Back 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 was 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.