Readers rejoice! This spring sees a stack of unputdownable new releases hit bookstores. Katie Law, Books Editor at The Evening Standard, selects the best of the bunch, from noir novels to dramatic debuts. Read on…
Image: Mary Alayne Thomas
A True Romance
The Shadowy Third: Love, Letters and, Elizabeth Bowen by Julia Parry
Oxford, 1933. She was 33 and married, he was 24 and engaged to someone else. When the Anglo-Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen first laid eyes on Julia Parry’s grandfather, an aspiring academic called Humphry House, the attraction was immediate and mutual. The author discovered the correspondence detailing their illicit affair in her uncle’s attic. As much a story of two lovers – and one extremely unhappy wife (Parry’s grandmother) – this is also a rip-roaring glimpse into a lost way of life, from cocktail parties with Virginia Woolf in Regent's Park to the last fading days of Empire in India.
A Lockdown Love Story
Together by Luke Adam Hawker, with words by Marianne Laidlaw
It would be almost impossible to capture what the pandemic has meant to different people, but this former architectural designer-turned-artist has somehow succeeded through his delicate pen and ink drawings. In a style reminiscent of Raymond Briggs, Hawker tells a simple story of an elderly man and his dog living through a year of uncertainty. The approaching lockdown is likened to a storm, with looming clouds that will cast long shadows but ultimately be dispersed by connection with others and a prevailing sense of hope. It sounds soppy but it really isn’t.
A Fertility Fable
The Panic Years by Nell Frizzell
Since the advent of the Pill women have been able to control their fertility, but only up to a point. The idea that we can have a career and leave motherhood till later has had disastrous consequences for women who left it too late, as journalist Nell Frizzell almost discovered in this half-memoir, half-campaigning polemic. She touches on everything from contraception and abortion to egg freezing and fertility treatment and on to breastfeeding and postnatal mental health with vigour and verve. Oh yes, and her own story: she got her man and had her baby.
A Tale For Our Times
Double Blind by Edward St Aubyn
The author of the Melrose novels delves into genetics, nurture, philosophy and tech in this sharply-observed story about three close friends living through a year of change. Francis works on a re-wilding project and starts a relationship with Olivia, a biologist, whose best friend Lucy works for a tech startup, run by charismatic tycoon Hunter. Alongside the big themes, St Aubyn does what he’s so good at, evoking glittering party scenes full of awful characters, and recording their conversations when they say one thing but mean something entirely different. No one does it better.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Nobel Prize winner Ishiguro’s eighth novel is a wonderfully slow-burning, dystopian fable about Klara, a solar-powered ‘Artificial Friend’, designed to be a cognisant companion for a child. Waiting to be bought, Klara yearns for her forever home, feeling neglected whenever the sun goes down. She is eventually chosen to befriend an ill teenager, but is her new home, with its cruel housekeeper Melania and unhappy family back story, quite the paradise she was hoping for, and what is her real purpose? Ishiguro has ventured into AI territory before in ‘Never Let Me Go’, and once again shows himself to be a storyteller of uncommon power.
For Bridget Buffs
Bridget Jones’s Diary (And Other Writing) by Helen Fielding
Rereading this ritzy 25th year anniversary edition of ‘Bridget Jones…’, featuring a pair of big knickers on the front cover, is a reminder of just how funny and original Helen Fielding’s creation was when BJ first appeared. A lot of it wouldn’t wash now of course, and in a new afterword, Fielding describes seeing the movie recently and being shocked at the casual sexism in every scene. “An unenlightened Bridget just put up with it as part and parcel of her job… In this day and age all of Bridget’s bosses would have been fired and shamed on the spot,” she writes. But back then she spoke to everywoman, and for that, she remains iconic.
The Millennial Must-Read
Luster by Raven Leilani
The opening sentence sets the scene: “The first time we have sex, we are both fully clothed, at our desks during working hours, bathed in blue computer light. He is uptown processing a new bundle of microfiche and I am downtown handling corrections for a new Labrador detective manuscript.” Critics are raving about this debut millennial novel by a protegé of Zadie Smith, about a 23-year-old black girl who begins a relationship with a white, married fortysomething, in particular praising Leilani’s candid descriptions of sex and bodily functions, along with her fiercely original style.
The Deadly Debut
The Long, Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper
When housewife Joyce Haney vanishes from her picture-perfect suburban home, leaving behind two small daughters and a pool of blood on the kitchen floor, Detective Mick Blanke has his work cut out. Was she murdered or did she run away? What does Ruby, the hired help, know, and what was Joyce’s marriage to Frank Haney really like? Are the neighbours hiding secrets? Set in California in the languid summer of 1959, this is a terrific debut. Think pulp detective noir with a touch of ‘Mad Men’, frilly aprons, kitten heels and purring silver Pontiacs.
Food For Thought
Happy Food For Life: Health, Food & Happiness by Niklas Ekstedt and Henrik Ennart
Based on emerging scientific studies, it’s becoming ever clearer that what we eat directly affects our mental as well as our physical wellbeing, and that a thriving gut flora is essential to brain as much as body. Here’s the book by two Swedes – a chef and a journalist – to help you cultivate a better internal ecosystem for life. Part one is theory, part two is recipes that include pizza, pasta and chicken every which way, to tempt children as well as adults. Lots of leafy veg, nuts seeds, and oily fish, but never too virtuous and all mouth-wateringly photographed.
The Recovery Read
Heavy Light by Horatio Clare
It’s hard to imagine that a book about mental breakdown could be uplifting, but Horatio Clare’s engagingly written memoir about his “madness, mania and healing” is just that. An acclaimed travel writer, Clare describes a very different kind of journey here with clarity and imagination: from the early, delusional stages of his mania, (he thought everyone around him was a spy), to breakdown and being sectioned, to taking the baby steps to recovery. He then asks why psychiatry remains so unfit for purpose, whether pills are really the answer, and suggests that the dangers of cannabis are vastly underestimated.