The month of American Independence aptly sees some brilliant fiction from across the pond. From the Native Americans’ fight for freedom in 19th century Texas to illicit liaisons in The Hamptons and the boomerang generation of twenty-somethings, the US has really outdone itself this month. But we have our own talent too, of course – debut author Lottie Moggach writes the first ‘Facebook thriller’ that will no doubt kickstart a new genre, and Rachel Joyce is back with her follow-up to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. So grab a blanket, a picnic and your sunnies and settle down with our picks of July books.
The author of the excellent Girls in White Dresses is back with an even better second novel about the ‘boomerang’ generation. Claire Coffey is forced to leave her Manhattan apartment after breaking up with her fiance and moves back in with her parents, where her older sister Martha and younger brother Max also live. Things We Need is a witty, smart take on the frustrations of failing to launch – Martha’s career as a nurse has stalled and she seems destined to fold sweaters in J. Crew, and when 21-year-old Max’s college girlfriend gets pregnant, the Coffey parents are left wondering what they did wrong. Jennifer Close is a brilliant writer – if Jane Austen drank Long Island Iced Teas, wore pantyhose and lived in 2013, these are the sharply poignant family sagas we would get.
In a social media-obsessed world where we practically think in 140 characters, Lottie Moggach enters the literary scene with a bang in this very modern thriller that takes identity fraud to the next level. Leila is employed to ‘be’ a woman called Tess, who is intent on ending her life but wants her online profile to live on so her family don’t suspect anything. Tess and Leila have never met, but within weeks Leila knows everything about her client – from her bra size to her difficult relationship with her mother – and the clock is ticking until Tess ‘checks out’ and Leila will be running Tess’ life on her own. But when a circle of online impersonators is exposed in the press, Leila is forced to question everything. Kiss Me First is a gripping debut that will have you looking over your virtual shoulder as you de-clutter your friends list.
In 1972, two seconds are added to time to align clocks with the movement of the earth, but 11-year-old Byron Hemming can’t think of anything worse. When his friend James tells him about it Byron has a premonition that something awful is going to happen, and one morning on the school run, his watch suddenly starts to go backwards and his mother runs over a little girl who then disappears. Rachel Joyce’s debut novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was long-listed for the Booker Prize, and her second novel proves her ability to create wonderful characters who will break your heart. Byron’s mother Diana is a tragically beautiful heroine, a caged bird who Byron wants to protect, and Perfect will leave you quietly devastated as Byron and his family find out how life-changing two seconds can be.
If everything in bigger in Texas, then Philipp Meyer’s The Son is the biggest American novel of the decade. Spanning three centuries and following the McCullough family from its humble beginnings in a ramshackle hut to a multi-million dollar oil fortune, the novel starts in 2012 with Jeannie McCullough, who lays dying in her palatial Texan home, with no children to care for her and nobody worthy of her phenomenal legacy. We then meet her great-grandfather Eli McCullough in 1849, who witnesses Indians murder his family. He is kidnapped and lives out his teenage years in the Comanche tribe at a fascinating time in America’s history where the rivalry between the Indians, Spaniards and Americans was a constant power struggle that resulted in decades of bloodshed. The Son is an epic novel that is Cormac McCarthy meets Gone With the Wind, and we’ll be damned if it ain’t on the Pulitzer long-list.
Jocelyne is 47, has a husband (also named Jocelyn), two grown-up children and owns a haberdashery shop in a small provincial French town. She runs a successful craft blog and finds joy in the simple pleasures in life – until one day she wins the lottery. Suddenly more than €13million is hers, but she keeps the cheque un-cashed in a shoebox and doesn’t tell anybody, instead hosting a daily internal battle of what to do about it and making list after list of what she would like to buy. That is, until she finds the cheque gone – along with Jocelyn. The List of My Desires is a gorgeous little novel that has sold more than half a million copies in its native France. It is as beautifully written as it is heart-breaking, and is a fable-like tale of how money can’t buy happiness.
Some of the most famous marriages have involved three people, but rarely do they involve four. The Hamptons is the affluent setting of Charles Dubow’s Indiscretion, where Harry and Madeleine Winslow live out their picture-perfect marriage and regularly entertain guests, including Madeleine’s childhood friend Walter, who, like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, lives next door and narrates the story. One day a friend brings twenty-something Claire to a Winslow party and temptation sets in, propelling a chain of events that are every bit as lust-filled, extravagant and disastrous as Gatsby. In novels about affairs the wife and mistress are usually stereotypically portrayed, but Madeleine and Claire are each forces to be reckoned with in this gripping literary thriller.
In 1994 Anchee Min wrote Red Azalea, a memoir of growing up during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, which was an international best-seller. Twenty years later she has penned the second installment about her life in America, where she moved as a 28-year-old who had never seen toilet paper or running water and couldn’t speak a word of English. She taught herself the language watching McDonalds adverts and Sesame Street, had five jobs at once and slept in dilapidated apartments, and later suffered rape, exhaustion and a terrible marriage. But through having her daughter Lauryann, Min finally felt rooted in America, and The Cooked Seed is her remarkable story about surviving incredible trauma and coming out fighting.
Diamonds are forever – but some marriages aren’t. In The Engagements we meet all sorts of ill-fated unions, spanning almost a century and covering the Manhattan advertising industry in the 1940s to 1980s Boston and Paris in 2003. Mary Frances Gerety is a Peggy Olsen-type young copywriter in an advertising agency and is given a diamond account to sell to the masses; even though she doesn’t necessarily believe in the ideal she is selling. A few decades later a middle-aged couple are forced to pick up the pieces when their son leaves his wife and young children, and in another storyline a husband is infuriated by his own inadequacy to provide for his family. The Engagements is an engrossing read about love, loss and loyalty for fans of Jonathan Franzen and Claire Messud.
If you have Glasto withdrawal, pick up this book about the infamous ‘27 club’, the group of iconic music stars who died at the same young age – the latest ‘member’ of which was Amy Winehouse. The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain all met the same fate as Amy, and Howard Sounes has written about her life in the context of this darkly glamorous, deeply gifted set of tragic heroes and heroines. Amy, 27 is the most insightful account of Amy’s life and death so far and Sounes interviewed more than 180 people for the book, which explores her final hours with a forensic fine-toothed comb. Fans of Amy and of the host of music stars who met their end too soon will find much to enthrall them here.
In this emotional thriller from the author of After the Fall, Joseph is released from prison and his first thought is to see his three children. He has lost everything – his career as a teacher, his home and his future – as well as his wife Zoe, who he killed in front of their children. They now live with Zoe’s parents Hannah and Frederick, whose lives were turned upside down the day their daughter died and who are determined to keep their grandchildren away from Joseph. Charity Norman has written another absorbing tale of love, redemption and family ties in this novel that explores the lengths people will go to protect the ones they love.