Tag Archives: Rachel Malik

My wish list for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018

The longlist for the only UK award that really excites me these days, The Women’s Prize for Fiction, is due to be announced next Thursday. Only novels written by women in English published between April 1st 2017 and March 31st 2018 qualify. Over the past few years I’ve failed miserably in my suggestions but truth be told I’d much rather indulge myself with a fantasy list rather than speculate as to what the judges think. What follows, then, is entirely subjective, wishes rather than predictions. The judges are restricted to twelve on their longlist but given that this is my indulgence I’ve decided to ignore that and include two extra that I couldn’t bear to drop. I’ve followed the same format as 2017, 2016 and 2015, limiting myself to novels that I’ve read with a link to a full review on this blog. So, in no particular order here’s my wish list for the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction:

The End We Start From                   The Lie of the Land               Conversations with Friends

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Johannesburg                                        Home Fire                                   Sugar Money

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The Ninth Hour                                    The Life to Come                                 Sisters

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The Break                                                Asymmetry                  Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves

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All Day at the Movies                           Before Everything

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I’ll be happy if even one of these takes the judges’ fancy. A click on a title will take you to my review should you want to know more..

How about you? Any titles you’d love to see on the longlist?

Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik: ’We were rich…’

Cover imageRachel Malik’s debut has been sitting on my shelves waiting to be reviewed for quite some time. I was sent a copy a few months after its hardback publication when Malik approached me and I warily agreed to look at it. I’ve learned my lesson in this respect but an old friend had reviewed the novel positively in the Sunday Times which swayed me and Heavenali’s review sealed the deal. The old bookseller in me thought it would be better to hold back a review until the paperback edition appeared, and now it has.

Elsie Boston has run the family farm alone for many years. She’s a little eccentric and deeply introverted, living on the edge of the village in every sense. Struggling to keep the farm afloat, she decides to take on a Land Girl and waits nervously for her arrival, wondering how she will cope with a stranger. Rene Hargreaves is a Manchester girl who has left her gambling husband and three children, passing herself off as a widow. These two find a way to accommodate their very different habits, settling into a routine of evening Patience and listening to the radio with Rene spending her afternoon off at the pictures. By the time Elsie is forced off the farm by her opportunistic neighbours, their lives have become so entwined that they leave together, embarking on fifteen years as itinerant farm workers until they settle in Cornwall in 1958, almost two decades after they met. Life settles back into its usual routines – Elsie keeping herself to herself, Rene off to the pictures once a week – until Rene learns of the death of a close family friend to whom she owes a debt of gratitude. Despite her antipathy towards him, Rene knows she and Elsie must take in Bertha’s ageing, alcoholic husband who sets about disrupting their life. When Ernest finally dies it might almost seem a cause for celebration but then the police arrive.

In her historical note at the back of the book, Malik explains that Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is based very loosely on her grandmother’s life, knowledge which makes her novel all the more poignant for this is not always a happy story. Smoothly shifting perspective back and forth between Else and Rene, threading their memories through her narrative, Malik combines quietly understated prose with appropriately cinematic, vivid episodes. The passage in which Rene and her friend stumble onto a film set, charming the crew and triggering a life-long passion for the movies, is quite magical. The relationship between Elsie and Rene is delicately sketched, its changes subtly shaded in. Their lives were so very ordinary, except perhaps in one or two respects sums up these two women beautifully as it must have for many other couples like them, discreetly living their lives together. As Elsie says in court to much sniggering derision We were rich, and indeed they were. A touching, thoroughly absorbing novel – I’m looking forward to reading what Malik comes up with next.

Paperbacks to Look Out for in February 2018: Part Two

Cover imageI’ve yet to get around to reading George Saunders’ Man Booker Prize winning Lincoln in the Bardo. which examines the effects of the death of the President’s eleven-year-old son on his father. Lincoln was rumoured to have frequently visited his son’s grave despite the ravaging of his country by the American Civil War. ‘From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying’ according to the publisher. I’m not entirely sure what to make of that but it’s the novel’s central question – ‘how do we live and love when we know that everything we hold dear must end?’ – together with Saunders’ reputation that makes this one attractive for me rather than its Man Booker prize.

My second choice was shortlisted for the Sunday Times/Peters, Fraser and Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award whose judges handed the prize to Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends. The shadow panel begged to differ, loving Julianne Pachico’s The Lucky Ones so much they picked it as their winner. Pachico’s short story collection is set in Colombia and New York, bringing together ‘the fates of guerrilla soldiers, rich kids, rabbits, hostages, bourgeois expats, and drug dealers. Exploring what makes a victim and what makes a perpetrator, these stories show lives fatefully entwined, despite deep cultural divides’ which sounds fascinating enough as it is but Annabel, Elle and Rebecca’s reviews are even more persuasive.

I’m particularly fond of the idea of an apartment block portrayed as a microcosm of a city – Alaa Cover imageAl Aswany did it beautifully in The Yacoubian Building as did Manil Suri in The Death of Vishnu but my favourite has to be Georges Perec’s Life, a User’s Manual. Fran Cooper’s debut, These Dividing Walls, is also set in a Parisian building whose inhabitants live their separate lives, barely aware of their neighbours’ existence. Enter Edward who seems to be about to change all that. ‘As the feverish metropolis is brought to boiling point, secrets will rise and walls will crumble both within and without Number 37…’ say the publishers somewhat melodramatically. Maybe I’ve set the bar too high having Perec in mind but it sounds worth investigating.

Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley comes billed by Ann Patchett as ‘one part Quentin Tarantino, one part Scheherazade’. Samuel has spent years on the run but has moved to his late wife’s hometown with his teenage daughter who is increasingly curious about what happened to her mother not to mention the twelve scars on Samuel’s body, each from a bullet. ‘Both a coming of age novel and a literary thriller, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley explores what it means to be a hero, and the price we pay to protect the people we love most’ say the publishers whose synopsis suggests the makings of a rollicking good bit of storytelling

Rick Gekoski’s Darke  looks like it picks up the existential angst theme with which this post began. It sees the eponymous character consumed by his ‘coming of old age’ journal, seeking consolation in books but finding little until his grandchildren distract him. ‘With scalding prose, ruthless intelligence and an unforgettably vivid protagonist, Darke confronts some of humanity’s greatest and most uncomfortable questions about how we choose to live, and to die’ promise the publishers. You may wonder why I’ve plumped for such a gloomy sounding subject in the middle of winter but I’ve enjoyed Gekoski’s memoirs of life as a rare book dealer very much.

Cover imageThanks are due to Heavenali for reminding me last week that the paperback edition of Rachel Malik’s Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is due in February. Based on the author’s family history, it’s about two women who meet when Rene is a Land Girl and Elsie is running the family farm alone. These two become inseparable, facing adversity together until a dramatic event forces them apart. I’ll be posting a review of Malik’s tender, engrossing novel sometime in the next few weeks after being tempted to read it by Ali’s post.

That’s it for February’s paperbacks. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you be interested, and if you’d like to catch up with the first part of the preview it’s here. New titles are here and here.