Fiction Uncovered 2013

One of the bookish initiatives that I love the most has to be Fiction Uncovered. In case you haven’t heard of it, as I know it is a UK initiative and not sure how much worldwide audience it gets, the aim of Fiction Uncovered is to really do what it says on the tin… It uncovers fiction that might have gone under the radar in the last year and undeservedly missed out on any awards or, more importantly I feel, word of mouth on the scale it deserves. Each year I get more and more excited about what the list might be as each year it has supplied me with some books I have really loved. Plus we all love a list of books we might not have heard about don’t we?

Guess what? The list has now been released and here are the eight novels that I think we should all be getting very excited and interested in at the moment. Like last year I will give you the bumph the book comes with and then my initial thoughts in order of authors surname so you don’t think I have favourites…

All The Beggers Riding – Lucy Caldwell

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. (Trad.) When Lara was twelve, and her younger brother Alfie eight, their father died in a helicopter crash. A prominent plastic surgeon, and Irishman, he had honed his skills on the bomb victims of the Troubles. But the family grew up used to him being absent: he only came to London for two weekends a month to work at the Harley Street Clinic, where he met their mother years before, and they only once went on a family holiday together, to Spain, where their mother cried and their father lost his temper and left early. Because home, for their father, wasn’t Earls Court: it was Belfast, where he led his other life…Narrated by Lara, nearing forty and nursing her dying mother, “All the Beggars Riding” is the heartbreaking portrait of a woman confronting her past.

Simon says: Not to start off on a negative slant but the blurb mentions horses in the first line, I don’t like horses or books with horses in… and this book is now making me think of horses. However as you read on the blurb actually sounds very interesting and here we have one of those things that I love… someone looking back on their life and possibly a domestic drama with the added subjects of ‘the troubles’ and possibly some secrets, or am I reading too much into ‘where he led his other life’. The fact the narrator is looking after someone who is dying, bearing in mind my current situation with Gran, might be tough but it could also be therapeutic. Sorry I have gone on…

How I Killed Margaret Thatcher – Anthony Cartwright

Why Sean Bull sets out one day to assassinate Margaret Thatcher…’Judas Iscariot’s here, look. Here comes Judas Iscariot…’ Nine-year old Sean has never seen anything like what happens on the day Margaret Thatcher takes power and his grandad discovers his uncle voted for her. So begins the start of a family secret and the end of Sean’s idyllic childhood in the industrial Midlands – until, one day, deciding that someone’s got to stop the train of destruction, he sets out for revenge. A heartbreaking and timely story of a moment of national crisis as felt by one family, How I Killed Margaret Thatcher delivers a devastating English twist on the dictator novel.

Simon says: Have people been expecting Maggie to die imminently for a while? First Damian Barr and now Anthony Cartwright, though technically it is the other way around though we haven’t heard so much about this book. As one of ‘Thatchers Children’ (which to me means I wouldn’t have voted for her, but couldn’t have anyway yet I cannot deny her leadership affected my childhood completely) I do find hearing about people of around the same generation as me and how it affected them, so I want to read this one soon.

Black Bread White Beer – Niven Govinden

Amal is driving his wife Claud from London to her parents’ country house. In the wake of Claud’s miscarriage, it is a journey that will push their relationship – once almost perfect – towards possible collapse. In this, his latest novel, Govinden casts a critical eye on a society in which, in spite of never-ending advances in social media communications, the young still find it difficult to communicate. A devastatingly passionate and real portrait of a marriage, ‘Black Bread White Beer’ keenly captures the abandon, selfishness, hazards and pleasures that come with giving your life to another.

Simon says: I am slightly kicking myself as this has been in my bureau, printed off especially as I wouldn’t read the e-book which is how this came out initially, for quite a while. I am definitely going to read it, well I was anyway, all the sooner now though. I think it sounds fascinating… Sorry I haven’t read it sooner Niven – though that might be because I was promised it would come with a Caramac chocolate and it didn’t!

The Village – Nikita Lalwani

“The Village” by Nikita Lalwani is a disturbing and utterly gripping modern morality tale set in contemporary India. On a winter morning Ray Bhullar arrives at the gates of an Indian village. She is here to make a film. But this will be no ordinary tale about India – for this is no ordinary village. It is an open prison, inhabited by murderers. An apparent innocent among the guilty, Ray tries hard to be accepted. But the longer she and the rest of the crew stay, the more the need for drama increases. Soon the fragile peace of the village will be shattered and, despite Ray’s seemingly good intentions, the motives of the visitors and the lives of the inhabitants will be terrifyingly, brutally exposed.

Simon says: I feel like I might have heard small rumblings about this book, now having read the blurb I cannot believe I haven’t read this book as it sounds soooooo up my street. Firstly as i have been meaning to read a book set in India for a while, secondly because ‘an open prison, inhabited by murderers’ sounds genius in terms of fictional potential tension, atmosphere and danger.

