Tag Archives: Suzanne Joinson

Paperbacks to Look Out for in April 2017: Part One

Cover imageAnother fine month for paperbacks this April, worthy of a two-part preview. I’ve read each of the five books in this first batch, kicking off with Donal Ryan’s All We Shall Know, one of my favourites from last year. After several miscarriages Melody is twelve weeks into her pregnancy. Her husband has stormed out after learning that the father is the seventeen-year-old Traveller she had been teaching to read. As her pregnancy progresses Melody becomes friends with Mary, caught up in a feud between Traveller clans thanks to her admission of infertility which has brought dishonour upon her family. Structured in brief chapters written in clear, clean yet lyrical prose, Ryan’s novel seamlessly interweaves both Mary’s and Melody’s stories leading to a dramatic conclusion. For me, it’s Ryan’s best novel yet.

Another favourite from 2016, Sara Taylor’s The Lauras is also a wonderful piece of storytelling. Alex is thirteen when she’s hauled out of bed in the middle of the night, packed into the car along with the barest essentials and driven off, not entirely sure what’s happening. So begins a two-year odyssey during which Alex’s education is completed, both school and otherwise, while her mother works to keep them afloat. Each year they travel further along the yellow-highlighted map that Alex finds when her mother is out, settling scores, fulfilling longstanding promises and repaying debts. Stuffed with stories, Taylor’s novel is written in strikingly vivid prose, exploring identity through both the determinedly androgynous Alex and her equally Cover imagedetermined mother. More than lives up to Taylor’s excellent debut, The Shore.

Set in 1920, Suzanne Joinson’s The Photographer’s Wife follows another young girl, this time the eleven-year-old daughter of an architect commissioned to design plans for rebuilding Jerusalem. Far too caught up in himself, his work and his social life, Charles leaves Prue almost entirely to her own devices. She spends her time looking and listening, entangling herself in relationships she can’t understand. It’s a story of duplicity, espionage and thwarted love in which Prue’s experience will have terrible repercussions for her, echoing L. P. Hartley’s Leo Colston in The Go-Between and Ian McEwan’s Briony Tallis in Atonement. Delighted to see that the striking hardback jacket has been kept for the paperback edition.

Repercussions are also a theme which runs through Georgina Harding’s The Gun Room. Set in Asia at the time of the Vietnam War and the beginning of the Japanese economic boom, Harding’s new novel is about a young photographer trying to cope with the shadow thrown by not one but two wars. After witnessing what he thinks was a massacre from the air, Jonathan Ashe takes a photograph of a soldier which will become emblematic of the conflict, appearing on the front of a magazine and changing both their lives. Written in elegant yet vivid prose it’s a novel which leaves its readers with much to think about as well as to admire.

Cover imageI’m ending this first batch of paperbacks with a book that for some reason I managed to forget to include on my Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction list A shame, as it would have doubled my feeble hit rate. I’m sure authors will start petitioning to be omitted from my prize wish lists soon. Thankfully the judges weren’t so absent-minded. Set in 1885, Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent is the tale of a small group of people each of whom comes to their own conclusions about a winged serpent, first seen in 1669 and now thought to be roaming the marshes around Aldwinter. A novel of ideas all wrapped up in a riveting bit of storytelling and gorgeously vivid prose, it focuses on the passionate friendship between the recently widowed Cora, fascinated by the emerging theories about the natural world, and Will Ransome, Aldwinter’s pastor, determined to ignore the titular serpent’s effect on his parishioners. It’s a very fine book indeed

That’s it for the first batch of April paperbacks. Should you want to know more a click on any of the titles will take you to my review and if you’d like to catch up with April’s new titles they’re here and here. Second batch to follow soon, full of books I’ve not yet read.

The Photographer’s Wife by Suzanne Joinson: Echoes of The Go-Between in Jerusalem, 1920

Cover imageAs regular readers may have noticed, I tend to bang on a bit about book jackets. They’re the first thing a reader sees after all, the first step along the way to reading a book – or not. Suzanne Joinson’s novel is a fine example of getting it right: the cover’s striking and it fits the book well. Set in 1920, The Photographer’s Wife follows the eleven-year-old daughter of an architect commissioned to design new plans for Jerusalem, let loose on her own in a city fractured by a multitude of interests and fraught with danger.

