Tag Archives: The Fortunate Brother

Paperbacks to Look Out for in September 2017: Part Two

Cover imageThis second instalment of September paperbacks starts with a book that I wanted to love but couldn’t quite manage to. If you’re a fan of Jay McInerney’s series of novels which began with Brightness Falls you won’t need to be told who the Calloways are nor will you need to have explained to you why I was thrilled at the prospect of a new one despite my disappointment with The Good Life which picked up their story around the time of 9/11. Bright Precious Days begins in 2006 with the global financial crisis not yet on the horizon. Russell runs a small independent publishing house while Corrine works for a charity, feeding the city’s poor. It’s a much better book than The Good Life but It doesn’t match the brilliance of Brightness Falls for me.

Art thrillers seem to be a bit of a thing at the moment. I read the wonderful The Last Painting of Sara de Vos earlier this year and if anyone’s looking out for a late summer read I’d recommend it. Coincidentally Bernhard Schlink’s The Woman on the Stairs also has an Australian connection. A ‘lost’ painting is donated to a Sydney gallery much to the amazement of the art world and the three men who’ve loved the women it portrays. Each of them comes to her isolated cottage to face their tangled past. ‘The Woman on the Stairs is an intricately crafted, poignant and beguiling novel about creativity and love, about the effects of time passing and the regrets that haunt us all’ say the publishers. It sounds appealing and I’ve enjoyed Schlink’s work in the past very much.

There’s a fair amount of regret in Donna Morrissey’s The Fortunate Brother which comes with a hearty endorsement from the excellent Ron Rash. Set in Newfoundland, it’s the story of a murder which sets the small fishing village in which it takes place abuzz with speculation. When the local bully’s corpse is washed up, thought to be drowned then found to be stabbed, almost everybody falls under suspicion including the brother of a family still suffering a terrible burden of grief. Tensions run high almost to the end of Morrissey’s taut atmospheric novel. I guessed Cover imagethe perpetrator correctly early on but that didn’t stop me from changing my mind right up until their identity was revealed.

Fiona Melrose’s much praised Midwinter explores similar emotional territory by the sound of it. It’s about a Suffolk farming family who have worked their land for generations. Cecelia died when her youngest was just a child leaving two sons and their father who have stoically buried their grief and got on with their work but something about the dreadful winter which comes upon them makes them snap. ‘Tender and lyrical, alive to language and nature, Midwinter is a novel about guilt, blame, lost opportunities and, ultimately, it is a story about love and the lengths we will go to find our way home’, apparently. Having recently reviewed the very fine Johannesburg which made it on to my Man Booker wishlist, I can’t imagine why I haven’t read this one already.

Dana Spiotta’s Innocents and Others sounds like an entirely different kettle of fish. Film-makers Meadow and Carrie grew up together in Los Angeles. When Meadow becomes involved with a woman whose seductive powers of listening are the subject of one of her documentaries, she sets in train her own downfall. ‘Heart-breaking and insightful, Innocents and Others is an astonishing novel about friendship, identity, loneliness and art’ say the publishers. It sounds intriguing.

Cover imageI’m ending September’s paperbacks with what’s been called a Brexit novel which I’m even more eager to read after reviewing Anthony Cartwright’s The Cut, Peirene Now!’s response to the referendum whose result shocked and dismayed many of us to the core. It’s Ali Smith’s Autumn, set in 2016 when Daniel is a century old and Elisabeth is thirty-two. ‘Smith’s new novel is a meditation on a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, on what harvest means. This first in a seasonal quartet casts an eye over our own time. Who are we? What are we made of?’ say the publishers. It sounds unmissable.

That’s it for September’s paperbacks. A click on a title will either take you to my review or to a more detailed synopsis should you be interested. If you’d like to catch up with the first instalment it’s here, and September’s new titles are here.

The Fortunate Brother by Donna Morrissey: Loose lips sink ships

Cover imageDonna Morrissey’s new novel comes with a hearty endorsement from one of my favourite authors, Ron Rash, who’s dubbed it ‘one of the very best novels I have read in years’. It had caught my eye even before I’d seen the press release but after reading that how could I resist? Attentive readers may have noticed that this is the second Rash endorsement I’ve fallen for recently. He was pretty keen on The Barrowfields too. Set in Newfoundland, The Fortunate Brother is the story of a murder which sets the small fishing village in which it takes place abuzz with speculation.

Kyle Now is not at all sure what he’ll do with his future. He has a university place but is unwilling to turn his back on his family, still reeling from the loss of his brother in an accident on the oil rigs. His father spends much of his time in a drunken stupor, his sister has taken off backpacking in Africa and his mother is undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Kyle is shouldering this heavy burden when Clar Gillard’s body is washed up, thought to be drowned then found to be stabbed. This is a community where nothing goes unnoticed or undiscussed. Soon the village is rife with gossip about possible culprits, fingers pointing every which way from Clar’s wife, who he frequently abused, to Kyle’s father, known to detest Clar, to Kyle, himself, beaten by Clar the night of his killing. Over the next few days, Kyle finds himself questioned by the police, stumbling over evidence and trying to keep his father’s head above water as they both face his mother’s operation. Kyle has his suspicions about the identity of the murderer but unlike the rest of the village he knows when to keep his mouth shut.

