Tag Archives: Paperbacks published in January 2018

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…

Paperbacks to Look Out for in January 2018: Part Two

Cover imageThis second selection of January paperbacks begins with a title I’m not entirely sure about. In Alison Jean Lester’s Yuki Means Happiness a young woman leaves America for Japan, keen for adventure. She takes a job as a nanny to a two-year-old, immersing herself in the routine of the household and becoming increasingly attached to her charge until she comes to understand that the Yoshimura family isn’t quite what it seems. It sounds very different from the worldly Lillian on Life which is what led me to this one hence my doubts about it but Anne over at Annethology rates it highly as you can see from this review.

Books about and by children brought up in communes have a fascination for me. The best one I’ve read is Tim Guest’s A Life in Orange about his upbringing in an ashram. In Curly Oswald’s The Ballad of Curly Oswald, a man raised by an extended family of hippies looks back on his childhood from his hospital bed. It’s billed by its indie publishers as ‘an extraordinary chronicle of a lifestyle both alternative yet strangely viable, a microcosm of eccentricity, comedy and grotesque tragedy, told with the unflinching eye of a child and the sympathy of a narrator who sees the underlying humour of life in all its deranged glory.’ It’s not entirely clear whether the book is a novel or a memoir but presumably if it’s fiction it’s closely related to the author’s experience.

Moving on to the ‘80s, David Keenan’s This is Memorial Device is about two guys looking back on their fanboy days immersed in Airdrie’s post-punk scene. ’Featuring a cast of misfits, artists, drop-outs, small-town visionaries and musicians, This Is Memorial Device is a dark, witty novel depicting a moment where art and the demands it makes are as serious as life itself’ according to the blurb. Given that Keenan is both a musician and a critic, odds-on this one’s also a tad autobiographical and may be all the better for it.

Known as Bandi, the author of Cover imageThe Accusation risked his life to get this collection of short stories smuggled out of his native North Korea. Beginning in 1989, these are stories which highlight the grim plight of Bandi’s fellow citizens, throwing a much-needed light on this secretive country and its draconian regime. ‘The Accusation is a heartbreaking portrayal of the realities of life in North Korea. It is also a reminder that humanity can sustain hope even in the most desperate of circumstances – and that the courage of free thought has a power far beyond those seek to suppress it’ say the publishers. I feel duty bound to the author to read this one.

That’s it for January paperbacks. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that have taken your fancy, and if you’d like to catch up with the first batch it’s here. January’s new titles are here and here.

 

Paperbacks to Look Out for in January 2018: Part One

This first batch of January paperbacks kicks of with my book of 2017: Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 which traces the effects of a young girl’s disappearance from a village in the north of England over the course of thirteen years, one for each of her life. The rhythms of the natural world hum through its pages, a background to the small tragedies, joys, disappointments and achievements that make up the villagers’ lives. Beneath it all there’s a consciousness of the missing girl and what may have happened to her. Deeply compassionate, written in quietly lyrical prose and peopled with astutely observed, well-rounded characters, this is a superb novel. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Identity theft seems to be the theme of Delphine de Vigan’s Based on a True Story The person doing the stealing is L., Delphine’s best friend with whom she has become enthralled. L. is the kind of beautifully turned out woman who seems to know what to do in every circumstance. Chillingly, she begins to dress like her new friend, offering to answer her emails and finding her way into every aspect of Delphine’s life until she takes control of it. It sounds quite riveting, and all the more so given that the author has given her protagonist both her name and her profession, not to mention that title. It’s an intriguing idea and I very much enjoyed the somewhat lighter No and Me a few years ago.

Heading further into dark territory, Phillip Lewis’ The Barrowfields tells the story of a family afflicted by tragedy set against the backdrop of the Appalachian Mountains. Lawyer Henry Aster sets up house with his wife and children in a crumbling mansion so that he can take care of his ailing mother. Henry spends his nights writing and drinking, slowly sinking into a deep depression. Years later his story is told by his son, burdened with his own tragedy. Lewis knows how to spin a story, managing to keep my attention over the novel’s 300+ pages despite a few too many Southern gothic touches.

J, Robert Lennon’s Broken River also has a touch of the gothic mashed up nicely with a slice of noir, this time in upstate New York. In a last-ditch attempt to save their marriage, a couple moves to freshly renovated house, taking their precociously bright twelve-year-old with them, Unbeknownst to them, the house has been empty for twelve years since the unsolved murder of the family that lived in it. Lennon’s deftly handled plot revolves around a web of coincidence and misunderstandings which finally unravels. Not an unalloyed success for me but it’s well worth a read.

That’s it for the first January paperback preview. A click on a title will either take you to my review or to a more detailed synopsis, and if you’d like to catch up with January’s new titles they’re here and here. Second batch of paperbacks to follow shortly…