Tag Archives: Jenni Fagan

Books I’m Looking Forward to in the Next Six Months

I know we are past the middle of the first month of 2016 but, as is my want, I thought it might be a nice idea to let you know about some of the books that I am really looking forward to reading over the next six months published in the UK. I know, I know, it is the list you have all been waiting for. Ha! For a few years now, every six months, Gavin and I share 13 of the books that we are most excited about on The Readers podcast, based on which publishers catalogues we can get our mitts on – so sometimes we miss some, so I thought this year I would make it a new biannual post. Getting to that final thirteen is almost impossible (actually one year it was a struggle) and this year it has been particularly tough as it looks set to be a year of corkers. In fact my longlist of books I’m keen to get my hand on is 60 books (and would have been 62 if I hadn’t already read The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon and Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh) long. Yes that is right, 60 books. I have highlighted a few each month that I will definitely be reading or getting my mitts on. So, grab a cuppa tea and settle down with a notepad or bookstore website open next to you…

January

Mr Splitfoot – Samantha Hunt (Corsair)

9781472151599

Nat and Rose are young orphans, living in a crowded foster home run by an eccentric religious fanatic. When a traveling con-man comes knocking, they see their chance to escape and join him on the road, proclaiming they can channel the dead – for a price, of course. Decades later, in a different time and place, Cora is too clever for her office job, too scared of her abysmal lover to cope with her unplanned pregnancy, and she too is looking for a way out. So when her mute Aunt Ruth pays her an unexpected visit, apparently on a mysterious mission, she decides to join her. Together the two women set out on foot, on a strange and unforgettable odyssey across the state of New York. Where is Ruth taking them? Where has she been? And who – or what – has she hidden in the woods at the end of the road? Ingenious, infectious, subversive and strange, Mr Splitfoot will take you on a journey you will not regret – and will never forget.

Human Acts – Han Kang (Portobello)

9781846275968

Gwangju, South Korea, 1980. In the wake of a viciously suppressed student uprising, a boy searches for his friend’s corpse, a consciousness searches for its abandoned body, and a brutalised country searches for a voice. In a sequence of interconnected chapters the victims and the bereaved encounter censorship, denial, forgiveness and the echoing agony of the original trauma. Human Acts is a universal book, utterly modern and profoundly timeless. Already a controversial bestseller and award-winning book in Korea, it confirms Han Kang as a writer of immense importance.

The Widow – Fiona Barton (Transworld)
Paulina & Fran – Rachel B. Glaser (Granta)
The World Without Us – Mirelle Juchau (Bloomsbury)
The Outrun – Amy Liptrot (Canongate)
Sea Lovers – Valerie Martin (Serpents Tail)
Dinosaurs on Other Planets – Danielle McLaughlin (John Murray)
The Actual One – Isy Suttie (Orion)

February

The Sympathiser – Viet Thanh Nguyen (Corsair)

9781472151735

A profound, startling, and beautifully crafted debut novel, “The Sympathizer” is the story of a man of two minds, someone whose political beliefs clash with his individual loyalties. It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. “The Sympathizer” is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, “The Sympathizer” explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.

Under the Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta (Granta)

9781847088369

One day in 1968, at the height of the Biafran civil war, Ijeoma’s father is killed and her world is transformed forever. Separated from her grief-stricken mother, she meets another young lost girl, Amina, and the two become inseparable. Theirs is a relationship that will shake the foundations of Ijeoma’s faith, test her resolve and flood her heart. In this masterful novel of faith, love and redemption, Okparanta takes us from Ijeoma’s childhood in war-torn Biafra, through the perils and pleasures of her blossoming sexuality, her wrong turns, and into the everyday sorrows and joys of marriage and motherhood. As we journey with Ijeoma we are drawn to the question: what is the value of love and what is the cost? A triumphant love story written with beauty and delicacy, Under the Udala Trees is a hymn to those who’ve lost and a prayer for a more compassionate world. It is a work of extraordinary beauty that will enrich your heart.

