Books of the Year 2016, Part Two

Yesterday I revealed my pre-2016 published fiction and 2016 non-fiction books of the year. Today it’s turn the of the 2016 fiction list and what an absolute corker of a year it’s been. (It needed to be to make up for the dire straits that is real life.) I’ve read and reviewed lots of good books so I’ve been very strict for this list and only included books I thought were superb and would happily re-read again and again. Click on the book covers to take you to my full reviews.

4627425830The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

If you’ve read my review or follow me on Twitter, it’ll be no surprise that this is my Book of the Year. Set over the course of a year, newly widowed Cora Seabourne decamps from London to Essex with her companion, Martha, and her withdrawn, unusual son, Francis. There she encounters two things which will change her life: the legend of the Essex Serpent, apparently returned and killing man and beast, and local reverend Will Ransome, who’s more modern in his thinking than Cora expects and is quite a match for her intellectually. With themes of science and religion, love and friendship this book is as smart as it is engaging. I didn’t read this book, I lived inside it. Pure joy.

 

41no-ogymgl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Lesser Bohemians – Eimear McBride

Eily leaves Ireland for London and drama school, determined to lose her virginity. When she does, it’s with Stephen, a relatively famous actor, who she assumes she’ll never see again. Of course it’s only a matter of weeks before she does and, despite the twenty-year age gap – she’s eighteen and he thirty-eight, a relationship, of sorts, begins. Over the course of a year in the 1980s, Eily and Stephen fall in and out of love and Stephen reveals his dark past. Written in a similar staccato, interior style to her debut, McBride places the reader in Eily’s head and we live out the year with her. Superb.

 
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Martin John – Anakana Schofield

Martin John is an ‘inadequate molester’. Exiled to London from Ireland by his mother, following an incident in a dentist’s waiting room, Martin John follows his rituals and circuits to ensure he stays on the right side of the law. But he’s already made a mistake and now Baldy Conscience has stayed too long in John’s house they’ll be consequences. John’s mother’s story is also very interesting, equal parts heartbreaking and disturbing. An unusual subject told in an experimental, circular style, this really does linger long after you’ve finished reading it.

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Under the Visible Life – Kim Echlin

The story of two women, Mahsa Weaver and Katherine Goodnow, who have two things in common: 1) jazz 2) their mixed heritage and the issues which have come with it. Two women who want independence but are prevented from having it in different ways due to their different cultural backgrounds – although all of their issues fall under the banner of patriarchy. Piercingly astute on women’s lives, loves and friendships.

 

 

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Human Acts – Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith)

The story of the aftermath of the student uprising in Gwangju, South Korea in 1980. Beginning with ‘The Boy’, Dong-Ho outside the municipal gymnasium, listening to the memorial service for the bodies being brought to the gym for families to identify and moving through a number of narrative voices, including the body of Dong-Ho’s friend, Jeong-dae. Shocking, violent and eyeopening.

 

 

coverMy Name Is Leon – Kit de Waal

Carol is struggling following the birth of her second son, Jake. Tony, Jake’s father has no intention of leaving his long-term partner and family and Byron, nine-year-old Leon’s father, did a runner when he was due to go to court. She has no financial support and is suffering from postnatal depression. When Tina, the neighbour, calls social services, Jake and Leon are taken into care, going together to a foster carer’s house. Leon spends his time looking out for Jake, thinking about the things that happened when he lived with his mum and hoping that his mum will get better and come back for them. Instead, Carol disappears and white baby Jake is adopted. Leon, nine-years-old with light brown skin, is left behind with Maureen, the foster carer, with little hope of anyone offering him a permanent home. Heart breaking and precise, de Waal nails a child’s perspective, writing convincingly about a situation not often covered in literature.

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Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew – Susan Fletcher

1889. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. There we find Jeanne Trabuc, wife of Charles – ‘The Major’ – the warden of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, hospital for the mentally ill. A new patient arrives, an artist by the name of Vincent Van Gogh. Jeanne strikes up a friendship with the artist which becomes a catalyst for her long hidden feelings about her life. A wonderful novel about marriage – how it changes over time, how you can never really know someone even after thirty years – and the power of art to change the way you view the world.