Tensions run high almost to the end of Morrissey’s taut atmospheric novel. Secrets are plentiful and well-guarded. I guessed the perpetrator correctly early on but that didn’t stop me from changing my mind right up until their identity was revealed.  The Now family’s desperate grief is palpable in Morrissey’s depictions of a father unable to talk about his son’s death and a mother patiently working her way through her pain alone. Caught in the middle, Kyle’s angry struggle to protect both parents is both poignant and compellingly convincing. The portrayal of one half of a community unable to keep its mouth shut while the other seems incapable of keeping anything but shtum might seem too convenient in another setting but here in a remote village where ‘everyone was your brother or aunt or cousin or neighbour and they knew your dead like they knew their own’ it seems entirely plausible. Morrissey’s writing is admirable clipped yet vividly evocative of its setting: the landscape and weather are punishing, spoken of as if each were a person with a fickle power over the inhabitants. If The Fortunate Brother is anything to go by, Morrissey and Rash are a fine match: if you like one, I’d be surprised if you didn’t like the other.

Books to Look Out for April 2017: Part One

Cover imageDespite the many and varied delights on offer in April there’s absolutely no contest as to which of them sits at the top of my list. Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 has already met with a warm reception on social media and this time I’ve no doubt it’s justified. McGregor writes in lyrical, gorgeous prose – contemplative and beautiful. This new novel chronicles thirteen years following the disappearance of a teenage girl on holiday with her parents in the English countryside. One family has been devastated but village life goes on with all its small joys, sadnesses and mundane routines, always with a consciousness of what has happened. This sounds the perfect theme for McGregor whose quietly captivating If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things examined the events of a single day. Apologies for the gush but McGregor’s work is not to be missed. There’s even more gush if you can face it in my first Blast from the Past post which featured his So Man Ways to Begin, another lovely novel.

The theme of Donna Morrissey’s The Fortunate Brother sounds similar to Reservoir 13 in that it explores the aftermath of a tragedy in a small community, this time in Newfoundland. Suspicion falls on the Now family when a body is discovered in the local lake but as investigations progress it seems that there’s far more to the tragedy than meets the eye. ‘Compassionate and wise, beautiful and brutal, The Fortunate Brother is the story of a family and a community in turmoil and confirms Donna Morrissey’s place as one of Canada’s foremost storytellers’ say the publishers. I’m constantly being tempted by Canadian fiction not published in the UK by Naomi over at Consumed by Ink so I think I’ll snap this one up.

More dark secrets and revelations in Elanor Dymott’s Silver & Salt in which Ruthie’s father has Cover imagerecently died, prompting her return to his remote Greek villa from which she has been excluded for fifteen years. She and her elder sister settle into a sort of happiness, putting their dark childhoods behind them until the arrival of an English family and their daughter ’triggers a chain of events that will plunge both women back into the past, with shocking and fatal consequences. Devastating in its razor-sharp exploration of a tragic family legacy, Silver & Salt is the story of two sisters, bound by their history and driven to repeat it’ according to the publisher which sounds like perfect summer reading to me although a little premature.

Chequered family history seems to be something of a theme this April. Edward Docx’ Let Go My Hand explores secrets and lies through the lens of three sons and their father who has asked them to join him on a last journey through Europe. While Louis has his doubts about the idea, his two half-brothers are much more reluctant, unwilling to forgive their dying father his past transgressions. ‘Let Go My Hand is a darkly comic and deeply moving twenty-first-century love story between a son, his brothers and their father. Through these vividly realized characters, it asks elemental questions about how we love, how we live, and what really matters in the end’ according to the publisher. I’ve not had much luck with Docx’ fiction in the past but the idea of exploring the dark family secrets theme from a male point of view is an unusual one.

I have no such doubts about Delphine de Vigan’s Based on a True Story after reading No and Me last year. Identity theft seems to be the much darker theme of this one. The person doing the stealing is L., Delphine’s best friend with whom she has become enthralled. L. is the kind of beautifully turned out woman who seems to know what to do in every circumstance. Chillingly, she begins to dress like her new friend, offering to answer her emails, finding her way into every aspect of Delphine’s life until she takes control of it. It sounds quite riveting, and all the more so given that the author has given her protagonist both her name and her profession, not to mention that title.

Cover imageI began this first batch of April titles with one about which I have no doubts whatsoever but I’m ending it with another that could backfire horribly. Paul Bassett Davies’ Dead Writers in Rehab sees Foster James waking up in a strange house, assuming he’s taken a step too far for his few remaining friends and is back in rehab again. Then Ernest Hemingway punches him in the face, he finds himself in a group therapy session with Hunter S. Thompson, Collette, William Burroughs and Coleridge, later encountering Dorothy Parker. What’s going on? ‘This is a love story. It’s for anyone who loves writing and writers. It’s also a story about the strange and terrible love affair between creativity and addiction, told by a charming, selfish bastard who finally confronts his demons in a place that’s part Priory, part Purgatory, and where the wildest fiction can tell the soberest truth’ says the publisher. Hmm… We’ll see. Great jacket, though.

That’s it for the first part of April’s preview. If you’d like to know more, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis. As seems to be so often the case, part two will have its feet firmly planted in the US.