Author, self-confessed bookworm and contributing 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
I can’t imagine anything better than whiling away a November weekend curled up on the sofa with A Notable Woman, the diaries of Jean Lucey Pratt edited by Simon Garfield. One of my favourite books of the year, it’s full of fascinating details about rationing, fashion, how much she spends on booze and fags, and the difficulties of being a sexually active woman without a husband. Ever wanted to know how a woman in the 1940s would describe her periods? Now you can.
Jeremy Gavron’s moving memoir A Woman on the Edge of Time is an exploration of the life and death of his mother, who committed suicide when he was four, just two years after and a street away from where Sylvia Plath had taken the same exit route from this world. It’s a compelling read that sheds much light on life in the 1960s. For something bang up to date, Jonathan Coe is on top satirical form in Number 11. Underground extension, anyone?
Number 11 by Jonathan Coe
Coe paints a bleak picture of life in the UK as librarians who rely on food banks exist alongside the super rich who build elaborate subterranean extensions to accommodate their swimming pools and cinemas. Staff quarters for the nannies and caretakers are always located on the deepest, darkest floor. Depressing and amusing in fairly equal measure.
The Clasp by Sloane Crosley
When Kezia, Nathaniel and Victor meet up at the wedding of their ludicrously wealthy heiress friend, Victor stumbles into a mystery about a valuable necklace that will lead them all to France… A clever, funny story about those difficult post college years inspired by The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant.
I Call Myself a Feminist by Various, ed by Alice Stride
Inspiring collection of essays from feminists under 30 interspersed with quotes on being a woman from Toni Morrison, Jane Austen, Nora Ephron and many others. My best bit of this brilliant book comes from Roxanne Gay: ‘It’s hard to be told to “lighten up” because if you lighten up anymore you’re going to float the fuck away.’
A Woman on the Edge of Time by Jeremy Gavron
The author was four when his mother committed suicide. His father told him she’d had a heart attack and he only learnt the truth after his sixteenth birthday. This is a moving enquiry, a compelling search for a lost mother, and a revealing account of what life was like for adventurous and intelligent women in the 1960s.
Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith
A collection of stories, essays and snippets about books, reading and the role of the library in society. This is both an intentionally campaigning book and a stimulating saunter through Smith’s spectacular imagination. You may well finish it and head straight out to procure that highly effective weapon, the library card.
A Notable Woman by Jean Lucey Pratt, ed by Simon Garfield
Enthralling diaries that stretch from 1926 to 1986 as Jean describes the daily effort of surviving the war and her valiant attempts to achieve her ambitions to write books and have love affairs. The little details are fascinating and the overall portrait of one woman’s life in the 20th century is a must read. I can’t recommend this highly enough.
Cockfosters by Helen Simpson
The chapter titles in this collection of elegant, understated and quietly funny stories are derived from tube stations and beyond as our characters roam around London – with a detour to Berlin - losing their reading glasses, worrying about diminishing sexual desire and trying to get over affairs. Superb.
House of Dreams by Fanny Blake
It’s their late mother’s birthday and Lucy, Jo and Tom are spending a final weekend together in the Spanish villa she loved. They also have a last duty to carry out for her, but they are all keeping secrets and the past refuses to stay buried...
I Love Dick by Chris Kraus
When a married artist called Chris Kraus meets an academic called Dick she falls violently and inexplicably in love. First published in the states in 1997, this blend of novel, memoir and philosophy is having a new moment with fans such as Lena Dunham and Sheila Heti.
A Snow Garden and Other Stories by Rachel Joyce
Every word the author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry writes is a bittersweet dream. Christmas music, drunken Santas and unrealistic expectations are all on the menu in these linked stories that stretch from the last day of school term all the way through to New Year’s Eve. There’s even a donkey and a baby…