I’ve chosen these books to showcase this month because they’re all a bit special - quirky, original, unique. Half of them are by LGBT+ writers or have some parts seen through a queer lens, whereas others do not. If you fancy something a bit different this Summer, warm up or cool down with these.
The Shadowy Third: Love, Letters and Elizabeth Bowen by Julia Parry (25th February 2021)
When English teacher Julia Parry’s beloved uncle John dies, she inherits two sets of letters. They reveal that her grandfather, Humphry House - who died in his forties, and who Julia never met - had an affair with Elizabeth Bowen, one of the best-known, most successful writers of her time. With delicious literary gossip and travel descriptions, the book celebrates both art and family, with the author’s grandmother, Madeline, a quiet woman who ‘puts herself back in the narrative’ emerging throughout the book, every bit as compelling and mysterious as the lovers whose story starts this unique new piece of non-fiction.
Small: On Motherhoods by Claire Lynch (24th June 2021)
It’s not often you find a really good verse novel for grown-ups, so I'm treasuring this one, having been inspired to look it out by a video the author made for a Pride in Writing event I was organising. A moving journey into motherhood and a lyrical exploration of being the ‘other mother,’ the story is full of praise for small things and tiny moments of transcendence. While the focus is the tiny twins that Lynch’s partner gives birth to, ‘Small’ moves on to cover the arrival of their third child - initially more straightforward, but not without its challenges.
All of You Every Single One by Beatrice Hitchman (5th August 2021)
An ambitious and unique novel, beginning with two women - larger-than-life former wife Julia and taciturn tailor Eve - falling in love and making a life together in early-twentieth-century Vienna. With a satisfyingly large time-hop in the middle, the novel opens up to take in a much wider vista including World War II and the Holocaust, the challenges of queer parenthood and even Sigmund Freud. An intriguing reminder that the choices of an individual - particularly those involving love and motherhood - can be as transformative as the impulses towards war and destruction that cast their shadows over the last section of the book.
Our Wives Under The Sea by Julia Armfield (3rd March 2022)
Miri’s wife Leah, a marine biologist, is stranded on a research trip that takes months rather than years, and when she returns, it becomes clear that something’s wrong. The opening and final scenes are very moving and the whole thing is drenched in an understanding of relationships that makes its disturbing premise seem like something that could happen to any of us, particularly if, like Miri, you also spend a lot of time on weird websites. This powerful, claustrophobic debut novel is a Gothic body-horror and a metaphor for the end of a relationship, full of the anticipation of loss.
A Waiter in Paris: Adventures in the Dark Heart of the City - Edward Chisholm (5th May 2022)
Skint, scared and splitting up with his girlfriend, young graduate Edward enters the dark heart of Paris through its restaurant kitchens. You can practically smell the Gauloises in this ode to service-industry friendship and brotherhood, life on the underside of a glittering city and the perverse pleasure in doing a job well, even if that job isn’t the one you imagined. Sophisticated and compelling, the force and strength of the kitchen scenes are reminiscent of Anthony Bourdain.
Hush - Kate Maxwell (12th May, 2022)
Stevie has it all - friends, a loving sister, and a glittering career managing a hip new members’ club in New York. When she goes back to the UK to have a baby on her own, she realises that she has lost her identity and doesn’t bond with baby Ash at first - plus, her boss isn’t a fan of the length of British parental leave. Beautifully written, with a nuanced understanding of what it means to lose sight of who you are, for whatever reason, and what it means to get yourself back or burn it all down and start again.
You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty - Akwaeke Emezi (26th May 2022)
When young widow Feyi follows friend-with-benefits Nasir to the paradise where he and his sister grew up, she is hoping to achieve her artistic dreams as part of an exhibition there. She isn’t expecting to fall hard for Alim Blake, Nasir’s charismatic father, or to bond with him as they share their experiences of life-transforming grief. One of the best depictions of desire I’ve read recently, from the first scene in a brownstone bathroom onwards, this is a celebration of lust as a life force that puts romance firmly back in the often-dry world of literary fiction.
I’m Sorry You Feel That Way by Rebecca Wait (7th July 2022)
I can see why this is being sold as '2022's Sorrow and Bliss.' I fell in love from the start with awkward Alice and her eccentric family. The plot revolves around Hanna, Alice's twin, and their mother's experience of growing up with Katy, her schizophrenic sister. The family is unsure whether Hanna has inherited the illness or had a one-off breakdown due to overwork at Cambridge. Hanna thinks the latter, and is unafraid of relapsing, whereas their mother can't shake the idea that her future will be as terrible as Katy's. A lovely book, genuinely funny despite its undercurrent of sadness.
Square One by Nell Frizzell (7th July 2022)
I enjoyed this sharp, witty book that is far more than a breakup story. It's also a lovely book about Oxford, with scenes of drinking, sex and silliness from Port Meadow to Summertown - but especially Cowley, one of my favourite places and still probably one of the most eccentric areas in England. I used to live in East Oxford, and am very fond of Nell Frizzell's Dad as a local character in the People's Republic of Florence Park, so I was delighted to read a whole book with a fictionalised father who *slightly* resembles Nell's Dad.
The Girls are Good by Ilaria Bernardini (4th August 2022)
The Girls are Good follows three young Italian gymnasts as they travel to Romania - blonde Carla, brunette Nadia and redheaded Martina who knows she's not as good as the other two (but better than the boys, who are useless). The girls try to be good, but they're struggling to cope with competing against a beautiful Romanian gymnastics star, and also their physio Alex, who regularly touches them in a way that's not entirely legal. A combination of high-stakes competition, teenage hormones and eccentricity brings all of this to a head, giving the reader an intoxicating insight into a sealed world.