Prue is sent to live with her father when her mother suffers a breakdown after the death of their second child. Charles lives in the Hotel Fast with his mistress, far too caught up in himself, his work and the social life of this city where all the British seem to know each other, to keep a parental eye on his daughter. Left almost entirely to her own devices, Prue looks and listens – hiding behind curtains, crawling under tables – hearing and seeing things she shouldn’t. Lonely and outcast, she attaches herself to Eleanora, married to an Arab photographer intent on recording the brutality perpetrated by the British out in the desert. Eleanora befriends Prue, suggesting she learns Arabic with Ihsan who listens intently as she recounts what she overhears. Into this mix steps William, commissioned by Charles to provide aerial photographs of the city and its surrounds, ostensibly to help him complete his architectural plans. A casualty of the First World War, both physically and mentally, William has come to Jerusalem to find Eleanora with whom he has been in love for many years. Against this complicated political and personal backdrop, Joinson unfolds her story of duplicity, espionage and thwarted love all of which will come back to haunt both Prue and William.

Joinson’s novel flits back and forth between Prue’s childhood and her rackety life in Shoreham in 1937, living with her six-year-old son in a beach hut and working on her sculpture. Much of the narrative is from Prue’s eleven-year-old point of view, vividly conveying the febrile atmosphere of a city in which the British cosy up to Nazis and Armenians rub shoulders with both, all of them laying claim to what isn’t theirs. Desperate for attention, Prue is easy prey for manipulation and is frequently in danger. Her experience will have terrible repercussions for her, echoing L. P. Hartley’s Leo Colston in The Go-Between and Ian McEwan’s Briony Tallis in Atonement. It’s a clever device, and Joinson uses it well. For me the passages written from William’s point of view were less convincing but that’s a minor quibble. Altogether a story well told, and a sobering reminder that we’re still reaping what was sown nearly a century later.

Books to Look Out For in May 2016: Part 2

Cover imageThis second batch of May goodies ranges far and wide beginning with Suzanne Joinson’s The Photographer’s Wife which takes us to Jerusalem, already riven with political manoeuvring in 1920. The daughter of a British architect with ambitious plans for the city, eleven-year-old Prue spends her time eavesdropping on the conversational machinations of the adults around her, romantic and otherwise. Jumping forward to 1937, Prue is a reclusive artist living with her young son when the pilot her father employed to survey the city turns up unexpectedly, spilling secrets that will turn her world upon its head. ‘The Photographer’s Wife is a powerful story of betrayal: between father and daughter, between husband and wife, and between nations and people, set in the complex period between the two world wars’ say the publishers. It’s a fascinating subject and that’s a very smart cover.

Yewande Omotoso moves us on to South Africa where Hortensia and Marion are neighbours in The Woman Next Door. Both over eighty, both widowed, both with successful careers under their belts – one is black and the other is white. Omotoso throws an unexpected event into this mix which forces these two together until their incessant bickering softens into what might eventually become friendship. It’s an entertaining premise and if there’s enough of a bite in it to avoid sentimentality it could work well

Milena Busquets’s This Too Shall Pass scoots us over to Europe. Struggling to cope with her mother’s death, Blanca leaves Barcelona for the Spanish coastal town where her mother had lived taking two-ex-husbands, two sons and two best friends with her. As if that wasn’t complicated enough, she plans to meet her married lover. This novel of middle-aged angst was a huge bestseller in Spain, apparently, and was already being talked about on Twitter by people whose opinion I trust way back in early February.

A. L. Kennedy’s Serious Sweet crosses the sea to Britain – Cover imageWestminster to be precise – where a fifty-nine-year-old senior civil servant is struggling with his conscience over his government’s shenanigans and on the brink of spilling the beans. Meanwhile, Meg Williams is a forty-five-year-old bankrupt accountant just about managing to keep sober. Set over twenty-four hours in 2014, it’s about ‘two decent, damaged people trying to make moral choices in an immoral world: ready to sacrifice what’s left of themselves for honesty, and for a chance at tenderness’ say the publishers. I have a very on-again off-again relationship with Kennedy’s writing but find ‘state of the nation’ novels well-nigh impossible to resist.

That’s it for May hardbacks. A click on a title will take you to a fuller synopsis and if you’d like to catch up with the first batch they’re here. Paperbacks soon…