From tales of womanhood to the latest Maggie O'Farrell: the most riveting new reads of May

Posted by
Cathy Rentzenbrink
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Lots of this month’s books are about girlhood and that strange and fragile growing up time. Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman is an electric account of a redemptive friendship that leads to trouble, When I Was Invisible by Dorothy Koomson gives us two beautiful children who are badly treated by the world, and The Photographer’s Wife is a story of betrayal set in Jerusalem seen through the eyes of eleven-year-old Prue.

Nina searches for the truth about the father she thinks is dead in The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans, Jeannie witnesses her brother go off to the Vietnam War in Hannah Kohler’s The Outside Lands, and Multitudes by Lucy Caldwell takes us from Belfast to London and back again. 

Animal by Sara Pascoe is an entertaining and provoking look at what it means to be a woman that made me laugh and feel angry at almost the same time. There are few things I look forward to as much as a new Maggie O’Farrell and This Must Be The Place doesn’t disappoint. I loved The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney which shows us a spoilt New York family whose trust fund is depleted by the reckless behaviour of one of their own. I’ve saved the saddest to the end: Beyond the High Blue Air by Lu Spinney is the author’s account of the long death of her son. Beautiful and necessary, but one to read with a box of tissues to hand. 

Happy Reading.

  • The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

    I like a chunky New York novel and it’s refreshing to find one centered around a family rather than a friendship group. The Plumb siblings have been living on their expectations for years and don’t know how to cope when the bad behaviour of charismatic Leo means their nest egg will be depleted. Brilliant.

    Buy it here

  • The Outside Lands by Hannah Kohler

    When Kip’s mother dies on his birthday, the day before the assassination of JFK, he goes off the rails. His sister, Jeanie, watches as he ends up choosing military service in Vietnam over prison, a decision that will cast long and terrible shadows. Stunning.

    But it here

  • Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

    A deep, dark vision of the dangers of girlhood emerges from this captivating novel. Life changes for unpopular Hannah Dexter when she makes friend with new girl Lacey who rebrands her as Dex and teaches her to wear Docs and like Kurt Cobain. Everything is on the up but not for long…

    Buy it here

  • The Photographer’s Wife by Suzanne Joinson

    All sorts of betrayal are in play in this atmospheric novel which opens in Jerusalem in 1920 as eleven-year-old Prue observes the dangerous behaviour of the adults. Years later, she is forced to look back and realise things were not as she thought.

    Buy it here

  • Multitudes by Lucy Caldwell

    I cried my heart out over the last story in this finely crafted and occasionally shocking collection which flits between Belfast and London, adolescence and adulthood, examining innocence, experience, all kinds of love and the inextinguishable nature of loss.

    But it here

  • This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell

    Maggie O’Farrell’s seventh novel is a cracker. Daniel Sullivan is a New Yorker living in Ireland with his former film star wife, Claudette. Unsure of himself, both as a father and son, he is pushed further into turmoil when he discovers something about a woman he hasn’t seen for years.

    Buy it here

  • The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans

    Lonely bookworm Nina Parr thinks her father is dead until one day a strange woman in the London tells her he isn’t. A quest begins that will lead Nina back into the history of her family and up a Cornish creek to a ruined house...Gorgeous.

    But it here

  • When I Was Invisible by Dorothy Koomson

    This highly absorbing and heartwrenching story opens when two ballet mad eight-year-old girls with nearly identical names meet for the first time. Life does not deal kindly with either of them. Years later they meet again. Can they forgive themselves and each other and recover their friendship?

    Buy it here

  • Animal by Sara Pascoe

    A tour of the female body that celebrates the messiness of womanhood – all those lumps and bumps and all that blood – and encourages us to understand, forgive and have a bit of a laugh about ourselves. There’s also lots of good, angry stuff about rape.

    Buy it here

  • Beyond the High Blue Air by Lu Spinney

    A devastating memoir which charts the author’s gradual realisation that her beautiful and gifted son, Miles, is not going to make anything like a meaningful recovery from the snowboarding accident that left him in a coma. This unflinching look at what happens when death is prevented but life is not worth living is heartbreaking and important.

    Buy it here