Orna Mulcahy finds modern love, kind advice and stirring wartime stories in these five delightful books
It’s fair to say that Sally Rooney’s BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU (Faber & Faber, €13.99) is the most hotly anticipated novel of the century so far. Like Conversations with Friends and Normal People, it’s a story about the random connections that alter life’s course in a profound way. Successful writer Alice’s Tinder date Felix slowly falls in love with her, while her best friend Eileen, derailed by an ex, drifts towards her childhood crush Simon. Rooney is skilful as ever at bringing the reader right into her characters’ lives and most vividly into their beds, but the real meat is in the reflective emails between Alice and Eileen which mull luxuriously over such disparate subjects as political conservatism, modernist painting and the shallowness of the literary circuit.
There be monsters in Sarah Gilmartin’s debut novel DINNER PARTY: A TRAGEDY, (Pushkin One, €20), in which Kate gathers her siblings for dinner in memory of their sister. When her guests leave in a hurry, she slips into a haze of memories of a childhood ruled by a bitter tyrannical mother bent on making a champion of at least one of her children. A funny and moving book by a very talented writer.
KILTUMPER, A YEAR IN AN IRISH GARDEN (Bloomsbury, €17.99) finds bestselling novelist Niall Williams and his wife Christine Breen reflecting on the decades since they moved to West Clare to restore Breen’s ancestral cottage. Together, they’ve created a magical garden but the future is uncertain with a wind farm about to be installed close by. As Breen recovers from cancer, their month-by-month account of life in the garden is by turns fearful, wistful and hopeful.
Justine Picardie’s MISS DIOR: A STORY OF COURAGE AND COUTURE (Faber & Faber, €29) uses rare images from the Dior archive to flesh out the story of the couturier’s youngest sister, Catherine, who in wartime France, fell in love with a Resistance leader and joined the movement. Captured by the Germans, tortured and consigned to Ravensbru?ck concentration camp, she survived and lived until 2008, rarely referring to her wartime experiences and instead dedicating herself to cultivating the roses that inspired Dior’s Miss Dior perfume.
Colm Tóibín’s THE MAGICIAN (Viking, €17.69) is a superb fictionalised account of the life of the German Nobel prize-winning writer Thomas Mann (1875–1955), a literary superstar whose novels, such as Buddenbrooks, The Magic Mountain and Death In Venice captured the essence of the German soul even as the country began to embrace extreme nationalism. Mann married a Jewish heiress and had six children, all the while struggling with his homosexuality. Emigrating to America in the 1930s, he watched in horror the unravelling of Germany and the catastrophic effect on his own family. Tóibín could make an old sack interesting and here, with the sweep of early 20th-century Europe and America to explore, he has done wonders.
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