the generations’ Cover imagesay the publishers.

My final choice, Gerard Reve’s The Evenings, is set in one of my favourite European cities which is one of its draws for me. It’s the story of ten evenings in the life of Frits van Egters as he walks the streets of post-war Amsterdam. That may seem a tad dull but it’s been voted one of the greatest novels of all time by the highly literary Dutch. Described by the publishers as ‘edgy, mesmerising, darkly ironical’ it sounds quite intriguing.

That’s it for October’s paperbacks. A click on a title will take you to a fuller synopsis should you want to know more and If you’d like to catch up with October’s new titles they’re here.

Books to Look Out for in October 2016

Cover imageBack from my travels in central Europe – more of that later in the week – with a look at what’s on offer in October’s publishing schedules. Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life was one of my books of last year: elegant, beautifully expressed and deftly translated, this slim novella encapsulated the life of an ordinary man, revealing it to be far richer than you might expect. October sees the publication of The Tobacconist, a second novel by Seethaler in translation. Set in 1937 with Austria about to be annexed by Germany, it’s about seventeen-year-old Franz, apprenticed to a Viennese tobacconist, who forms a bond with a certain Mr Freud.

Like Seethaler, Per Petterson writes in beautifully clipped yet often lyrical prose. His new novel, Echoland, is about twelve-year-old Arvid on holiday with his family at his grandparents’ in Denmark. About to make the leap from childhood to adolescence, Arvid takes himself off exploring on his bike, escaping the household’s intergenerational tensions and glorying in his new-found freedom. ‘Echoland is an extraordinarily subtle and truthful snapshot of growing up, with an emotional depth that lingers long after its final pages’ say the publishers which sounds very much in Petterson territory to me.

In contrast, Sebastian Barry’s Days without End seems to step quite a way out of his usual territory heading off to Tennessee in the 1850s where Thomas McNulty has signed up for the US Army. Fleeing terrible hardship, he and his comrade John Cole fight first in the Indian Wars then the Civil War. ‘Moving from the plains of the West to Tennessee, Sebastian Barry’s latest work is a masterpiece of atmosphere and language. Both an intensely poignant story of two men and the lives they are dealt, and a fresh look at some of the most fateful years in America’s past, Days Without End is a novel never to be forgotten’ promise the publishers. Hoping for more of that lyrical writing I’ve enjoyed in Barry’s previous novels. nicotine

I wish I could say I’d also enjoyed Nell Zink’s novels but I’ve yet to read one so it may seem a little odd to include Nicotine in this preview. It’s ‘the clash between Baby-Boomer idealism and Millennial pragmatism, between the have-nots and want-mores’ in the book’s blurb that’s caught my eye. Penny Baker’s rebellion has taken the form of conventionality, the only option left open to her after an upbringing by Norm who runs a psychedelic ‘healing centre’. When Norm dies, Penny finds that the house he’s left her is occupied by a bunch of squatters united ‘in the defence of smokers’ rights’. Before too long she’s caught up in their cause, battling against her much older half-brothers to protect the fervent campaigners. It sounds great but I really must get around to the other two Zinks sitting on my shelf.

Surrounded by a good deal of brouhaha, not least because President Obama took it on holiday with him, is Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. Cora is a slave in Georgia, an outcast amongst her fellow slaves since childhood. When Caesar arrives from Virginia he tells her about the Underground Railroad offering a means of escape from her misery which Cora chooses to take. The novel follows her arduous journey through the South, a slave catcher snapping at her heels. ‘As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day’ say the publishers. A tough read, I’m sure, but not to be missed.

Cover imageEnding on a high note, at least I hope so, with Ali Smith’s Autumn which sounds a little experimental. I was defeated by the blurb for Smith’s last novel, How to Be Both, and it looks like I may well be again with this one. It is, apparently, ‘a stripped-branches take on popular culture, and a meditation, in a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, what harvest means’. It’s the first instalment in a quartet named Seasonal – ‘four standalone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as the seasons are), exploring what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take and in our ways with narrative. From the imagination of the peerless Ali Smith comes a shape-shifting series, wide-ranging in timescale and light-footed through histories, and a story about ageing and time and love and stories themselves’. There we are then.

That’s it for October. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Paperbacks soon…