Tag Archives: Frances Liardet

My Wish List for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019

The longlist for my favourite UK literary award, The Women’s Prize for Fiction, is due to be announced next Monday. Only novels written by women in English published between April 1st 2018 and March 31st 2019 qualify. Over the past few years I’ve failed miserably in predicting what took the judges fancy but truth be told I’d much rather indulge myself with a fantasy list rather than speculate as to what they think. What follows, then, is entirely subjective, wishes rather than predictions. I’ve followed the same format as previous years, limiting myself to novels that I’ve read with a link to a full review on this blog. So, in no particular order here’s my wish list for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction:

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Transcription                              The Death of Noah Glass           White Houses

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Putney                                           All Among the Barley               Ghost Wall

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Land of the Living                        My Sister, the Serial Killer       In the Full Light of the Sun

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Improvement                              We Must Be Brave                         Old Baggage

 

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Lost Children Archive                  The Narrow Land                        Memories of the Future

Several of my favourite writers are listed here – Kate Atkinson, Amy Bloom, Siri Hustvedt, Georgina Harding – but I’d be delighted if any one of these fifteen snags the judges’ attention. We’ll see. Any titles that you’d love to see on the judges’ list?

That’s it from me for a few days. We’re off for what could be our last weekend as European citizens abroad. I may need tissues. Back next week to tell you all about it.

We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet: Ties that bind

Cover imageI’d not come across Frances Liardet before. We Must Be Brave is her second novel but her first, The Game, published back in 1994, seems to have slipped out of print. Set in a small Hampshire village, her new book opens in 1940 with the discovery of a child fast asleep at the back of a coach filled with frightened women fleeing the bombing of Southampton.

Ellen is the wife of Selwyn, the local flour mill owner. Theirs is a marriage in which there will be no children and Ellen is happy with that. When she discovers five-year-old Pamela her first impulse is to find the girl’s mother, calling out to the women to help her but it seems that the child is alone. Selwyn sets about tracking down Pamela’s family but much to Ellen’s surprise she finds herself warming to this adventurous, heart-broken child who alternately clings to her then pushes her away. Ellen understands how it feels to lose everything. When her father left in disgrace, her family was forced to accept charity – no welfare system to catch their fall – her genteel mother unable to grasp their changed circumstances. Her brother went to sea and when their mother died, fourteen-year-old Ellen was left to fend for herself. Fiercely determined, she found a job away from the kindness of Upton and the villagers who helped where they could, returning when she and Selwyn were married. Ellen forms a bright bond of love with Pamela until, three years after she arrived, the child is finally claimed. Years later, another lost little girl comes into into Ellen’s life.

When Liardet’s novel arrived my heart sank a little. It’s a doorstopper, prompting expectations of the usual bagginess and urge for a blue pencil to wield. However, like The Immortalists, one of last year’s favourites, its size is justified. Liardet unfolds her story from Ellen’s perspective, interweaving the wartime thread with her early life then following it through to its resolution many years later. Her narrative is infused with a strong sense of place and peopled with rounded and engaging characters – Pamela is particularly well drawn, her plight sensitively and perceptively portrayed – and she slips in a very pleasing reveal towards the end. It would have been easy to descend into schmaltziness with this kind of story but Liardet steers well clear of that while still conveying its poignancy. The whole thing works beautifully. Nothing much in the way of literary fireworks, just good old-fashioned storytelling. Let’s hope we won’t have to wait over twenty years for Liardet’s third novel.

Books to Look Out for in February 2019: Part One

Cover imageFebruary’s surely the dullest month of the year in my part of the world although, thankfully, not in the publishing schedules, as I hope you’ll agree. Lots of promising titles to look forward to beginning with Tessa Hadley’s Late in the Day which is about two couples who meet in their twenties. Thirty years later Alex and Christine’s evening is interrupted by a phone call: Zach has died and Lydia is distraught. Instead of uniting them in grief, Zach’s loss opens up a well of anger and bitterness between the remaining three, apparently. Hadley’s narrative moves back and forth between past and present, always an attractive structure for me.

In Steve Sem-Sanberg’s The Tempest, the past is also revisited thanks to a bereavement. Andreas returns to the house in which he grew up on an island just off the Norwegian coast. Memories surface and secrets are uncovered as he sorts through his late foster father’s belongings. ‘Rich in shimmering echoes from Shakespeare’s play, Steve Sem-Sandberg’s The Tempest is a hypnotic portrayal of the inherited guilt that seeps through generations, haunting an island overgrown with myths’ say the publishers which sounds ambitious but intriguing.

I’ve managed to get ahead of myself and have already read Frances Liardet’s We Must Be Brave which carries on the pleasing theme of flitting between past and present revealing secrets. It opens in 1940 with the discovery of a child fast asleep at the back of a coach full of Cover imagefrightened women fleeing the bombing of Southampton. Ellen, the childless wife of a first world war veteran, takes Pamela home, surprised at the love awakened by this five-year-old girl whose loss reminds her of her own past. It would have been easy to descend into schmaltziness with this kind of story but Liardet steers well clear of that while still conveying its poignancy. I’ll be posting my review next month.

As you can guess from its title, Yara Rodrigues-Fowler’s Stubborn Archivist also has one foot in the past. A young woman whose mother has left her homeland struggles to find a way to feel comfortable with herself by exploring her family history. ‘Our stubborn archivist tells her story through history, through family conversations, through the eyes of her mother, her grandmother and her aunt and slowly she begins to emerge into the world, defining her own sense of identity’ says the publisher, promisingly. I’m often drawn to the theme of immigration, inventively explored here by the sound of it.

There’s a promise of twists in Joan Silber’s Improvement which sees Kiki, settled in New York after travelling the world, worried about her niece’s relationship with her partner. When Reyna decides to put her four-year-old first, the repercussions are more profound that she might have expected.’ A novel that examines conviction, connection and the possibility of generosity in the face of loss, Improvement is as intricately woven together as Kiki’s beloved Turkish rugs and as colourful as the tattoos decorating Reyna’s body, with narrative twists and turns as surprising Cover imageand unexpected as the lives all around us’ say the publishers.

I’m winding up this preview with a book that was first published in 2015: Janice Galloway’s short story collection, Jellyfish, comprising sixteen stories which explore sex, parenthood, death, ambition and loss. Stuff of life, then. After reading Galloway’s memoirs and her novel, The Trick is to Keep Breathing, I’m eager to get my hands on this one.

That’s it for the first part of February’s preview. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Part two soon…