 

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Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun – Sarah Ladipo Manyika

Doctor Morayo Da Silva is approaching her 75th birthday. Former academic, ex-wife of an ambassador, she’s seen the world and lived it all. Now settled in San Francisco living a steady, reliable life…or so she tells us. The multiple narrators of this fascinating tale might not agree. Dr Morayo Da Silva is a wonderful character: a woman in her 70s who’s lived a varied life, unafraid to dress as she pleases, contemplate tattoos, read voraciously and discuss sexuality and how she’s found life as a woman and as a person of colour. A gem.

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The Power – Naomi Alderman

A male academic, living in a matriarchy, writes a book about how women gained power – personally, through an electric current which becomes live in their bodies, and politically. The story follows three women: Roxy, a gangster’s daughter; Margot, a mayor, and Allie, an abused foster daughter, as they overturn their situations and begin to run the world. All of this is documented by a male journalist, Tunde, the first to capture the power on camera. Violence, corruption, sexual and domestic abuse, this is indeed a powerful read.

 

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Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh

24-year-old Eileen lives at home with her cruel, ex-cop father. She works at the juvenile detention centre where she fancies one of the prison guards who never acknowledges her existence. The week before Christmas, 1964, Rebecca Saint John arrives at the institution to be the first ever director of education. She takes a shine to Eileen and Eileen’s life takes a very dark turn indeed.

 

510ryhmdeel-_sy344_bo1204203200_If You Look for Me, I Am Not Here – Sarayu Srivatsa 

Mallika, Siva’s Amma, becomes pregnant with twins: a boy and a girl. The girl, Tara, arrives with the umbilical cord still around her neck and dies moments later. The boy, Siva, survives. But Mallika wanted a girl and her grief for Tara leads her to reject Siva and accuse her husband of killing Tara. Brought up as a boy by his father and grandmother and a girl by his mother, Siva spends his childhood and adolescence questioning whether he is a boy or a girl. His story is interwoven with that of George Gibbs, an Englishman who used to live in their house. Dealing with pertinent issues of gender through interwoven stories of two cultures, the tales are completely engrossing and the writing’s both inventive and precise.

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Dodge and Burn – Seraphina Madsen

An exercise in imagination that takes the reader on a road trip across the west of the USA and the possibilities of experimental fiction. Framed by news reports of a missing American heiress, Eugenie Lund, the story of her childhood and subsequent trip is told mostly through her notebooks. Virtually imprisoned as part of a social experiment by Dr Vargas, Lund’s childhood was an unusual one which ended when her sister disappeared. This is the story of her search for Camille. A welcome addition to the cult fiction genre, reclaiming something from generations of male writers. Hurrah!

Flying Under the Radar…but well worth your time

2016 is shaping up to be such a corking year in books (thank goodness, eh, considering the state of everything else…) that I was going to do a books of the mid-year point list. However, when I drew up my longlist I noticed that it split neatly into two categories: those books you already know about because everyone is talking about them and those that I wish everyone was talking about because they’re brilliant and haven’t had the recognition they deserve. So here’s twelve books I’ve read so far this year that I think are worthy of your time and attention. Clicking on the covers will take you to my full review.

Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew – Susan Fletcher

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A new patient arrives at Saint-Paul-De-Mausole, an artist called Vincent van Gogh. The story of the novel, however, belongs to Jeanne Trabuc, the warder’s wife. van Gogh serves as a catalyst for a change in her steady, claustrophobic life. A fantastic portrait of a marriage and the power of art to change how you see the world.

Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun – Sarah Ladipo Manyika

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Doctor Morayo Da Silva is approaching her 75th birthday. Former academic, ex-wife of an ambassador, she’s seen the world and lived it all. Now settled in San Francisco living a steady, reliable life…or so she tells us. The multiple narrators of this fascinating tale might not agree. (This also gives me an opportunity to point you in the direction of this excellent piece recommending more women novelists you might enjoy by Sarah Ladipo Manyika on Vela: Seven Bold and New International Voices.)

