Evenings are long and diaries empty, so it’s a good time for vicarious thrill-seeking. Daisy Buchanan’s debut novel Insatiable, Sphere, €14.99, delivers, with its vivid reminders of a time when people worked in offices, mingled at parties and snogged each other senseless. “As filthy as it is funny” is how Dolly Alderton describes it and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments between sex scenes so vividly drawn you’ll be glad of the privacy of a Kindle. Buchanan is absolutely fearless and one can only hope there’s a sequel on the way.
Ok, let’s imagine the worst and mankind is doomed. Another debut, Bethany Clift’s The Last One at The Party, Hodder & Stoughton, €16.99, hurtles us forward to 2023 when a far deadlier virus takes hold of the world and wipes out everyone except one woman who now has plenty of time to ponder the identity of her newborn child. Having buried her loved ones, she puts herself up at London’s poshest hotels and raids the empty halls of Harrods for Birkin bags and vintage Krug. A true pandemic page-turner, with a satisfactorily chilling end.
With events so distracting, even the most dedicated readers are finding it difficult to concentrate on big reads. Short stories and essays fill the gap. For those who like things bleak and beautiful, Under a Dark Angel’s Eye, Virago, €18, is a new collection of stories from Patricia Highsmith, author of The Talented Mr Ripley and Strangers on a Train. This collection, which marks the 100th anniversary of her birth and includes two previously unpublished stories, has unease and menace oozing from the most respectable situations.
Joan Didion: Let Me Tell You What I Mean, Knopf, €18.99, is a slim collection of early essays from the writer who so movingly chronicled the loss of her husband John Gregory Dunne in the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Year of Magical Thinking. Now the subject of a superb Netflix documentary, The Centre Will Not Hold, this collection finds her dropping in on Nancy Reagan, attending a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, musing on long-distance running. Didion’s spare style of writing is refreshing in an age of oversharing.
It wasn’t until the age of 60 that romantic novelist Rosamunde Pilcher hit the bestseller list with The Shell Seekers, voted one of the best 100 books in Britain by the BBC. Pilcher sold a staggering 60m books before her death in 2019 at the age of 94. A Place Like Home, Hodder & Stoughton,€17.90, is a new hardback collection of 15 stories set in gorgeous romantic locations, from the Scottish highlands to Mediterranean islands where the sun pours onto hotel balconies furnished with iced bottles of champagne. Of course, love wins out, most of the time, in these charming stories that are surprisingly comforting to read, like literary gravity blankets.
Escape to the country? Hmmm be careful. The Smash Up by Ali Benjamin, Hachette, €17, has a smart New York couple, Ethan and Zenobia, decamp to nowheresville in search of some peace and quiet but instead they find themselves embroiled in hashtag hell as controversy erupts around Ethan’s business partner. Soon their marriage is buckling under the strain of a MeToo crisis as tweets fly and neighbours flee.
Calm and reassuring, in A Whole New Plan For Living: Achieving Balance And Wellness In A Changing World, Hachette, €17, psychiatrist Jim Lucey writes compassionately about the gut-wrenching stress of mental illness and how it can be overcome.
Dark, funny, immensely generous, artist Francis Bacon is exhaustively probed in an authorised biography ten years in the making. Francis Bacon Revelations, Harper Collins, €40, by acclaimed art critics Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, includes new information about Bacon’s childhood in Ireland, his life in London, Paris, Tangiers and Spain, and his vast network of friends that put him in the very centre of the artistic world.
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