Tag Archives: Lionel Shriver

Paperbacks to Look Out for in February 2019: Part Two

Cover imageAll the books in this second paperback instalment are new to me although, thanks to its Man Booker Prize shortlisting, I’ve heard a lot about Daisy Johnson’s Everything Under. Gretel hasn’t seen her mother for sixteen years when they lived on the canals together speaking the secret language they’d invented. A phone call reunites them bringing back memories of the strange boy who shared their boat for a winter and the fabled underwater creature swimming ever closer. ‘In the end there will be nothing for Gretel to do but to wade deeper into their past, where family secrets and aged prophesies will all come tragically alive again’ according to the blurb.

Christine Mangan’s Tangerine sounds entirely different. Alice is in Tangier with her new husband when she runs into Lucy, once her best friend and roommate, to whom she hasn’t spoken since a dreadful accident. Lucy helps Alice explore this new country in which she feels at sea but soon it seems Lucy has taken her over, and then Alice’s husband goes missing. ‘Tangerine is an extraordinary debut, so tightly wound, so evocative of 1950s Tangier, and so cleverly plotted that it will leave you absolutely breathless’ say the publishers setting the bar a tad high. That 1950s Moroccan setting is the lure for me.Cover image

Janice Pariat’s The Nine-Chambered-Heart sounds like a collection of linked short stories but is billed as a novel. Nine characters tell the story of one woman’s life from their own points of view, ranging from her art teacher to the female student who comes to love her. That’s a catnip structure for me but what seals the deal is the blurb’s description of ‘gem-like chapters’ in ‘deeply intimate, luminous and fine-boned novel that explores the nature of intimacy and how each connection you make forms who you are’.

Property is billed as Lionel Shriver’s first short story collection linked, as you might expect from its title, by the theme of what we own, be it real estate or mere stuff. ‘A woman creates a deeply personal wedding present for her best friend; a thirty-something son refuses to leave home; a middle-aged man subjugated by service to his elderly father discovers that the last place you should finally assert yourself is airport security’ say the publishers giving us a flavor of what to expect. I’ve gone off the boil somewhat with Shriver’s novels which seem to become ever more lengthy, but her short stories may well be worth a try.

Cover imageLucy Wood’s lovely first novel, Weathering, was a 2015 favourite for me and last year I finally got around to her short story collection Diving Belles and Other Stories which has me eagerly anticipating her new one, The Sing of the Shore. ‘These astonishing, beguiling stories of ghosts and shifting sands, of static caravans and shipwrecked cargo, explore notions of landscape and belonging, permanence and impermanence, and the way places can take hold and never quite let go’ according to the publishers. Weathering was striking for its gorgeous, lyrical writing as was Diving Belles and Other Stories raising expectations for more of the same.

That’s it for February. A click on any title that snags your interest will take you to a more detailed synopsis. If you’d like to catch up with the first instalment of February paperbacks they’re here, new titles are here and here.

 

Siren by Annemarie Neary: The past is a foreign country

Cover imageI’m not a thriller kind of gal – well only the televised kind, usually with a Scandiland backdrop – but the setting of Annemarie Neary’s debut and the fact that I was still hauling myself out of my flu-induced reading slump before going on holiday made me reach for it. It’s the story of Róisín, brought face to face with the past she’s been trying to bury for more than twenty years when she sees the man who dragged her into the Troubles in Belfast looking set to become leader of his political party.

Siren opens with the incident that will set the seal on the rest of Róisín’s life: the murder of a soldier – a ‘legitimate target’ in Lonergan’s parlance – who she has unwittingly helped to lure into a trap. Mousey and shy, Róisín is flattered when she’s picked out by the brash, sophisticated new girl in her class who invites her on a night out, unaware that she’s being used. When Dolores’ face appears as a photofit on the front pages of the newspapers after the atrocity, Róisín is terrified that she’ll be identified too but no one remembers the nondescript friend dancing at the discotheque. Soon Lonergan comes calling, demanding another job but this time offering a way out once it’s done. Before she makes her escape, Róisín is witness to another atrocity and it is in the hope of doing justice for this that she takes herself off to Lamb Island, decades later, where Lonergan has a house from which he conducts his dodgy business dealings. An ill-judged, drunken email sent late one night before she left New York has alerted him to her plans and there’s a reception committee: Theo the Dutchman – all silky charm – and Boyle the creepy voyeur, only too willing to keep an eye on Róisín for Lonergan.

From its superbly dramatic opening, Siren had me in its grip. Neary takes her time revealing Róisín’s past, leaking small details into her narrative and occasionally bringing her readers up short. Róisín is cleverly drawn, her teenage naiveté making her the perfect prey for Lonergan, as is Boyle with his sinister references to the previous occupant of Róisín’s rented bungalow. Neary’s writing is sharp and clean, often vivid in its intensity, coupled with an astute psychological insight. When I was reading it I was reminded a little of Lionel Shriver’s Ordinary Decent Criminals, published long before We Need to Talk about Kevin brought her fame but, for me, a much better book. Obviously, Siren’s ending is out-of-bounds as far as this review’s concerned but it’s a satisfying one. Altogether a smart, stylish piece of writing – far pithier than either Attica Locke’s Pleasantville or S J Bolton’s Second Life, both recent ventures into thriller territory for me, and all the better for it. I’ll be interested to see what Neary comes up with next.