Tag Archives: The Faithful Couple

Paperbacks to Look Out For in February 2016: Part 1

Cover imageSpoilt for choice this month: two posts for new titles, and now two for paperbacks. I’ll start the first selection with one of my books of 2015. I have to confess that I didn’t get on with Emily Woof’s first novel, The Whole Wide Beauty. It was lauded to the skies by all and sundry but I gave it up. The premise of The Lightning Tree was so appealing, though, that I decided to give her a second try and I’m very glad I did. The bare bones are this: girl from one side of the tracks – comfy, middle-class, lefty activist parents – meets boy from the other side – council estate, working-class, Thatcherite mum and dad – they fall in love, the girl heads off to India, the boy to Oxford and then we see what happens, following them into their thirties. I find this structure a particularly attractive one: lots of lovely space for character development.

A. D. Miller’s The Faithful Couple also follows a relationship over many years. That name may ring a few bells for some readers – he’s the author of Snowdrops a hugely successful literary thriller set in Moscow in the 1990s, published back in 2010. His new novel begins in 1993 with two young British men, Neil and Adam, who meet on holiday in California. They instantly click then both become involved in a dubious moral act which dogs Adam, in particular. The book charts their friendship over nearly twenty years, picking out the tensions between them – Neil’s resentment of Adam’s casual privilege, career ups and downs, marriage and children with their attendant worries. Miller’s novel was an enjoyable piece of holiday reading for me last year which may explain why I remember it so well.

I think Jami Attenberg’s Saint Mazie would have stayed with me wherever I read it. As with Cover imageEmily Woof, I wasn’t particularly keen on Attenberg’s much praised The Middlesteins but the background to her new novel was so intriguing that it piqued my interest. The eponymous Mazie was the subject of a short essay by Joseph Mitchell first published in The New Yorker and included in his excellent collection Up in the Old Hotel. Like many of Mitchell’s subjects Mazie’s story is a fascinating one – an ordinary working-class New York woman who did something extraordinary. Attenberg has taken Mitchell’s essay and re-imagined Mazie’s life using fictionalised interviews and autobiography extracts with her diary as the novel’s backbone. Mazie is an unforgettable character, and Joseph Mitchell’s story is almost as interesting as hers.

Still in New York but fast forwarding several decades, Richard Bausch’s Before, During, After is an unusual take on the events of September 11th, 2001. As its title suggests, Bausch’s novel is set in the months before, during and after the terrorist attacks, exploring what happened very effectively by drawing parallels between the personal and the political. Michael and Natasha are newly in love, soon to be married. On the day of the attacks she’s in Jamaica with a friend, he’s in New York for a wedding. What follows is devastating for them both. It’s a profoundly involving novel – quite cerebral at times, but also emotionally engaging

Cover imageNow to one I haven’t read but am very much looking forward to: Mark Henshaw’s The Snow Kimono. On the same day a retired Parisian police inspector receives a letter from a woman who claims to be his daughter, he finds a stranger waiting for him at his apartment. Professor Tadashi Omura tells Inspector Jovert his extraordinary life story which has surprising parallels with Jovert’s own. It sounds intriguing and comes from Tinder Press who seem to have developed a sharp eye for talent.

That’s it for the first batch of February paperbacks. A click on the title will take you to my review for the first four while The Snow Kimono will take you to Waterstones website for a fuller synopsis. If you’d like to catch up with February’s new novels they’re here and here.

A week in Palma and a book

old_town_walkYou know how it is when you come back from holiday: those old routines kick in and the lovely little interlude of rest, relaxation and novelty that seemed so vivid begins to feel like a distant memory. Writing a post has become a way of nailing some of those memories before they fade away so bear with me on this one. Quite a few reading disappointments but so lovely was Palma that it didn’t seem to matter

We last visited Majorca back in the ‘90s, staying in a small village inland. This time we based ourselves in the capital’s old town. It’s a beautiful place – quite small, although the maze of narrow streets lined with buildings built tall to keep out the blistering summer sun means that you can walk for ages without treading the same path twice. Despite Spain’s economic difficulties there’s a good deal of money in evidence – elegant tree-lined boulevards replete with expensive shops, lots of swanky hotels and restaurants, and some very smart people to match. Incomers, most probably – the store directory at both branches of Spain’s smart department store chain, El Corte Ingles, include Russian amongst its languages. I hope some of that money finds its way into the locals’ pockets.

Miguel Barcelos sculpture (La Seu)As for what we got up to – lots of loafing, ambling and a nice dash of culture. Palma’s cathedral had to be visited for the Gaudi restorations alone: strikingly original, and controversial at the time – unsurprisingly – although not nearly so odd as Miquel Barceló’s sculpture whose strangeness defies description. Other than that we visited the Fundació Pilar I Joan Miró A Mallorca, getting sweatily lost on the way but just about managing to keep our tempers. In the early ‘40s Miró escaped the Nazi invasion of France, fleeing to Majorca and settling there permanently in 1956. He already had strong connections with the island – his mother was Majorcan and he’d married a Majorcan woman in 1929. Both he and his wife, Pilar, wanted to leave his remarkable studio to the city of Palma and after his death Pilar was instrumental in setting up the Fundació. Set in beautiful grounds, the striking buildings alone are well worth a visit and there’s a changing exhibition of the work Miró bequeathed to his adopted city. Very enjoyable, but our favourite day was a trip on the rackety tourist train inland to Soller followed by lunch in a quiet courtyard tucked away from the crowded square which we’d both been fondly remembering as a sleepy backwater, then an hour or so wandering around the gorgeous Jardí Botànic and a bus trip home via the village of Deià, made famous by Robert Graves. One more dash of culture: a visit to Genesis, Sebastião Salgado’s stupendous collection of photographs exhibited at the La Caixa Foundation, run by Spain’s eponymous non-profit savings bank which turns out to have an admirable stance on corporate responsibility. How refreshing!

