Tag Archives: Elena Ferrante

Books to Look Out For in September 2015: Part 2

Cover imageMy second selection for September seems to be made up almost entirely of books by American novelists. No particular reason, it just turned out that way. No starry names either but a couple of the authors already have several excellent novels to their credit so I hope they’ve come up with the goods this time, too.

Anyone who enjoyed Patrick Dewitt’s brilliant Western The Sisters Brothers may well execute a little jig at the prospect of a new novel from him,  even if the title is a little perplexing. Undermajordomo Minor is about Lucien Minor, assistant to the eponymous majordomo of Baron Von Aux’s castle where he meets the beautiful Klara, sadly already spoken for. It’s ‘a tale of polite theft, bitter heartbreak, domestic mystery and cold-blooded murder in which every aspect of human behaviour is laid bare for our hero to observe’, ‘an adventure story, and a mystery, and a searing portrayal of rural Alpine bad behaviour with a brandy tart, but above all it is a love story’ which sounds absolutely marvelous.

I thoroughly enjoyed both The Monsters of Templeton and Arcadia so I’m looking forward to Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies very much. It tells the story of a marriage and creative partnership over a period of twenty-four years. Lotto and Mathilde are a glittering, enviable couple, apparently as happy ten years since their wedding as they were on the day itself but things may not be quite what they seem – we’re promised ‘stunning revelations and multiple threads, in prose that is vibrantly alive and original.’ Fingers crossed.

Already longlisted for the Man Booker, American literary agent Bill Clegg’s first novel, Did You Cover imageEver Have a Family, is published in the UK in September and it looks very enticing. June Reid is the only survivor of a house explosion that takes place the morning of her daughter’s wedding. She takes off from her small Connecticut town in the hope of escaping her neighbours and her grief, holing up in a motel on the other side of the country. ‘The novel is a gathering of voices, and each testimony has a new revelation about what led to the catastrophe… everyone touched by the tragedy finds themselves caught in the undertow, as their secret histories finally come to light.’ says the publisher, all of which sounds just the ticket for an absorbing read, if a little wordy.

Appropriately enough, my final September choice is Chitra Viraraghavan’s The Americans, a set of linked short stories, a form to which I’ve become rather partial. This collection looks at the immigrant experience in America through the eyes of Tara, a single Indian woman in her mid-thirties who travels to the States to look after her teenage niece. It tells the stories of eleven people and spans the entire country with Tara as the common thread. Inevitably, the publishers compare it to Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, setting the bar high, but they’re also Lahiri’s publishers so perhaps the comparison is accurate, for once.

Cover imageAnd one last title – this time by an Italian – just to alert the many fans out there, as if they don’t already know – Elena Ferrante’s long awaited The Story of the Lost Child is published in September. I’ve never quite got into the Ferrante fever which seized Twitter and hasn’t yet let go but I’m delighted that the small but perfectly formed Europa publishers have met with such success.

That’s it for September – as ever a click on a title will take you to a fuller synopsis. If you’d like to check out my first batch of September titles here they are, and if you want to catch up with August the hardbacks are here and the paperbacks are here.

Walking in the Dolomites, the pleasures of the pudding buffet and a few books

View from Hotel Freina, SelvaI’d love to board a train at my local station and travel all the way to the Dolomites by rail but that would entail a good deal of time, organisation and probably money so we did the next best thing and flew from our local airport to Munich where we spent our first evening having dinner outside in the Englischer Garten, a huge park in the middle of the city, then caught the train through Austria over the Brenner Pass down into Italy the next morning. We stayed in two different places, first in the tiny village of Badia then moving on to Selva which felt like a metropolis in comparison although it’s not much more than a village itself. We walked our socks off and then some, which was just as well given the five course meals in the second hotel not to mention the pudding buffet laden with seductive treats.

The flowers were stupendous, undoubtedly our favourite part of the holiday. It was like Alpine flowers - dolomiteswalking through someone’s magnificent garden. Each time we thought that we’d seen all there was to see we spotted another species. The secret, so I’m told, should you want to sow your own wild flower meadow, is to strip out all fertilisers Alpine flowers - Dolomitesotherwise grass will take over. Consequently there were many more flowers where there were no cows, if you get my drift. It’s entirely spoiled me for walks through British meadowland where I’ve oohed and ahhed over cranesbill, chicory and poppies which now seem a bit tame but I’m sure I’ll get over it in time, just as I’ll get over the absence of the pudding buffet every night.

And, yes, I did manage to fit in a little holiday reading while H pored over maps and walking guides which is his particular way of relaxing. Thumbs firmly down for Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother, I’m afraid, over written and over-rated. Had I not been hit by a wave of horror that I might run out of books I’d have given it up. Thumbs up for Ellen Feldman’s empathetic and absorbing Next to Love about three American women dealing with the fallout from the Second World War; for Beth Gutcheon’s elegant, quietly understated Gossip, about friendship, love and social mores which has a surprisingly dramatic conclusion; and for Karl Taro Greenfield’s acerbic Triburbia about a group of men living in New York’s Tribeca who think of themselves as Cover imageartists, far superior to the men in suits moving into the area. Richard C. Morais’s Buddhaland, Brooklyn was a nice easy read about an inward-looking Japanese monk transplanted to America and his gradual unbending, while Tim Glencross’s Barbarians – the state-of-the-nation novel I mentioned in my second books to look out for in May post – was entertaining but enjoyed much more by H than me. Last, but far from least, I’d been saving Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend set in 1950s Naples for this holiday – very different from the serenely beautiful, alpine beauty of the Dolomites but Italy nevertheless. It’s the first in a trilogy about the intense, sometimes bumpy friendship between Elena, who narrates the novel, and the fiercely intelligent Lila, struggling with the violence and poverty which characterises their neighbourhood. I finished it yesterday evening – what an ending!

Re-entry into real life has been very much eased by finding that I’ve been nominated by several bloggers whose posts are always stimulating for a Very Inspiring Blogger award. What lovely news to come back to. I’ll be nominating my own VIBs next week.