 The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

“The Colour of Milk” is the new novel by Orange longlisted author and playwright Nell Leyshon. ‘This is my book and i am writing it by my own hand’. The year is eighteen hundred and thirty one when fifteen-year-old Mary begins the difficult task of telling her story. A scrap of a thing with a sharp tongue and hair the colour of milk, Mary leads a harsh life working on her father’s farm alongside her three sisters. In the summer she is sent to work for the local vicar’s invalid wife, where the reasons why she must record the truth of what happens to her – and the need to record it so urgently – are gradually revealed.

Simon says: Every year there is one book I have already read which I have loved, and may partly be while I therefore feel tuned in with FU, I absolutely adored this book when I read it last year. Thrilled.

The Heart Broke In – James Meek

Would you betray your lover to give them what they wanted? Bec Shepherd is a malaria researcher struggling to lead a good life. Ritchie, her reprobate brother, is a rock star turned TV producer. When Bec refuses an offer of marriage from a powerful newspaper editor and Ritchie’s indiscretions catch up with him, brother and sister are forced to choose between loyalty and betrayal. The Heart Broke In is an old-fashioned story of modern times, a rich, ambitious family drama of love, death and money in the era of gene therapy and internet blackmail.

Simon says: Now I had an unsolicited copy of this last year (kicking myself again) and Ritchie as a character, from the blurb, put me off so much with the rock star to TV producer story line (the idea bored me and I felt I had seen it before) that I gave it to a relative, who I don’t think has read it yet but I can’t go and steal it back off. It is the only one I feel a bit unsure about… at the moment, maybe I need to be more open minded?

Orkney – Amy Sackville

On a remote island in Orkney, a curiously-matched couple arrive on their honeymoon. He is an eminent literature professor; she was his pale, enigmatic star pupil. Alone beneath the shifting skies of this untethered landscape, the professor realises how little he knows about his new bride and yet, as the days go by and his mind turns obsessively upon the creature who has so beguiled him, she seems to slip ever further from his yearning grasp. Where does she come from? Why did she ask him to bring her north? What is it that constantly draws her to the sea?

Simon says: I definitely heard a lot about this book last year, lots and lots, which is probably what put me off it. Apparently it is a book about books and writing though so again maybe I cut my nose off to spite my face with this one too around the time it came out. Not that I had a copy, I just mean when all these people were raving on book shows I sort of switched off – oops.

Secrecy – Rupert Thomson

It is Florence, 1691. The Renaissance is long gone, and the city is a dark, repressive place, where everything is forbidden and anything is possible. The Enlightenment may be just around the corner, but knowledge is still the property of the few, and they guard it fiercely. Art, sex and power – these, as always, are the obsessions. Facing serious criminal charges, Gaetano Zummo is forced to flee his native Siracusa at the age of twenty, first to Palermo, then Naples, but always has the feeling that he is being pursued by his past, and that he will never be free of it. Zummo works an artist in wax. He is fascinated by the plague, and makes small wooden cabinets in which he places graphic, tortured models of the dead and dying. But Cosimo III, Tuscany’s penultimate Medici ruler, gives Zummo his most challenging commission yet, and as he tackles it his path entwines with that of the apothecary’s daughter Faustina, whose secret is even more explosive than his. Poignant but paranoid, sensual yet chilling, Secrecy is a novel that buzzes with intrigue and ideas. It is a love story, a murder mystery, a portrait of a famous city in an age of austerity, an exercise in concealment and revelation, but above all it is a trapdoor narrative, one story dropping unexpectedly into another, the ground always slippery, uncertain…

Simon says: Ok, this one really excites me and weirdly enough I was looking at this when I was wandering round an empty library only yesterday, and please don’t tell my new work, I don’t have membership at that library… not that you could take them out anyway. I definitely want to read this one.

What are my thoughts on the list overall? Well, thank you for asking! I am overall excited by it. I had that initial moment of ‘well, I have hardly heard of any of these’ – which is the point silly Simon – before realising that maybe I had heard of one or two. It is a diverse list which I like and with Nell Leyshon as a choice I feel already I will bloody love the others as much as I did that. We will see. I will say I was surprised by how many of the authors have won awards either with the book on the list (Govinden, Meek) and how many of the authors have been listed and indeed won awards before with other works (Lalwani, Sackville) and how many are still eligible for some of this year’s prizes ahead (Sackville again, Thomson) but maybe they haven’t been submitted, or maybe that isn’t the point. Safe to say I want to get my mitts on all of them of course.

So, I hear you ask, what happens next? Well in a nutshell nothing but all of us going off and reading a few/all of them really. One of the things that I find the most charming about it, which might sound odd from someone who has set up a book prize, is that from the list of the eight titles the judges (including the lovely Dovegreyreader) decide upon there is never a singular winner, they are all deemed winners. (That said I do think that is what any good book prize’s short and long lists should be about frankly, just saying!) Which I think makes Fiction Uncovered all the more lovely and sets it out from other prizes etc. Can you tell I am a big fan?

Now, over to you… What do you think of the initiative and the list of eight Fiction Uncovered titles this year? Which of them have you read and what did you think? Which ones have made you desperate to give them a read and uncover a fabulous story or two in the future?


