Books of the Year 2014 (Part 2)

As promised yesterday when I posted my Books of the Year (Part One) – those published pre-2014, here’s part two with those published this year.

There are two things I dislike about doing this sort of post; the first is I’m very aware of the books that people I trust rate highly and I haven’t got to yet – Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation; Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows; Ali Smith’s How to be both, and Suri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World are all high on my TBR. And then there are the books I really enjoyed but didn’t quite make the cut because I want to highlight those books that didn’t garner as much attention as I think they should have. Honourable mentions therefore to The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton; The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh; The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey by Rachel Joyce, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

Here they are then, the books published this year that entertained me the most, made me laugh (to the point of tears sometimes), cry, gasp and look on in wonder and admiration at the writer’s skill. The books I want to thrust into your hands and say ‘Read this!’. (Click on the titles for the original reviews.)

 

House of Ashes – Monique Roffey

A coup d’état on a island that might be Trinidad and Tobago. A bookish man named Ashes who gets caught up in the idea of revolution; a teenager called Breeze who thinks it will lead to a better life for him, and Aspasia Garland, Minster for the Environment and a hostage. A powerful book about power, poverty and leadership. My book of the year.

 

 

The Enchanted – Rene Denfeld

An unnamed prisoner on death row; an attorney investigating whether a prisoner can be saved on appeal; the fallen priest; the prison warden; a guard; a white haired boy. Abuse, control, freedom. Who’s good and who’s bad. Breathtaking prose. I have no idea why this book isn’t being raved about everywhere.

 

 

H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

A book that is being raved about everywhere and deservedly so. Macdonald’s memoir of training a goshawk, Mabel, following her father’s sudden death, using her own experience to reflect upon that of T. H. White. Beautiful prose and an absorbing story.

 

The Incarnations – Susan Barker

Someone’s leaving letters in Wang Jun’s taxi. Letters that say they’re from a soulmate he’s had for over a thousand years, a soulmate who will take us on a journey through China’s history and lead Wang Jun to question his family and his friendship. A bizarre omission from the Booker Prize list, I have high hopes of this being on the Bailey’s Prize list.

 

 

In Search of Solace – Emily Mackie

Interesting voice, interesting structure, interesting themes, heartbreaking story. How Jacob Little goes in search of Solace (a woman he lived with and loved at university but he’s also searching for inner peace). It’s clever and thoughtful but also a good story. Longlisted for The Green Carnation Prize but I’ve seen very little about it elsewhere, another one I’m hoping to see on the Bailey’s Prize list.

 

 

Academy Street – Mary Costello

The story of Tess, from being a young girl in a big house in Ireland when her mother dies, through the rest of her life in New York as a nurse. A small life, quietly told in beautiful, considered prose. Heartbreaking.

 

 

 

 

Animals – Emma Jane Unsworth

Laura and Tyler are best friends, flatmates and drinking buddies, but Laura’s getting married to Jim who’s just gone teetotal and Tyler’s not happy about the changes afoot. There’s always time for one last bender though, isn’t there? Absolutely hilarious but with many thought-provoking moments about what it’s like to be a woman in your late 20’s/early 30s railing against society’s expectations.

 

 

Thirst – Kerry Hudson

An unlikely love story between Dave, a Bond Street shop security guard and Alena, a Siberian woman, trafficked to the UK and caught stealing shoes. Dave and Alena’s stories are heartbreaking enough but their attempts to forge a relationship through the walls they’ve built up and the cultural differences has moments I found completely devastating.

 

 

After Me Comes the Flood – Sarah Perry

John Cole, lost in a heatwave, arrives at a house in which the inhabitants are expecting him. He soon realises he’s not their John Cole but stays anyway. There he begins to discover what both he and those around him are capable of. Eerie, disconcerting and unusual.

 

 

A Song for Issy Bradley – Carys Bray

The story of the Bradley family, a family of Mormons, coming to terms with the death of their youngest member, Issy, from meningitis. We move between the family members – two teenagers, Zippy and Alma, seven-year-old Jacob, and parents Ian and Claire as they question their faith and work out how life can go on. Unexpectedly full of humour with great characters.