Martin John – Anakana Schofield

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You know that reviewers’ cliche about books staying with you long after you’ve turned the final page? Well I read this in December and I still shudder every time I think about it. Martin John is an ‘inadequate molester’. Exiled to London from Ireland, by his mother, following an incident in a dentist’s waiting room, Martin John follows his rituals and circuits to ensure he stays on the right side of the law. But he’s already made a mistake and now Baldy Conscience has stayed too long in Martin’s house they’ll be consequences. John’s mother’s story is also very interesting, equal parts heartbreaking and disturbing.

Under the Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta

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A coming-of-age novel in 1970’s Nigeria. Ijeoma discovers her sexuality when she meets Amina. Her mother attempts to ‘correct’ her homosexuality through schooling her in The Bible and manoeuvring her into marriage. Gripping, heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful.

Sitting Ducks – Lisa Blower

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The perfect post-Brexit novel if you’re one of those people wondering who was ‘stupid’ enough to vote Leave in those run-down post-industrial towns destroyed by Thatcher and neglected by subsequent administrations. ‘Totty’ Minton’s fed up of being skint, unemployed and living in a house marked for demolition by his former school mate and private property entrepreneur, Malcolm Gandy. Corruption and despair are rife in the lead-up to the 2010 general election and there seems to be no end in sight.

The Living – Anjali Joseph

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Joseph also looks at working class lives. 35-year-old, single mother, Claire, works in one of the UK’s remaining shoe factories and struggles with her teenage son, Jason, while her feud with her mother rumbles on. Arun, a shoe maker and grandfather in Kolhapur, struggles with his health and looks back on his life and marriage. An excellent character study.

Under the Visible Life – Kim Echlin

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The story of two women, Mahsa Weaver and Katherine Goodnow, who have two things in common: 1) jazz 2) their mixed heritage and the issues which have come with it. Two women who want independence but are prevented from having it in different ways although all under the banner of the patriarchy. Piercingly astute on women’s lives.

If You Look for Me, I Am Not Here – Sarayu Srivatsa

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Mallika, Siva’s Amma, becomes pregnant with twins: a boy and a girl. The girl, Tara, arrives with the umbilical cord still around her neck and dies moments later. The boy, Siva, survives. But Mallika wanted a girl and her grief for Tara leads her to reject Siva and accuse her husband of killing Tara. Brought up as a boy by his father and grandmother and a girl by his mother, Siva spends his childhood and adolescence questioning whether he is a boy or a girl. His story is interwoven with that of George Gibbs, an Englishman who used to live in their house. You can read my interview with Sarayu Srivatsa here.

Mend the Living – Maylis de Kerangal (translated by Jessica Moore)

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Simon Limbeau is fatally wounded in a road traffic accident. Pulled from the wreckage and transported to an Intensive Care Unit, the novel charts the progress to the point when Simon’s heart becomes that of Claire Méjan. As the heart’s journey progresses, we meet all of the people involved in transporting it from one body to another. Gripping and fascinating.

Masked Dolls – Shih Chiung-Yu (translated by Wang Xinlin and Poppy Toland)

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Twenty-three chapters, each one titled ‘Conflict’ and the number of the chapter. Initially these conflicts seem to be individual tales: Judy and her Chinese lover; Jiaying and Lawrence, her Western boyfriend; Jiaying’s father’s stories of World War Two; the person who steals underwear from the flat Jiaying and her friends live in when they’re students; Jiaying’s friend Fat Luo’s increasing hatred of her. But as the book progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that these ideas are thematically linked. Greater than the sum of its parts.

