Author, self-confessed bookworm and books editor at The Bookseller, Cathy Rentzenbrink, tells us about the hot new books that should be on your buy, beg or borrow list this month
September is bursting with good books so it’s a rather delicious case of being spoilt for choice. Both William Boyd and Sebastian Faulks offer us a look at the 20th century through the eyes of their characters living through it in Sweet Caress and Where My Heart Used to Beat. After You by Jojo Moyes and Grief is a Feathered Thing by Max Porter are tender and funny explorations of grief and Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg examines the aftermath of a terrible family tragedy. Family is the theme of Tessa Hadley’s sharply delicate novel The Past and also Jonathan Franzen’s wonderfully boisterous Purity, and Lucia Berlin’s darkly mischievous collection A Manual for Cleaning Women. The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah has a thrillerish tension that will keep you turning the pages late into the night. My last word is for Elena Ferrante and the triumph that is The Story of the Lost Child, the final novel of her Neapolitan series. If you’ve yet to experience the dark joy of her writing then I envy you and urge to it.
Purity by Jonathan Franzen
Why not ignore all the pointless chatter about what sort of a person Franzen is and read his very good book instead? It’s a huge, playful novel: the action stretches over many decades and continents as the eponymous Purity, also known as Pip, searches for her lost father. There’s also a very good joke about there being too many literary Jonathans…
Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
When a Ted Hughes scholar is suddenly widowed, a crow visits him and his two small boys to offer advice. Beautiful, sad and funny, this piece of literary patchwork is infused with love and will steal hearts as well as win prizes.
Faber & Faber
The Past by Tessa Hadley
Alice, Fran, Harriet and Roland meet to stay in their late grandparents’ house for what might be the last time before it is sold. Memories of childhood summers sit uneasily with present tensions, as Roland’s new wife upsets the fragile balance between the siblings. An astute and finely written novel.
Sweet Caress by William Boyd
A fascinating stroll through the history of the 20th century as our rebellious heroine Amory Clay, born in 1908, takes pictures in high society London, 1930s Berlin, Vietnam and beyond. This compelling read is illustrated by photographs and there is the added pleasure of working out which of the fabulous cast of characters actually existed.
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
‘Cleaning women know everything.’ Lucia Berlin died ten years ago and was largely unrecognised. That might well change with this publication of 43 of her astonishing stories which show the full chaos of life in all its beauty and squalor. Highly recommend.
Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks
Love, war and memory are the big themes at play here when psychiatrist Robert Hendrick receives a letter inviting him to stay with someone who fought alongside his father in the Great War. Robert’s acceptance leads to him grappling with a greater understanding of his own history against the backdrop of the conflicts of the 20th century.
The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
Have you succumbed to Ferrante fever yet? This is the fourth and final book in the series of novels that charts the intimate and tangled friendship between two women who grew up together in a violent and corrupt neighbourhood of Naples. Elena has left her husband and Lila offers help, but resentments between them fester. If you only read four books this year, then make it these.
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
On the morning of what should be her daughter’s wedding, there is an explosion at June’s house that kills everyone except her. After the funerals, June flees the curious stares of her neighbours and finds a motel room where she sits and thinks back on the events leading up to that terrible day. This powerful novel of family secrets has been long listed for The Man Booker Prize.
After You by Jojo Moyes
The sequel to the mega-selling heartbreaker Me Before You picks up the story of heroine Lou after she has accompanied Will to Dignitas. Lou is numb with grief and can’t see how she can keep her promise to Will to lead a bigger life. A tender, funny and hopeful look at love, grief and life. Bumper box of tissues required.
The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah
The man Memory lived with is dead and she is accused of murdering him. Now she sits in a prison cell in Harare writing a long letter to an American lawyer who is her only chance of escaping the death penalty. A rich and rewarding novel that conjours Memory’s childhood in rural Zimbabwe as it twists and turns through telling us what really happened.
Faber & Faber