 

 

The Woman Who Stole My Life – Marian Keyes

Stella Sweeney’s back in Ireland trying to write a follow-up to the best-selling novel that saw her move to New York. Her yoga loving son who hates her is in tow; her artist ex-husband, Ryan, is giving everything he owns away in the name of art, and whose phone calls is she avoiding? Funny, smart and a cracking love interest.

 

 

Crooked Heart – Lissa Evans

When Mattie starts forgetting things and then disappears, her godson, Noel is evacuated to St. Albans and Vee Sedge. Vee and her son, Donald, are both taking advantage of the outbreak of war in their own ways. Noel ends up drawn into both. A novel about survival with crooked characters you can’t help but fall for. Funny, acutely observed and heartwarming.

 

 

Wake – Anna Hope

The return of the unknown soldier to Westminster. The story of three women whose lives have been affected by the war. Hettie, a dancer whose brother, Fred, has PTSD. Evelyn, who lost a fiancé and a finger in the war. She’s also losing her brother who’s returned a different person. Ada, whose son Michael died but who she continues to see on the street. Their stories are connected although they’ll never meet. Devastating.

 

 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

Rosemary Cooke tells the story of her family, quite an unusual family and the events that took place when she was sent to stay at her grandparents. Did it happen as she remembers or is she fooling herself? An unusual take on what it means to be a family.

 

 

 

Lila – Marilynne Robinson

The one that converted me to Marilynne Robinson. Lila is a prequel to Gilead and tells the story of his second wife prior to and including their meeting and marrying. It’s about loneliness, not being able to see yourself clearly and fighting the urge to run away. The prose is beautiful and the story is heartbreaking.

 

 

2a.m. at the Cat’s Pajamas – Marie-Helene Bertino

Christmas Eve Eve in Philadelphia. Nine-year-old Madeline’s mother is dead from cancer and her father can’t get out of bed. She’s desperate to sing – at school initially but, better still, at a jazz club. Madeline’s teacher, Sarina, has dinner with her ex-boyfriend to contend with after school ends and Jack Lorca, owner of the Cat’s Pajamas, jazz club, has a relationship with his son which is in need of repair and a police fine that he can’t pay. The day that awaits all three of them is skilfully interwoven in a story that’s equal amounts grit and heartwarming.

 

In the Media: 7th December 2014

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

This week brought the news that the police involved in the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner would not stand trial. Reaction came from many people. Janee Woods writes, ‘A Different Kind of Justice‘ in Guernica; Roxane Gay, ‘What he St Louis Rams know about Ferguson is a righteous glimpse of the way forward‘ in The Guardian; Mallory Ortberg, ‘Eric Garner’s Killer Won’t Be Indicted‘ on The Toast.

It’s fitting that Claudia Rankine’s Citizen was published recently. Here it’s discussed in The New York Times and on PBS.

It’s that time of year; the round-ups started weeks ago but this week they’ve proved impossible to ignore. First up is Joanna Walsh, creator of #ReadWomen2014 on the Shakespeare and Company blog and Sinéad Gleeson in The Irish Times. While The Millions do fantastic ‘A Year in Reading’ round-ups. Here’s Haley Mlotek, Karen Joy Fowler, Emily Gould, Laura van den Berg, Celeste Ng and Lydia Kiesling. Huffington Post has its ‘Best Books of 2014‘; Electric Literature asks ‘Was 2014 the Year of the Debut?‘; ‘Three million voters reveal the books of 2014‘ on Stylist; ‘The 24 Best Fiction Books of 2014‘ on Buzzfeed along with ‘32 of the Most Beautiful Book Covers of 2014‘; The Independent has ‘The best debuts‘ The New York Times has ‘The 10 Best Books of 2014‘; Bustle has ‘10 Female Authors That Ruled 2014‘, while Slate has ‘The 22 Best Lines of 2014‘, ‘27 Books You Shouldn’t Have Overlooked in 2014‘ and an all-female, yes, you read that correctly, an all-female – by choice not design – ‘Best Books of 2014‘.

