Tag Archives: The Boatman and Other Stories

Books to Look Out For in January 2020: Part Two

The second part of January’s preview begins with a novel whose jacket seduced me when it appeared on Twitter, way back when. Francine Toon’s Pine is set in a remote Highlands village in the middle of a forest where Lauren lives with her father. When a woman stumbles in front of their pickup at Halloween, Niall takes her back to their house but by morning she’s gone. She’s not the first woman to have disappeared in this place where people keep their secrets to themselves, nor is she the last, apparently. ‘Francine Toon captures the wildness of rural childhood and the intensity of small-town claustrophobia. In a place that can feel like the edge of the word, she unites the chill of the modern gothic with the pulse of a thriller’ according to the publishers. I do like a nice bit of gothic at this time of year.

I reviewed Timur Vermes very funny satire, Look Who’s Back, five years ago having loved its take on Hitler’s return as a media star. The Hungry and the Fat takes a swipe at Europe’s handling of the refugee crisis by the sound of it. After Europe closes her borders, a young refugee spots an opportunity to grab the media spotlight when a German reality TV star visits their camp, organizing a televised march which grips viewers in their comfy living rooms as the refugees head their way. ‘A devastating, close-to-the-knuckle satire about the haves and have-nots in our divided world by one of Europe’s finest and most perceptive writers, in which an outlandish conceit follows a kind of impeccable logic to a devastating conclusion’ say the publishers. I’m expecting it to be squirmingly good.

Rodaan Al Galididi approaches a similar theme from a different perspective in Two Blankets Three Sheets, following Samir Karim who requests asylum after flying into Amsterdam from Vietnam in 1998. He’s been wandering around Asia for seven years, evading conscription into Saddam Hussein’s army, then spends the next nine years entangled in Dutch bureaucracy. ‘Told with compassion and a unique sense of humor, this is an inspiring tale of survival, a close-up view into the hidden world of refugees and human smugglers, and a sobering reflection of our times’ according to the publishers. I suspect this one has a touch of autofiction about it.

I’m finishing this preview with a collection of short stories by Billy O’Callaghan whose My Coney Island Baby I enjoyed so much earlier this year. The Boatman and Other Stories comprises twelve Cover imagepieces which span a century and two continents, apparently. ‘Ranging from the elegiac to the brutally confrontational, these densely layered tales reveal the quiet heroism and gentle dignity of ordinary life. O’Callaghan is a master celebrant of the smallness of the human flame against the dark: its strength, and its steady brightness’ say the publishers. I’m hoping for more of the beautifully restrained writing which characterised his novel.

That’s it for January’s new novels. A click on any title that’s snagged your attention will take you to a more detailed synopsis and If you’d like to catch up with the first part of January’s preview it’s here.

To those of you looking forward to Christmas, I hope you have a lovely time. If, as it is for many, it’s a more complicated time of the year for you, I hope it passes as painlessly as possible. And for those of you who’ve been working your socks off in retail, catering or any other Christmas-driven occupation – I hope you get some rest before you start all over again. I’ll be back at the end of the week, hoping to tempt you with some January paperbacks.