With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, what better way to mark the occasion than to immerse yourself into some weird, wonderful and downright messed-up relationships? In this month’s crop of novels, we have a woman who has an affair with her step-daughter’s boyfriend in The Lemon Grove, a wife whose husband had her sectioned in Tom Rob Smith’s eerie The Farm, and a string of doting women married to the notorious Ernest Hemingway in Naomi Wood’s fabulous Mrs Hemingway. So buy yourself some chocolates and get between the sheets with our pick of February’s books.
Everything in Ernest and Hadley’s marriage happens in threes: three places are set at the table, three cocktails are poured, three pillows plumped. Ernest is a serial philanderer, and his mistress, Fife, has joined the couple on holiday in the south of France. Hadley is the first Mrs Hemingway we meet when Naomi Wood’s novel opens in 1926 – but she won’t be the last. Over the next few decades, Hemingway’s literary success is matched by his disastrous inability to stay faithful, and Wood’s talent is in making us sympathise with each of the four Mrs Hemingways when they have their turn in the spotlight in this dazzling, gorgeously written novel.
Another sun-soaked novel laden with temptation and betrayal, The Lemon Grove is set in a secluded holiday home in Mallorca. Married couple Jenn and Greg holiday there every year, but this year Greg’s daughter Emma and her boyfriend Nathan have joined them. Nathan stirs something in Jenn, and as the lines between infatuation and obsession blur, the plot takes a darker, more dramatic turn of events. The Lemon Grove is a taut, intense account of one family’s structure imploding as well as being an intelligent take on a modern marriage, and its stark narrative and sexual tension make it utterly addictive.
Daniel’s parents are happily retired on a remote farm in Sweden, so Daniel is floored when his father calls him at home in London to tell him his mother has been sectioned in a mental hospital – and has escaped. But within minutes his mother calls him and urges him to not believe a word his father says. What follows is a mind-blowing, addictive plot that will have you on the edge of your seat, tearing through the pages as the truth – involving a missing teenage girl, Swedish folklore and some sinister neighbours – slowly leaks out. The Farm is a masterful novel and a return to form for Tom Rob Smith.
Ladydi is a teenager in rural Mexico, and she and her friends live in constant fear of becoming ‘stolen girls’. When black SUVs crawl around her neighbourhood, the girls hide in holes they have dug in the ground – until one day Ladydi’s friend Paula is stolen. Usually, stolen girls are never seen or heard from again, but a year later Paula returns, unable to speak about her ordeal. Prayers for the Stolen is based on Mexico’s human trafficking trade, and author Jennifer Clement spent years visiting Mexican prisons and hiding places, talking to female victims. Despite its terrifying subject matter, the book is full of warmth and humour, and is an eye-opening read.
Spare Brides is Adele Parks’ first foray into historical fiction, and opens in 1920 in the aftermath of the First World War. Lydia and Ava and sisters Beatrice and Sarah are four friends from very different backgrounds, but all their lives have changed dramatically since the war. Lydia is married and beautiful; Ava is a seductive suffragette; Sarah is a widowed mother and her younger sister Beatrice is always unlucky in love. As traditional society barriers break down and the handsome Edgar appears, the four friends’ lives are changing faster than they can keep up with. Spare Brides is a wonderfully absorbing tale of friendship, rich in period detail.
When Boy Novak turns 20, she decides to start a brand new life in Flax Hill, the last stop on the bus from New York City. There she meets the well-mannered, kind and moral Snow, daughter of the craftsman Arturo Whitman, and the two form a close bond. When Boy has Arturo’s baby and names her Bird, Snow turns into what feels to Boy like a different person, and their friendship fractures as Boy is forced to question the image the Whitmans have presented her with. Boy, Snow, Bird is a haunting, tender portrait of three women from one of our generation’s most talented literary writers.
Clive and Martha have been together since university, and with their young daughter, Eliza, their family life seems pretty much perfect. But when Eliza’s new piano teacher, Eliot Fox, turns out to be a woman from the past who Clive would rather forget, a shadow is suddenly cast over their perfect marriage, and Clive is desperate to keep hidden a secret that could destroy his family. Olivia Glazebrook’s novel is an evocative and unsettling read, elegantly written, that exposes the fragile web of lies that holds up a marriage.
Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You went stratospheric in 2012, and her latest novel The One Plus One does not disappoint. Jess is a young single mother of two, who has inadvertently took on her waste-of-space ex-husband’s teenage son as well as her own daughter Tanzie. Struggling to pay the bills with two jobs, she crosses paths with the wealthy and troubled Ed Nicholls, who is laying low after a career blip. A harebrained scheme to enter Tanzie in a maths competition hundreds of miles away makes Jess and Ed’s paths collide, and we follow their rocky road to happiness in this modern, heart-warming novel.
You would never trust a stranger with a key to your house – but what about an estate agent? Mr Heming keeps a key for every property he sells, and makes it his business to keep an eye on the inhabitants of his town – and their houses. He has his favourites, but those who he dislikes find themselves having not much fun at all. When a body is found in the garden of a house he is trying to sell, it becomes clear his obsession has taken an even more sinister turn. You’ll definitely want to change your locks after reading this original and darkly funny novel that will send shivers down your spine.
Carole White co-founded Premier, one of London’s most iconic model agencies, and over the past 30 years has nurtured the careers of supermodels including Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford. Carole’s business was the focus of the Channel 4 series The Model Agency, and Have I Said Too Much? is her tell-all memoir detailing her years in one of the most glamorous industries in the world. It charts the highs and lows of her relationships with her clients – including testifying against Naomi Campbell in the 2010 blood diamond trial – and the tears, tantrums and size zero debates will have you hooked in this fascinating glimpse into the life of a powerhouse agent.