March is full to bursting with potential treats. Hard to know where to start although the title I’ve chosen isn’t one I’m eager to read but I know vast numbers of others are, not that they can have failed to notice its appearance on the publishing horizon. Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & the Light is the third in her trilogy which charts the rise of Thomas Cromwell, ‘portrayed with passion, pathos and energy as politician, fixer, husband, father, subject and as a man who both defied and defined his age’ according to the publishers. I’m not saying I’ve no intention of reading it – H has popped his copy of Wolf Hall on my TBR pile – but I’m not champing at the bit. Don’t @ me as we say on Twitter.
My eager anticipation was saved for Coming Up for Air by Sarah Leipciger, whose debut I loved, which I read pretty well as soon as it turned up. Inspired by a true story, this new one is very different from The Mountain Can Wait, taking us from a young French girl’s suicide in 1899 to a toymaker in 1950s Norway to a present-day journalist in Canada, all of whom share a connection which becomes clear at the novel’s end. The blurb calls it ‘a bold, richly imagined novel about the transcendent power of storytelling and the immeasurable impact of every human life’ and I have to agree. Review to follow soon.
Evie Wyld’s third novel, The Bass Rock follows three women whose lives are linked to the eponymous rock in Scotland. In the early eighteenth-century Sarah flees accusations of witchcraft; newly-married Ruth arrives just after the Second World War and Viv makes a discovery about Ruth’s past while clearing out her parents’ house in the present day. ‘Each woman’s choices are circumscribed, in ways big and small, by the men in their lives. But in sisterhood there is the hope of survival and new life. Intricately crafted and compulsively readable, The Bass Rock burns bright with anger and love’ say the publishers. I’ve yet to get around to reading All the Birds Singing but I remember being struck by the writing in Wyld’s first novel, After the Fire, A Still Small Voice.
If The Bass Rock has much to say about women, James Scudamore’s English Monsters seems to be about men, specifically those who’ve endured boarding school, something H has described as preparing you well for prison. Max is sent away aged ten, plunged into a world of arcane rules and punishments compensated for by the companionship of new friends. Several decades later, a long-buried secret surfaces bringing them back together. ‘Spanning several decades, English Monsters is a story of bonds between men – some nurturing, others devastating. It explores what happens when care is outsourced in the name of building resilience and character, and presents a beautiful and moving portrait of friendship’ according to the publishers. It’s an unusual subject and an interesting one for me.
Last year, two titles by Israeli authors made it on to my books of the year lists – Aylet Gundar-Goshen’s Liar and Etgar Keret’s Fly Already – which is what drew me to Emuna Elon’s House of Endless Waters in the hope of another interesting piece of Israeli fiction. After his mother dies, Yoel begins a search for the truth after seeing footage of her in Amsterdam’s Jewish Historical Museum with a small child that’s not him. His quest reveals a dark history of the city they both fled where Jewish children were hidden from the Nazis often at great cost. Much acclaimed in Israel, apparently.
Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s The Discomfort of Evening is about a much smaller domestic tragedy and its aftermath. A Dutch family is devasted with grief at the loss of their son, draining his ten-year-old sister’s world of curiosity and delight as she becomes caught up in disturbing fantasies. ‘A bestselling sensation in the Netherlands, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s radical debut novel is studded with images of wild, violent beauty: a world of language unlike any other’ according to the publishers. Harrowing, I’m sure, but it does sound remarkable.
Lightening the tone, Janos Szekely’s Temptation follows Bela, left at birth in a Dickensian children’s home by his mother who takes herself off to Budapest. Aged fourteen, Bela is caught stealing shoes and his mother is forced to reclaim him. He finds himself a job in a grand hotel, manning the lift and meeting all manner of people from revolutionaries to beautiful heiresses. ‘A picaresque classic with a rich vein of bawdy humour, Temptation is an under-appreciated masterpiece of twentieth-century fiction. Rich, varied and endlessly entertaining, the novel creates a stunning panorama of Hungarian society through the travails of its singularly charming hero’ according to the publishers which sounds just the ticket to me, bringing to mind Wes Anderson’s wonderful movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
I was delighted when Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier popped up on my Twitter timeline. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Everett who has a prolific backlist, most of it not published here in the UK. His writing is often very funny, more than a little off the wall as seems to be the case with this one. The death of Not Sydney Poitier’s mother leaves him orphaned at eleven but with lots of shares in a successful company whose owner adopts him. Everett’s novel follows Not Sydney as he navigates a world which can’t quite place him. It’s described by the publisher as ‘a hilarious and irresistible take on race, class and identity’ and if past performance is anything to go by it’ll be a treat, although possibly of the Marmite variety.
That’s it for March’s first instalment. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should any have taken your fancy. More soon…