Ayelet Waldman took to Twitter to comment on her non-inclusion in The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2014. You can read about it in The Guardian and Erin Keane responds on Salon. While Laura Miller tells us ‘What I learned from reading two decades worth of NYT notable books lists‘ also on Salon.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

The lists:

And the things I’ve most enjoyed reading this week:

In the Media: 12th October 2014

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought-provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

This week, I’m starting with prizes as there seems to be a fair few announcements at the moment. The Man Booker Prize jury will announce its winner on Tuesday. In The Guardian, the shortlisted authors revealed the inspiration behind their books. (Karen Joy Fowler’s contains a spoiler if you you’ve managed to avoid the reveal so far.) The Samuel Johnson Prize shortlist contained four books by women. I’ve only read one so far, but H Is for Hawk is one of the best books I’ve read this year. But the prize that’s got me most excited is The Green Carnation Prize which celebrates LGBT literature. (You can see the longlist in the photograph above.) Eight women on a longlist of thirteen and the two I’ve already read (Thirst by Kerry Hudson and In Search of Solace by Emily Mackie) are two of my books of the year. Expect reviews of more of the books on list before the shortlist is revealed on the 6th of November.

Elsewhere, Lena Dunham continues to be everywhere. She’s guest editor of this week’s Stylist magazine in which she interviews herself while Ashley C. Ford interviews her for Buzzfeed. She’s also written for Pen & Ink about her tattoo. (If you’re interested in Pen & Ink: An Illustrated Collection of Unusual, Deeply Human Stories Behind People’s Tattoos, there’s a great piece on Brainpickings.) In other corners of the internet, people were defending Dunham against the backlash around her book and criticisms of self-indulgence; first, Heather Havrilesky in the Los Angeles Review of Books and second, Sloane Crosley in the New York Times.

Often just as unpopular, Caitlin Moran is in Time talking about Teen Girls, Sex and Pretending to be Courtney Love and in the Radio Times talking about the filming of her co-written sitcom ‘Raised by Wolves’. If her feminism doesn’t interest you, perhaps her piece lamenting the loss of birds in her garden in this weekend’s The Times will. (Paywalled)

Leading feminist writer, Roxane Gay has been prolific again this week. She’s in The Guardian writing about why celebrity feminists should be a gateway to feminism, not its all; on VQR Online talking about The Price of Black Ambition, and in Dissent with a Theses on the the Feminist Novel.

Other notable articles are:

And the interviews:

If you’d like some fiction to read (or listen to):

And the lists:

And the four best things I’ve read this week:

The Man Booker Prize Longlist 2014: Where Are the Women?

In 1996, Kate Mosse established what is now the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction in response to the 1991 Booker Prize all-male shortlist (this was prior to the release of longlisted titles) in a year when 60% of novels published were written by females. Since then, the prize has been subjected to criticism over the decision to make it a women only award, criticism that has only increased in recent years as Hilary Mantel and Eleanor Catton have gone on to win the Booker from shortlists which had gender parity. Unfortunately today’s longlist has demonstrated exactly why the Women’s Fiction Prize is so important.

Let’s start with a positive and offer huge congratulations to Karen Joy Fowler for the wonderful We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (a novel overlooked – in my opinion – by the Bailey’s Prize earlier this year); Siri Hustvedt (one of the first Americans to be considered) for The Blazing World, which is high on my TBR, and to Ali Smith for her forthcoming how to be both. To make the Booker Prize longlist is a huge achievement, to do so in a year when you’re one of three women (on a longlist of thirteen) is nothing short of incredible.

