Tag Archives: Julie Myerson

Books to Look Out For in February 2016: Part 2

The BallroomTop of the list of my second batch of February books to look out for has to be Anna Hope’s The Ballroom. Her debut, Wake, was one of those novels in the tidal wave of fiction that dealt with the First World War and its aftermath back in 2014. I liked it very much and have hopes for this one which is set in the summer of 1911 in an asylum on the edge of the Yorkshire moors where men and women meet briefly once a week to dance. ‘A tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which’, according to the publishers. I suspect this one will be hyped to the skies but it may well live up to it, or close at least. Lovely jacket too – almost a match for the gorgeous Wake cover.

I’ve long been a fan of Julie Myerson’s fiction all the way back to Sleepwalking  but the last one or two novels seemed a little formulaic to me. The synopsis of The Stopped Heart sounds as if it may well be in the same vein. A good deed to a stranger, a century ago, seems to have left its mark on the apparently idyllic cottage where a couple are trying to make a fresh start after the loss of their child. ‘The perfect place to forget. To move on. But in The Stopped Heart, the past never dies.’ say the publishers. Hmm… Not at all sure about that but once more for old time’s sake, I think.

At one stage I was convinced that Tim Parks had a huge alimony bill, either that or a Cover imagesubstance abuse problem, so great was his output. It turned out to be neither as the happily married, sober Parks revealed in his moving memoir on his driven nature and inability to stop working, Teach Us to Sit Still. His new novel, Thomas and Mary, is about a long-married couple who are facing the prospect of separating. Billed as ‘a love story in reverse’ Parks’ novel chronicles Thomas and Mary’s marriage from its first heady days in what the publishers have described as ‘a fiercely intimate chronicle of a marriage’. Sounds quite appealing to me.

Entirely different, Sunil Yapa’s debut, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, is set in Seattle against the backdrop of the 1999 World Trade Organzation protest. Victor, the estranged son of Seattle’s police chief, finds himself homeless after a family tragedy. On a day that will see the city under siege from protesters, Victor and his father are set on a collision course. This one could go either way but it has an unusual setting and that’s an eye-catching title.

Cover imageI’ve seen Paraic O’Donnell’s The Maker of Swans talked about on Twitter – not always a good thing – but a striking jacket and an intriguing synopsis has piqued my interest. Once a man of note with extraordinary gifts, Mr Crowe has given himself over to earthly pleasures, living in faded grandeur with his ward, Clara, and his manservant. When he commits a crime of passion he draws the attention of the head of the secret society to which he belongs, attention that’s soon diverted to Clara who, it seems, may be able to save them all. Sounds like it might be just the ticket for long dark evenings, if done well.

That’s it for February. Lots of reasons to wrap up warm and stay inside. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a fuller synopsis and If you’d like to catch up with the first set of February titles they’re here. First batch of paperbacks next week.

The Kindness by Polly Samson: Oh what a tangled web we weave…

The Kindness I enjoyed Polly Samson’s first novel, Out of the Picture, very much. She’s also written two collections of short stories one of which – the cleverly linked Perfect Lives which turned out to be about anything but – I was particularly taken with. She’s not one of those authors whose name is on everyone’s lips although The Kindness seems to have gone down well. If I had to compare her to other writers in that time-honoured way that publishers love so much, I’d say we were in Julie Myerson territory: perceptive portrayals of family life, unafraid to explore the darker side with a few pleasing twists. It’s the kind of novel that it’s hard not to gulp down: we’re set up for a dark secret by the book’s blurb which keeps incorrigibly nosy readers like me eagerly turning the pages.

It opens in 1989 with Julia meeting Julian. She’s flying her husband’s Harris hawk and he – struggling up the hill and struck by her beauty – falls instantly for her. Already on the brink of leaving her controlling husband, Julia moves in with Julian and soon the two are besotted. Eight years later, Julian, recovering from a debilitating illness, is grief-stricken. Mira, the couple’s daughter, has been desperately ill. His beloved Firdaws, the childhood home which the family has reclaimed, has been stripped of all traces of both his daughter and Julia. As he tries to find a way of dealing with what has happened – first batting away all attempts to help him, then giving in to the ministrations of his insistent ex-girlfriend – he remembers his life with Julia, telling their story to himself and to us. Five years later, Julia picks up the narrative, throwing an entirely new and different light on events. The novel ends in 2012 with a reunion.

Samson’s novel is a triumph of clever plotting. Several times throughout her narrative I congratulated myself on realising what the promised ‘explosive secret’ was only to have the carpet pulled from beneath my feet. Switching her narrative from Julian to Julia is a masterstroke. Samson smoothly slips small, telling details into the tangle of misunderstandings and misinterpretations that she’s deftly woven. Her writing is often quite striking, vividly conjuring up the heat of summer and the gorgeous decoration with which Julia transforms the couple’s dingy London flat. A thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing read, then. Just one complaint, and it’s a small one: the main protagonists’ names – a little too much of the ‘made for each other for me’.