Tag Archives: Laura Kaye

Paperbacks to Look Out for in September 2017: Part One

There’s an abundance of paperback treats coming up this September, so many that I’ve split them into two posts. Top of my list is Jake Arnott’s rollicking tale of thieves and whores, The Fatal Tree, set in 1726. Told to us by Billy, a confessional writer with his own story, it’s about Edgeworth Bess, banged up in Newgate Gaol awaiting trial for possession of stolen goods which may well lead her to Tyburn’s gallows. Replete with period detail, salaciousness and vivid descriptions, Arnott’s novel is both nicely taut and very funny at times. A wonderful piece of historical storytelling as atmospheric as Michel Faber’s The Crimson and the White.

Nathan Hill’s The Nix is an entirely different kettle of fish, although parts of it are set in 1968, certainly classed by my contemporary historian partner as history. Samuel is an assistant professor in his mid-thirties when the story of the Packer Attacker breaks: a woman in her sixties is facing prosecution for throwing stones at the Governor of Illinois. The woman turns out to be Samuel’s mother who left the family home when he was just eleven. Hill takes Samuel and Faye’s stories from the heady liberalism of the ‘60s to 2011, the world still reeling from the global financial crisis. Riveting stuff for me, full of striking writing and it’s very funny, too: Hill hurls well-aimed barbs at all manner of things from social media to advertising, publishing to academia – the latter spot-on according to H – to mention but a few.

Michael Chabon’s Moonglow also takes a long hard look at American history by the sound of it, drawing on stories told to him by his grandfather. The novel takes the form of a deathbed confession in which an old man tells his grandson stories long-buried, revealing a life far more adventurous than the grandson could ever have expected. ‘From the Jewish slums of pre-war Cover imagePhiladelphia to the invasion of Germany, from a Florida retirement village to the penal utopia of a New York prison, from the heyday of the space programme to the twilight of ‘the American Century’, Moonglow collapses an era into a single life and a lifetime into a single week’ say the publishers. Given Chabon’s storytelling skills this should be unmissable.

The next three titles are on a much more domestic scale beginning with Karl Geary’s Montpelier Parade described by the publishers as ‘luminous and moving’. Set in Dublin, it’s about Sonny who falls for Vera, both of them from very different backgrounds. ‘Unfolding in the sea-bright, rain-soaked Dublin of early spring, Montpelier Parade is a beautiful, cinematic novel about desire, longing, grief, hope and the things that remain unspoken’ say the publishers which sounds very appealing.

Gwendoline Riley’s Baileys Prize shortlisted First Love could be described as exploring similar territory although the relationship between Neve and Edwyn may not seem like love to everyone. Neve is a writer, working at home and living with Edwyn who is much older than her, often cranky and unpredictable. As we learn more about Neve’s life we begin to understand why she puts up with the stream of insults hurled at her. Riley leavens her spare, pin-point sharp novella’s bleakness with spikes of humour. Unsettling and thought-provoking, it ends on a note of frail hope.

Cover imageLove and its difficulties also runs through Laura Kaye’s engaging outsider’s view of rural life, English Animals, about a young Slovakian woman who leaves London to work as an au pair for a couple at Fairmont Hall, the house which is both their home and a financial millstone around their necks. Mirka arrives to the sound of bickering but despite their turbulent relationship, Richard and Sophie warmly welcome her into their home where she is surprised to find herself learning taxidermy, Richard’s new money-making scheme. A thoroughly enjoyable novel, peopled by well-observed characters and very funny at times although the squeamish may want to skip the more detailed taxidermy descriptions. I’m delighted to see that the publishers have kept that striking jacket for the paperback edition

That’s it for the first instalment of September’s paperbacks. Should you wish to learn more, a click on a title will take you to a full review for those I’ve read, and to a more detailed synopsis for Moonglow and Montpelier Parade. And if you want to catch up with September’s new titles they’re here. Second batch of paperbacks to follow soon…

English Animals by Laura Kaye: An outsider’s view…

Cover imageSuch a striking cover for this debut, and entirely fitting given it’s set in the English countryside although animal lovers may get a bit more than they bargained for in this novel about a young Slovakian woman who leaves London to work as an au pair for a couple at Fairmont Hall, the house which is both their home and a financial millstone around their necks. Laura Kaye explores what it is to be an outsider in more ways than one in this funny yet perceptive coming-of-age story.

When Mirka spots her future home from the taxi window, nestled in the English countryside, she thinks it’s perfect but her arrival is heralded by the sound of bickering, a favourite pastime for Richard and Sophie. Soon it becomes clear that there are no children for Mirka to look after. She’s expected to help around the various businesses that keep Fairmont Hall afloat: B & B, weddings, pheasant shoots and – Richard’s latest wheeze – taxidermy for which Mirka turns out to have a surprising talent. Despite their turbulent relationship, Richard and Sophie warmly welcome Mirka into their home – Richard joshing with her and Sophie teaching her how to do the daily crossword. Naturally neat and tidy, she manages to instil some order into this grubbily chaotic household – even the taxidermy becomes a pleasure as she devises tableaux, from a chicks’ hen party to a mouse rave, quickly snapped up by Richard’s hipster client. All seems to be set fair for Mirka, who has fled a violent home, but soon she finds herself falling in love and an affair begins for which one party may have higher hopes than the other.

Kaye tells her story through Mirka’s engaging voice, showing us English country life from an outsider’s point of view. There are some nice little digs about xenophobic attitudes, from Celia’s gullible swallowing of Romanian dognapper rumours to a tendency to lump all foreigners together, muddling Slovakian with Slovenian. Kaye depicts a certain sort of upper-middle-class Englishman painfully accurately in William who is all too recognisable but there’s also affection in her portrayal of English eccentricity and village life. It’s very funny at times although the squeamish may want to skip the more detailed taxidermy descriptions. All this is framed by an involving and appealing story peopled by well-observed characters. A thoroughly enjoyable novel, undemanding but well turned out enough to make me eager for more from Kaye.