Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Our Fiction Cup Runneth Over in April!

We have some excellent new fiction books this month. Here are Lindy's thoughts on her favourites:

There are many excellent novels on WWI, and this one should join them! Riley Purefoy is working class, bright and eager to improve himself. Coming to the notice of a famous artist, he forms a friendship with Nadine Waveney, whose parents are rich, artistic bohemians. He is sure of his place in her world, until her mother's prejudices force him to the impetuous act of signing up to fight in the war that should be finished by Christmas. In the trenches of France, he forms relationships, most notably with his commanding officer, Peter Locke. Peter's beautiful wife Julia, and his sister Rose, a nurse with no hopes of marriage, wait for him to return. Nadine, defying parents and social expectations, volunteers to nurse in France, and waits for Riley. I can't say much more without spoiling the story but characterisation is pitch-perfect, descriptions of class and prejudices ring true, and the appalling nature of the new way of warfare, and the de-humanising of the soldiers is clearly caught. As well, the effects of the people back home are well portrayed, and the awfullness of not understanding what their loved ones are going through - all this is captured in a clean and sparse narrative style, vividly distinctive and flowing easily. One of the very best books I've read about the war, I can't recommend it highly enough!

In an unnamed country, one with deep similarities to somewhere once contained by Yugoslavia, Natalia learns that her grandfather, a once respected doctor and surgeon, has died in a town no-one knew he was visiting. Being a doctor herself and engaged in a mission to an orphanage nearby, she sets off to find out why. She suspects it has to do with the Deathless Man, someone he kept meeting at pivotal moments in his life. As she tries to find out, the narrative is interspersed with scenes from her grandfather's childhood, in a remote village where superstition ruled. In the war, an escaped tiger had found his way there, and the deaf-mute wife of the local butcher had made a connection with both the beast, and the young boy. A very promising debut with some wonderful imagery, from the youngest ever author to make the New Yorker's Top 20 Writers Under 40.

Rose discovers on her 9th birthday, that she can taste emotions in anything she eats. Her cheerful mother is revealed, through the agency of a chocolate lemon cake, to be full of despair. Her father, a scientist, is detached; but her older brother, a strange, probably undiagnosed Asperger's person, is the real worry with his unexplained mental and physical absences. Rose is too young to know the things she learns from eating, and this in turn fuels a true aversion to food that anyone has touched - even then, she can taste the emotions of the people who grew or harvested the food sources. An inventive tale, where the strangeness of Rose's family life and 'gift' actually does not seem so fanciful.

Personally I found last year's fiction very disappointing - but this year! There are some wonderful novels and this is one of them. When I got to the end of the book, I immediately went back and re-read it with as much delight as the first time! Elly is a precocious child, due more to her brother Joe's influence rather than anything her eccentric parents do. At school she has one friend, Jenny Penny who is a wild-haired oddity of a child with peculiar talents. She also has a rabbit (who sometimes talks to her), a madly endearing famous actress lesbian aunt, and a secret only her brother knows. When her father wins the pools and relocates the family to Cornwall, life becomes even more interesting. A book about love, and what makes family, and friends. Every character, no matter how minor, is fully drawn; the writing is sparkling and fresh; there are moments of deep poignancy and others of comic brilliance. Not to be missed -really!

This is another favourite novel for me so far this year. It is about Ernest Hemingway's first wife, his Paris wife, Hadley Richardson. Swept off her feet by the younger Hemingway, they marry in 1920. Escaping their respective (and respectable) families, they manage to go overseas hoping it will be both cheaper to live, and closer to the artistic heart of post-war culture. It isn't long before they are part of the ex-pat society, living, loving and drinking to the full. As Ernest struggles to find his literary voice, and experience as much as he can, Hadley fights to keep up, particularly when their son is born and it becomes increasingly apparent that having a family and stability isn't what Ernest wants. A believable voice of quiet intensity and some desperation, this book appealed highly (and I'm not even much of a Hemingway fan - so getting me to feel some sympathy for the man is a great feat indeed!)

No comments: