The start of a new month means there's a crop of new novels to look forward to. Here's five titles, to be published in May, that have caught my attention.
The books have been arranged in chronological order according to publication date.
Two men have been enlisted to kill the head of the Gestapo. This is Operation Anthropoid, Prague, 1942: two Czechoslovakian parachutists sent on a daring mission by London to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich — chief of the Nazi secret services. His boss is Heinrich Himmler but everyone in the SS says 'Himmler's brain is called Heydrich', which in German spells HHhH. All the characters in HHhH are real. All the events depicted are true. But alongside the nerve-shredding preparations for the attack runs another story: when you are a novelist writing about real people, how do you resist the temptation to make things up? HHhH is a panorama of the Third Reich told through the life of one outstandingly brutal man, a story of unbearable heroism and loyalty, revenge and betrayal. It is improbably entertaining and electrifyingly modern, a moving and shattering work of fiction.
I'm intrigued by this novel, translated from the French by Sam Taylor, not least because it sounds dark and disturbing (my favourite kind of fiction) but because it won the prestigious Prix Goncourt du premier roman and the Prix des Lecteurs du Livre de Poche.
Michael Frayn's Skios
Faber and Faber, hardcover, 288 pages (May 3)
On the sunlit Greek island of Skios, the Fred Toppler Foundation's annual lecture is to be given by Dr Norman Wilfred, the world-famous authority on the scientific organisation of science. He turns out to be surprisingly young and charming — not at all the intimidating figure they had been expecting. The Foundation's guests are soon eating out of his hand. So, even sooner, is Nikki, the attractive and efficient organiser. Meanwhile, in a remote villa at the other end of the island, Nikki's old school-friend Georgie waits for the notorious chancer she has rashly agreed to go on holiday with, and who has only too characteristically failed to turn up. Trapped in the villa with her, by an unfortunate chain of misadventure, is a balding old gent called Dr Norman Wilfred, who has lost his whereabouts, his luggage, his temper and increasingly all normal sense of reality — everything he possesses apart from the flyblown text of a well-travelled lecture on the scientific organisation of science...
I've only ever read one Frayn novel — the delightfully fun Towards the End of the Morning — and this new one sounds like a terrific farce. I do love reading stories about nightmare vacations!
An angry and self-loathing veteran of the Korean War, Frank Money finds himself back in racist America after enduring trauma on the front lines that left him with more than just physical scars. His home — and himself in it — may no longer be as he remembers it, but Frank is shocked out of his crippling apathy by the need to rescue his medically abused younger sister and take her back to the small Georgia town they come from, which he's hated all his life. As Frank revisits the memories from childhood and the war that leave him questioning his sense of self, he discovers a profound courage he thought he could never possess again. Toni Morrison's deeply moving novel reveals an apparently defeated man finding his manhood — and, finally, his home.
Shock, horror, but I've never read anything by Toni Morrison despite having several of her earlier novels in my TBR. This new one sounds particularly interesting — and maybe it's the place to start for me?
A compelling novel of desire, secrecy, and sexual identity, In One Person is a story of unfulfilled love — tormented, funny, and affecting — and an impassioned embrace of our sexual differences. Billy, the bisexual narrator, tells the tragicomic story (lasting more than half a century) of his life as a "sexual suspect," a phrase first used by John Irving in 1978 — in his novel The World According to Garp. In One Person is a poignant tribute to Billy's friends and lovers — a theatrical cast of characters who defy category and convention. Not least, In One Person is an intimate and unforgettable portrait of the solitariness of a bisexual man who is dedicated to making himself "worthwhile".
I went through an Irving phase in my early 20s and read The World According to Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire, but I've not read anything since then. I've gone off American novels in recent years, but I'm prepared to make an exception for this one, probably because it sounds so unconventional.
Nell Leyson's The Colour of Milk
Fig Tree, hardcover, 176 pages (May 31)
The year is eighteen hundred and thirty one when 15-year-old Mary begins the difficult task of telling her story. A scrap of a thing with a sharp tongue and hair the colour of milk, Mary leads a harsh life working on her father's farm alongside her three sisters. In the summer she is sent to work for the local vicar's invalid wife, where the reasons why she must record the truth of what happens to her — and the need to record it so urgently — are gradually revealed.
I heard Nell read some of this book at an evening arranged for British-based bloggers by Penguin earlier this year and her voice — in a strong West Country accent — was just mesmerising. It also helps that the proof edition is an irresistible size — it's tiny small enough to fit in the palm of my hand.