Tag Archives: Paperbacks published in February 2017

Paperbacks to Look Out for February 2017: Part Two

Cover imageThe first instalment of February’s paperback preview took a few steps outside my comfort zone but this one’s stuffed with tried and tested favourites, four of which made it onto my books of 2016 lists, and the fifth narrowly missed doing so only because things seemed to be getting out of hand.

My only disappointment with Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton is that it hasn’t won the shedload of prizes I was hoping it would. There’s much to think about in this slim novel in which the eponymous Lucy records her life, full of reflections, memories and ambiguities as she looks back on the nine weeks she spent in hospital over thirty years ago. Written in impressionistic episodes, Lucy’s narrative flits backwards and forwards through her life exploring her relationship with her mother and the effects of a childhood bereft of affection. It’s beautifully expressed, written with great compassion, as are all Strout’s novels, and it ends, I’m relieved to say, on a note of optimism.

Expectations were also high for The Crime Writer by Jill Dawson, another favourite writer of mine. The titular crime writer is Patricia Highsmith for whose work Dawson has a self-confessed addiction. Her novel is based on Highsmith’s sojourn in Suffolk where she set herself up to be close to her married lover. Dawson divides her narrative between first and third person, making Highsmith the quintessential unreliable narrator and unsettling her readers with her protagonist’s ceaselessly questioning and claustrophobic inner monologue. Dawson has a talent for working historical figures into her fiction – most notably Rupert Brooke in The Great Lover – but The Crime Writer is the ultimate in literary fan fiction. Absolutely engrossing even if, like me, you’re not a Highsmith aficionado.Cover image

Sjón’s writing was a new discovery for me last year. Moonstone is set in 1918, this fable-like novella follows sixteen-year-old orphan Máni Steinn over the three months that Spanish influenza rages through Reykjavík. Mani funds his expensive movie habit by turning tricks, always on the lookout for Sólborg Gudbjörnsdóttir who zooms around the city on her red Indian motorcycle, dressed in black leathers, the very image of Musidora, the star of Máni’s favourite movie. There’s a gorgeously poetic, dreamlike quality to this slim novella whose ending is extraordinarily beautiful – both fantastical and moving. Kudos to Victoria Cribb for such a sensitive translation of a remarkable piece of writing

Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter was one of those books that took me by surprise, much better than its slightly fluffy synopsis suggested. It’s set against the backdrop of a high-end restaurant in New York where Tess has fetched up having turned her back on smalltown Ohio. After proving her mettle, Tess catches the eye of both Simone, the restaurant’s expert sommelier, and Jake, its rakish bartender, and is drawn into the orbit of these two damaged personalities. It’s a thoroughly engrossing novel, hard to put down, and an acutely perceptive portrait of a young woman whose idealism is stripped from her.

Cover imageMy last February paperback is Austin Duffy’s This Living and Immortal Thing in which our unnamed narrator works in cancer research. Sitting outside on the smokers’ bench one day he meets a young Russian woman who introduces herself as a translator. He can’t help but be interested in this attractive young woman given to wry pronouncements about doctors and their well-meaning uselessness. It seems their friendship might become something else until the real reason for Marya’s presence in the hospital becomes apparent. There’s a welcome vein of quietly dark humour running through Duffy’s book, leavening its cool, slightly melancholic tone. It’s an unusual novel and it does that thing that good fiction so often does – educates us and helps us understand what it’s like for others.

That’s it for February.  A click on any of the five titles will take you to my review. If you’d like to catch up with the first part of the paperback preview it’s here. New books for February are here and here.

Paperbacks to Look Out for in February 2017: Part One

Cover imageThis is a turn up for the books, so to speak: the first part of my February paperback preview includes three short story collections. No, don’t go – I was like you once, dismissing short stories as not for me, but somewhere along the line, I’m not sure how, I’ve undergone a conversion. It used to be that I’d only read collections by authors whose novels I loved, a snack in the hope that a ‘proper’ book would come along soon, so I may as well kick this off with Helen Oyeyemi’s What is Not Yours is Not Yours. It’s a linked collection – another lure for novel-lovers – which takes its readers ‘into a world of lost libraries and locked gardens, of marshlands where the drowned dead live and a city where all the clocks have stopped; students hone their skills at puppet school, the Homely Wench Society commits a guerrilla book-swap, and lovers exchange books and roses on St Jordi’s Day’ say the publishers which sounds, quite literally, fabulous. Still hoping for a Oyeyemi novel, though…

Lots of chat in my neck of the Twitter woods about Helen Ellis’ American Housewife which sounds a world away from Oyeyemi’s stories. The blurb for this one is wonderful, worthy of a lengthy quote so here it is: ‘They redecorate. And they are quietly capable of kidnapping, breaking and entering, and murder. These women know the rules of a well-lived life: replace your tights every winter, listen to erotic audio books while you scrub the bathroom floor, serve what you want to eat at your dinner parties’. Ellis has her tongue firmly in her cheek in this collection, described as ‘vicious, fresh and darkly hilarious’ which sounds just great.Cover image

Shirley Jackson comes up time and time again in the bits of the blogosphere I follow, perhaps because it was the centenary of her birth last year, although Penguin Classics seem to have done a good job in bringing her to readers’ attention. She’s very much a writers’ writer, too. Just an Ordinary Day seems to have all the Jackson hallmarks with stories set in a world ‘by turns frightening, funny, strange’. She’s an author whose work I’d like to explore further.

Penguin Classics are also responsible for bringing Sabahattin Ali’s Madonna in a Fur Coat to British readers’ attention. First published in Turkey in 1943, it’s tale of a man who leaves his village for 1920s Berlin where he falls in love with an artist. Maureen Freely’s translation met with a rapturous reception from the critics when it was published last year and it sounds quite beautiful.

Cover imageI’m ending this post as I began with an uncharacteristic choice for me, this time a thriller. Annemarie Neary’s Siren took me by surprise last year, gripping me from its superbly dramatic opening when Róisín finds herself witness to a murder she’s unwittingly helped to set up. Neary takes her time revealing Róisín’s past, leaking small details into her narrative and occasionally bringing her readers up short. Her writing is sharp and clean, often vivid in its intensity, coupled with an astute psychological insight. A smart, pithy novel. I’m hoping for another one from Neary soon.

That’s it for the first February paperback preview. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis or to my review for Siren. A second bunch of February paperbacks will be along soon and if you’d like to catch up with February’s new books they’re here and here.