Novels can take us to different worlds, even when we’re at home. In these two blogs, I look at my favourites from the first six months of this year and give you my recommendations.
Please note that book schedules are more changeable than usual and some of these books have already moved once. The dates given are the latest on Netgalley on January 3rd 2021.
Gemma Reeves, 7 January 2021
A beautifully written novel which perfectly captures the spirit of the place. In Victoria Park we meet Wolfie and Mona, an elderly Jewish couple – he’s still quite well, but she is starting to be dragged under by dementia. We also meet Luca, their employee, and Mia and Bettie, two lesbians struggling to conceive. The author seems to be weighing up whether the restrained, rationed, but emotionally resonant East End of Wolfie and Mona’s youth was better than today’s chaos of acid-throwing, medical miracles and Deliveroo. On the other hand, the book could just as easily be arguing that such a time of suffering and loss, with the Blitz and Kindertransport, should never be revisited. The author hesitates to come down on one side, but I think everyone in Victoria Park should have a copy – and every district in London should have a novel as rich as Victoria Park.
For fans of: Rachel Cusk, Joanna Briscoe, Elizabeth Day and Claire Lombardo.
Bryan Washington, 7 January 2021
I loved this elegiac and truthful-seeming novel. Full of sharp observations and realistic dialogue, and I was happy to see a nuanced depiction of a relationship between two men. The author’s ear for dialogue and eye for small, telling details brings the book towards something magical.
For fans of: A Little Life, Sarah Schulman, James Baldwin and Kazuo Ishiguro.
Friends and Strangers
J. Courtney Sullivan, 18 February 2021
Friends and Strangers explores the relationship between Elisabeth, a writer who comes from money and has just had her first child, and her childminder Sam, who comes from a working-class background. The BK (Brooklyn) Mamas Facebook page was a hilarious highlight and I loved the heroine's sister Charlotte, an appalling influencer who commits every social media sin under the sun. Most of the social events in the Mamas’ world are doomed, leading to hilarity and making me think that this would also be a lovely Netflix series – I know I’d watch it!
For fans of: Kiley Reid, Emma Straub, Working Moms, and the AIBU section of Mumsnet.
When I Ran Away
Ilona Bannister, 4 March 2021
New Yorker Gigi is a fish out of water in London, and her American accent obscures her working-class roots. The truth is that she's less like her husband Harry and his friends than the council-flat families near her son’s school with foxes getting into the bins. (Gigi on 'urban foxes' is hilarious: 'There are wild dogs running around and should somebody call the police maybe?') A sweet, sad story about grief, motherhood and postpartum trauma, with a particularly painful scene where the yummy mummies congratulate Gigi on her 'cleverness' in having a C-section, ignoring its ongoing physical and mental impact on her. With the help of wine, pizza and the Real Housewives, Gigi checks into a ratty hotel and faces up to her painful past (and fairly painful present) before she can walk into her future.
For fans of: The Real Housewives, Iliza Schlesinger, Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman.
The Talk of Pram Town
Joanna Nadin, 4 March 2021
I really enjoyed this book, beautifully capturing suburban English ambitions and neuroses in the late 1960s and early 1980s.
For fans of: Joanne Limburg, Anne Enright, Anne Tyler and Beryl Bainbridge.