Tag Archives: This Must be the Place

Paperbacks to Look Out for in May 2017: Part One

Cover imageAll but one of this first selection of May paperbacks is about marriage, family or both, and the one that isn’t appears to touch on it in some way. Top of my list has to be Ann Patchett’s superb Commonwealth, one of my books of 2016 and a hoped for Baileys Prize contender. It’s the story of a family, one which increasingly extends itself as marriages multiply and children are born. Patchett is an expert in show not tell: as her novel crisscrosses the years, from the opening christening in 1964 when a gatecrasher helps change the family’s history to the present day, stories are told and re-told – sometimes with illuminating differences. With its pleasingly rounded characters, meticulously constructed narrative and thoroughly absorbing storytelling all underpinned with a gentle but wry humour, this is a wonderful novel whose ending completes a beautifully executed circle.

Jane Rogers’ Conrad and Eleanor also made an appearance on both my books of 2016 list and my Baileys wishlist. Sadly, neither Commonwealth nor Rogers’ novel was successful. Authors may well start putting in requests to be omitted from my prize wishlists soon, given their lamentable performance. Conrad and Eleanor is a nuanced portrait of a marriage in which traditional male/female roles are upended. Eleanor is engaged in medical research as is Conrad but while she’s a star in her particular sphere, his work has stalled. When Conrad fails to return from the conference he’s supposed to be attending, Eleanor is forced to take a long hard look at their marriage. Rogers resists any hint of a fairy tale ending, instead offering her readers an entirely plausible resolution. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable and absorbing novel.Cover image

As, I’m sure Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must be the Place will be too. There was a time when I cheerily dismissed O’Farrell’s novels as chick lit – not for me – until I was finally persuaded to read After You’d Gone. This one’s about Daniel, a New Yorker who lives in a remote part of Ireland, with what sounds like a somewhat complicated life: children he never sees, a father he detests and a trigger-happy, ex-film star wife. News of a woman he knew long ago is about to further spice things up.  The novel ‘crosses continents and time zones, giving voice to a diverse and complex cast of characters. At its heart, it is an extraordinary portrait of a marriage, the forces that hold it together and the pressures that drive it apart’ say the publishers. Sounds unmissable.

I’m hopeful that the same can be said of Emma Straub’s Modern Lovers which has an appealing bad boys and girls facing middle age and their own teenagers’ rebellion theme. Elizabeth, Andrew and Zoe once played in a band together but now they’re married with kids and mortgages, staring fifty in the face but still clinging to whatever shreds of coolness they can. They all live in the same Brooklyn neighbourhood and their kids are friends, some a little too friendly for their parents’ liking. Straub showed herself to be a sharp, witty social observer in her enjoyable The Vacationers, qualities that sit very well with her new novel’s premise so hopes are high

Cover imageMy last choice, Mike McCormack’s Goldsmith Prize winning Solar Bones, follows the thoughts of Marcus Conway as he stands in his kitchen ‘deconstructing with his engineer’s mind how things are built to consider them better: bridges, banking systems and marriages. In one of the first great Irish novels of the 21st century, Mike McCormack captures with tenderness and feeling, in continuous, flowing prose, a whole life, suspended in a single hour’ say the publishers. I like the sound of this one.

That’s it for the first instalment of May’s paperback preview. If you’d like to know more, a click on a title will take you to my review for the first two and to a more detailed synopsis for the others. If you’d like to catch up with May’s hardbacks they’re here. More paperbacks shortly.

Books to Look Out For in May 2016: Part 1

Cover imagePole position for May has to go to Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must be the Place. There was a time when I cheerily dismissed O’Farrell’s novels as chick lit, not for me. Pretty snobby, I know, and pretty stupid, too, as I found out when I was finally persuaded to read After You’d Gone. Still, at least it meant I had a  pleasingly lengthy  backlist to enjoy. It’s been a little while since a new O’Farrell so there’s a definite air of impatient anticipation around this one. It’s about Daniel, a New Yorker who lives in a remote part of Ireland, with what sounds like a somewhat complicated life: children he never sees, a father he detests and a trigger-happy, ex-film star wife. News of a woman he knew long ago is about to further spice things up.  The novel ‘crosses continents and time zones, giving voice to a diverse and complex cast of characters. At its heart, it is an extraordinary portrait of a marriage, the forces that hold it together and the pressures that drive it apart’ say the publishers. Sounds unmissable.