As for books – several disappointments, including Apple Tree Yard, I’m afraid. I know there’s a The Faithful Couplelot of love out there for it but it seemed far too drawn out for me. My best read of the week was A. D. Miller’s The Faithful Couple which begins in 1993 with two young British men, Neil and Adam, who meet on holiday in California. They instantly click then both become involved in a dubious moral act which dogs Adam, in particular. The book follows their friendship over nearly twenty years, picking out the tensions between them – Neil’s resentment of Adam’s casual privilege, career ups and downs, marriage and children with their attendant worries – until 2011. It’s the kind of structure I find immensely appealing – lots of space for character development. The women characters, however, were a little two-dimensional and I wasn’t entirely convinced that Adam would find himself thinking of what happened in California every single day but on the whole it worked well. If you’d like to read a more considered review, nip over to Tales from the Reading Room.

That’s it for my holiday. I hope you have one of your own planned soon. Back to books on Friday.

Books to Look Out for In March 2015

The Faithful CoupleSuch are the many temptations in March’s publishing schedules that this is going to be a long post, I’m afraid. I’ll begin with A. D. Miller’s The Faithful Couple as it’s the one I’m looking forward to most. That name may ring a few bells for some readers – he’s the author of Snowdrops a hugely successful literary thriller set in Moscow in the 1990s published back in 2010. This one sounds entirely different. It begins in 1993 with two British men, Neil and Adam, who meet on holiday in California and go on a camping trip together which will throw a shadow over both of them. The novel follows them over the next two decades reflecting and refracting London through their lives and friendship until the truth of that trip emerges. I always find this kind of structure particularly attractive and I enjoyed Snowdrops very much.

Patrick Gale needs no introduction after the rip-roaring success of the Richard and Judy (remember all that?) bestseller Notes from an Exhibition. A Place Called Winter is based on his own family history, telling the story of Henry Cane, forced by scandal to emigrate to the Canadian prairies where he sets up as a farmer in the eponymous settlement. According to the publisher it’s ‘an epic, intimate human drama, both brutal and breathtaking. It is a novel of secrets, sexuality and, ultimately, of great love’. A grand claim but I’ve yet to read a Gale that I didn’t enjoy.

I have to say that the publisher’s blurb for Polly Samson’s The Kindness is a tad overblown but it boils down to this – Julian falls passionately in love with Julia, married and eight years his senior. Against all advice they throw up everything to be together enjoying their happiness until their daughter Mira becomes seriously ill forcing Julia to reveal a terrible secret. This may not sound too inspiring but the prose is ‘lyrical’, apparently, and the plotting ‘masterful – I enjoyed her previous books, Out of the Picture and Perfect Lives, very much

Sara Taylor’s debut The Shore is more a set of interconnecting stories than a novel. It spans a The Shorecentury and a half in the lives of the inhabitants of a group of small islands off the coast of Virginia. I’m not a short story fan, I’m afraid – I prefer something to get my teeth into – but when they’re linked in this way they can work extraordinarily well, as the aforementioned Perfect Lives did for me, and I like the sound of the setting very much. Lots of comparisons in the blurb, including one to Cloud Atlas, but I’m not letting that put me off.

I have to confess I don’t remember Judith Claire Mitchell’s The Last Days of Winter which was published ten years ago but A Reunion of Ghosts sounds right up my street. Three sisters living together in a New York apartment at the end of the last century have decided to kill themselves. It’s something of a family tradition, so it seems, beginning with their great-grandmother, the wife of a Jewish Nobel Prize-winning chemist who developed the poison gas used in both world wars. A little on the dark side, admittedly, but it sounds fascinating.

Jill Alexander Essbaum’s debut Hausfrau takes us to a wealthy Zurich suburb where American ex-pat Anna Benz lives with her husband and three young children. Disconnected and isolated, Anna plunges into a series of passionate affairs which will eventually end in tragedy as her life unravels. Billed as a ‘literary page-turner’ it sounds as if it has more than a touch of the Emma Bovarys but nevertheless has the makings of an absorbing read

Cover imageI spotted the jacket of Molly McGrann’s The Ladies of the House on Twitter and couldn’t resist it. Reading the blurb it seemed even better: One hot July day three elderly people are found dead in a rundown house in Primrose Hill. Spotting the story in the paper Marie Gillies feels she is somehow to blame. McGrann’s novel pieces together what has happened, entering the secret world of the ladies of the house. It comes from the editor who brought us two of my books of 2014: The Miniaturist and Shotgun Lovesongs. Enough said, for me, anyway.

And finally, Anna Gavalda’s Billie has already been a huge seller in France. It’s the story of two unlikely friends: Franck, a bright, sensitive young boy with a bigoted father and a depressed mother, and Bille, desperate to escape her abusive family. Billie tells Franck her story when they find themselves trapped in a mountain gorge on holiday. I loved Gavalda’s Consolation and her Hunting and Gathering – she has a light touch with storytelling which I’m hoping to see more of in Billie.

Phew! That’s it for March, and if you’ve yet to catch up with February here are the hardbacks and here are the paperbacks.