Books Editor Orna Mulcahy recommends great Summer Reads for warm days on the beach, long evenings in the garden or (for the lucky ones) on a plane to somewhere sunny …
Ditched by her husband of decades, heartbroken Prudence is facing old age with anything but fortitude in Deborah Moggach’s THE BLACK DRESS (Headline Review, €17.40). She’s lonely, depressed and even her best friend doesn’t want to talk though it turns out there’s a good reason for that. Desperate for a new man, Pru dons a charity shop LBD and starts attending other womens’ funerals in the hope of snagging an attractive widower. Along comes Calvin, who fixes her boiler and flies a helicopter. What can possibly go wrong? The answer is a lot. Thoroughly enjoyable even if it stretches incredulity a bit towards the end, this is pool lounger gold, as one might expect from the author of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Fans of Douglas Kennedy can look forward to latest novel, AFRAID OF THE LIGHT, (Hutchinson, €16.22). The central character is a Los Angeles salesman hitting 60 who becomes an Uber driver and finds himself at the sharp end of American extremism where a woman’s right to her body isn’t a given.
John Boyne’s 13th novel is the hugely readable THE ECHO CHAMBER (Doubleday, €15.99, August 5) in which oh-so-clever TV personality George Cleverley struggles to understand exactly what is going on in the new world of social media while his novelist wife lavishes attention on her lover’s turtle and their children are each locked in secret worlds that threaten to bring the house down.
Novel or memoir, it’s not quite clear with Claire-Louise Bennett’s CHECKOUT 19, (Jonathan Cape, €12.99, August 18) in which a young woman recounts the events and books that have shaped her. Swerving between dead flat realities, embarrassing moments and magical anecdotes, it also contains a first class and heartfelt reading list.
If you missed Caroline O’Donoghue’s SCENES OF A GRAPHIC NATURE last summer, it’s now in paperback (Virago, £8.99). It tackles the awkwardness of friends who find themselves on different trajectories but a shared journey to Kerry provides lots of fun and the opportunity to expose some local secrets.
Family secrets are also at the heart of I COULDN’T LOVE YOU MORE, a new novel from Esther Freud of Hideous Kinky fame and daughter of the artist Lucien Freud and his London-Irish wife. Rosaleen falls for an artist in Swinging Sixties London. Back home in rural Ireland, scandal is averted when her baby is given up for adoption. A familiar, sad story beautifully told. (Bloomsbury, €19.20).
HARD LIKE WATER by Yan Lianke (Chatto & Windus, €19.20) is the extraordinary tale of Aijun and Hongmei, two communist zealots who climb to high places during the Cultural Revolution while conducting a passionate affair underground, in a tunnel that connects their two homes. From one of China’s most admired (and banned) writers, it’s a difficult but sometimes very moving read.
In TWO WOMEN IN ROME (Corvus, €15) Elizabeth Buchan neatly switches from a 1970s Rome rife with spies and scandals to the present day when newly-wed Lottie takes a up a job as an archivist and is immediately drawn to the unsolved case of a murdered Englishwoman. The woman’s long-hidden journal reveals that her work as a landscape gardener was convenient cover for intelligence operations but that falling in love with a trainee priest could have been her undoing. The discovery of a rare painting sets Lottie on a trail but why is her new husband so intent on stopping her from finding out more?
THE VIEW WAS EXHAUSTING, Mikaella Clements & Onjuli Datta’s debut novel, (Headline Review, €23) sees movie star Whitman “Win” Tagore rendezvous with real estate heir Leo in St Tropez for their customary orchestrated summer fling. It’s an arrangement that has burnished both their images for years, but a shock arrival into their carefully laid schedule brings the plan crashing down so spectacularly that no PR genius can rescue it. You’ll never look at a Hello celebrity spread in the same light again after reading this.
Rupert Thomson’s BARCELONA DREAMING (Other Press, New York, €11) tells three lightly interlinked stories of residents of the city on the eve of the financial crash of 2008. Thomson conjures up a fascinating cast of beautiful people with complicated lives who’ve lost a lot and have more to lose.