The Butchers Hook – Janet Ellis (Two Roads)
The Narrow Bed – Sophie Hannah (Hodder)
Scary Old Sex – Arlene Heyman (Bloomsbury)
The Children’s House – Charles Lambert (Aardvark Bureau)
13 Minutes – Sarah Pinborough (Orion)
The Catch – Fiona Sampson (Chatto & Windus)
Gold Flame Citrus – Claire Vaye Watkins (Quercus)
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist – Sunil Yapa (Little Brown)

March

Where Love Begins – Judith Hermann (Serpents Tail)

9781781254707

Stella is married, she has a child and a fulfilling job. She lives with her young family in a house in the suburbs. Her life is happy and unremarkable, but she is a little lonely-her husband travels a lot for work and so she is often alone in the house with only her daughter for company. One day a stranger appears at her door, a man Stella’s never seen before. He says he just wants to talk to her, nothing more. She refuses. The next day he comes again. And then the day after that. He will not leave her in peace. When Stella works out that he lives up the road, and tries to confront him, it makes no difference. This is the beginning of a nightmare that slowly and remorselessly escalates. Where Love Begins is a delicately wrought, deeply sinister novel about how easily the comfortable lives we construct for ourselves can be shattered.

Hot Milk – Deborah Levy (Penguin Books)

9780241146552

Today I dropped my laptop on the concrete floor. It was tucked under my arm and slid out of its black rubber sheath, landing screen-side down. The digital page shattered. Apparently there’s a man in the next flyblown town who mends computers. He could send off for a new screen, which would take a month to arrive. Will I still be here in a month? My mother is sleeping under a mosquito net in the next room. Soon she will wake up and shout, ‘Sofia, get me a glass of water’, and I will get her water and it will be the wrong sort of water. And then after a while I will leave her and return to gaze at the shattered starfield of my screen. Two women arrive in a Spanish village – a dreamlike place caught between the desert and the ocean – seeking medical advice and salvation. One of the strangers suffers from a mysterious illness: spontaneous paralysis confines her to a wheelchair, her legs unusable. The other, her daughter Sofia, has spent years playing the reluctant detective in this mystery, struggling to understand her mother’s illness. Surrounded by the oppressive desert heat and the mesmerising figures who move through it, Sofia waits while her mother undergoes the strange programme of treatments invented by Dr Gomez. Searching for a cure to a defiant and quite possibly imagined disease, ever more entangled in the seductive, mercurial games of those around her, Sofia finally comes to confront and reconcile the disparate fragments of her identity. Hot Milk is a labyrinth of violent desires, primal impulses, and surreally persuasive internal logic.

Patience – Daniel Clowes (Vintage)
Rain – Melissa Harrison (Faber & Faber)
A Girl in Exhile – Ismail Kadare (Vintage)
The Paper Menagerie & Other Stories – Ken Liu (Head of Zeus)
An Unrestored Woman & Other Stories – Shobha Rao (Virago)
Vertigo – Joanna Walsh (And Other Stories)

April

The Sunlight Pilgrims – Jenni Fagan (Random House)

9780434023301

Set in a Scottish caravan park during a freak winter – it is snowing in Jerusalem, the Thames is overflowing, and an iceberg separated from the Fjords in Norway is expected to arrive off the coast of Scotland – The Sunlight Pilgrims tells the story of a small Scottish community living through what people have begun to think is the end of times. Bodies are found frozen in the street with their eyes open, euthanasia has become an acceptable response to economic collapse, schooling and health care are run primarily on a voluntary basis. But daily life carries on: Dylan, a refugee from panic-stricken London who is grieving for his mother and his grandmother, arrives in the caravan park in the middle of the night – to begin his life anew.

What Belongs To You – Garth Greenwell (Picador)

9781447280514

On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. And so begins a relationship that could transform his life, or possibly destroy it. What Belongs To You is a stunning debut novel of desire and its consequences. With lyric intensity and startling eroticism, Garth Greenwell has created a indelible story about the ways in which our pasts and cultures, our scars and shames can shape who we are and determine how we love.

The Trees – Ali Shaw (Bloomsbury)

9781408862308

There came an elastic aftershock of creaks and groans and then, softly softly, a chinking shower of rubbled cement. Leaves calmed and trunks stood serene. Where, not a minute before, there had been a suburb, there was now only woodland standing amid ruins…There is no warning. No chance to prepare. They arrive in the night: thundering up through the ground, transforming streets and towns into shadowy forest. Buildings are destroyed. Broken bodies, still wrapped in tattered bed linen, hang among the twitching leaves. Adrien Thomas has never been much of a hero. But when he realises that no help is coming, he ventures out into this unrecognisable world. Michelle, his wife, is across the sea in Ireland and he has no way of knowing whether the trees have come for her too. Then Adrien meets green-fingered Hannah and her teenage son Seb. Together, they set out to find Hannah’s forester brother, to reunite Adrien with his wife – and to discover just how deep the forest goes. Their journey will take them to a place of terrible beauty and violence, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness inside themselves.