The problem with drawing attention to the gender of the writers on any longlist is that it inevitably leads people to question whether you would prefer to have ‘the best’ books on the list, regardless of gender, or gender parity. There are two problems with this: firstly, as Linda Grant pointed out on Twitter earlier today, is that it suggests that men are writing better novels than women, which simply isn’t true and secondly, the underlying factor is that prizes, and indeed commentary on literature, have been skewed towards men for decades. Whether readers want to acknowledge this bias or not, it exists; writing created by women is still considered lesser to that of their male counterparts.

Let’s take one particular example on this year’s list, ‘Us’ by David Nicholls. I haven’t read the book as it’s one of several on the list not yet published. However, I have read Nicholl’s previous novels, ‘Starter for Ten’ and ‘One Day’. Perhaps Nicholls has changed style for his latest work (please comment and let me know if you’ve read it) but if it is similar to his previous work then my question is this: Where is Jojo Moyes? Why isn’t she included on the list? My guess would be that she wasn’t submitted by her publishers. Why? Because looking at past longlists she wouldn’t stand a chance of making the final thirteen as her work would be considered too commercial.

And then there’s the question of what is submitted. Imprints are allowed one submission unless they’ve had a longlisted title within the last five years, in which case the rules are as follows:

2 submissions – publishers with 1 or 2 longlisting(s)
3 submissions – publishers with 3 or 4 longlistings
4 submissions – publishers with 5 or more longlistings

Any authors previously shortlisted are also eligible to submit their latest book in addition to those submitted by their publisher.

Imagine you work for a publisher and are one of the people responsible for deciding what goes forward to represent the company you work for. You’re making this decision knowing the prestige that this prize holds; knowing that a shortlisting at the least would allow you to publish the books of a number of lesser known writers who deserve a wider audience. You’ve two books in your hand – one by a woman and one by a man – both of equal quality but well, one’s already garnered more reviews in the broadsheets and you’ve studied previous shortlists and the winner’s table. Who do you choose?

What are the solutions? No surprises here that I don’t have any straight forward answers. In an ideal world all judging would be done anonymously. It’s clear from those quizzes that do the rounds on social media every so often that people can’t actually tell the difference between paragraphs written by men and those composed by women. For this to be possible though, the judging panel would have to exist in a cultural void for months and that’s unrealistic. However, during a brief conversation with the publisher Scott Pack on Twitter this afternoon, he suggested two things that could be implemented, although both have their issues.

The first was that the judging panel should have gender parity. Sounds easy but prize panels are often made up of an odd number of people so the chair can have the casting vote on split decisions. In the case of the Booker, there are five judges and a chair. This year the gender split is 4/2 male/female. Making this an even split on its own is not going to solve the underlying issue but it would be one step towards addressing it.

The second was that submissions should also be equally divided between genders. Now, as you can see from the guidelines above, that isn’t possible in the case of many imprints who are allowed an odd number of submissions and as the judges also have a huge amount of books to read in a relatively short time period (160 in six months this year) doubling the subscriptions from those imprints who haven’t had a longlisted book in the past five years sounds like a ridiculous thing to do. However, as long as the genders are neither considered nor represented equally, perhaps allowing all imprints to submit two books as long as one is by a female writer and the other by a male is a way to try and address the imbalance. It would no doubt mean that imprints with a large number of previously longlisted titles would have to be restricted to submitting fewer titles but surely it’s good for the industry to have greater breadth and for the small presses to compete on a slightly more balanced field? You only need to look at the recent success of Galley Beggars and Salt to see that small independent publishers are putting out interesting, high quality work.

It’s a shame that I’ve felt compelled to write this post in 2014 in a year when #readwomen2014 has raised the profile of female writers; when book shops are working to ensure that there’s gender parity on their display tables; when so many good books by female writers are being published, but it shows us that the fight is far from won.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

So the middle of my story comes in the winter of 1996. By then, we’d long since dwindled to the family that old home movie foreshadowed – me, my mother, and, unseen but evident behind the camera, my father. In 1996, ten years had passed since I’d last seen my brother, seventeen years since my sister disappeared. The middle of my story is all about their absence, though if I hadn’t told you that, you might not have known.

