Tag Archives: Paperbacks published in March 2017

Paperbacks to Look Out for in March 2017: Part Two

Cover imageThe second part of March’s paperbacks stays here in the UK for a while then wanders around all over the place finally arriving at one of my favourite literary destinations. Stella Duffy’s London Lies Beneath begins in August 1912 and follows three friends who have grown up together in the slums of Walworth where they’re expected to live out their lives. When the more adventurous of the three hears of a scouting trip he’s determined to go, taking the other two with him with tragic results. The blurb describes it as ‘a song of south London, of working class families with hidden histories, of a bright and complex world long neglected’. I’ve enjoyed Duffy’s previous London novels – she has a knack for catching the atmosphere of the place, and what a great jacket.

London – or at least the City – is the old stomping ground of sixty-year-old Matthew Oxenhay who is driving along the A303 towards Barnet, leaving Somerset behind him in Jim Powell’s Trading Futures. Whether he continues in that direction depends on his wife not answering her phone. If she does answer it, he’ll tell her he’s leaving her, turn around and head back to Anna in Somerset. Matthew’s story unfolds through his own waspish, darkly funny inner monologue. He’s a ‘60s rebel for whom the very idea of a career as a futures trader would have been despicable all those years ago. Sharply observed and grimly funny, in the end Matthew’s journey is a sobering one.

Marriage and infidelity also run through Anna Raverat’s Lover. Kate’s marriage begins to unravel when she discovers her husband’s dalliance with another woman. Work offers no comfort as her boss becomes increasingly demanding. Amidst this turmoil, Kate’s priority is to protect her daughters but her life is in tatters. ‘Told with warmth and lightness, even as it also mines real depths of sorrow, Lover is a novel about the hand that life can deal you, and how to play it with grace. Beautifully observed, full of wisdom, poetry and humour, it asks what it means to be true in all things, and in so doing, how to live’ say the publishers, which makes it sound like a nice piece of intelligent, absorbing fiction.

Keeping it in the family, Elizabeth Hay’s His Whole Life is a coming-of-age novel which follows Jim Cover imageand his mother over seven difficult years as the bond between them deepens ‘What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?’ asks ten-year-old Jim from the back seat of the family car. This is the question that will recur throughout Hay’s richly complex and intimate portrait of an extended family, each time revealing more about its characters. I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Hay’s nuanced understated fiction – her Late Nights on Air is one of my favourite novels. If you haven’t read her yet, please do. You won’t be disappointed

Complex family dynamics are a theme of Neil Hegarty’s adroit Inch Levels, set in Derry against the background of the Troubles, about a young man with only a few weeks to live, wrestling with a dilemma and the tortured family history that has led him to it. As Patrick’s recollections unfold they reveal a family whose emotions have been smothered: a mother closed off, unable to express affection; a father doing the best he can but unable to compensate and two children, confused and resentful but knowing that each is all the other has. It’s an engaging novel which shows rather than tells, richly repaying close attention.

Finding his family is on the mind of an American student with debts to settle in Miroslav Pensov’s Stork Mountain. He heads for the village of Klisura, deep in the Strandja Mountains on the Bulgarian side of the border with Turkey within spitting distance of Greece, hoping to sell his family’s land and track down his incommunicado grandfather. Beautifully expressed and often very funny, Stork Mountain weaves folklore, dreams and history through its long and winding narrative, often turning back on itself. It’s not an easy read, occasionally bewildering with its many stories, myths and legends overlapping with history, but it’s worth the effort.

Klisura once found itself part of the Communist state, the eventual result of the turbulent political upheavals which twenty-two-year-old Gerty Freely finds herself caught up in. Charlotte Hobson’s The Vanishing Futurist follows Gerty to Moscow where she takes up a position as a governess. Three years after her arrival, revolution transforms the city throwing the bourgeois into panicky bag-packing but Gerty decides to stay, becoming involved in a communal living experiment led by a charismatic inventor. His sudden disappearance leaves Gerty alone and vulnerable.

