Tag Archives: Improvement

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 apart from Lost Children Archive, The Narrow Land and Memories of the Future which I’ve yet to review. 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.

Improvement by Joan Silber: If you like Alice Munro…

Cover imageThere’s a quote from the Washington Post on the back of my proof comparing Joan Silber to Alice Munro which both piqued my interest and made me a little wary when approaching Improvement. Munro’s quietly insightful writing, uncluttered with fussy ornament, is right up my literary street but such comparisons so often lead to disappointment. Not this time. Silber’s novel traces the repercussions of a fatal accident through a set of characters – some directly affected by it, others barely linked to the event at all – exploring themes of love and redemption.

Reyna is hoping that her aunt, Kiki, will look after four-year-old Oliver while she visits Boyd in prison. Boyd has just three months to serve for a crime so petty that if he were white he might not have been locked up at all. Kiki has concerns about Boyd and is happy to voice them. Reyna’s judgement is not all it could be when it comes to men but Kiki, herself, has been keeping schtum for decades about her reasons for leaving her husband and returning home from her beloved Turkey about which she so often waxes lyrical. When Boyd gets out of prison, money is tight. His friends cook up a scheme smuggling cigarettes from Virginia to New York. All they need is a name to put on the vehicle ownership form which Claude’s sister is happy to provide. All goes swimmingly: money flows freely; Boyd, who Oliver adores, spends most of his leisure hours with Reyna and Claude seems to have met the love of his life in Virginia. One day, when they need a driver Reyna is pressed into service but her concerns for Oliver result in her stepping down at the last minute. Claude takes the wheel with tragic results.

Improvement is a carefully constructed novel that reads almost like a series of tightly linked short stories beginning and ending with Reyna. Silber explores the ripple effects of Claude’s accident through a range of characters from his Virginia girlfriend, left with no news of this man she’d grown to love, to the three Germans whose visit to Kiki’s Turkish home resulted in her departure decades before the carpet she brought back to the States contributes to Reyna’s redemption. Silber’s characters are sharply observed, her writing subtly understated leaving her readers to draw their own conclusions. Her exploration of love in its many forms and the stories we tell ourselves is insightful and pleasing. In short, that comparison seems spot on to me. I found myself wondering why I’d not snapped up everything Silber’s written some time ago but as far as I can see Improvement is her only book published here in the UK. All I can say to her publishers is ‘more please’.

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…