Soon as you can, buy a copy of THINGS ARE AGAINST US, a collection of essays from Lucy Ellmann, of Ducks, Newburyport fame, and buy one for a friend too. Mine came with a bookmark saying “Let’s Complain” but it’s not a handbook for Karens. Ellmann is annoyed and angry in a very eloquent way about aspects of American life now and how women are treated by the patriarchy. She dislikes uncomfortable bras, cute make-up tutorials for twelve-year-olds, air travel and above all, Donald Trump, but she also tackles the books world head on, exhorting men to stop reading and stop writing crime fiction and allow women to simply existing without raping, maiming and murdering them. (Galley Beggar Press, €11.60).
If you loved Midwinter Break, Bernard McLaverty’s quiet story about a couple seeking solace and peace, the good news is that the Booker-shortlisted writer has a new book of short stories coming out next month, titled BLANK PAGES AND OTHER STORIES. (Jonathan Cape, €17.40, August 5).
Meanwhile, MacLaverty has endorsed Stephen Walsh’s first collection of short stories SHINE/VARIANCE (Chatto & Windus, €16.99). Dip in here and you’ll find heartbreakingly real characters dealing with everyday hurts and misunderstandings.
Hot on the heels of her New York Times best-seller, The Death of Vivek Oji comes a memoir from black writer Akwaeke Emezi. DEAR SENTHURAN (Faber €17.40) is written in the form of letters to friends and family – “both biological and chosen”– and is a sharp and brilliant account of what it is to be a writer suffering from chronic pain and depression, facing up to an industry that’s blatantly arranged for the success of others. You won’t read a better analysis of what it takes to write, or indeed, how the publishing world works when it comes to grants, advances, bursaries and auctions.
In RE-EDUCATED: HOW I CHANGED MY JOB, MY HOME, MY HUSBAND AND MY HAIR (Ebury, €19.70), Lucy Kellaway gives an honest and entertaining account of how she blew up her own life – leaving behind her high-flying job as a Financial Times columnist, ditching her marriage and retraining to become a teacher.
Matt Haig has been described as “The King of Empathy” for his non-fiction writing, though he’s also a best-selling novelist. THE COMFORT BOOK (Cannongate Books €19.70) is gorgeous to look at with its rainbow-like cover and it’s a gorgeous, gentle read with snapshots from Haig’s own life and wisdom from a poets and philosophers. Plus there’s a very good recipe for hummus in there. A perfect gift if you’ve been invited to stay.
Reprinted in time for the staycation season, Mary Mulvihill’s INGENIOUS IRELAND is a lively account of the country’s natural and invented wonders, with a county by county guide to lesser known attractions and innovations from Milk of Magnesia to the hypodermic syringe (Four Courts Press, €19.99).
Sara is a therapist used to extracting secrets but when her husband Sigurd disappears without trace she can’t believe what he has been hiding from her, or that she is now the chief suspect in his murder. Set in chilly Oslo, Helene Flood’s THE THERAPIST (MacLehose Press, €15) takes some satisfying twists and turns as Sigurd’s secret life is laid bare and Sara confronts own disturbing past.
In Laura Lippman’s DREAM GIRL, (Faber & Faber, €17.40) writer Gerry Anderson is flat on his back, recovering from a fall in his new Baltimore apartment. But when calls start coming through from the lead character in his early wildly successful book, he ups his Ambien and travels back and forth through his failed relationships to work out who’s after him. Meanwhile his private nurse Aileen has done him a big grisly favour and wants some rewards. Think Misery but with a heavy dash of #MeToo retribution.
Why can’t men help women to have it all? Well, they do at Dynasty Ranch, an eerily perfect estate where husbands swap recipes and stain removal tips while wives smash glass ceilings. But if it’s all so perfect, why did Penny’s house burn down with her husband in it? Chandler Baker’s THE HUSBANDS (Sphere, €17.40, August 3) is Stepford Wives in reverse with a very dark heart indeed.
Catherine Ryan Howard’s 56 DAYS (Corvus, €15, August 19) brilliantly captures the eeriness and unreality of Dublin in the early days of Covid, when everyone is told to stay home. Ciara and Oliver meet over a lunchtime sandwich and are soon living together in his swanky but sterile apartment but who is Oliver really and is he the only one carrying dark secrets? When neighbours complain about a bad smell, detectives Lee and Karl are faced with a corpse that blows open an old notorious crime. Howard keeps things nicely tense, with some unexpected laughs along the way.
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