After a tempting array of new August titles I’m sorry to say that only a handful of paperbacks appeal, two of which I’ve read already. I was far from convinced that I’d like let alone love Robbie Arnott’s Flames which is quite some way out of my usual literary territory but it ended up as one of my 2018 favourites, even making it on to my Booker wish list. Arnott’s debut begins with the reappearance of Edith McAllister, two days dead. The McAllister women have a history of resurrection, appearing covered in barnacles or vegetation after they’ve been cremated, only to burst into flames a few days later. It comes as no surprise, then, when Edith repeats the pattern but her son is determined that his sister will escape the same fate. Wacky as that sounds, Arnott’s striking novel drew me in with its gorgeous writing.
Back to more straightforward fiction with Anna Quindlen’s Alternate Side, a perceptive exploration of middle-aged marriage which inhabits quintessential Quindlen territory. Charlie is cock-a-hoop having secured a space in the parking lot of the Manhattan cul-de-sac where he and Nora have lived for a couple of decades along with a privileged set of householders who look to the likes of Ricky, the handyman, to keep things ticking over smoothly. One day a shocking act of violence rocks the street, setting off fault lines in relationships that will undermine some irretrievably. There’s a pleasing thread of wry humour running through this novel which is also a love letter to New York, laced with a certain ruefulness at its makeover. Quindlen’s fiction seems much over-looked here in the UK which is a shame. I’d rank her alongside Elizabeth Strout.
We’re staying in New York for Dana Czapnik’s The Falconer much praised by both Salman Rushdie and Claire Messud which seems a slightly odd combination. Czapnik’s debut follows seventeen-year-old Lucy Adler, a basketball star in the making. Less brash than she seems, Lucy falls into unrequited love with her best friend and teammate then finds herself drawn into the bohemian world of two women artists. ‘In her hit US debut, Dana Czapnik memorably captures the voice of a young woman in the first flush of freedom searching for an authentic way to live and love’ say the publishers which sounds just the ticket.
Moving on to Thailand with Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s debut, Bangkok Wakes to Rain, which tells the story of a disparate set of the city’s inhabitants through the history of one building, A nineteenth century missionary longs for New England; a 1970s jazz pianist attempts to subdue the building’s ghosts and a young woman gives swimming lessons in a near-future submerged Bangkok, apparently. I’ve always had a soft spot for this kind of structure but I’m slightly deterred by the dystopian thread.
Eoin McNamee’s The Vogue sounds a little Gothic rather than dystopian. In 1944, two teenagers silently dance in an aerodrome. She draws the outlines of their footwork in eyebrow pencil; he loses their bet. Decades later, a body is found. ‘Set against an eerie landscape, awash with secrets, The Vogue is a grimly poetic dance through the intertwined stories of a deeply religious community, an abandoned military base, and a long-shuttered children’s Care Home’ say the publishers promisingly. Anna Burns is a big fan, apparently.
I wasn’t overly impressed by David Szalay’s All That Man Is which never seemed to coalesce as a novel but that hasn’t stopped me from casting an eye over Turbulence, described by his publishers as a short story sequence, which follows twelve characters en route across the globe. ‘Szalay deftly depicts the ripple effect that, knowingly or otherwise, a person’s actions have on those around them, and invites us to consider our own place in the vast and delicately balanced network of human relationships that is the world we live in today’ according to the blurb. It’s the idea of the journey that attracts me to this one.
That’s it for August’s paperback preview. A click on the title of one of the first two will take you to my review and to a more detailed synopsis for the rest should you want to know more. New titles can be found here and here.