Tag Archives: Royals

Paperbacks to Look Out For in June 2020

Cover image for Royals by Emma ForrestJune’s paperback publishing schedules are in a rather sorry state, thanks to the cuts and postponements brought about by Covid-19. I’m left with just four in my sights, the first of which I’ve already read. Emma Forrest’s Royals is about a working-class Jewish boy drawn into the orbit of a poor little rich girl, set against the backdrop of London caught up in royal wedding fever in 1981. Eighteen-year-old Steven’s violent father lands his son in hospital as he takes a punch for his mother. He wakes up to find himself alongside Jasmine, a fabulous creature who charms everyone with her dazzling attention, and the two instantly click. Forrest knows how to turn a striking phrase, telling her story with wit, humour and insight.

Since posting this, Emma Forrest has contacted me to let me know that, sadly, the paperback edition of Royals has been postponed until next summer. Apologies to anyone who was looking forward to bagging a copy. I dithered about deleting it but it’s such an enjoyable read I decided to leave it in for any eager ereader fans who should be able to buy a reasonably priced copy here.

Friendship – or the lack of it – crops up again in Jessica Francis Kane’s Rules for Visiting which sees a forty-year-old woman successful in her work but keeping family and neighbours at a distance. Feeling a lack in her life, she decides to set about rekindling old friendships. ‘May sets off on a journey to visit four neglected friends one-by-one, she holds herself (and them) to humorously high standards, while at home she begins to confront the pain of her past and imagine for herself a different kind of future. May’s quest becomes an exploration of the power, and perhaps limits, of modern friendship’ say the publishers which sounds very promising although that ‘humorously’ is a little worrying.

At first glance, Joanne Ramos’ The Farm apears some way outside my usual literary territory but it comes garlanded with praise from all and sundry including Sophie Mackintosh and Gary Shteyngart. A young Filipina immigrant hopes to improve her life and her child’s, taking a job at Golden Oaks a luxury fertility clinic run by an ambitious businesswoman who’s spotted a gap in the market. Described by the publishers as ‘a brilliant, darkly funny novel that explores the role of luck and merit, class, ambition and sacrifice, The Farm is an unforgettable story about how we live and who truly holds power’ which reminds me a little of David Bergen’s Stranger. It’s the dark humour and class theme that attracts me to this one.Cover image for The Parting Gift by Evan Fallenberg

Evan Fallenberg’s The Parting Gift comes billed as an ‘erotic tale of jealousy, obsession, and revenge suffused with the rich flavours and intoxicating scents of Israel’s Mediterranean coast’. The novel’s unnamed narrator tells the story of his all-consuming relationship with a man he met by chance on a visit to Israel and the sinister turn it takes as he becomes increasingly entangled in his lover’s life. Fallenberg’s style bears comparison to Patricia Highsmith’s work according to the publishers; an ambitious claim but it does sound worth investigating.

That’s it for June’s paperback preview. As ever a click on a title will take you either to my review or to a more detailed synopsis, and if you’d like to catch up with June’s new titles they’re here.

Royals by Emma Forrest: The Princess and the pauper

Cover imageRoyals is Emma Forrest’s fourth novel. I’d not read anything by her before but was attracted by the idea of a working-class Jewish boy drawn into the orbit of a poor little rich girl set against the background of London in 1981, the summer the city, or rather the entire country, found itself caught up in Royal wedding fever. Not me, I have to say.

Eighteen-year-old Steven is the son of a cab driver who regularly takes his frustrations out on his wife until Steven starts to take the punches for her. The day of the royal wedding, Steven’s father hits him so hard he wakes up on the children’s emergency ward. In the bed next to him is Jasmine, brought in after her fourth suicide attempt and loudly complaining that she should be with the adults. Jasmine’s a beauty but that’s not what attracts Steven who’s clearly gay despite his repeated declarations that he hasn’t made up his mind yet. She’s a fabulous creature who charms everyone with her dazzling attention and her generosity. These two instantly click, forming a friendship so deep it’s as if they’ve known each other for years. Steven experiences more over the next couple of weeks than he has in a lifetime, luxuriating in an unaccustomed intimacy. He also comes to understand what lies beneath Jasmine’s desperate need for company and for love. By the end of the novel, Steven will have taken the first step in attaining his ambition to produce clothes that flatter and cosset the women whose pain he longs to ease.