Our narrator, Rosemary Cooke begins her story in the middle, when she is a 22-year-old student at the University of California. She’s changed from a child who talked all the time to someone who’s quiet, observant and thoughtful.

Before we’re told much about her family though, we’re shown Rosemary’s first meeting with Harlow Fielding, ‘psycho bitch’ and drama student. They meet in the university canteen where Harlow is having a – most probably staged (on her part at least) – argument with her boyfriend, Reg, involving a fair bit of swearing and plate smashing. All Harlow’s. When a campus policeman arrives to deal with the situation, he mistakes Rosemary for the culprit which antagonises her. Once she’s also dropped a plate and smashed a glass, she finds herself in the back of a police car and then a jail cell with Harlow.

The incident with Harlow serves two purposes; firstly, a telephone call from the police to her parents sends Rosemary back to them for Thanksgiving. It shows us the fractious relationship she has with them and also allows her mother to offer Rosemary the journals she kept when she and her brother and sister were young. Secondly, Harlow becomes a friend – of sorts – to Rosemary and, as with any new friendship, hopes, ideas and stories are shared.

So I told Harlow about a summer when I was little, the summer we moved from the farmhouse. It’s a story I’ve often told, my go-to story when I’m being asked about my family. It’s meant to look intimate, meant to look like me opening up and digging deep…

It starts in the middle, with me being shipped off to my Grandpa Joe and Grandma Fredericka’s. There was no warning of this and I couldn’t now remember what my parents had told me as to why – whatever it was, I wasn’t buying. I knew the winds of doom when they blew. I believed I’d done something so bad, I’d been given away.

The time spent at her grandparent’s house is the crux of Rosemary’s story. It’s an idea that Fowler repeatedly returns to as Rosemary tells us about her sister’s disappearance.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves looks at the way families, and particularly siblings, interact. It considers what it means to be human, the way we act on ‘beliefs in conflict with reality’ and how we ignore the misery in the world unless we’re forced to look at it. It’s a difficult book to review because the less you know about the main storyline before you begin reading, the deeper the impact of the tale Fowler tells and the more enjoyable the reading experience.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a book that tells a deeply affecting story through sentences which are both beautifully constructed and thought-provoking. I enjoyed it so much that when I sat down to write this review, I re-read the first few pages and wanted to continue on and read the whole book again. It is one to savour and discuss – and oh, will you want to discuss it. I look forward to hearing what you all think about it.

Ones to Read in 2014

For the last few weeks, I’ve been engrossed in some of the new releases coming our way in 2014. Here’s my pick of the ones I’ve most enjoyed. (Publication information is for the UK. Publication dates may change.)

A Song for Issy Bradley – Carys Bray

It’s been widely reported that Bray received a six-figure advance for her debut novel (her previous publication was a book of short stories Sweet Home which won the Scott Prize) and once you’ve read it it’s obvious why. A Song for Issy Bradley follows the Bradley family in the wake of the youngest child’s death. The Bradleys are Mormons – the father, Ian, is the local bishop; mum, Claire, married into the faith and questions it following Issy’s death. She crawls into Issy’s bunk bed and refuses to get out. Of the three remaining children, the teenagers, Alma and Zippy, struggle with usual teenage worries, being Mormons and the death of their sister, while Jacob, the youngest, tries to bring Issy back. As dark a subject as this is, Bray has an eye for humour in even the blackest situations and the book is an absolute joy from beginning to end.
Published: 19th June by Hutchinson

With 2014 being the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, there are a number of books set in this era published next year. Here are two great WWI novels and a WWII one:

Wake – Anna Hope

Another brilliant debut. Wake follows three women – Hettie, a dancer at the Hammersmith Palais, whose brother Fred has been left traumatised by the war; Evelyn, a clerk in the army pensions and benefits office whose brother Ed was an army captain, and Ada, whose son Michael was killed in the war, although she’s never been told how. These women’s stories are told over the four days in 1920 that it takes to bring the body of the Unknown Warrior from France to London. This is a powerful novel, cleverly structured. It left me feeling broken.
Published: 16th January by Doubleday

