Book Lists for All Humans #3

BookListsforAllHumans

Today’s list comes in reaction to this list on Publishers Weekly: The 10 Funniest Books, only two of which are written but women and none by writers of colour. Note to us all: only  white men are funny.

Or not. I’m struggling a little with this one as funny isn’t my go-to so please add your suggestions, especially books by women of colour from beyond the UK and USA.

Animals – Emma Jane Unsworth
friends, booze, debauchery

What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day – Pearl Cleage
HIV, religion, love

Love, Nina – Nina Stibbe
nannying, working class nanny meets the literati

Is Everyone Hanging Out with Me? – Mindy Kaling
memoir

Crooked Heart – Lissa Evans
war, evacuees, survival

Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo
homosexuality, London, family, Caribbean

The Table of Less Valued Knights – Marie Phillips
quests, feminism, sexuality

Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu – Yi Shun Lai
dating, mothers, following your dreams

Yes, Please – Amy Poehler
memoir, feminism

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged – Ayisha Malik
hijabs, dating, writing

Links are to my reviews

The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Longlist

I’ve loved the Fiction Uncovered prize since discovering it three years ago. It awards eight writers who haven’t garnered the recognition they deserve and the choices are always wonderful. This year, for the first time, a longlist has been announced and it looks amazing. There are fifteen books, eleven of which – ELEVEN – are by women writers. I’m impressed. I’ve only read four of them but they’re all fantastic; if you click on the titles you can read my reviews. I’m going to endeavour to read the rest now. The shortlist is announced on the 18th June.

A Man Lies Dreaming – Lavie Tidhar (Hodder & Stoughton)

Animals – Emma Jane Unsworth (Canongate Books)

Beastings – Benjamin Myers (Bluemoose Books)

Dear Thief – Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape, Penguin Random House)

Mobile Library – David Whitehouse (Picador, Pan Macmillan)

Mother Island – Bethan Roberts (Chatto & Windus, Penguin Random House)

Significance – Jo Mazelis (Seren Books)

The Four Marys – Jean Rafferty (Saraband)

The Incarnations – Susan Barker (Doubleday, Transworld)

The Offering – Grace McCleen (Sceptre, Hodder & Stougton)

The Redemption of Galen Pike – Carys Davies (Salt)

The Spice Box Letters – Eve Makis (Sandstone Press)

The Stray American – Wendy Brandmark (Holland Park Press)

The Way Out – Vicki Jarrett (Freight Books)

Wittgenstein Jr – Lars Iyer (Melville House UK)

This diverse group of books has been chosen by the judges as they display the flair, range and literary rigour abounding in British writing today and should, the judges believe, be widely read. In a nation reeling from the most divisive general election for many years, this is a group of books that can unify readers in the power of a good story.

Announcing the longlist, chair of judges India Knight said:

“It is absolutely thrilling to have found such brilliant books, across such a wide variety of genres, and from authors that live and write all over the country. These are fantastic writers who deserve to be household names.”

On the decision to release the longlist for the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize for the first time this year, prize Founder and Director Sophie Rochester said:

“With writers from Swansea, Newcastle upon Tyne, Bath, Brighton, Lancaster, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Glasgow and London, and publishers from Yorkshire, Wales, Scotland and Norfolk, this year’s longlist presents an exciting snapshot of contemporary British fiction writing and publishing.”

Joining India Knight on the judging panel this year are Matt Bates (WH Smith Travel), Cathy Galvin (Word Factory/Newsweek) and Simon Savidge (Savidge Reads).

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.

 

‘I’m proud to be a feminist.’ Emma Jane Unsworth at Off the Shelf Festival, Sheffield

It’s a rainy autumnal evening when I arrive at Sheffield Central Library. Upstairs in a room lined with cases of leather-bound books, a small stage is set. Emma Jane Unsworth is here to talk about her latest novel Animals.

The event begins with Unsworth reading from early in the novel. She chooses a section where Tyler has been visiting dating strikes drunk, resulting in her committing cyber suicide and we learn about Laura at school, always top or second in English.

This is followed by an interview.

Unsworth is asked whether Animals is a novel about drinking. She says there’s a lot of drinking and drugs in the novel, often to excess. She wanted to show the ups and downs, the joys of going out with your best friend but also the hangovers and the existential crises.

This is followed by a question about ‘settling down’, which the interview suggested doesn’t happen in the book. Unsworth says she hopes she shows a breadth of possibilities. She wanted there to be joy in the excess but also to show that there’s a pressure that comes with doing the same thing over and over. It reaches a point where there’s no freedom in it any more for Laura. From a political view, she wanted to explore how women are expected to do certain things with their bodies at certain times. Society dictates that a woman should prepare her body for pregnancy.