Regular readers will know that I find New York backdrops hard to resist. It doesn’t always work – I didn’t get past the first fifty pages of City on Fire – but I have hopes for Molly Prentiss’ debut, Tuesday Nights in 1980. It’s about three people, all trying to make it big in the city: Raul Engales is an Argentinean painter in exile, passing himself off as an art student; James Bennett is the critic with synaesthesia who experiences art as a trippy set of sensations and Lucy is Raul’s young muse, fresh from Idaho and eager for the bright lights. ‘Over the course of one year, these three lives will collide and be transformed. A brand new decade has just begun and New York is a crucible brimming with the energy of a million secret metamorphoses, poised to spill forth art, destruction and life itself into the waiting world’ say the publishers in a synopsis which is a tad overblown it has to be said, but I’m willing to overlook that.

And we’re off to New York again for Cynthia D’Apprix Sweeney’s The Nest which sounds like a pleasingly acerbic outing for the good old dysfunctional family trope. The Plumbs’ dwindling Cover imagefamily trust fund is threatened after Leo’s drunken accident involving a nineteen-year-old waitress. Leo’s rehab costs, Melody’s colossal mortgage and children’s tuition fees, Jack’s secret debts and Beatrice’s inability to finish her novel have all depleted the family fortune but the fallout from the accident may wipe it out altogether. You may think they sound like a bunch of spoilt brats and good riddance to them but we’re promised a novel that’s ‘ferociously astute, warm and funny… …a brilliant debut chronicling the hilarity and savagery of family life.’

Venturing a little further into upstate New York, Elizabeth Brundage’s creepy sounding 1980s-set All Things Cease to Appear sees a professor and his family moving into a farmhouse where things soon become very bumpy indeed. George knows the house’s history but his wife does not although she often feels she’s being watched in the many hours she spends at home with their daughter.  ‘With masterful tension and understanding of human nature, Elizabeth Brundage has crafted a novel that is at once a community’s landscape spanning twenty years and an intimate portrait of a disturbed mind ‘ say the publishers setting us up for a chilling piece of smalltown fiction.

Still in the States, Marc Bojanowski’s Journeyman follows a carpenter who travels where his work takes him. After a dreadful accident at work he leaves his temporary Las Vegas home heading towards the west coast, by way of his brother’s town where he finds himself stranded after the loss of his car and tools, forcing him to think about his life and contemplate building something more meaningful. Set against a backdrop of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars it’s billed as a ‘intimate, honest and exquisitely crafted state-of-the-nation novel’ – another weakness of mine.

Cover imageHannah Kohler’s debut, The Outside Lands, also has war as its backdrop, this time the Vietnam war. Jeannie and Kip’s mother died when she is nineteen and he fourteen. Jeannie’s marriage takes her into the unfamiliar world of wealth and politics while Kip turns to petty crime, then volunteers for the Marines. Both are caught up in events leaving them ‘driven by disillusionment to commit unforgivable acts of betrayal that will leave permanent scars’ in a ‘story of people caught in the slipstream of history, how we struggle in the face of loss to build our world, and how easily and with sudden violence it can be swept away’ which, once again, sounds a little overblown to me but I’m attracted by the idea of a debut that takes its readers from 1960s California to Vietnam.

That’s it for the first clutch of May goodies, all but one American. The next batch will range a little further. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a fuller synopsis should you be interested. And for anyone interested in that kind of thing there’ll be a little ‘what I got up to on my holidays’ post in a couple of days.