Almost within the first five minutes of starting it, I found myself thinking what a great film of the good old-fashioned variety Royals would make. The period detail is spot on; earworms abound for those of us of a certain age. Forrest unfolds – or perhaps unreels – her story through Steven’s voice as he looks back on the brief few weeks his shy, awkward teenage self spent with the sophisticated yet vulnerable Jasmine. It’s not a particularly original story, no real surprises, but it’s one that keeps your attention with its vivid cinematic scenes.

I got some dirty looks and some interest and that’s how it’s continued for the rest of my life

Both Steven and Jasmine could easily have been hackneyed caricatures, each representative of their class and background, but Forrest succeeds in bringing them sharply to life: Jasmine’s manipulation of anyone she needs on her side contrasts with her generosity of spirit while Steven’s clear-eyed perception of her worst behaviour cannot inure him to her charm and need. It’s a thoroughly entertaining and absorbing novel. Forrest knows how to turn a striking phrase, telling her story with wit, humour and insight.

Can you imagine a life where we just look at pictures of ourselves? It would be unbearable says Jasmine, explaining her encyclopaedic knowledge to Steven. How true, and how prescient.

Bloomsbury Books: London 2019 9781408895214 336 pages Hardback

Books to Look Out for in October 2019: Part Two

Cover imageOctober’s first batch of new titles began with several novels bound up with art. This second instalment kicks off with a couple of cinematic connections starting with The Crossed-Out Notebook by Nicolás Giacobone who co-wrote the screenplay for Birdman. An Argentinean screenwriter is imprisoned in a basement by a director determined that his captive will produce a world-changing screenplay. Every evening, the writer crosses out his writing from the previous night. ‘The clash between the two men and their different approaches leads to a movie being made, a gun going off, an unlikely escape, and a final confrontation. In the end, The Crossed-Out Notebook is a darkly funny novel full of intrigue and surprise about the essence of the creative process; a short, crazy ode to any artist whose brilliance shines through strangeness and adversity’ say the publishers which sounds promising to me.

I’m sure Werner Herzog has never indulged in a spot of kidnapping or coerced his screenwriting son, Rudolf, whose short story collection Ghosts of Berlin is my next choice. Herzog’s stories are all set in Kreuzberg, the city’s gentrified hipster district, which formed the border between the old East and West. They offer what the publishers are calling a ‘macabre and madcap vision of Berlin… … conjuring tech bros, acid-tripping artists, and forsaken migrants, each encountering the ghosts of the city’s complicated past’. Intriguing.

We’re staying in Berlin with Adrian Duncan’s Love Notes from a German Building Site which tells the story of Paul, a young Irish engineer who has followed Evelyn to the city and begins work on Cover imagerenovating a building in Alexanderplatz. ‘Set against the structural evolution of a sprawling city, this meditation on language, memory and yearning is underpinned by the site’s physical reality’ according to the publisher. I rather like the sound of that, and Berlin is an irresistible setting for me since visiting the city.

Mahir Guven’s Older Brother takes us over the border to France with its story of a Franco-Syrian family trying to find a way to integrate. The taxi-driving father and his eldest son are pitted against each other when the son takes up work with an app-based car service. Meanwhile the youngest son joins a Muslim humanitarian organization, helping wounded civilians in Syria and returning a changed man.Guven alternates between an ironic take on contemporary society and the gravity of terrorist threats. He explores with equal poignancy the lives of “Uberized” workers and actors in the global jihad’ say the publishers of a book much acclaimed in France, apparently.

We’re moving on to London and back to the ‘80s with Emma Forrest’s Royals. Unsure of his sexuality, eighteen-year-old Steven ends up in hospital after being beaten up by his father. There he meets the glamourous, anarchic Jasmine, an heiress from a very different background to his own. Their mutual love of fashion leads to friendship, opening up a hedonistic life of glittering parties for Steven. ‘Devastating, dazzling, queer and radical, Royals is a love story between unlikely friends from completely different worlds. It’s about the power of art to transform lives and the power of families to destroy them. It’s about working out who you are and what you want’ according to the publishers which sounds like a good read to me.

Cover imageI’m rounding off October with Pursuit, a collection of short stories compiled by Alex Preston with contributions from the likes of Max Porter, Kamila Shamsie Daisy Johnson, Michael Donker and David Szalay to name but a few. These are stories that ‘tell of determination, endeavour and perseverance against the odds. They range across wildly different contexts and cultures, from the epic to the intimate, in fiction and non-fiction, illustrating and illuminating the outer limits of human character and achievement’ say the publishers which sounds enticing enough even without that roll call of literary names.

That’s it for October’s new fiction. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more, and if you’d like to catch up with the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks soon…