Dip into some spooky stories and fantastic reads this October with Edel Coffey’s expert choices …
Galway writer Mike McCormack was longlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Dublin Literary Award, among others, with his 2016 novel Solar Bones. This month he returns with his first novel since that one, THIS PLAGUE OF SOULS (Tramp Press, €20). It tells the story of Nealon, who returns to his home after a long stint away only to discover the house abandoned, his wife and child nowhere to be found. What follows is a noirish literary mystery as McCormack performs stylistic acrobatics with an existential voice. As with Solar Bones, no matter how high the artistic watermark rises, McCormack never forgets about his reader.
JULIA by Sandra Newman (Granta, €17.99) has been the talk of the internet for some time now. Billed as a feminist re-telling of George Orwell’s 1984, it tells the story of Julia, the woman who Orwell’s protagonist Winston Smith was in a relationship with. In Julia, we see life from her point of view, which opens Orwell’s book up to a delicious and provocative alternative telling.
American author Jesmyn Ward comes highly garlanded – two-time National Book Award winner (the only woman and the only African American woman to ever have won the prize twice), youngest winner of the Library of Congress Prize for Fiction and a MacArthur Fellow (often referred to as the “genius grant”). A highly political writer, she writes equally wonderful personal essays as she does fiction. LET US DESCEND (Bloomsbury, €19.57), her fourth novel, takes on American slavery through the story of an enslaved teenage girl called Annis who is sold into the South by her owner (and father), on whose harrowing journey to New Orleans we learn her and her ancestors’ stories.
Two charming Japanese novels currently in translation by Doubleday are WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IS IN THE LIBRARY by Michiko Aoyama (€18.19)…
and THE GOODBYE CAT by Hiro Arikawa (€18.20); both authors are bestsellers in Japan. Aoyama’s book is the story of Komoachi, a librarian who has the power to change the lives of her borrowers and has a special gift of being able to “read” the souls of people. So she is always able to recommend exactly the right book to help them through their dilemmas. The Goodbye Cat meanwhile is from the same author as The Travelling Cat Chronicles and tells the story of different characters through the observations of the cats in their lives. But of course this is not a book about cats, but about human nature.
In 1991, John Grisham launched onto the legal thriller scene with his debut blockbuster The Firm. Ever since, he has produced a number one bestseller every single year, but he’s never written a sequel to The Firm … until now. THE EXCHANGE (Hodder and Stoughton, €21.99) returns to Mitch and Abby McDeere, now living in Manhattan, 15 years after we first met them. An old friend calls in a favour from Mitch, which leads to a high-stakes, edge-of-your-seat ride.
Scottish crime queen Val McDermid is one of the most revered crime writers at work today and each new novel from the former news journalist brings with it both a gripping plot as well as astute social commentary. PAST LYING (Sphere, €22.40) sees cold case detective Karen Pirie discover an author’s manuscript that appears to have many similarities to a real-life case she is working on, the unsolved case of a university student who disappeared from her home. The novel manuscript might just solve the mystery. The only problem is it’s unfinished and the author is dead.
Anyone still missing the TV show White Lotus might enjoy Catherine Cooper’s THE ISLAND (HarperCollins, €9.68). A former travel journalist, Cooper knows her luxury resorts and has carved out a niche writing murder mysteries set in exotic locations. This time, she sets her story in a high-end hotel in the Maldives. When a group of journalists and influencers are invited to cover the resort’s launch, someone is out for revenge. This one definitely keeps the pages turning.
Sophie Kinsella’s new novel THE BURNOUT (Bantam, €22.40) feels a little close for comfort as many of us are still recovering from the effects of the pandemic. Sasha is feeling burnout in her work, her relationship and her friendships and so decides to take a trip to Devon to decompress. Instead of rebooting and unwinding, she finds she must share the beach with a grumpy man. But all is not as it seems. Kinsella wrote the Confessions of a Shopaholic series so if you’re looking for something light and fizzy, this is it.
Finally, if, like me, you are enjoying Arnold Schwarzenegger’s current renaissance, you will want to read his motivational book BE USEFUL: SEVEN TOOLS FOR LIFE (Ebury Edge, €17.99). The title comes from his father’s advice to him as a child. On the back of his recent Netflix documentary, Arnold, his Pump Club podcast and newsletter focused on positivity and wellbeing, this book expands on his knowledge and expertise about achieving goals, creating community, and paying it forward by being helpful to others. The unconverted might wonder what advice Mr Universe, Hollywood legend and former California governor might have to offer the average Irishwoman, but Schwarzenegger’s advice is unexpectedly relatable and sage and easily adapted to any lifestyle. Who knew!
BONUS BOOK !
Independent UK publisher Daunt Books is a great champion of forgotten classics and original contemporary fiction books and this month, they republish LORD JIM AT HOME (€9.99) by British author Dinah Brooke, which has been out of print for almost 50 years. Brooke wrote four critically acclaimed novels in the 1970s before renouncing all material desires and moving to India for six years. She still lives in London today. First published in 1973, Lord Jim At Home tells the story of Giles Trenchard, a privileged but unloved child who grew up into a troubled young man before going to war. On his return home, something dreadful happens. Brookes uses her shocking climax to condemn the British upper classes. This new edition comes with an introduction by the cool American writer Otesha Mossfegh (Eileen, My Year Of Rest and Relaxation). Her take: “It is an accurate portrayal of how fucked-up people behave, artfully conveyed in a way that nice people are too polite to admit they understand.”