 

The Lie – Helen Dunmore

One of my favourite novelists returns with the story of Daniel, a young private in the war who has returned to the small Cornish coastal town in which he grew up. Haunted by the death of his best friend, Frederick, he acquires a smallholding and, besides visits to Frederick’s sister Felicia, isolates himself. But in order to maintain his detachment, Daniel tells a lie that will be his undoing. Dunmore successfully portrays a young man involved in horrific events and wracked with guilt over one event in particular.
Published: 16th January by Hutchinson

 

The Railwayman’s Wife – Ashley Hay

Ani Lachlan lives on the Australian coast with her husband, Mac, and their daughter, Isabel. Mac works on the railway, a job that’s meant he avoided serving in the war. Roy McKinnon’s returned from the war and has found that the poetry he was able to write during the event now evades him. When Mac is killed in an accident on the railway, Ani is offered a job running the town’s library. Perhaps the power of words can help heal both her and Roy McKinnon. Quietly affecting.
Published: 2nd January by Allen & Unwin (Already available on Kindle for the price of a chocolate bar at the time of writing.)

Still Life with Bread Crumbs – Anna Quindlen

Rebecca Winter, once a famous photographer – everyone had that poster (the one with the same title as the novel) – rents out her New York apartment and moves into a cottage upstate in the hope that the cheaper rent will help her cover ever increasing bills. Rebecca’s unprepared for country living but Sarah, who runs the local tearoom, and the makeshift crosses that Rebecca keeps finding on the hill outside her cottage might help her see a different sort of life. I loved it.
Published: 30th January by Hutchinson

 

The One Plus One – Jojo Moyes

Jess Thomas, single mum to two kids – Tanzie, a gifted mathematician and Nicky, her stepson who’s bullied for being different – works two jobs to make ends meet. Her husband, Marty, has left them to live with his mum and get himself together; he sends them no financial support and when Tanzie’s offered a 90% scholarship to the local private school, he refuses to help with the rest of the fees, forsaking Tanzie’s dream. Ed Nicholls, suspended from his own company for insider trading, finds himself lying low in his holiday home – one of Jess’ cleaning jobs. When they meet sparks fly – and not in a good way – which leads to one unusual road trip. As brilliant as we’ve come to expect from Jojo Moyes.
Published: 27th February by Penguin

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

Rosemary Cooke tells us her story; the story of her family – her sister, Fern, who was taken away when she was five; her brother, Lowell, who is missing, wanted for domestic terrorism, and her parents and the lifestyle they led when she was growing up – and the story of her time in college, specifically her friendship with the drama student (and drama queen) Harlow Fielding. Told in a forceful first person narrative with a fragmented structure, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves looks at human behaviour and finds us wanting. Highly quotable.
Published: 6th March by Serpent’s Tail

The Night Guest – Fiona McFarlane

Ruth Field, 75, is widowed and lives alone on the New South Wales coast, Australia. At night, she thinks she hears a tiger in her living room, although she is aware that it’s probably her imagination. A stranger, Frieda Young, arrives at Ruth’s door and tells her that she’s been sent by the government to look after her. Frieda reminds Ruth of her time in Fiji as a young girl, so while her sons rarely visit, she allows Frieda into her life with some devastating consequences. Terrifying.
Published: 16th January by Sceptre

Fallout – Sadie Jones

1960s London. Luke Kanowski escapes Seston, Nottinghamshire, contacts Paul Driscoll, a man he’s met once, and embarks on fulfilling both their dreams of working in the theatre. Nina Hollings is following in her mother’s footsteps by training to be an actress. But dreams are limited by cages created by family and society and the lives of the protagonists will be jaded by them. Fallout takes Jones’ writing to a new level, ambitious and mature.
Published: 1st May by Chatto & Windus

The Dead Wife’s Handbook – Hannah Beckerman

Rachel has died, aged 36, of undiagnosed arrhythmia. She narrates the novel from the place she’s currently in – one which allows her some access to watch over her widowed husband, Max, and their seven-year-old daughter, Ellie. Rachel doesn’t like seeing their grief but when her best friend, Harriet, suggests Max starts dating again, Rachel has to start to come to terms with letting him go. This could have been schmaltzy but it’s far from it. Had me reading late and sobbing.
Published: 13th February by Penguin but you can read the first two chapters here.

