Lots of top notch literary fiction this month. I read so many brilliant novels that I began to feel rather peculiar, straddled as I was between different fictional worlds, my heart racing away. I love the way a good book provokes a physical response from me.
If you are seeking the sensation of having the breath squeezed out of you, I’d highly recommend The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride and All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan. For a gentler but no less engrossing experience, and another Irish author, The Wonder by Emma Donoghue deals with faith, as does, among many other things, the spectacular Here I Am by Jonathan Safran-Foer.
Writers and their marital situations are a theme this month, Bright Precious Things by Jay McInerny, Commonwealth by Ann Patchett and the sublime Transit by Rachel Cusk all feature authors and publishers.
How does it feel to live in a country where you don’t feel appreciated? Identity, belonging and displacement are all explored in The Good Immigrant, an invigorating collection of essays edited by Nikesh Shukla. And, finally, I absolutely adored novelist Charlotte Mendelson’s Rhapsody in Green, a tale of her love for her tiny garden. Gardener or not, I’d suggest this as a beautiful, nourishing book to savour and keep.
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
The second novel from the author of the much garlanded A Girl is a Half Formed Thing is a breath stealing tale of love, pain and redemption as Eily and Stephen join hands for a damaged dance in the pubs and fag-end littered bedsits of 1990s London. Will they destroy or save each other?
All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan
‘Martin Toppy is the son of a famous Traveller and the father of my unborn child. He’s seventeen, I’m thirty-three. I was his teacher.’
This story of a pregnancy is a thing of brutal beauty as we learn how Melody came to be carrying a child and what she intends for its future. Slightly more hopeful than his other also brilliant novels.
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
1850s Ireland: Anna O’Donnell hasn’t eaten for four months and believes she is existing on manna from heaven. Is she a miracle or a fraud? Lib Wright is the English nurse hired to observe her but soon becomes troubled she might be colluding in the destruction of a vulnerable child.
Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
Hamish Hamilton, £20
I have a theory that all books should be shorter and this is a rambling beast of a novel, but I finished it feeling glad to have read every word. There’s a global story here, but what really works are the tiny details of domesticity. My book of the year, so far.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Law school drop-out Franny Keating is working as a cocktail waitress in Chicago when she meets a famous author and tells him all the secrets of her family, never dreaming that he will put the story into a novel and that her family will then read it. A cracking read.
Transit by Rachel Cusk
Jonathan Cape, £12.99
‘The builder said I was trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.’ A writer moves back to London with her sons after the collapse of her marriage, and into a flat that needs a lot of work and comes with horrible neighbours. There are also old friends and lovers, trips to the salon, and literary festivals to navigate. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything so simultaneously simple and complex. I finished it desperate for more.
Bright Precious Things by Jay McInerny
If you like novels about New York, publishing and drugs, then this tale set in 2008 will be right up your street. As Clinton and Obama struggle for the leadership, Russell and Corrine Calloway are just about keeping their marriage together despite all temptations. There’s a great dinner party scene that involves a ferret…
Sex and Death, Edited by Sarah Hall and Peter Hobbs
Are there any other subjects, really? This collection is packed with wisdom and insight into mortality and, ahem, shagging. I especially enjoyed two views from early parenthood from Claire Vaye Watkins and Ceridwen Dovey, and editor Sarah Hall’s story is a triumph of misdirection.
The Good Immigrant, Edited by Nikesh Shukla
‘May the size of your heart and the depth of your soul be your currency.’ This often angry, sometimes funny collection of 21 essays on what it feels like to always tick ‘other’ in a country that only wants you if you demonstrate your goodness and gratitude by winning medals or baking cakes is a must read. Exhilarating.
Rhapsody in Green by Charlotte Mendelson
Kyle Books, £16.99
Okay, so I’m surprised, too, to be including a gardening book in my recommendations, but this is a delightful, soul calming read about the novelist’s obsession with her tiny garden. I live in a flat and don’t have as much as a window box but I really loved this and long for people to read it.