This second instalment of January’s paperbacks is something of a mixed bag. I’ll begin with Swansong by Kerry Andrew, described by Robert Macfarlane as a writer of ‘frankly alarming talent’. Make of that what you will. Polly Vaughan heads for the Scottish Highlands, fleeing the guilt of a ‘disturbing incident’ in London. She finds escapism in the form of drink, drugs and sex in the local pub but is haunted by visions then fascinated by a man she comes upon in the forest seemingly ripping apart a bird. Andrew ‘comes from a deep understanding of the folk songs, mythologies and oral traditions of these islands. Her powerful metaphoric language gives Swansong a charged, hallucinatory quality that is unique, uncanny and deeply disquieting’ say the publishers, promisingly.
Many of the characters in Mothers, Chris Powers’ short story collection, also find themselves at a crossroads according to the publisher’s blurb. ‘From remote and wild Exmoor to ancient Swedish burial sites and hedonistic Mexican weddings, these stories lay bare the emotional and psychic damage of life and love in a stunning debut collection’ apparently. This one has been popping up in my Twitter timeline intermittently for some time, not always a good thing, but I like the sound of stories which range so far and wide.
The loss of her mother triggers a crisis in Lucia’s mental health in Mira T. Lee’s Everything Here is Beautiful. Miranda drops everything and comes to her younger sister’s aid but it appears that Lucia may not want to be helped. ‘Told in alternating points of view, Everything Here Is Beautiful is the story of a young woman’s quest to find fulfilment and a life unconstrained by illness’ say the publishers. This sounds like an attractive structure to me, contrasting two very different perspectives.
Stefan Merrill Block’s Oliver Loving explores the aftermath of a high school shooting through the plight of the eponymous Oliver and his family. Ten years after he fell victim to a troubled young man at a high school dance, Oliver remains in a coma while his family try to cope and his teenage crush attempts to put it behind her. ‘Oliver Loving is a brilliant and beautifully told story of family, as heart-breaking as it is profound. It is a novel of the myths we make; the ties that bind us and the forces that keep us apart’ say the publishers which sounds a little overblown but I enjoyed Block’s The Storm at the Door and it’s an interesting premise.
I’m rounding off this preview with Tyler Keevil’s No Good Brother which sounds like a nice slice of adventure. Two brothers – one honest, the other not – set off on a journey to settle a debt with a notorious gang which will take them across land and sea dogged by customs officials, freak storms and a distinct sense of luck running out. ‘Quick-witted and beautifully observed, No Good Brother is an exquisite portrait of brotherly love and loyalty, examining the loss of innocence and the ties that bind us’ say the publishers. An uncharacteristic choice for me but the blurb’s put me in mind of Patrick deWitt’s wonderful The Sisters Brothers.
That’s it for January. A click on any title that takes your fancy will take you to a more detailed synopsis, and if you’d like to catch up with the rest of January previews they’re here, here and here.
To those of you looking forward to Christmas, I hope you have a lovely time. If, as it is for many, it’s a more complicated time of the year for you, I hope it passes as painlessly as possible. And for those of you in retail or catering who’ve been working your socks off – I hope you get some rest before you start all over again. I’ll be back at the end of the week.