Ghostbird – Carol Lovekin

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In a Welsh village where it rains every day in August, fourteen-year-old Cadi Hopkins begins to ask questions about her dead father and sister and why she’s not allowed to go to the lake. Cadi lives with her mother, Violet, with whom she’s locked in an intensified teenage daughter/mother battle. Cadi’s aunt/Violet’s sister-in-law, Lili, lives next door and acts as a surrogate mother to Cadi. Lili also has a contentious relationship with Violet. Nature, magic realism, secrets and family relationships. Atmospheric.

Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh

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Eileen tells the story of ‘back then’ when she lived with her alcoholic, ex-cop, father, was a secretary in a boys’ juvenile correction facility and met Rebecca Saint John, the beautiful, intelligent, fashionable director of education who befriends Eileen and leads her down a very dark, twisty path.

In the Media: March 2016, Part Two

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight 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. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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8th March 2016: The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction announces its 2016 longlist, comprised of 20 books that celebrate the best of fiction written by women

The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist was announced this fortnight. While former winner, Lionel Shriver declared ‘Women’s literary prizes are ‘problematic’‘.

And the Wellcome Book Prize announced their shortlist with four (out of six) female writers on it, as did the YA Book Prize with eight women writers on its ten book shortlist.

Elena Ferrante is hot news in the literary world once again after Corriere della Sera published an article in which Marco Santagata claimed to know her identity. Rachel Donadio wrote, ‘Who Is Elena Ferrante? An Educated Guess Causes a Stir‘ in The New York Times; Jonathan Sturgeon said, ‘We Already Know the Identity of Elena Ferrante‘ on Flavorwire; Lincoln Michel asked, ‘Why Do We Care Who the “Real” Elena Ferrante Is?‘ on Electric Literature; Stassa Edwards asked, ‘What’s Really Behind Our Obsession Over Unmasking Elena Ferrante?‘ on Jezebel; John Dugdale wrote, ‘Will Elena Ferrante outlast Louisa May Alcott’s secret alter ego?‘ in The Guardian, and Jessica Roy declared, ‘Leave Elena Ferrante Alone‘ in The Cut.

Anita Brookner died. Rebecca Hawkes wrote her obituary while Linda Grant wrote, ‘Why Anita Brookner’s funny, sharp novels got under your skin‘ both in The Telegraph.

The best of the rest:

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On or about books/writers/language:

Sara Novic

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

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Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews:

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The regular columnists:

Sarayu Srivatsa on If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here

One of my ‘Ones to Read in 2016‘ was Sarayu Srivatsa’s Man Asian Literary Prize longlisted  If You Look For Me, I Am Not HereEngrossing and innovative in terms of language use and its take on gender, I absolutely loved it. I’m delighted to welcome Sarayu to the blog to talk about the book.

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Where did the idea for If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here come from?

I have lived in Mumbai (Bombay) for 30 years and I belong to the architectural and building fraternity. The first draft of the novel was about architecture and building; its characters were shaped from a combination of people I knew. It was set in Bombay. But then I thought if I were to write about someone, somewhere and about something I didn’t know, the work would be more imaginative.

I chose one character from the first draft, an entirely imagined one – Siva, a 60-year-old male lawyer, who likes to dress up in women’s clothes just before an important case. I needed to know why he did this so I started the story at the very beginning – before he was born. I hadn’t come across any person like Siva; he was entirely shaped in my mind.

I chose Machilipatnam – a small town on the east coast of India as the setting for the story. I have never been to Machilipatnam. I don’t know anyone who lives there or has been there. I created the town based on basic research about its history, geography, climate etc.. I drew a map of the town actually – the quarter where the protagonist lives, and followed it consistently through the book.

When the MS was almost ready I presented the story at a workshop conducted by the London Script Factory organised by the British Council in Mumbai. I had misgivings about the story and wondered if I should abandon it. I met a young scriptwriter who told me the story had touched him. His mother had brought him up as a girl since she had had 3 boys and she longed for a daughter. His father was forced to send him to boarding school to distance him for his mother. His life story encouraged me to stick to my imagined one.