The Cauliflower – Nicola Barker (Random House)
Foreign Soil – Maxine Beneba (Corsair)
The Last of Us – Rob Ewing (Borough Press)
Fragments – Elena Ferrante (Eurpoa Editions)
A Different Class – Joanne Harris (Transworld)
Ladivine – Marie NDiaye (Quercus)
The Bricks That Built Houses – Kate Tempest (Bloomsbury)
Six Four – Hideo Yokoyama (Quercus)

May

The Doll Master & Other Tales of Terror – Joyce Carol Oates (Head of Zeus)

9780802124883

Six terrifying tales to chill the blood from the unique imagination of Joyce Carol Oates. A young boy plays with dolls instead of action figures. But as he grows older, his passion takes on a darker edge…A white man shoots dead a black boy creating a media frenzy. But could it be that it was self-defense as he claims? A nervous woman tries to escape her husband. He says he loves her, but she’s convinced he wants to kill her…These quietly lethal stories reveal the horrors that dwell within us all.

The Gustav Sonata – Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus)

It is the tutor who tells the young Gustav that he must try to be more like a coconut – that he needs a hard shell to protect the softness inside. This is what his native Switzerland has perfected – a shell to protect its neutrality, to keep its people safe. But his beloved friend, Anton, doesn’t want to be safe – a gifted pianist, he longs to make his mark in the world outside. On holiday one summer in Davos, the boys stumble across a remote building. Long ago, it was a TB sanitorium; now it is wrecked and derelict. Here, they play a game of life and death, deciding which of their imaginary patients must burn. It becomes their secret. The Gustav Sonata begins in the 1930s, under the shadow of the Second World War, and follows the boys into maturity, and middle age, where their friendship is tested as never before.

The Bones of Grace – Tahmima Anam (Canongate)
The Beautiful Dead – Belind Bauer (Transworld)
The Witches of New York – Amy McKay (Orion)
This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press)
The Woman Next Door – Yewande Omotoso (Chatto & Windus)
Now and Again – Charlotte Rogan (Virago)
The Wicked Boy – Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury)

June

Fen – Daisy Johnson (Vintage)

Daisy Johnson’s Fen is a liminal land. Real people live their lives here. They wrestle with familiar instincts, with sex and desire, with everyday routine. But the wild is always close at hand, ready to erupt. This is a place where animals and people commingle and fuse, where curious metamorphoses take place, where myth and dark magic still linger. So here a teenager may starve herself into the shape of an eel. A house might fall in love with a girl. A woman might give birth to a – well what? English folklore and a contemporary eye, sexual honesty and combustible invention – in Fen, these elements have come together to create a singular, startling piece of modern fiction.

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry (Profile Books)

9781781255445

Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890’s, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way. They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners’ agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.

Foxlowe – Eleanor Wassberg (Harper Collins)

9780008164089

A chilling, compulsive debut about group mentality, superstition and betrayal – and a utopian commune gone badly wrong We were the Family, and Foxlowe was our home. There was me – my name is Green – and my little sister, Blue. There was October, who we called Toby, and Ellensia, Dylan, Liberty, Pet and Egg. There was Richard, of course, who was one of the Founders. And there was Freya. We were the Family, but we weren’t just an ordinary family. We were a new, better kind of family. We didn’t need to go to school, because we had a new, better kind of education. We shared everything. We were close to the ancient way of living and the ancient landscape. We knew the moors, and the standing stones. We celebrated the solstice in the correct way, with honey and fruit and garlands of fresh flowers. We knew the Bad and we knew how to keep it away. And we had Foxlowe, our home. Where we were free. There really was no reason for anyone to want to leave.

