Thirteen years on from his highly praised first novel Bad Day in Blackrock, Kevin Power is back with White City, a disquieting story about a life unravelling in South County Dublin. Only child Ben is 27 with very little to show for it, a steady allowance from his banker father allowing him to idle through his PhD and attempt a novel. But things hurtle downhill when a €600m hole is discovered in the bank’s balance sheet and the guards are crawling all over the family home. His allowance cut, Ben discovers drugs and doesn’t ask questions when an old classmate offers to cut him into a property deal in the Balkans. Power keeps his foot on the doom pedal as the dark heart of the White City development is revealed. Sharp characters and Ben’s unflinching inner gaze make this an unstoppable if uncomfortable read.(Scribner, €15).
Bill Buford is back at the restaurant kitchen coalface in Dirt, in which he gives up a perfectly lovely life as a New Yorker editor and heads to France with his wife and three-year-old twin sons. For anyone who devoured his 2006 book Heat, in which he immersed himself in Italian cuisine to the point of near-insanity, Dirt is just as entertaining. In the rather dour city of Lyon, Buford encounters epic levels of French culinary snobbery while working first in the city’s best-loved boulangerie before graduating to the punishing atmosphere of a Michelin-starred kitchen. A very funny read. (Vintage, €11.63).
In A Year At The Château Dick Strawbridge and his exuberant wife Angel tell how they fell for a 19th-century down-on-its-luck-chateau with sagging ceilings and poor plumbing, never expecting that their renovation journey would attract three million viewers of the hit Channel 4 series, Escape to the Château. (Orion, €14.70).
Love in Five Acts by Daniela Krien is a German bestseller in which five loosely interlinked women fall in and out of love while attempting to keep their family, careers and selves afloat. Krien’s flat calm voice is both soothing and shocking as she guides her characters through love, marriage and affairs that often end abruptly. (MacLehose Press, €17.40).
A painful mother-daughter relationship is explored in My Phantoms (Granta, €15) a slim, unsparing novel from British writer Gwendoline Riley. Academic Bridget makes duty visits to her mother, Hen, who is lonely and ailing in her unsuitable flat surrounded by newspaper piles and boxes she’s never unpacked. Increasingly, Bridget has to make room for her and the uncomfortable memories of their fragile early family life.
Boy 11963: An Irish Industrial School Childhood and an Extraordinary Search for Home (Hachette, €17.40) is a well-timed publication given the recent revelations around mother and baby homes – John Cameron’s story is beautiful and desperately sad in its detail. At five months old, Cameron was abandoned in an orphanage; at three he was fostered to a totally unsuitable couple, at eight he was sent to Artane Industrial School where his number provides the title for the book. The consolation for readers is that Cameron survived it all to discover his true history and to have a loving family of his own.
In The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym, American biographer Paula Byrne turns her attention to the low-key English writer who has gained a quiet almost cult-like following since her death in 1980, three years after she was nominated for the Booker Prize. Encapsulating, as one critic put it, the essence of the England’s “Linoleum Years” (the 1950s) Pym’s novels are mainly set in suburban London or country villages peopled by vicars, spinsters, academics and titled widows. Byrne delves into letters and diaries to discover the essence of Pym herself. (William Collins, €21.94).
Anne Griffin’s debut When All Is Said sold an impressive 120,000 copies. Now comes Listening Still, (Sceptre, €16.30) a highly original story about a family-run undertaking business where both father and daughter can converse with the dead and sort out their problems, posthumously.
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