As I was working with an unfamiliar subject and character I needed to do serious exploration. I talked to doctors and psychologists. At one point in the writing of the novel I couldn’t relate to Siva’s thoughts and feelings. His was a difficult life. I came across an advert on hypnosis. I met the hypnotherapist on a whim, and asked her if she would hypnotise me as Siva. He was in my head after all. The therapist, rather surprised, as she had never before done this, warned me of the consequences – I would have to deal with stuff of my own life I may have blocked in my mind, she said. After the hypnosis session, which helped me focus deep, I must admit, the story was clearer to me, at least from Siva’s point of view.

The novel looks at gender and the idea of one body containing both the masculine and the feminine. What made you decide to explore this issue?

The idea of a body containing both the masculine and feminine is not new to Hindu religion. (I am not religious, I must quickly add). God Shiva in his ardhnareshwari avatar (in translation the word means half-woman) is half man and woman. The Gods Krishna and Vishnu are capable of changing into their female incarnations at will. Hijras or transwomen (male-to female transsexual or transgender individuals) are an integral part of Indian society. I had a long converstion with a hijra once (when I was working on a non-fiction book), and perhaps, subconsciously, this prompted me to explore the gender issue. Besides, I wanted to examine the idea of nurture versus nature in connection to gender at birth and after. Heredity determines physiological differences in males and females. On the other hand, how a child is raised influences its psychologiacl development. Every culture promotes gender-specific behaviors for males and females.  Any deviation from traditional gender stereotypes becames glaringly obvious. I tried to to explore this in the novel.

You play with language throughout the novel. I particularly loved the way you use it to recreate the sound of the weather and the attempts at words young children make. Why did you decide to do so rather than describe these things to the reader?

My father was in government service and was posted to villages when I was a child. I didn’t get to go to a school. My mother taught me English (her kind) and maths at home. I didn’t have any access to children’s books. I depended on my instincts and imagination. The sounds of nature became my language. Besides, I learnt Indian classical dance from a very young age. Rhythm and sound are the skin of my thoughts, and often I find myself using words because of the quality of their sound, rather than just their meaning. In my mind I have a feeling for words that soar, plunge or are inert and flat. The selection of words is so instinctive that I am unaware of the choices I make. Indian English, the way it’s spoken, differs from state to state in this country – this adds a curious and amusing local flavour to the language. Language is inventive in India – and children invent their very own language.

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Why did you decide to incorporate a different type of text in the form of George Gibbs’ ledger?

Machilipatnam is known for its vegetable dyes and the craft of dying cloth. It is also a port where the English East India Company set up their trading post to export dyes and cloth to England. I felt compelled to use both these facts in the novel. The idea of George Gibbs, an East India Company factor, who traded in dyes, was born as a result. George Gibbs story although a parallel but a shorter one to Siva’s establishes the historical reference for the town. But it was difficult to incorporate it within the main idea i.e. Siva’s story. At first I started the book with Gibbs’ story leading on to Siva’s but this didn’t seem to work. I tried alternate chapters but George’s part was very short, and therefore inconstant. Consequently, I fattened up his story a bit, got hold of a very ancient ledger and coaxed it into it. I made the ledger appear at fitting times intercepting Siva’s story. I used a different type of text so that it could at once be recognised as Gibbs’ story, separate from Siva’s.

When it was published in India (as The Last Pretence) the novel was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize; how did it feel to be placed on such a prestigious list?

I remember I was travelling when my agent called me with the news. All I could do in response was giggle. For one thing, I am not a trained writer, for another, I use the English language differently and in my own way; I feel discomfited about this, and feel a bit anxious amongst people who use the language confidently. I found it rather amusing that my work should get selected for an international prize. It was only much later and particularly when the media chose to write about it that it dawned on me – that my MS had made it to a prestigious list. The unexpected is so much more flavoursome.

Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on at the moment?

I have been working on another novel. It is a sequel of sorts – a number of lives in the novel – If you look for me – have to be sorted out. I had finished the MS more than a year ago but I had left it to marinate in my mind. Now that the novel – If you look for me – is out and it has had some response to it, I intend to continue work on the second MS.

My blog focuses on female writers; who are your favourite female writers?

