Forget Mr Darcy and Heathcliff – the only male character you need to know about right now is borderline-autistic Don Tillman in The Rosie Project, who we fell head-over-heels in love with. This month also brings captivating memoirs from Maya Angelou and Emma Brockes, who both write with clarity and humour about their relationship with their mothers. We say surround yourself with Easter eggs and tuck into our best new releases of April.
Words: Stacey Bartlett
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Don Tillman is good-looking, likes to cook, works out and has a job in genetics research – but the only thing stopping the women from queuing around the block is his social awkwardness and high standards. Don decides it’s time to find a wife and comes up with a foolproof plan to find the ‘perfect specimen’ in the form of a survey, but when Rosie shows up at his office he can’t think of anybody more unsuitable. She smokes, she drinks, she is a waitress – and she wants his help in genetics expertise to find her father. The Rosie Project is touching and laugh-out-loud funny – think The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time meets Silver Linings Playbook.
Z by Therese Anne Fowler
Apparently ‘behind every great man is a great woman’, but Zelda Fitzgerald – wife of The Great Gatsby author F. Scott – stood firmly to the side of her husband. Bold, headstrong and Southern, she had a voracious appetite for partying, jazz and drinking, and during the Roaring Twenties F. Scott – who wasn’t considered successful until after his death – merely glimmered next to his dazzling wife. Their fame soon got the better of them, and their disastrous break-up that ended with Zelda spending the rest of her life in a mental hospital makes for a thrilling read in this novel, just in time for The Great Gatsby film release in May.
She Left Me the Gun by Emma Brockes
When Guardian journalist Emma Brockes was ten years old, her mother casually remarked: “One day I will tell you the story of my life, and you will be amazed”. After her death, Brockes decided to blow the cobwebs off her mother’s childhood in South Africa. A string of estranged aunts and uncles and a vaguely hushed-up court case were all she had to go on, as well as a small, pearl-handled gun her mother had bought aged 24 that she kept in a drawer in the spare room. In true investigative journalist style, Brockes unearths the horrific but gripping truth that changed her mother’s childhood in this brave memoir.
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
London-born and Massachusetts-raised Taiye Selasi’s first novel was borne of an identity crisis brought on at her best friend’s wedding, where a guest asked where she was from. Her standard reply – Nigerian mother, Ghanian father who lives in Saudi Arabia, born in Britain, raised in America, now lives in Rome (do keep up) – prompted her to weave a fictional tale of a multi-continental family much like her own, about a family from West Africa who travel west-wards and end up in New England, spanning four decades. Fans of Zadie Smith will find much to enjoy here in one of the strongest debuts of 2013.
The Lost by Claire McGowan
The disappearance of Paula Maguire’s mother years ago led her to a career in forensic psychology, and when two teenage girls go missing in her hometown she is forced to confront a past she wanted to leave behind. Faced with the small Northern Irish town’s fear and paranoia that a serial killer is on the loose, Paula finds a connection between two girls who went missing 30 years ago, and starts to realise that maybe those who are lost don’t always want to be found. This is the first book in a new series from rising crime star Claire McGowan, and Peter James is a fan.
Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
Inspired by the real-life writings of American authors Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell, Frances and Bernard is the story of bright young things Bernard Eliot (an aspiring poet) and Frances Reardon (a wannabe novelist) who meet on a writing course and begin a passionate correspondence in prose. Set against the evocative backdrop of 1950s New York, their musings – which start out quick and witty – grow in confidence and intelligence, and before they know it they are inking their hearts out onto the page. This sparky novel will make you want to permanently delete WhatsApp and go back to basics.
The View on the Way Down by Rebecca Wait
Emma’s brother Kit died five years ago – and her other brother, Jamie, disappeared on the day of the funeral, not to be heard from since. As the family struggles to move on, Emma turns to food and Jesus to come to terms with the double loss – but then realises her parents might not be revealing everything about the circumstances around Kit’s death. Twenty-four-year-old author Rebecca Wait wrote The View on the Way Down in the evenings whilst working as a teaching assistant – if that hasn’t made you want to use your evenings more productively, read the brilliant opening chapter of the book here.
Mom and Me and Mom by Maya Angelou
“In the first decade of the twentieth century, it was not a good time to be born black, or woman, in America”. So begins Maya Angelou’s portrait of Vivian Baxter Johnson – the mother she has never written about until now. The celebrated memoirist and poet, who has written six autobiographies and several volumes of poetry, addresses why her mother – who was the first black woman officer in the Marines and owned a gambling business – sent her away to live with her grandmother in Arkansas. Now 84, Angelou opens the lid on the emotions she has neglected to write about in this mesmerising and intimate memoir for fans of Jeanette Winterson, who also wrote about her relationship with a difficult mother.
Fever by Mary Beth Keane
This novel is based on the fascinating story of the real-life ‘Typhoid Mary’, a woman who was a passive carrier of typhoid and infected more than 50 people whilst remaining perfectly healthy in early twentieth-century New York. Mary Mallon transmitted the fatal disease during her career as a cook, and was only found out when family after family was struck down and three people died. Mary, a middle-aged Irish woman, would change her name with every position and was held in quarantine for the last 23 years of her life after refusing to co-operate with health authorities. Was she a murderer? You decide.
Dear Lucy by Julie Sarkissian
Lucy knows she is different, and has been sent by her mother to live on a farm with the elderly Mister and Missus, where her only friend in the world is pregnant teenager Samantha. Lucy can’t leave the farm or her mother will never find her, but when Samantha gives birth and the baby disappears her friend is distraught, and Lucy decides she must brave the outside world to try and reunite mother and child – at the risk of never seeing her mother again. Fans of Emma Donoghue’s Room will love this story of loyalty and betrayal told by a strong narrator who lives in a strangely introverted world.