Tuesday, 17 November 2015

What to read in November & December 2015

New books to read in November & December 2015

Once again, I can't believe it's time for another of these posts... or, indeed, that we're now well into the second-to-last month of the year. December in particular doesn't tend to be a great time for new fiction, but here are some books out now or soon that might be worth a look.

First of all, there's Number 11 by Jonathan Coe - perfectly timed so that its publication date is the 11th day of the 11th month (it's also Coe's 11th novel and yes, the number does have some relevance within the story). I read this back in August and LOVED it. It's a loose sequel to What a Carve Up! and has a similar element of satire/social commentary, but the best thing about it is the cast of characters, their captivating individual stories and the web of connections between them. One of my fave books of the year so far, this comes with a big recommendation from me.

November also sees the publication of a trio of interesting short story collections. Most notable is Ali Smith's Public library and other stories (5 November), which brings together new stories from Smith with essays and other snippets; its aim is to defend libraries and rail against the recent spate of closures. Ball: Stories by Tara Ison (1 November) is set mainly in contemporary Los Angeles and 'explores the darker edges of love and sex and death, how they are intimately and often violently connected'. Cockfosters by Helen Simpson (5 November) takes as its starting point London tube stations, but its characters journey much further afield, opening 'irresistible new windows onto the world from Arizona to Dubai and from Moscow to Berlin'.

There's another train journey in The 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Philippe Blondel (9 November for the Kindle edition, 1 December for the paperback): two former lovers meet again on a train to Paris, but this isn't the tale of an affair rekindled, rather 'a psychological thriller about past romance, with all its pain and promise'. Also translated from French, Life, Only Better by Anna Gavalda (19 November) is made up of two novellas about two different characters who, following chance encounters, make the spontaneous decision to 'throw caution to the wind and change their lives entirely'.

I'm intrigued by A Ghost's Story by Lorna Gibb (5 November). It's the 'autobiography' of the Katie King spirit, an entity which appeared regularly at séances in the late 19th century and thus became a 'spirit celebrity'. The book is 'the tale of a ghost's quest to understand human faith, loss and passion; it is also the tale of a contemporary scholar desperate to understand the allure of the spirit world'. Sounds like a very different sort of ghost story, one I'm keen to check out. Also from Granta but rather different in subject matter is All For Nothing by Walter Kempowski (5 November), originally published in the author's native German in 2006. Set at the tail end of WWII, it focuses on a wealthy German family determined to shut themselves off from the rest of the world - until 'their decision to harbour a stranger for the night begins their undoing'.

Sloane Crosley's The Clasp (5 November), published in the US in October, gets a better-looking cover for its UK release. The story is inspired by Guy de Maupassant's story 'The Necklace' and follows a group of twentysomething friends on the hunt for a legendary piece of jewellery. I haven't read any of Crosley's work before (she's published two collections of essays - this is her first novel) but The Clasp has had lots of rave reviews; file under Looks Interesting.

A Notable Woman (5 November) collects the 'romantic journals' of Jean Lucey Pratt, a diarist who kept a record of her life between 1925 and 1986: 'With Jean we live through the tumult of the Second World War and the fears of a nation. We see Britain hurtling through a period of unbridled transformation and the shifting landscape for women in society. A unique slice of living, breathing British history, Jean's diaries are a revealing chronicle of life in the twentieth century.'

Alongside A Notable Woman, another book that's gathering buzz is Katherine Carlyle by Rupert Thomson (5 November). I probably wouldn't have noticed this otherwise, as to be honest the blurb doesn't make it sound like a particularly interesting story, but every review I've seen of it has been very positive. The Katherine of the title is a 'test tube baby' born in the late 80s who, at the age of nineteen, 'decides to disappear'. Bookmunch called it Thomson's best yet AND the book of the year; according to the Guardian it's an 'existential road trip' that's 'swift, shocking and satisfying'. One to sample, perhaps. 

The Secret by the Lake by Louise Douglas (19 November) sounds like a classic slice of feelgood reading in the romantic thriller mould, about a girl who works as a nanny uncovering a tragic secret within her employer's family. I didn't really enjoy the author's last book, Your Beautiful Lies, but I have enough residual good vibes from a couple of her others that I'm still hoping this will be one of those indulgent, fun and easy reads. On a similar note, The Killing of Polly Carter by Robert Thorogood (3 December) is the second in the spin-off series of Death in Paradise novels, following A Meditation on Murder. I'll be picking it up if only because I'm dying for Richard and Camille to get together and will keep reading these things until it happens.

The last month of the year brings a new novella by F.G. Cottam, An Absence of Natural Light (10 December). Cottam is my favourite modern horror writer and I always look forward to his books; I have no doubt that this one - about a new couple settling into an apartment with a dark past - will be a great read. More suggestions of darkness in Alice Thompson's The Book Collector (5 November), 'a Gothic story of book collecting, mutilation and madness'. I'm not sure why I haven't read anything by Thompson before - her novels ALL sound fantastic.

Finally, there's A Snow Garden and Other Stories by Rachel Joyce (5 November), a collection of short stories all set around the Christmas holidays and 'as funny, joyous, poignant and memorable as Christmas should be.' Frankly this sounds rather schmaltzy to me, but if there's one time you might want to read heartwarming sentimental stuff it's probably Christmas. 

What are you looking forward to reading in the next couple of months? 

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