Tag Archives: The Maker of Swans

Paperbacks to Look Out for January 2017: Part One

Cover imageLots of lip-smacking paperbacks piled up on bookshop tables to tempt you this January, all ready and waiting for those Christmas book tokens we’ve been given, or hope we’ll have been given. Top of the list is a book I took some persuading to read when it was first published but Harry Parker’s Anatomy of a Soldier turned out to be extraordinarily inventive and assured, particularly for a debut. Parker is a veteran of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and his novel is the story of Captain Tom Barnes who steps on an improvised explosive device – just as Parker did – told from the point of view of forty-five objects. You may share my initial scepticism about this structure but it works beautifully and continues to work through all forty-five objects which range from Tom’s boot to his mother’s handbag, his occupational service medal to the IED’s detonator. Hard to imagine quite why the publisher has abandoned the entirely suitable hardback jacket for the rather odd pink number they’ve chosen to adorn the paperback edition.

I’ve not read Paraic O’Donnell’s The Maker of Swans, much talked about on Twitter when it was first published – not always a good thing – but a striking jacket and an intriguing synopsis has piqued my interest. Once a man of note with extraordinary gifts, Mr Crowe has given himself over to earthly pleasures, living in faded grandeur with his ward, Clara, and his manservant. When he commits a crime of passion he draws the attention of the head of the secret society to which he belongs, attention that’s soon diverted to Clara who, it seems, may be able to save them all. Sounds like it might be just the ticket for long dark evenings, if done well.Cover image

Alaa Al Aswany’s The Automobile Club of Egypt takes us to a very different time and place. Set in post-war Egypt, Aswany’s novel views the social and political change engulfing the country through the shenanigans at Cairo’s automobile club. Its European members are attended by a squabbling band of servants ruled by the tyrannical Alku. When one of them rebels, his family finds themselves drawn into both public and private politics: ‘Egyptians both inside and outside the Automobile Club will all face a stark choice: to live safely without dignity, or to fight for their rights and risk everything’ according to the publishers. Aswany’s much-acclaimed The Yacoubian Building offered a microcosm of Egypt around the time of the first Gulf War and it sounds as if The Automobile Club of Egypt takes a similar tack with the end of Ottoman rule.

Cover imageMy last choice for this batch is without doubt a Marmite book: you’ll either love it or hate it. Nicola Barker’s The Cauliflower® is born of her fascination with Sri Ramakrishna – an avatar, widely regarded as having played a leading role in reviving Hinduism, influencing both Gandhi and Nehru. Her novel is her extraordinarily inventive, idiosyncratic interpretation of the avatar’s sketchy story and defies a simple synopsis. Perhaps it’s best to quote Barker herself who sees her novel as ‘a painstakingly constructed, slightly mischievous and occasionally provocative/chaotic mosaic of many other people’s thoughts, memories and experiences’. I loved it, otherwise it wouldn’t be here.

A click on the title will take you to my reviews for both Parker and Barker’s novels, and to a fuller synopsis for the other two. A second batch of paperbacks will follow after Christmas and if you’d like to catch up with the hardback previews, part one is here and part two here.

To those of you who are 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 will pass as painlessly as possible,

Books to Look Out For in February 2016: Part 2

The BallroomTop of the list of my second batch of February books to look out for has to be Anna Hope’s The Ballroom. Her debut, Wake, was one of those novels in the tidal wave of fiction that dealt with the First World War and its aftermath back in 2014. I liked it very much and have hopes for this one which is set in the summer of 1911 in an asylum on the edge of the Yorkshire moors where men and women meet briefly once a week to dance. ‘A tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which’, according to the publishers. I suspect this one will be hyped to the skies but it may well live up to it, or close at least. Lovely jacket too – almost a match for the gorgeous Wake cover.

I’ve long been a fan of Julie Myerson’s fiction all the way back to Sleepwalking  but the last one or two novels seemed a little formulaic to me. The synopsis of The Stopped Heart sounds as if it may well be in the same vein. A good deed to a stranger, a century ago, seems to have left its mark on the apparently idyllic cottage where a couple are trying to make a fresh start after the loss of their child. ‘The perfect place to forget. To move on. But in The Stopped Heart, the past never dies.’ say the publishers. Hmm… Not at all sure about that but once more for old time’s sake, I think.

At one stage I was convinced that Tim Parks had a huge alimony bill, either that or a Cover imagesubstance abuse problem, so great was his output. It turned out to be neither as the happily married, sober Parks revealed in his moving memoir on his driven nature and inability to stop working, Teach Us to Sit Still. His new novel, Thomas and Mary, is about a long-married couple who are facing the prospect of separating. Billed as ‘a love story in reverse’ Parks’ novel chronicles Thomas and Mary’s marriage from its first heady days in what the publishers have described as ‘a fiercely intimate chronicle of a marriage’. Sounds quite appealing to me.

Entirely different, Sunil Yapa’s debut, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, is set in Seattle against the backdrop of the 1999 World Trade Organzation protest. Victor, the estranged son of Seattle’s police chief, finds himself homeless after a family tragedy. On a day that will see the city under siege from protesters, Victor and his father are set on a collision course. This one could go either way but it has an unusual setting and that’s an eye-catching title.

Cover imageI’ve seen Paraic O’Donnell’s The Maker of Swans talked about on Twitter – not always a good thing – but a striking jacket and an intriguing synopsis has piqued my interest. Once a man of note with extraordinary gifts, Mr Crowe has given himself over to earthly pleasures, living in faded grandeur with his ward, Clara, and his manservant. When he commits a crime of passion he draws the attention of the head of the secret society to which he belongs, attention that’s soon diverted to Clara who, it seems, may be able to save them all. Sounds like it might be just the ticket for long dark evenings, if done well.

That’s it for February. Lots of reasons to wrap up warm and stay inside. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a fuller synopsis and If you’d like to catch up with the first set of February titles they’re here. First batch of paperbacks next week.