The Virgins – Pamela Erens

1979, Auburn Academy, an elite Jewish boarding school. The virgins are the couple Aviva Rossner and Seung Young whose classmates, ironically, think are shagging like clichéd rabbits. Narrated by their then classmate, Bruce Bennett-Jones, Erens explores the gap between appearance and reality and the consequences that gap can bring about. Tense and ultimately, shocking.
Published: 30th January by John Murray

The Last Boat Home – Dea Brovig

1974, a small Norwegian costal town. Else lives with her religious mother and fisherman father. They are poor, although this doesn’t prevent Else from sneaking around with the son of the richest man in town. Nonetheless, it is something else that will have far deeper consequences for Else: the arrival of a travelling circus. The echoes of those consequences are still being heard in the present-day sections that punctuate the book. Atmospheric and disturbing.
Published: 13th March 2014 by Hutchinson

There is also a handful of books I haven’t had the pleasure of being able to read yet but I’m eagerly anticipating.

Firstly, two young writers whose debuts – Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma and Hungry, The Stars and Everything, respectively – I loved and bought for numerous friends have second novels arriving this year:

Thirst – Kerry Hudson

The beginning of a relationship is usually all about getting to know one another, sharing stories far into the night, comparing experiences, triumphs and heartaches, until we know each other inside out.

Not so for Dave and Alena. He’s from London, she’s from Siberia. They meet in a sleek Bond Street department store in the frayed heat of high summer where she’s up to no good and it’s his job to catch her. So begins an unlikely relationship between two people with pasts, with secrets, they’ve no idea how to live with — or leave behind. But despite everything they don’t have in common, all the details they won’t and can’t reveal, they still find themselves fighting with all they’ve got for a future together.
Published: 17th July by Chatto & Windus

Animals – Emma Jane Unsworth

You know how it is. Saturday afternoon. You wake up and you can’t move.

I blinked and the floaters on my eyeballs shifted to reveal Tyler in her ratty old kimono over in the doorway. ‘Way I see it,’ she said, glass in one hand, lit cigarette in the other, ‘girls are tied to beds for two reasons: sex and exorcisms. So, which was it with you?’

Laura and Tyler are best friends who live together, angrily philosophising and leading each other astray in the pubs and flats of Manchester. But things are set to change. Laura is engaged to teetotal Jim, the wedding is just months away, and Tyler becomes hell-bent on sabotaging her friend’s plans for a different life.

Animals is a hilarious, moving and refreshingly honest tale of how a friendship can become the ultimate love story.
Published: 1st May 2014 by Canongate

And two established writers:

The Blazing World – Siri Hustvedt

Artist Harriet Burden, consumed by fury at the lack of recognition she has received from the New York art establishment, embarks on an experiment: she hides her identity behind three male fronts who exhibit her work as their own. And yet, even after she has unmasked herself, there are those who refuse to believe she is the woman behind the men.

Presented as a collection of texts compiled by a scholar years after Burden’s death, the story unfolds through extracts from her notebooks, reviews and articles, as well as testimonies from her children, her lover, a dear friend, and others more distantly connected to her. Each account is different, however, and the mysteries multiply. One thing is clear: Burden’s involvement with the last of her ‘masks’ turned into a dangerous psychological game that ended with the man’s bizarre death.
Published: 13th March by Sceptre

The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa, a large silent house now bereft of brothers, husband and even servants, life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.

For with the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the ‘clerk class’, the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. And as passions mount and frustration gathers, no one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be…
Published: 4th September by Virago

I hope that’s whetted your appetite for what’s to come. Full reviews will appear here on the week of publication for each novel.

Thanks to all the publishers for review copies.