Here are some of my favourite authors and their books I like –

Murasaki Shikibu – The tale of Genji

Sei Shonagon – The pillow book

Liza Dalby – East wind melts the ice

Djuna Barnes – Nightwood (a difficult book though)

Toni Morrison – Home

Doris Lessing – Ben, in the world

Iris Murdoch – The sea, the sea

Joan Didion – The year of magical thinking

A S Byatt – The Matisse stories

Amelie Nothomb – The character of Rain

Banana Yoshimoto – Asleep

Maya Angelou – I know why the caged bird sings

Jean Rhys – Wide Sargasso Sea

Nadine Gordimer – The Pickup

Carol Shields – Unless

Shani Montoo – Cereus blooms at night

 

A huge thanks to Sarayu Srivatsa for the interview and to Bluemoose Books. If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here is available now.

If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here – Sarayu Srivatsa

She pressed packets of black seeds of the magic peepal tree into Amma’s hand. ‘One a day,’ she said, raising her finger. ‘Eat the seed before or after the midday meal. But remember, it is before the meal for a boy and after for a girl.’

Amma took a seed out of the packet and held it between her fingers, then tossed the seed into her mouth. She ate the rice and potato curry; she finished the pachadi and the sweet. Then, after she’d eaten, when Patti was not looking, she swallowed two more seeds.

That was the precise moment when Siva’s fate looked at him cockeyed.

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Mallika, Siva’s Amma, becomes pregnant with twins: a boy and a girl. The girl, Tara, arrives with the umbilical cord still around her neck and dies moments later. The boy, Siva, survives. But Mallika wanted a girl and her grief for Tara leads her to reject Siva and accuse her husband of killing Tara. It’s not until Patti, Siva’s paternal grandmother, sees a swatch of silk – cinnamon-brown, painted with a peacock, parrot, leaves and a lotus – fly from the pages of a ledger and decides to wrap Siva in it that Mallika accepts him.

But Amma called me Tara. And Appa called me Siva. Patti called me both Tara and Siva. I was both a boy and a girl to her. Only I didn’t know whether I was a boy pretending to be a girl or the other way around. I was four years old.

The family live in a Victorian villa in Machilipatnam, South India. The villa was previously owned by an Englishman, George Gibbs and is now the property of the institute which bears his name, the institute of which Appa is now director. There he researches mosquitoes and malaria.

During Mallika’s pregnancy, she finds George Gibbs’ ledger in the attic of the house. Part-inventory for textile dyeing, part-diary, his words are incorporated throughout the story, eventually becoming interwoven in unexpected ways.

At the back of the site they found a grave, with human bones embedded in the dust. A skull smiled up at them from the dirt…The contractor asked me to find another location for the house…[he] gravely told me that ghosts had memories and they looked for someone to latch on to. If I lived here on this land, then the dead person’s memories would seep into me and haunt me all my days.

It’s George Gibbs’ ledger which the swatch of silk flies from that Patti wraps Siva in. It’s this act which seems to ensure that Gibbs’ memories will affect Siva’s life.

Siva spends his childhood and adolescence questioning whether he is a boy or a girl. He looks at the people around him; he learns about exceptions; he meets Sweetie-Cutie and a group of hijras; he reads George Gibbs’ ledger, and throughout it all he wonders whether Tara still exists inside of him.

Through Siva’s story, Srivatsa questions whether a person’s gender is created or is innate. While Gibbs’ story allows her to examine whether history does repeat itself in the same place and suggests there might be a more positive future for those whose gender is more complex than the male/female binary allows for.

The whole novel’s told in striking, playful prose. Whether she’s describing the howling of the wind which echoes Amma’s cries: ooooowr-oooowar-oowat-oowata-oowata-r-wate-r or Tara’s appearances in Siva’s head, like when Patti decides to take a stray dog in and names it Churchill: I shaped my mouth and said something like ‘Cha-chi’. Cha-chi-cha-chi, Tara went on and on in my head or describing Siva’s feelings on the return of Mallika’s depression:

My bare necessities became bare. I despaired, and so would Baloo the Bear despair. I should have known then, it was the beginning of ‘over’ time.

