After a solid month of reading Australian fiction for Australian Literature Month, I'm itching to spread my wings a little and read something completely different. There's so many new novels coming out this month that it's a bit hard to decide which book to try first! Here are five novels — two by Irish writers, three by Americans — that have caught my attention...
The Round House by Louise Erdich
Published by Corsair in hardback and ebook (16 May)
"One Sunday in 1988, thirteen-year-old Joe Coutts learns that his mother has been the victim of a brutal attack by a man on their North Dakota reservation. Joe's mother is traumatized and afraid. She takes to her bed, and refuses to talk to anyone. Meanwhile his father, a tribal judge, endeavours to wrest justice from a situation that defies his keenest efforts; and young Joe's moral and emotional landscape shifts on its child's axis. Frustrated, confused and nursing a complicated fury, Joe sets out with his best friends Cappy, Zack and Angus in search of answers that might put his mother's attacker behind bars — and set his family's world straight again. Or so he hopes."
Louise Erdrich is one of those authors who has been on my radar for years, but I'm yet to try any of her work. I like the sound of The Round House — and by all accounts the critics feel the same. In the US it has already won the National Book Award for fiction.
Little Beauty by Alison Jameson
Published by Doubleday Ireland in paperback (9 May)
"Laura Quinn has spent her life on the remote and beautiful Inis Miol Mor — Whale Island — off the west coast of Ireland. After the death of her parents, and faced with the continuing reluctance of her lover, Martin, to marry her, she realises she needs to leave the island for her life really to begin. She accepts a job as a housekeeper with a wealthy couple on the mainland. But a year later, Laura is back, and this time she is not alone. She has at last found the love of her life: a baby son named Matthew. But what sort of life can an unmarried mother have on a remote Irish island in the 1970s? In this complex situation is revealed a picture of a tightly knit community where Laura inevitably comes under pressure to conform to the rules of society."
Doubleday Ireland is a new imprint by Transworld Publishers, which aims to discover new Irish writers. I've already read its first title — Donal Ryan's The Spinning Heart (which I'm yet to review) — and am looking forward to this one.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Published by Hogarth in hardback and ebook (16 May)
"In a snow-covered village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as her father is abducted in the middle of the night by Russian soldiers. Their life-long friend and neighbour, Akhmed, has also been watching, and when he finds Havaa he knows of only one person who might be able to help. For tough-minded doctor Sonja Rabina, it's just another day of trying to keep her bombed-out, abandoned hospital going. When Akhmed arrives with Havaa, asking Sonja for shelter, she has no idea who the pair are and even less desire to take on yet more responsibilities and risk. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja's world will shift on its axis, revealing the intricate pattern of connections that binds these three unlikely companions together and unexpectedly decides their fate."
I've never read anything set in Chechnya and this one appeals even though it doesn't sound like a particularly cheerful story. And the author has an impressive writing pedigree.
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
Published by Bloomsbury in hardback and ebook (23 May)
"1919. Emily Ehrlich watches as two young airmen, Alcock and Brown, emerge from the carnage of the First World War to pilot the very first non-stop transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to the west of Ireland. Among the letters being carried on the aircraft is one which will not be opened for almost a hundred years.
"1998. Senator George Mitchell criss-crosses the ocean in search of an elusive Irish peace. How many more bereaved mothers and grandmothers must he meet before an agreement can be reached?
"1845. Frederick Douglass, a black American slave, lands in Ireland to champion ideas of democracy and freedom, only to find a famine unfurling at his feet. On his travels he inspires a young maid to go to New York to embrace a free world, but the land does not always fulfill its promises for her.
"From the violent battlefields of the Civil War to the ice lakes of northern Missouri, it is her youngest daughter Emily who eventually finds her way back to Ireland. Can we pass from the new world to the old? How does the past shape the future?"
Irish writer McCann achieved extraordinary success with his last novel, Let the Great World Spin, which won the 2009 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and a host of others beside. Expectations for this one are, by all accounts, rather high — and judging by the publicity people at Bloomsbury who thrust a copy of this in my hands a couple of months ago, it's an extraordinarily powerful read. I'll let you know what I think in due course...
Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
Published by Harper Collins in hardback and ebook (9 May)
"When Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at her local Iowa airport, she literally doesn’t recognize him. The once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened? Soon Edison’s slovenly habits, appalling diet, and know-it-all monologues are driving Pandora and her fitness-freak husband Fletcher insane. After the brother-in-law has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: it’s him or me. Rich with Shriver’s distinctive wit and ferocious energy, Big Brother is about fat: why we overeat and whether extreme diets ever really work. It asks just how much sacrifice we’ll make to save single members of our families, and whether it’s ever possible to save loved ones from themselves."
Shriver may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I'm an unashamed fan and have loved everything I've read by her. I love her ferocious mind, her opinionated prose — and her wit.
Please note that the release dates quoted are for the UK and are subject to change.
Are there any on this list that have piqued your interest?