This second batch of July books kicks off with two novels which have the 2008 global financial crisis and its far-reaching consequences as their backdrop. In Rafael Chirbes’ On the Edge a decomposed corpse is found on the outskirts of Olba, home to Esteban whose factory is a casualty of the crash which has devastated the small Spanish town. Left penniless and in sole charge of his invalid father, Esteban tells his own story interwoven with the voices of others whose lives have also been ruined. Lest that all sounds too bleak for you, we are promised the hope of ‘a new vitality’ by the publishers. Chirbes’ novel won the Spanish National Prize for Literature in 2014 but it was Colm Tóibin’s recommendation that made me sit up and take notice.
Michael Collins’ The Death of All Things Seen is set in a Chicago ringing with the clarion call of ‘Yes, We can!’ despite the financial crisis playing havoc with people’s lives. After the suicide of a woman in her sixties suffering from cancer, her long hidden affair with a highly respected pillar of the Chicago community is revealed. The sons of both families find themselves searching for the truth behind this bombshell that’s been dropped on them. Sounds to me like something to get your teeth into.
War and its aftermath is the theme which links the next two. There seems to be a bit of a trend for novels whose main protagonist is a war photographer – Pat Barker’s Double Vision, Catherine Hall’s The Repercussions and Georgina Harding’s The Gun Room to name but a few. With its moral dilemmas and emotional scars, it offers fertile territory for fiction to explore. Emma Chapman’s The Last Photograph has a man who photographed the Vietnam War returning to the country he last saw fifty years ago after he’s widowed. His wife’s death has forced him to look at his past and the way in which he has been affected by it not least, presumably, because his first act on discovering her body is to position it, check the light then photograph it. This sounds such a striking start to a novel that I’m expecting great things.
In Sean O’Brien’s Once Again Assembled Here Stephen Maxwell has recently retired from teaching history at the minor public school, steeped in military tradition, he attended himself. As he writes the school’s official history he reveals how, forty years ago, a secret conflict played out during the Second World War came to be re-enacted among staff and pupils when fascism once more reared its ugly head with appalling results. I’m not entirely sure about that premise but O’Brien’s award winning poetry is rated highly by the likes of Helen Dunmore, and I’ve a soft spot for novels by poets.
This final choice is entirely different from the previous four, no connecting theme whatsoever, but it sounds intriguing. In Donald Ray Pollock’s The Heavenly Table, three young Georgia sharecroppers find themselves liberated from their domineering father when he dies unexpectedly. Inspired by a cheap dime store novel that only one of them can read, they set off on a robbing and looting spree hotly pursued by the authorities who paint them as far more fearsome than they are. According to the publishers ‘The Heavenly Table is gritty, electrifying and weirdly funny.’ All of which makes it sounds well worth investigating, and that’s a great pulp fiction style jacket.
That’s it for July. As ever, a click on any of the titles will take you to a fuller synopsis, and if you’d like to catch up with part one, here it is. Paperbacks shortly….