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If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here is a stunning book. It deals with pertinent issues of gender through interwoven stories of two cultures. The tales are completely engrossing and the writing’s both inventive and precise. I’ll be surprised if I read many better books this year.

 

Thanks to Bluemoose Books for the review copy.

Ones to Read in 2016

2016 is already being talked about as a ‘vintage year’ in terms of forthcoming books. In the second half of the year there’s a spate of second novels from writers who published fantastic debuts two or three years ago. There’s also lots of promising looking books from more established writers. I’m looking forward to all of those but there’s the first half of the year to talk about first.

Initially, I was going to limit this list to ten books; I could’ve populated that list three times over with the wealth of good stuff coming in the next six months. So, the list’s a little longer and the books I’ve chosen to recommend are those that, for me, had the ‘wow factor’ (often for different reasons). Listed in order of publication, all publication dates are UK and subject to change; full reviews will appear on the week of publication.

Human Parts – Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith)

Human Acts centres around the student uprising in Gwangju, South Korea in 1980. Beginning with Dong-Ho working in the gymnasium where the bodies are being brought and looking for the friend he abandoned, the story moves through a variety of characters as the repercussions of the army’s suppression is felt throughout the city. Brave, brutal, brilliant.

Wow Factor: the variety of voices/perspectives (credit to Deborah Smith’s translation); the sudden switches to violent imagery

#ReadDiverse2016 #womenintranslation #translationthurs #ReadWomen

Published by Portobello Books 7th January 2016

American Housewife – Helen Ellis

A short story collection giving voice to a variety of American housewives. From the emails of two neighbours who move from passive aggressive to downright aggressive moves regarding the décor of their shared hallway to the struggling writer taking part in an antiques reality TV show to the woman allowing junior pageant participants to escape, this is a sharp, darkly funny look at women’s lives.

Wow Factor: the dark humour; the insight into people’s (often appalling) behaviour

#ReadWomen

Published by Scribner 14th January 2016

Paulina & Fran – Rachel B. Glaser

Art students, Paulina and Fran, meet at a party. Self-conscious and desperate to be liked, they (Paulina in particular) behave appallingly, feigning an air of indifference. But when they leave art school, they have to negotiate their own ways in the world and decide how much their friendship’s really worth.

Wow Factor: the dark humour; the insights into a type of female friendship and behaviour

#ReadWomen

Published by Granta 14th January 2016

If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here – Sarayu Srivatsa

Mallika gives birth to twins but only one survives: a boy, Siva. But she wanted a girl and refuses to believe her daughter’s dead. She calls Siva, Tara and flies into a rage if anyone attempts to do otherwise. Narrated by Siva, who believes his sister lives within him still, this is a beautifully written novel about trying to find your own identity.

Wow Factor: the language; the storytelling

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Published by Bluemoose Books 21st January 2016

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon

If you’re on social media, you’ve no doubt heard lots about this novel already. If hype puts you off, ignore it and get stuck into this regardless. The story of a ‘normal’ street in England in the heatwave of 1976. Margaret Creasy’s disappeared and she knows everyone’s secrets. Ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly set out to find her and uncover a whole lot more in the process.

Wow Factor: the psychological insight

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Published by Borough Press 28th January 2016

Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett

Eden, New South Wales, 1908. The story of a whaling season told from the point-of-view of Mary Davidson, the 19-year-old daughter of a whaling family. There’s whales, running a family after the death of their mother and a romance with former Methodist minister, John Beck. Often funny, feminist and fascinating.

Wow Factor: the voice; the descriptions of the whales and whaling

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Published by Virago 4th February 2016

Under the Visible Life – Kim Echlin

The 1960s. Two girls. Mahsa, born to an Afghan mother and an American father, is orphaned after her parents are killed. When the relative she’s sent to live with discovers her relationship with a boy they send her to study in Montreal. There her love of jazz music grows and brings her a lifetime’s friendship with Katherine. Born to an American mother and a Chinese father who she never meets, Katherine sneaks out and begins playing the jazz clubs as a teenager. They lead her to a lifelong romance with an unreliable man. A gripping story of women who want more than society wants to allow them. Already a firm contender for book of the year.

