The same could be said of Antoine Wilson’s Mouth to Mouth with its wonderfully unreliable narrator. The premise is a clever one: two men, barely acquainted in college, are stranded by a delayed flight – one a struggling writer on his way to Berlin on a speculative visit to his publisher, the other an urbane art dealer with a story to tell which may or may not be a confession. I particularly enjoyed Wilson’s biting depiction of the art world, the market rather than the art taking centre stage. Properly unputdownable.
Ethan Joella’s A Little Hope comes billed as a series of interlinked stories set in small town Connecticut which revolve around the Tylers who are dealing with a grim cancer diagnosis. ‘Celebrating the grace in everyday life, this powerful debut immerses the reader in a community of friends, family, and neighbours and identifies the ways that love and forgiveness can help us survive even the most difficult of life’s challenges’ say the publishers, boldly comparing the novel to Olive Kitteridge and A Spool of Blue Thread. A little sceptical about that but it certainly sounds worth investigating.
Set in County Waterford, Aingeala Flannery’s The Amusements follows Helen and Stella, their sights set on art college, desperate to escape the small seaside town that attracts tourists nostalgic for happy childhood holidays. ’Following the Grant and Swaine families and their neighbours over three decades, The Amusements is a luminous and unforgettable story about roads taken and not taken – and a brilliantly observed portrait of a small-town community’ says the blurb which sounds right up my alley. I had such an excellent run of Irish women writers last year and I’m hoping for more in 2023.
One of those writers was Audrey Magee whose novel, The Colony, follows two men who make their way to an island, planning to spend the summer there, each with their own very different agenda. Both are caught up in their own concerns, oblivious to their effect on the islanders. Meanwhile, far away in the North, sectarian murders make widows and orphans every day. A powerful novel beautifully expressed, it was longlisted for last year’s Booker, one of only two on my wishlist to make it. The other one was Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, another brilliant Irish writer.
Two paperback short story collections for February, both also by Irish women, the first of which is Wendy Erskine’s Dance Move. Often shot through with a humour that raises a wry smile, Erskine’s stories are snapshots of everyday lives in which characters are faced with a crisis or decision that jolts them, sometimes leaving them irrevocably changed. Quiet and unflashy in their brilliance, they make an impression that deepens as they sink in. I found myself thinking about several of them days after I’d read them.
February’s second paperback collection is Sheila Armstrong’s debut How to Gut a Fish comprising fourteen stories, none more than twenty pages long, each very different from the other. Some are surreal, most are disquieting, all are beautifully expressed. Armstrong’s debut novel is published in May and more than lives up to the promise shown in these stories.
That’s it for February’s first instalment of paperbacks. A click on a title will take you to either to my review or to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more, and if you’d like to catch up with new fiction it’s here and here. Part two soon…