Daisy in Chains – Sharon Bolton (Transworld)
Everyone Is Watching – Megan Bradbury (Picador)
Addlands – Tom Bullough (Granta)
The Girls – Emma Cline (Chatto & Windus)
Black Water – Louise Doughty (Faber & Faber)
Early Riser – Jasper Fforde (Hodder)
The Little Communist That Never Smiled – Lola Lafon (Serpents Tail)
The Bed Moved – Rebecca Schiff (John Murrary)
Smoke – Dan Vyleta (Orion)
Our Young Man – Edmund White (Bloomsbury)

Phew! So that is the list, it has changed slightly since we recorded The Readers as Gav and I had a couple of snap choices and also I found out some other books were coming out earlier than thought or I simply only discovered them in the last few months. There will be many more I discover or hear about too I am sure. I have just thought of several I have missed (Kit De Waal, Nicholas Searle and a whole shelf of prrof I can’t get to due to scaffolding) so there will be many more. Anyway, quite a few for you to go and find out more about and a good list for me to have when I am stuck in a bookshop without a clue of what to by next – as if that ever happens. Right, I better get reading then. Which of these do you fancy? Which books are you looking forward to in the next six months?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

The Panopticon – Jenni Fagan

In the last few years I have become increasingly aware that blurbs can be a funny thing, sometimes they exaggerate and occasionally they just completely portray a different story from the book you actually read (though to be fair this could be the way in which you read the blurb I suppose). So in the last few years I have given up in the main. However there are times when a list of books is released and you have to find out more about the individual titles, this was the case when I first heard of Jenni Fagan’s debut novel ‘The Panopticon’ when it was announced as one of the Waterstones 11 last year. It sounded quite unlike any novel I had heard of with a fifteen year old ‘counter-culture outlaw’ who finds herself in The Panopticon escaping from ‘the experiment’. When we chose the title for The Readers Book Club this month I was looking forward to trying my hand at what promised to be my first delving into a sci-fi dystopian novel in some time, only it’s not a sci-fi dystopian novel, it is something quite different from that.

**** William Heinemann, hardback, 2012, fiction, 336 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

At fifteen years of age Anais Hendricks is someone who society has already given up on. As we meet her she has finally been found by the police who swiftly take her to The Panopticon, a home for severe young offenders, where she arrives covered in blood and with the suspicion of having put a policewoman into a coma.

From here we learn more about her current situation, her past home which may have lead her into the world of drugs, underage sex and crime (though many believe she is simply bad through and through, no further explanation needed). We also learn how Anais believes that she is being watched by ‘the experiment’, faceless beings who look human yet have no noses and remain nondescript, who she believes created her on a petri-dish just to see how many awful things a human can undertake.

Jenni Fagan asks a lot from her reader from the start of ‘The Panopticon’– and in doing so takes a lot of risks. The book is filled with swearing, violence, drug taking and underage sex from pretty early on (and it gets darker from here on in). You also find yourself, or this reader did anyway, not quite sure if you like Anais and if in fact she might just be a bad person through and through. Yet Fagan’s gamble pays off if you bear with it, a few chapters in and not only did I like and empathise with Anais but I enjoyed spending time with her. I found one minute she would make me laugh, then say something which would almost break your heart.

“…Also, there is the second time that you have stolen a minibus from outside Rowntree High School, but this time you,’ the woman scrolls her pen down the report in front of her, ‘drove it into a wall?’
‘I drove it intae the wall both times.’
‘Something was different the second time, Miss Hendricks?’
She raises her eyebrows, stops, like she is asking a pub-quiz question. The other three panel members look to see what I’m gonnae say.
‘The second time it was on fire,’ I respond after a minute.
‘Correct.’
Brilliant. A correct answer. What do I win? The woman’s running her eye up and down the charges again, looking for something. I hate. This chair. Their faces. That shite gold clock on the wall.”

She is a real conundrum. One moment she dreams of a quite life in Paris, the next she wants to kick someone’s head in, one minute she is reading a book about the supernatural with a naivety that is younger than her years, the next she is telling you about her last drug binge. She is an incredibly unreliable narrator and yet you cannot help but warm to her. Fagan plays a top trump here with the fact that Anais lets no-one into her life, apart from us the readers, which I found a really cleverly written aspect of the book.

 “Open my book, it’s mostly vampire stories just now, before that it was witches. I could handle being a vampire, an evil one with mansions everywhere. I’d fly, and read minds, and drink blood, until I could hear wee bats being born right across the other side of the world. I hear other people’s thoughts when I’m tripping, ay. I dinnae really know if it is thoughts actually, maybe it’s just voices. They urnay my thoughts – I know that much. It’s like tuning into a radio frequency that’s always there, but when you’re tripping you cannae tune it back out. I get voices in my head that urnay mine, and I see faces no-one else sees, but mostly it’s just when I am tripping, so I mustn’t be totally mental in the head yet.”

