Teenage friendship, small town ennui and a curious new novel by Ottessa Moshfegh – here’s what to expect from the best of this month’s releases, selected by Orna Mulcahy …
Find a sunny, sheltered spot and sit down with summer’s hottest reads. Main featured image via @balzacparis
There’s nothing of the difficult second novel about FACTORY GIRLS, (John Murray, €17.60), Michelle Gallen’s follow-up to her 2020 success, Big Girl, Small Town which had a Derry Girls vibe but with added violence and sex. Now, the Tyrone-born writer is back with a fizzingly good story set in a border town in the run-up to the 1994 IRA ceasefire. School is out and Maeve Murray is dying to escape smalltown life after the death of her sister. Waiting for A Level results, she and her two friends, Caroline and Aoife, take summer jobs in the local shirt factory where the boss is known as Handy Andy, not that Maeve minds in the slightest. She and Caroline move into a dingy flat next to the factory so they can roll out of bed and clock in on the dot of eight while Aoife stays at home with her posh parents and dreams up efficiencies at the factory. Maeve’s attempts to make friends across the divide, or at least get her boss into bed, have both hilarious and sinister consequences as Marching season approaches and violent killings are absorbed by a community well versed in the vocabulary of loss and acceptance.
Another set of teenage girls wait out the summer, this time in the wilds of Alaska in THE SEAPLANE ON FINAL APPROACH (Granta, €15.25), an impressive debut by German writer Rebecca Rukeyser. Mira takes a job as a baker/housekeeper at the Lavender Wilderness Lodge, where she spends her waking hours fantasising about Ed, a taciturn trawlerman she’s met only briefly. Owner Maureen regales guests with stories of her and husband Lew’s start as plucky homesteaders living the self-sufficient dream while fending off killer bears, but cracks appear when Lew falls for another summer helper Erin, while co-worker Polly looks jealously on. The final set of visitors of the season are in for a nasty surprise when emotions, and drink, overwhelm the Lodge.
Aingeala Flannery’s THE AMUSEMENTS (Penguin Sandycove, €15.25) is a collection of interlinked stories set in Tramore, Waterford where the young long to escape and the old rub along with one another until things get desperate. There’s childhood friends Stella Swain and Helen Grant, Stella’s dreadful mother Nancy, Nancy’s exotic neighbour Vonnie Jacobs with her twinkling turquoise eyes and her admirer, butcher Ted Burke. Tramore itself provides sugar pink sunsets and small town ennui in spadefuls.
Look out for NIGHTCRAWLING (Bloomsbury, €19.95), a hot first novel destined for major marketing. Leila Mottley, a Californian poet, was just 17 when she began to write the story of Kiara, a black teen battling to keep a roof over her and her brother Marcus’s head in downtown Oakland. When the rent doubles overnight, Kiara takes to the streets and discovers just how bad the cops are when it comes to women on the margins.
Niamh Mulvey’s debut collection HEARTS & BONES (Picador, €17.60) is series of almost dreamlike stories with a dollop of weird in there. In my favourite, Aoife is attracted to Dar’s dark intensity but then he starts talking almost exclusively through a ventriloquist’s doll called Stuart and the relationship founders. When a good friend persuades Dar to ditch Stuart, it’s not the end of the doll by a long chalk.
If you liked Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, prepare yourself for something very different in her new novel, LAPVONA (Jonathan Cape, €17.60) which is set in a medieval village hit by drought, famine and occult forces. One for the very curious.
Norwegian writer Helene Flood had a hit with The Therapist, a twisty tale about a husband who disappears leaving a trail of lies for his therapist wife to unravel. Her latest domestic thriller THE LOVER (MacLehose Press, €19.95), is centred on the murder of a man in a small apartment block with the police naturally focusing on Rikke, his married lover who lives downstairs. Unfortunately it plods towards a not terribly exciting conclusion though the side plot involving cats is quite intriguing.
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