Tag Archives: Kevin Barry

Paperbacks to Look Out for in April 2017: Part Two

Cover imageBack from sunny Antwerp, safe and sound, more of which later in the week but in the meantime here’s the second batch of April’s paperbacks beginning with Marie Ndiaye’s 2016 Man Booker Prize longlisted Ladivine. Unable to admit her mother’s lowly origins to her husband and daughter, Clarisse Riviere pretends to be an orphan, visiting her mother in secret. Inevitably, her lies catch up with her. Although she’s more open with the new man who enters her life, tragedy eventually ensues. ‘Centred around three generations of women, whose seemingly cursed lineage is defined by the weight of origins, the pain of alienation and the legacy of shame, Ladivine is a beguiling story of secrets, lies, guilt and forgiveness by one of Europe’s most unique literary voices’ according to the publisher. I like the sound of this one.

David Szalay’s All That Man Is sat alongside Ladivine, on last year’s Man Booker longlist, then made it on to the shortlist. It follows nine men, all of whom are away from home, each at different stages in their lives. Set in a variety of locations, from the suburbs of Prague to a Cypriot hotel, it’s ‘a portrait of contemporary manhood, contemporary Europe and contemporary life from a British writer of supreme gifts – the master of a new kind of realism’ say the publishers. The structure is a very appealing one although the predominantly male set of voices may become a bit wearing.

‘Postmodern’, a word that crops up in the blurb for the next novel, tends to run up a warning flag for me but the synopsis for Álvaro Enrigue’s Sudden Death is hard to resist. It begins with a brutal tennis match in which Caravaggio takes on the Spanish poet Quevedo before an audience which includes Galileo and Mary Magdelene. According to the publisher ‘there are assassinations and executions, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bawdy criminals, carnal liaisons and papal dramas, artistic and religious revolutions, love and war. A blazingly original voice and a postmodern visionary, Álvaro Enrigue tells the grand adventure of the dawn of the modern era, breaking down traditions and upending expectations, in this bold, powerful punch of a novel.’ There’s every chance, of course, that it’s the kind of book that’s just too tricksy for its own good although H, who bought it at my suggestion, says it’s good and he’s as sceptical of that postmodern tag as I am, if not more so.

I’m ending April’s paperbacks with a short story collection from Kevin Barry whose Beatlebone Cover imagewas much admired and whose writing I was very struck by in the anthology A Kind of Compass a little while back. In There Are Little Kingdoms ‘a pair of fast girls court trouble as they cool their heels on a slow night in a small town. Lonesome hillwalkers take to the high reaches in pursuit of a saving embrace. A bewildered man steps off a country bus in search of his identity – and a stiff drink. These stories, filled with a grand sense of life’s absurdity, form a remarkably surefooted collection that reads like a modern-day Dubliners’ claim the publishers somewhat ambitiously.

That’s it for April. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that take your fancy. If you’d like to catch up with the first paperback preview, it’s here. New titles are here and here.

A Kind of Compass (Edited by Belinda McKeon): A little cherry picking

Cover imageRegular readers may have noticed that I’ve taken to reviewing short stories recently but this is my first anthology. Previous reviews have all been of collections by a single author, one whose novels I love. Two things brought me to A Kind of Compass: firstly it’s edited by Belinda McKeon both of whose novels – Solace and Tender –captivated me, and secondly it includes a story by Sara Baume whose gorgeously poetic, Costa Prize shortlisted debut Spill Simmer Falter Wither rates alongside Tender as one of my books of this year. I should say that there’s a common theme to this collection, subtitled ‘Stories on Distance’, which McKeon discusses in her introduction, describing ‘distance’ as an obsession that she had hoped to ease by commissioning seventeen others to write about it for her, ranging far and wide to find them. It didn’t work, apparently. Hard to review an anthology without the whole thing becoming a list so please forgive my cherry picking four favourites from those I’ve read so far.

Yoko Ogawa’s ‘Six Days in Glorious Vienna’ (translated by Stephen Snyder) covers the distance between Japan – from where her two characters travel – to Vienna, one to celebrate her twentieth birthday and the other to visit her dying lover, now a very old man. These two are strangers to each other but by the end both have covered more emotional miles than they have physical. It’s a beautifully expressed story with a wonderful twist at its end.

Kevin Barry’s narrator has taken fifteen years to travel from Ireland to Spain in ‘Extremadura (Until Night Falls)’. Ignored by all but the village mutt, the narrator watches the evening’s comings and goings, thinking of home and whether his family is still waiting for him, watching the local heartbreaker and nursing his own broken heart which has led him from a settled life to a tramp’s ostracism. Barry was awarded this year’s Goldsmiths Prize just a few weeks ago for Beatlebone and if the almost casually lyrical style of this story is anything to go by, it’s well deserved.

Sara Baume’s ‘Finishing Lines’ opens with the kind of image that I loved in Spill Simmer Falter Wither, comparing homing pigeons to ‘tiny, shaved-headed men in high collars, their arms shoved down inside their shirts’. Leaving her nine-month-old baby and her boyfriend behind, Baume’s narrator travels to London to rescue one of her great-uncle’s pigeons who has lost her way from St Malo and landed in Bethnal Green. Staying with an old friend overnight, our narrator realises quite how far she’s travelled since her old student days.

In E. C. Osondu’s ‘The Place for Me’, Tochi wonders why his brother parties so hard when he comes home to Nigeria from his job in London. Tochi’s determined to join his brother in what he and his friends see as the land of opportunity, managing to finagle a visa and finally arriving in Peckham where the gulf between what he’s seen on TV and the actuality becomes horribly clear.

I’ve leant not to gulp collections down whole so can’t vouch for all seventeen stories but what I have read suggests that McKeon has a sharp eye for talent, although I’d guessed that after reading the Amy Bloom quotation in her introduction. Now, there’s a woman who knows how to write a short story.