So what of ‘the experiment’, because after all this was what had intrigued me so much about the book and what I was hoping to be delved into. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t in the book as much as I was expecting or indeed would have liked. In fact if it hadn’t been for Anais, her narrative and her story, the book probably would have really disappointed me a little bit. Occasionally a sense of these mysterious men and the plan that Anais thinks they have for her appear on the periphery or are referred to, along with the rumour that Anais’ mother was only seen once smashing through a window of an asylum – where she promptly gave birth and escaped again – on a winged cat, yet I thought Fagan could have gotten away with doing it a lot more, making the reader question Anais’ reality and sense of reliability, even more.*

 “I dinnae say I’ll volunteer to help some old lady with her shopping, and her cleaning, and if I’m really fucking lucky she’ll take me under her wing and get tae like me and feed me apple pie and gin – and tell me her stories about the good old days. Those urnay the things I say.”

 As I mentioned, had Anais and her story not been the whole story, and therefore what made an impressive and thought provoking book (you cannot call a book like this ‘enjoyable’), then I might have been a tad disappointed by ‘The Panopticon’. However as it was I was bowled over by it. It is a confronting and occasionally horrifying novel that will make you feel as deeply uncomfortable as it will make you laugh – and that is all down to the strength of Jenni Fagan’s writing and the heroine that she creates. It is also a book that leaves you with a huge question but one I think I should leave those of you who go on to read it, and I do think you should, to discover and try and answer for themselves, I myself am still thinking about it all.

*Interestingly when recording The Readers Book Club on ‘The Panopticon’ last week with two sci-fi fans I was amazed to see that they didn’t think the experiment was real, where as I (the ‘literary’ head) completely did. But I think you are meant to question this throughout anyway.  they didn’t think the experiment was real, where as I (the ‘literary’ head) completely did. But I think you are meant to question this throughout anyway. You can listen to that discussion here.

Who else has read ‘The Panopticon’ and what did you make of it? Would you call it ‘literary’, ‘sci-fi’, ‘magical realism’ or, as I think, ‘gothic’? Does it even matter? Which other books have you read that had a blurb that didn’t quite match the book that you ended up reading? Are you like me and find you tend to ignore blurbs on the whole?

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Filed under Jenni Fagan, Review, William Heinemann Books

Waterstones 11

In the UK the bookstore chain Waterstones is something of a legend, it is also a company that is undergoing some big changes in the time of online shopping and the *cough* e-reader. One initiative that they came up with last year was the ‘Waterstones 11’ which what the eleven top debut authors to look out for in 2011, now they have brought it back for 2012 and it is rather an intriguing list.

I have said that in 2012 I will be reading more of the books from the never ending pile of reading delights that makes up the TBR. In terms of modern fiction I am probably going to steer away from all the prize long lists (and quite possibly the shortlists, we will see) this year, this list however is one I am going to be keeping in mind and on the reading periphery in the main because it is debut novels but also because after having gone off and found out more about them it is a really mixed and varied list. Here it is for you in detail…

   

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan (William Heinemann)
Absolution by Patrick Flanery (Atlantic)
Shelter by Frances Greenslade (Virago)

  

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (Fourth Estate)
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Headline Review)
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Doubleday)

  

The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen (Chatto & Windus)
Signs of Life by Anna Raverat (Picador)
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan (Virago)

 

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (Simon & Schuster)
Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles (Harper Press)

I am certainly not going to say that I am going to read them ALL, for a start The Art of Fielding is a book I have seen everywhere and yet with its baseball theme really doesn’t float my fictional boat at all. Sorry. However, I have three of them already (in italics) and I am certainly intrigued by ‘Shelter’, Iand I think that ‘Care of Wooden Floors’ had me at the title which is odd as I wouldn’t think it was a very me one if I am honest. ‘The Panopticon’ also sounds particularly bonkers and Dan of Dog Ear Discs has raved about ‘The Lifeboat’ which he has got early. I have heard from Novel Insights who was at the event and apparently she has got me a sampler of all of them so I can find out more. I have noticed though lots of them aren’t out right now, or for quite some time, maybe they will be released early?

Have you heard much pre-release mention of any of these? Is there a title which you are particularly looking forward to? Do you like the idea of bookstores promoting books like this? Which debut novel coming out in 2012 would you have popped on the list that may be missing?

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Filed under Book Thoughts