Wow Factor: the language; the protagonists; the insight into relationships, marriage and family

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Published by Serpent’s Tale 4th February 2016

Martin John – Anakana Schofield

Martin John is an ‘inadequate molester’. Sent to London by his Irish mother, he works, goes to visit Aunty Noanie, phones his mum regularly and circuits Euston Station looking for women he can rub up against. As his mental health deteriorates so does Martin John’s behaviour, revealed in vignettes and repetitive language. But it’s his mother’s story that will really get to you.

Wow Factor: the language; the mother’s story

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Published by And Other Stories 4th February 2016

The Ballroom – Anna Hope

1911. An asylum on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. Ella Fay’s incarcerated for breaking a window in the textile factory in which she worked. John Mulligan was brought there emaciated and destitute. When John and Ella meet at the dance inmates are allowed to attend on Friday evenings if they’ve been ‘good’, a romance begins. The third wheel in the story is the doctor, Charles Fuller, who’s been at the asylum for five years. A disappointment to his parents, he decides he’s going to make his name with some research on eugenics. Gripping.

Wow Factor: the language; the treatment of the main theme

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Published by Doubleday 11th February 2016

Mend the Living – Maylis de Kerangal (translated by Jessica Moore)

Told over a 24-hour period from the moment Simon Limbeau’s alarm goes off and he leaves to go surfing with his friends to the point when his heart is transplanted into someone else’s body. de Kerangal tells a gripping tale of the procedure that occurs when an emergency transplant can take place. As the timeline progresses, she dips into the lives of all those involved in the procedure.

Wow Factor: the language; the dipping into the life of each character involved in the transplant

#womenintranslation #translationthurs #ReadWomen

Published by MacLehose Press 11th February 2016

Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh

1964. 24-year-old Eileen is thin, jagged, angry and unhappy. She lives with her retired, ex-cop, alcoholic father and works as a secretary at a private juvenile correctional facility for teenage boys. Desperate to leave her grim homelife, Eileen dreams of moving to New York. The novel tells the story of the week before Christmas 1964, the week Rebecca Saint John comes to work at the facility. Dark and disturbing, the less you know about this book before diving in the better.

Wow Factor: the perspective; the plotting

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Published by Jonathan Cape 3rd March 2016

Not Working – Lisa Owens

After the day she felt an impulse to start swallowing office supplies, Claire Flannery quit her job to work out what she really wanted to do. Told in vignettes about her long-term relationship with Luke, trips on the tube, increasingly drunk nights out with friends and fall-outs with family members, Claire could be any one of us.

Wow Factor: the protagonist; the insight into a 21st Century female psyche

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Published by Picador 21st March 2016

The Cauliflower® – Nicola Barker

A fictionalised biography of guru, Sri Ramakrishna. Told in fragments partly by his nephew, Hriday, but also by an anachronistic film director and another narrator. Using haiku and script as well as prose, Barker tells the story of a man elevated by faith and raises questions about the nature of worship.

Wow Factor: Barker’s unique style

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Published by William Heinemann 21st April 2016

My Name Is Leon – Kit de Waal

1980. Tina gives birth to baby Jake when Leon’s nine, but she struggles to cope and when the upstairs neighbour rings social services Jake and Leon are taken into care. Initially they both go to live with Maureen, an experienced foster parent, but soon baby Jake – who’s white-skinned – has people who want to adopt him. Older, black-skinned, Leon is left with Maureen and his anger at the unfairness of the world. Searing and heartbreaking.

Wow Factor: the voice; the insight into a life of poverty, mental illness and foster care

#ReadDiverse2016 #ReadWomen

Published by Viking 2nd June 2016
Thanks to all the publishers for review copies.