Tag Archives: Never Anyone But You

Paperbacks to Look Out for in January 2019: Part One

Cover imageI’ve read three of the paperbacks that have caught my eye for January, one of which is Jim Powell’s Things We Nearly Knew, a slice of American small town life seen through the eyes of an unnamed bartender. I’d enjoyed Powell’s second novel, Trading Futures, a few years back, admiring its narrator’s waspishly funny inner monologue. This one’s infused with a gentler humour, the themes it tackles much weightier. Our narrator and his wife lie in bed mulling over events in the bar they run together. One day Arlene walks in, all glamour and sophistication, asking if they’ve heard of a man named Jack. Powell’s story unfolds through the bartender’s memories of the nine months Arlene occupied her bar stool, slipping in details of his apparently prosaic marriage, less transparent than he might have thought. A thoroughly enjoyable piece of storytelling.

Roland Schimmelpfennig’s One Clear Ice-cold January Morning at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century is set largely in Berlin, one of my favourite European cities, and translated by Jamie Bulloch whose name I’ve come to associate with interesting fiction. It begins with a wolf crossing the frozen river which marks the border between Poland and Germany. As the wolf’s journey progresses, so do the intersecting stories of the characters who glimpse it, and some who don’t, in this carefully constructed intricate piece of fiction which offers a picture of Berlin a decade or so after east and west became one. One of my books of 2018.Cover imge

Winding back another thirty years in German history, Lutz Seiler’s award-winning Kruso is set on Hiddensee – a Baltic island legendary as a destination for idealists and rebels against the East German state – where in 1989 a young student has fled a dreadful tragedy. Once there, he gets a job washing dishes at the island’s most popular restaurant and becomes friends with the eponymous Kruso to whom the seasonal workers seem to be in thrall. ‘As the wave of history washes over the German Democratic Republic, the friends’ grip on reality loosens and life on the island will never be the same’ say the publishers.

Rupert Thomson takes us over the border with Never Anyone But You based on the true story of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore who meet and fall in love in early twentieth-century small town France. Moving to Paris, they immerse themselves in the world of Hemingway and Dali, producing a series of avant-garde photographs. On the eve of war, they flee to Jersey where their anti-Nazi propaganda puts their lives in danger. ‘Never Anyone but You explores the gripping true story of two extraordinary women who challenged gender boundaries, redefining what it means to be a woman, and ultimately risked their lives in the fight against oppression. Theirs is a story that has been hidden in the margins of history’ according to the publishers which sounds fascinating.

Cover imageI’m rounding off this first batch with Hermes Gowar’s The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, which we shadow judges picked as our winner for the Young Writer of the Year Award. It begins in 1785 with a Deptford merchant taking delivery of a wizened figure said to be a mermaid. Across town, a courtesan sits pondering what to do now her patron has died. Gowar’s novel has more than a touch of the morality tale about it along the lines of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair or Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, exploring the position of women in eighteenth-century society all wrapped up in a good old-fashioned bit of storytelling replete with period detail and a pleasing helping of sly wit.

That’s it for the first part of January’s paperback preview. A click on a title will take you to my review for the three I’ve read and to a more detailed synopsis for the other two. If you’d like to catch up with January’s new titles they’re here and here. More paperbacks soon…

Books to Look Out for in June 2018: Part Two

Cover imageWhereas there was no contest for my first June selection’s lead title, two novels jostle for that position in the second. Tim Winton wins by a whisker with The Shepherd’s Hut. Jaxie Clackton has long since put home behind him when a dramatic event leaves him with nothing, catapulting him into a journey across the arid Western Australian wilderness. ‘Fierce and lyrical, The Shepherd’s Hut is a story of survival, solitude and unlikely friendship. Most of all it is about what it takes to keep hope alive in a parched and brutal world’ say the publishers. A new book from Winton is always something to look forward to for me.

Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City met with tidal waves of critical acclaim in 2016 and deservedly so. Crudo is her much-tweeted-about first novel. Just turned forty, Kathy is coming to terms with the idea of a lifelong commitment against a backdrop of mad Trump tweets and post-referendum Britain, wondering if it’s worth the effort. ‘A Goodbye to Berlin for the 21st century, Crudo charts in real time what it was like to live and love in the horrifying summer of 2017, from the perspective of a commitment-phobic peripatetic artist who may or may not be Kathy Acker . . .’ say the publishers somewhat intriguingly given that Acker died in 1997.Cover image

The protagonist of Caoilinn Hughes’ debut Orchid and the Wasp also seems to be dealing with personal and global crises. The daughter of a wealthy dysfunctional family, Gael is finding her way around the London club scene and New York’s art world as the Occupy movement gains momentum. ‘Written in heart-stoppingly vivid prose, Orchid & the Wasp is a modern-day Bildungsroman that chews through sexuality, class and contemporary politics and crackles with joyful fury and anarchic gall’ say the publishers which sounds a little frenetic. Hughes is an award-winning poet which is always a lure for me.

Winding back to the scorching Los Angeles summer of 1965, A. G. Lombardo’s Graffiti Palace follows African-American graffiti artist Americo Monk as he tries to make his way home through the race riots sparked by the arrest of Marquette Frye. Monk maps his route using the intricately depicted identity tags on the streets, recorded in a notebook that both cops and gangs are eager to get their hands on. ‘Bursting at the seams with memorable characters – including Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, sewer-dwelling crack dealers and a legendary Mexican graffiti artist no-one’s even sure exists – Graffiti Palace conjures into being a fantastical, living, breathing portrait of Los Angeles in 1965’ say the publishers a little dramatically but perhaps justifiably so.

Cover imageI’m rounding off this selection of June titles as it began with another author whose books I’ve enjoyed. Rupert Thomson’s Never Anyone but You is based on the true story of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore who meet and fall in love in early twentieth-century small town France. Moving to Paris, they immerse themselves in the world of Hemingway and Dali, producing a series of avant-garde photographs. On the eve of war, they flee to Jersey where their anti-Nazi propaganda puts their lives in danger. ‘Never Anyone but You explores the gripping true story of two extraordinary women who challenged gender boundaries, redefining what it means to be a woman, and ultimately risked their lives in the fight against oppression. Theirs is a story that has been hidden in the margins of history’ according to the publishers which sounds fascinating.

That’s it for June’s new titles. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more and if you missed the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks soon…