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24 responses to “Fiction Uncovered 2013

  1. sharkell

    I saw this list today on dovegreyreader’s blog. I had not heard of Fiction Uncovered before. Like you I have read and loved The Colour of Milk. The two that stood out for me on this list were The Heart Broke In and The Village. But really, they all look good!

    • I think The Heart Broke In is the one I am going to leave until last, though I have all of them now. I want to read The Village and Black Bread, White Beer first I think. They sound the most ‘me’.

  2. I had not heard of any of these, but I’ll be looking into them now. Thanks, Simon!

    • A pleasure Heather, it is one of the bookish projects that I am really passionate about. I would love to judge something like this, though now I am hoping my blog follows an ‘uncovered’ direction over the next few months.

  3. David

    An interesting list. I’ve read three of them: ‘The Colour of Milk’ and ‘The Heart Broke In’ were both really good, but I’m afraid ‘Orkney’ drove me up the wall – it is incredibly overwritten (and I say this as someone who enjoys lyrical/poetic prose) with a pointless story and one dimensional characters.

    Though I’d heard of most of these, Niven Govinden is a name that is completely new to me so I shall be looking out for that one.
    I started reading ‘Secrecy’ a few weeks ago but it managed to mention a historical figure within the first few pages that I’d just been reading about in another novel, so I’ve put it aside for a while (I did enjoy Thomson’s ‘Death of a Murderer’).

    As for the initiative as a whole I think it is a good alternative to the current Richard & Judy list (for example) which, while it features some books I want to read, seems much more commercial/bestseller-ish.

    • I liked Death of a Murderer too David, for some reason though I didn’t initially think that this was by the same author. No idea why. Orkney will be an interesting one for me as I didn’t fair well with her debut and this one sounded a bit pretentious when I heard about it on Open Book or some such.

  4. I really loved Lucy Caldwell’s book & hope you do too. By the way, the title comes from that old saying, ‘If wishes were horses, all the beggars would be riding.’

  5. Kats

    I read “The Heart Broke In” last year and really enjoyed it. I cannot understand why it has such a low average rating on GoodReads (3.36), I don’t normally touch books with an average below 3.5 (unless there have been fewer than 100 reviews which is when the average scores are usually quite skewed in either direction), but this one was well worth my time, especially on audio by John Lee who is an outstandingly good narrator. I might not have liked it as much in print as it’s quite long. This is my very short review of it:

    • I think, a bit like its new owner, GoodReads gets lower ratings with lots of books as people can be a bit shitty about them through the media of hiding on the internet. Mind you even with blogs and stuff I ignore ratings, I want to read the full reaction rather than the stars and then I go off and make my own mind up, like I hope people do with this blog.

      This has made me more excited about The Heart Broke In so thank you Kats.

  6. gaskella

    I really enjoyed the James Meek – it’s has depth! Loved the Nell Leyshon too. Really excited about all the rest.

  7. The minute is saw this list I knew I would absolutely have to read The Village simply because its such a imaginative setting.

  8. janakay

    I wasn’t aware of Fiction Uncovered–what a great idea. And–such an interesting list. I’ve put The Village and Meek’s The Heart Broke In on my TBR list (well, maybe my “To Be Checked Out” further list, to be brutally honest!). The only one of the list that I’ve read is All the Beggars Riding, which I found quite absorbing. It did deal, a bit, with dying Mum, but not too much (so not to fear); mostly it was a really well written tale of the double life lead by the narrator’s father (fascinating, actually) and just how the duplicity had affected everyone in both his families. The story is told in retrospect by the daughter of the “secret” family, who’s doing an imaginative and perhaps inaccurate reconstruction of her parents’ lives in her attempt to find some closure in her own. I liked it so much I hope to read Caldwell’s earlier works in the fairly near future.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Janakay. I know very little about the Caldwell, that said though I am not a big blurb reader. Oddly saying that makes me wonder how I choose to read what I choose to and I think its murmurings, maybe about what a book might entail as such… hence why I thought Caldwell’s might be about horses and so inwardly groaned, ha!

  9. I’m pretty sure I learned about FIction Uncovered from you, so, thank you! I read This Is Life and Lucky Bunny from last year’s list and thoroughly enjoyed both, so I am determined to get my hands on a few more of these.

    • You shame me here as I haven’t read either of those two and Dan Rhodes is one of my favourite authors and Lucky Bunny is a book I have been meaning to read for aaaaaaaaaaaaaages. Shame on me.

  10. Like you Simon, the only one of these that I’ve read is The Colour of Milk. (Loved it.) I read Nikita Lalwani’s Gifted and liked it very much, so I’ll definitely look for The Village. Thanks for spreading the word!

    • A pleasure Lindy. I hope you enjoy the ones you get to. It was funny the other day as I was talking about these books and suddenly said ‘oh I hope they don’t all get too popular as then everyone will be reading them’ which totally defeats the purpose, oops.

  11. I ve three off this list Simon which I will try to get too ,all the best stu

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