Things start really hotting up in September on the books front, with autumn heralding the start of the Christmas book season (sorry for mentioning the C-word).
In fiction, Omar El Akkad’s American War is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and an extraordinary and prescient look at a very possible future world. Also taking on politics is Kamila Shamsie’s Man Booker Prize longlisted Home Fire.
September’s books are not afraid to tackle difficult topics. Carrie Fisher’s reissued Postcards from the Edge looks at addiction while Roddy Doyle’s Smile focuses on abuse in an Irish church school. In non-fiction, Adam Kay looks at life and death in diaries from his time as a junior doctor in obs and gynae, while Edith Eger’s The Choice recounts how the author survived the Holocaust and went on to save lives as a psychologist.
For crime lovers Attica Locke’s Bluebird, Bluebird is both a mystery and an astute look at race relations in the US, while Patrick McGrath’s The Wardrobe Mistress is a post-Second World War-set story. In poetry, Yrsa Daley-Ward’s Bone is a raw look at topics including gender, love and faith.
And finally, Fight Like a Girl is full of inspiration and aspiration for women everywhere.
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
Two bodies wash up in the tiny Texan town of Lark in the space of a few days - an African-American lawyer’s, and a poor local white girl’s. Texas Ranger Darren Matthews - one of the few black Rangers on the highly respected force - is sent to quietly investigate and finds that he can’t let go of the case. A rural noir, Bluebird, Bluebird features many well-loved crime tropes - an investigator who likes a drink and whose marriage is falling apart - executed well, and is eerily timely in its study of a town whose racial fault lines are about to erupt.
Serpent’s Tail, £14.99
American War: A Novel by Omar El Akkad
Sarat Chestnut is six when a second American Civil War - prompted by the refusal of some states to give up fossil fuels - breaks out. She moves to a camp for displaced persons, where she is set on a path that leads her to become a deadly instrument of war. This powerful book examines how people are shaped by their experiences and how one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, while also looking at the fragility of power. One of my favourite novels of the year, I had a serious book-hangover after finishing it.
Bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward
Daley-Ward’s raw collection of poetry covers everything from age, faith, loss, abuse and relationships. In Bone, Daley-Ward tells stories and summons images through sometimes very brief and other times very lengthy poems. My personal favourites include ‘some kind of man’, a tension-filled tale of religion, gender expectations and love, and ‘it is what it is’, a look at death and family dynamics.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Shamsie’s Man Booker Prize longlisted novel follows three siblings of Muslim Pakistani descent who have grown up in London. Isma is off to study in America, Aneeka, her beautiful sister, is back in London, while Aneeka’s twin Parvaiz has disappeared to join jiahdis. Into this mix walks Eamonn, the son of local MP Karamat, who will turn the family’s lives upside down. Circling through the five characters, Home Fire builds to an extraordinary climax as it explores what happens when love, religion and politics collide.
Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher
Reissued with an introduction by Stephen Fry, Postcards from the Edge was the debut novel by the late, great Carrie Fisher. Telling the story of Suzanne Vale, a formerly acclaimed actress now in rehab, this explores addiction in a way that is sometimes dark, sometimes hilarious (and sometimes both). It’ll make you both miss Fisher and her talent and be grateful that she left behind so much work for us to appreciate.
Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World by Laura Barcella
This does what it says on the jacket - profiling 50 feminists who have had a big effect on the way the world runs. There are the usual suspects - Hillary Clinton, Malala Yousafzai - plus a look at celebrities like Madonna and Queen Latifah whose impact may often be understated, simply because they’re famous. But it’s the more unusual choices - like Wilma Mankiller, activist and chief of the Cherokee Nation, lawyer Anita Hill, who testified in 1991 against Conservative Supreme Court nominee (now justice) Clarence Thomas, and Japanese avant-grade artist Yayoi Kusama - that make this book a real gem.
Smile by Roddy Doyle
Victor is alone for the first time in years, and trying to fit in. Heading to Donnelly’s pub (which he plans to make his local), he encounters Fitzpatrick, who claims to know Victor from school, where they were both taught by the Christian Brothers. In a sharply observed novel, Doyle explores memory, relationships and sanity, as Victor recalls his time at school and examines what he remembers of one particular Brother.
Jonathan Cape, £14.99
The Choice by Edith Eger
Eger is an internationally acclaimed psychologist whose patients include survivors of abuse and soldiers with PTSD. She is also a survivor of Auschwitz. In The Choice, Eger shares her experience of the Holocaust - from having to dance for the Angel of Death, Josef Mengele, to her journey back to “normal” life after she survived the Second World War - and how she has helped various patients through her career. Far from being a dark read, although it is difficult in parts, Eger’s hopeful and remarkable spirit shines through in every word.
Rider Books, £14.99
This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay
Kay spent years training to become a doctor, working his way to senior registrar - specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology - before giving it all up. His diaries from his time working as a junior doctor are laugh out loud funny, recounting interactions with trying patients and incompetent colleagues, alongside his efforts to balance his work and home life (spoiler: there is no balance). I found myself laughing in horror over and over, but Kay’s poignant final act brought me to tears. This is a valuable window into the life of a junior doctor that should be required reading for all.
The Wardrobe Mistress by Patrick McGrath
In the bitter cold of January 1947, when post-Second World War London is still suffering, wardrobe mistress Joan loses her husband Charlie Grice, one of the great stage actors of the day. As she grieves, Joan discovers Charlie’s terrible secret, and realises the war may not be over after all. McGrath’s story is told in the way a (very articulate, wordsmith) friend would tell you a story, and you’ll rattle through the tale.