The interviewer asks if she thinks there is a pressure to grow up. Unsworth says she noticed it within her own group of friends in their late twenties as people began to marry and have babies. Those who did neither of these felt they were being left behind, as though they were failing. Women should have choices but they are false choices if they’re made by fear. She questioned why you might feel that life would have less value if you didn’t marry/have children and did you reach a point in your life when you have to change completely? At this point, the voice of the two women – Laura and Tyler – started to become real in her head and she wanted to turn it into a narrative, a comedy about a duo and their escapades. ‘I don’t understand what it means to grow up! I wanted to fight that!’ she says.

Was Animals good fun to write? The nights out were but some of them made her feel queasy! She talks about the joy of going out with girlfriends, the way that you feel free to talk more. She says one of her favourite scenarios is a pub table, a bottle of wine and her best mate; she’s sorted so much out that way! She also wanted to document Manchester; it was an act of preservation.

The interviewer comments on how good it is to read an urban novel not set in London. Unsworth says she couldn’t imagine it being set anywhere else. She enjoyed doing the little booze tours in the book and the wanderings at strange times. She’s seen the buildings in Manchester grow, change, move and shift in her time there, it’s deeply ingrained in her imagination.

The interviewer asked for questions from the audience.

The first is about the title of the novel. Unsworth says it comes from the Frank O’Hara poem but it wasn’t her idea. She wanted to call it The Rogue because it’s rarely applied to women and she wanted to nod towards the Picaresque, a genre rarely applied to women. Everyone hated it but she dug her heels in until Francis Bickmore, her editor, sent her the O’Hara poem. She quotes the first stanza:

Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

She changed her mind then as she felt the poem referred to Tyler and Laura’s glory days, days that did so much for both of them. She goes on to talk about how, although comparisons have been drawn with Withnail & I, she was wary of slotting female characters into a male blueprint. That’s neither original nor progressive. She wanted them to be dirtier and grimier than Ab Fab and with a different tone to Withnail & I.

Somebody else asks about her protagonists being highly educated but lacking stimulation and fulfilment. Unsworth says she wanted a backdrop of real, modern day Britain so the Olympics, Mars Rover, Higgs Boson and the recession are all there. Manchester was grim, shops were shutting, people couldn’t get jobs doing what they wanted so ended up in telesales and coffee shops, feeling lucky to get those. She wanted her characters to be pretentious, not too sympathetic. They ponce around town quoting Yates and drinking which is just the way the voices came out. (Unsworth says it sounds awful when writers say that!) She expands on that saying the voices arrived when she was two drafts into a completely different novel. She thought they were interesting so began writing it into her phone. When she transferred it to a computer, she discovered she had 16,000 words. She’d never written so excitedly nor so fast!

What does she think of the Booker Prize and why do comedic books rarely win, are they difficult to write? She knew that’s what she wanted to write and she’s got braver with the humour as she’s written more. She says she ‘wussed out’ with her first novel Hungry, the Stars and Everything because she was worried what her boss might think of her, what her nan was going to think, so she removed some of the sex scenes. Her family are proud of Animals though because it’s fiction! She says she thinks there’s a presumption that if something’s funny it can’t be taken seriously but she feel passionate/less low and more connected to the characters if they’re humourous.

Someone asks about Laura being a writer and the book she’s writing about a priest who falls in love with a talking pig. Unsworth says it’s her being silly, taking the mickey out of the magical realism in Hungry the Stars and Everything. She wrote it down, showed it a friend and they liked it. She expected an editor to say something but they didn’t so it’s still in there!

Do you see a lot of yourself in Tyler? There’s something appealing about her, she’s tough/solid and ‘ain’t changing for anyone’, but there’s no room for growth then. Unsworth says she’s loads to learn and loads to do and isn’t ready to stop changing/growing or being sympathetic.

Has she always wanted to be a writer? She reveals that she used to write Valentine’s poems for her friends at school and charge them a pound! She went on to be a journalist but went part-time to write her first novel. She also reveals that the first draft of her third novel is finished.

Did you feel like a proper grown-up when the first book came out? She said it’s strange when it’s an object. She was scared but once it was out felt excited and emboldened.

Is there a difference between publishing as a journalist and publishing a novel? Unsworth says she still worried when she was writing journalism but not a lot went online at that time so it still felt small scale. It’s a big thing to write a book people might keep. It’s also risky because it’s your own ideas while articles are often written for commissions or to spec. It’s liberating and terrifying writing a novel but, she says, she’s writing to be read and to share things.

Someone else asks about Tyler as a female anti-hero. Unsworth says she couldn’t have written anything else. She’s never tried writing from a male point-of-view but neither was it a conscious choice to write about women behaving badly or in a way that is perceived to be bad but that was what created the narrative tension, along with societal pressures. She says she became braver as the writing went on, especially in redrafts. She started to think about extremities and the limits and depths of what these two women could bear mentally. She wanted to make it a farce and she’s glad she did.

How’s the film going? (Animals was optioned as a film by producer Sarah Brocklehurst in April.) I have to know where the scene’s going before I can get a word down, she says. Every single scene is plotted out. But she loves writing dialogue and is under no illusion as to the length of the process or the amount of collaboration that will come later.

