Tag Archives: Rachel Willson-Broyles

Paperbacks to Look Out for in June 2017: Part Two

Cover imgeWhereas a family theme – conventional or otherwise – ran through the first installment of June’s paperback preview, this one’s much more of a hodge-podge. Given the time of year, a book aimed fairly and squarely at the summer reading market seems as good a place to start as any. Invincible Summer has a structure that never fails to appeal to me. It follows four young people, inseparable at university, and now facing the realities of life as young adults: Eva’s off to the City; Benedict decides to pursue a PhD; siblings Sylvie and Lucien indulge themselves in a life of art, travel and adventure. Summer reunions bring them back together but recreating the intimate bonds of student friendship isn’t always easy.

Structure was what attracted me to Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s prize-winning Everything I Don’t Remember. It’s the story of a young man who dies one April afternoon in Stockholm, his car wrecked in a crash which some speculate may have been suicide, others are sure was an accident. Khemiri tells Samuel’s story through a series of interviews with those who knew him – some fleetingly, others intimately – conducted by an author planning to write a book about him. Given that the novel is a made up of interwoven fragments it’s remarkably cohesive, not to mention utterly addictive. An immensely enjoyable book, cleverly constructed and completely engrossing.

Struggling for links here but I can just about work structure in again given that Anna Noyes’ Cover imageGoodnight, Beautiful Women is a collection of short stories. Noyes’ stories share the backdrop of smalltown Maine, and they’re about women. Men tend to be somewhere off stage, their presence – or absence – often keenly felt. These are stories about ordinary, everyday people sometimes emotionally damaged, often struggling to get by. Single parents fretting about their kids; children overhearing too much; mental illness and too much alcohol; sexual misadventure and abuse, are recurring themes. Noyes writing is carefully crafted yet immediate – sometimes dreamlike, sometimes sharp and clean. Ron Rash came to mind for me although the Washington Post compares Noyes to Alice Munro with which, I’m sure, her publishers will have been very much more delighted.

Also about women, I’ll Take You There took me by surprise. It’s that rare thing: an enjoyable, commercial novel with a broad, deep streak of feminism running through it, and it’s written by a man. A divorced professor of film studies, Felix adores his daughter and is on good enough terms with his ex-wife. He’s the brother of two sisters, both of whom he loves dearly. One Monday night, as he sets up in the gloriously old-fashioned cinema in which he runs his film club, an apparition appears introducing herself as Lois Weber, a silent movie director much overlooked by her male colleagues and wanting the record put straight. There’s a nice vein of humour running through Lamb’s novel and although I suspect I won’t be investigating his backlist any time soon, this one’s well worth your time.

Cover imageMy final June choice is Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad which was surrounded by a good deal of pre-publication brouhaha in hardback, not least because President Obama took it on holiday with him – remember those halcyon days? Cora is a slave in Georgia, an outcast amongst her fellow slaves since childhood. When Caesar arrives from Virginia he tells her about the Underground Railroad, offering a means of escape from her misery which Cora chooses to take. The novel follows her arduous journey through the South, a slave catcher snapping at her heels. ‘As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day’ say the publishers. A tough read, I’m sure, but not to be missed.

That’s it for June’s paperbacks. Should you be interested, a click on a title will take you to my review or to a more detailed synopsis for the ones I’ve not yet read. If you’d like to catch up with June’s new titles they’re here and the first batch of paperbacks is here.

Everything I Don’t Remember by Jonas Hassen Khemiri (transl. Rachel Willson-Broyles): A story in many voices

Cover imageWhat attracted me to Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s prize-winning novel was its structure. It’s the story of a young man who dies one April afternoon in Stockholm, his car wrecked in a crash which some speculate may have been suicide, others are sure was an accident. Khemiri tells Samuel’s story through a series of interviews with those who knew him – some fleetingly, others intimately – conducted by an author planning to write a book about him.

Samuel is an administrator at the Migration Board. It’s not the job he dreamt of as an undergraduate hoping to change the world but bills have to be paid. He has a little trouble with his memory, worries about his grandmother’s dementia and sometimes does outlandish things, adding to his Experience Bank. When he meets Vandad they seem to hit it off and soon he’s moved in with his new friend, so different from Samuel with his bulky body and shady dealings. When Samuel falls in love with the idealistic, politically active Laide, Vandad looking jealously on. Samuel opens the doors of his grandmother’s house first to one of Laide’s women in trouble, then another and before long things have got out of hand. As the year rolls on, Vandad becomes increasingly resentful, Laide’s possessiveness becomes more apparent and Samuel finds himself caught in the middle. One spring day, Samuel takes his grandmother for a driving assessment, delivers her back to her nursing home then – late for work – jumps into her car and drives off. This is the bare outline of Samuel’s story, fleshed out through the many interviews our nameless writer records with those that knew Samuel, each with their own version to tell.

Given that the novel is a made up of interwoven fragments it’s remarkably cohesive, not to mention utterly addictive. Each of the many interviewees unwittingly lets slip small details about themselves, colouring their version of events. As the writer tightens his focus on the two who were closest to Samuel, each conveys a very different view both of each other and the events of the past year. Memory, perception, love and its very different interpretations, underpin Khemiri’s novel which plays out against a backdrop of a Sweden far from comfortable with its new multicultural identity, a theme which hums in a subtle undercurrent beneath Samuel’s story. It’s an immensely enjoyable book, cleverly constructed and completely engrossing. Khemiri has written three other novels, none of which seem to be available in translation as far as I can see. I hope that will be put right soon.