Cover imageStraining for a link to Pamela Erens’ Eleven Hours but I think I it’s beyond me.  Set in New York, the novel reveals the lives of two women – one in labour, the other her Haitian midwife. It’s the ‘taut sensitive prose’ of the publisher’s blurb that attracts me to this one together with the interweaving of the stories of two women from very different backgrounds. The ‘sometimes harrowing’ description is a little off-putting but at least we’ve been warned.

That’s it for March’s paperbacks which are many and varied, studded with several gems. Should you be interested, a click on a title will take you to my reviews for Trading Futures, His Whole Life, Inch Levels and Stork Mountain, or to a fuller synopsis for the others. If you’d like to catch up with part one, it’s here – March hardbacks are here and here.

Paperbacks to Look Out for in March 2017: Part One

Cover imageA plethora of paperbacks to look out for this March – enough to justify two posts – beginning with John Wray’s ambitious sounding The Lost Time Accidents. Waldemar Tolliver wakes up one day to find himself out of time – the world is still turning but he’s not turning with it. Wray’s novel ‘takes us from turn-of-the-century Viennese salons buzzing with rumours about Einstein’s radical new theory to the death camps of the Second World War, from the golden age of post-war pulp science fiction to a startling discovery in a modern-day Manhattan apartment packed to the ceiling with artefacts of contemporary life’ says the publisher which sounds intriguing, although that time slippage may take a bit of swallowing.

Megan Bradbury’s Everyone is Watching also wanders around the twentieth century. A New York setting is usually enough to guarantee any novel a place on my list but this one sounds particularly attractive, apparently featuring the city itself as the main protagonist. From Walt Whitman in 1891 to Robert Mapplethorpe in 1967, from Robert Moses in 1922 to Edmund White in 2013, Bradbury’s novel is about the artists and writers who have made New York a city that captures the imagination. ‘Through the lives and perspectives of these great creators, artists and thinkers, and through other iconic works of art that capture its essence, New York itself solidifies. Complex, rich, sordid, tantalizing, it is constantly changing and evolving. Both intimate and epic in its sweep, Everyone is Watching is a love letter to New York and its people – past, present and future’ according to the publisher which suggests it Cover imagecould either be a great sprawling mess of a novel or a resounding success. We’ll see.

New York is the setting for Molly Prentiss’ Tuesday Nights in 1980 which begins on New Year’s Eve in 1979 when parties are being held all over the city. Connections will be set up at two of these which play out through the rest of this entertaining and absorbing novel: one thrown by the doyenne of the New York art world; the other much more uproarious, held at an artists’ squat. Prentiss tosses a few well-aimed barbs at the art market and its ever-increasing prices – even the most raggle taggle squatters succumb to the lure of money once it’s on offer, no matter how hard they justify their excesses.

Prentiss’ New York art scene is a world away from Harriette Arnow’s The Dollmaker but they do share the theme of creativity. A sculptor of exquisite wooden dolls and the mother of five children, Gertie has a modest ambition to own a small farm in the Kentucky hills but the family is forced to move to Detroit. Freedom and art are sacrificed to a grinding need for money in what the New York Times described as “A masterwork…A superb book of unforgettable strength and glowing richness”. Billed by the publishers that brought you Stoner and The Power of the Dog as a rediscovered American classic, Arnow’s novel sounds well worth investigating.

Cover imageMy last choice shares a rural setting with The Dollmaker – this time the Appalachians from where Ron Rash hails and the backdrop against which he sets his award-winning novels. Above the Waterfall is about Les Clary, the local sheriff approaching retirement who is faced with a final case which will see him repaying a childhood debt in a most unorthodox fashion. Beautifully executed, compassionate yet unflinching in its portrayal of human frailties, Rash’s novel is utterly convincing.

That’s it for March’s first batch of paperbacks. A click on a title will either take you to my review or to a more detailed synopsis should you be interested. If you’d like to catch up with March’s new titles they’re here and here. Part two shortly…