What do you think about the apparent desire for likeable characters in books and have you had any comments about how unlikeable your characters are? Unsworth says she thinks this is more of a problem for women writers, that people conflate them with their characters. She talks about Alicia Nutting, writer of Tampa and how many interviews she read where the interviewer begins by expressing surprise at how nice Nutting is, as though a woman can’t write an unlikeable character who isn’t herself. She says she agrees with the idea that characters need to be believable in context and refers to Claire Messud’s comments to Publishers Weekly following the publication of The Woman Upstairs.

The penultimate question is how Unsworth feels about being part of a movement. She talks about how lucky she is to have caught the wave and be part of a pioneering group challenging conventions. She mentions the television programme Girls, the film Bridesmaids and fellow writers Annaliese Mackintosh and Zoe Pilger. However, she says, ‘The second something’s a trend, it’s a trap’; she has an appetite and interest for characters that go against the grain and she wants to keep exploring what makes these women bad. She doesn’t want to become complacent and stop questioning. She makes clear, ‘I’m proud to be a feminist. It’s an honour to be connected with those writers.’ She thinks it’s brilliant feminism is being talked about but we need to interrogate it too.

The final question is women without children being undervalued in society. Unsworth says there’s a moral value attached to being a parent or getting married despite no one suddenly graduating to a new level of compassion. There’s a feeling in society that if you lose a baby, you’ve failed; it’s why you can’t say you’re pregnant for three months in case you miscarry because shame comes with that loss. She says that life isn’t a series of checkpoints to tick off and by choosing not to marry or have children, you’re just going on another path. It should be a choice and not one made out of fear or pity. She dislikes society’s view that women in their 40s and 50s who go out drinking are described as ‘such a tragedy’ or ‘not quite right’. Humans justify their position by dismissing the alternative which just reduces the possibilities for everyone.

The event ends almost where it began, thinking about women drinking and behaving in a way that society doesn’t like. Unsworth is an interesting and entertaining speaker; she’s clearly passionate about fighting for a different space for women and doing so through fiction that’s both smart and humourous. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with for book number three.

Animals – Emma Jane Unsworth

Animals is the story of Laura and Tyler. Laura’s 32, works in a call centre, is an aspiring writer and is engaged to Jim, a concert pianist. Tyler, 29, works in a coffee shop. Both of them like…well, read the opening of the novel and you’ll get the picture:

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?’

We’d been out. Holy fuck, had we been out. A montage of images spooled through the brainfug. Fizzy wine, flat wine, city streets, cubicles, highly experimental burlesque moves on bar stools…

They like a good time and their good times involve booze, drugs and often (although more on Tyler’s part than Laura’s) sex. Much of the novel is based around Laura and Tyler’s escapades, which are absolutely hilarious; I could quote more, there’s a funny line or incident on practically every page and I cried laughing twice, but part of the joy of reading the novel is coming to those lines fresh.

However, Laura and Tyler’s nights out become something of a problem with Jim who’s given up drinking. Physically absent for large periods of the book because he’s on tour, there are numerous occasions when Laura’s supposed to meet Jim – most often at his place but once in Stockholm – where she promises herself she’ll leave early/not take any drugs/only have a few. Yeah, right. And it’s this tension between the three of them that drives the narrative forward.

But to suggest that’s all the book’s about would be to leave the core of it unacknowledged, a core that considers and makes astute comments about friendship, relationships and those choices that plague women in particular (ugh, society) in their late 20s/early 30s.

Laura and Jim are supposed to be planning their wedding but this creates tension with Tyler who feels that Laura’s deserting their friendship:

‘I’m not ruining your life! There’s more to life than me! And I’m marrying Jim because I love him, I do, and this feels like…’ I couldn’t say ‘adventure’. ‘…progress.’

She smacked her forehead with her hand. ‘Progress?’ What about our hard-earned system? Have you forgotten about that? Isn’t marriage just another example of everything we’ve always fought against, as in the shit people do because they think they should rather than because they want to?’

And then there’s Tyler’s opinion on her younger, wilder than all of them, sister having a baby:

‘You know what the “Baby Club” is? The Baby Club is one of those godawful discos in Leicester Square: starkly lit, tacky and full of tourists. The décor is dated and you can’t get a decent drink, and every time someone walks through the door everyone who’s in there smiles manically with this huge relief because they’re just so glad someone else walked into their shitty club after they paid twenty quid and can’t leave.’

And then there’s Laura’s take on the love we feel for our friends and lovers (repeated several times throughout the book with regards to different people):

I loved her. I did. Sometimes.

The writing in Animals fizzes; it’s fiery, sharp and perceptive. When I wasn’t laughing raucously, I was nodding in agreement. It’s the bastard lovechild of Withnail and I, Bridesmaids and Girls; it’s the novel that covers all the things I was thinking and feeling in my early 30s; it’s the novel that should firmly establish Emma Jane Unsworth as a shining star of British contemporary literature.

 

Thanks to Canongate for the review copy.

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.