- 31 Jan 17
From exciting Irish debuts to new releases by international heavy hitters such as Martin Amis, Paul Auster and Joyce Carol Oates, 2017 will be a big year for literary fiction. Olaf Tyaransen selects ten books they’ll all be talking about this year…
Set in 1980s Dublin, the debut novel from actor, screenwriter and former East Village bar-owner Karl Geary tells the story of an unlikely love affair between a teenager named Sonny and a mysterious older woman, Vera Hatton. Her house is on Montpelier Parade: just across town, but it might as well be a different world. Working there on the garden one Saturday with his father, Sonny is full of curiosity. Then the back door eases open and she comes down the path toward him. Vera. Chance encounters become shy arrangements, and soon Sonny is in love for the first time. Casting off his lonely life of dreams and quiet violence for this new, intoxicating encounter, he longs to know Vera, even to save her. But what is it that Vera isn’t telling him? Unfolding in the sea-bright, rain-soaked Dublin of early spring, Montpelier Parade is a beautiful, cinematic novel about desire, longing, grief, hope and the things that remain unspoken. It is about how deeply we can connect with one another, and the choices we must also make alone.
4 3 2 1
Paul Auster’s first novel in seven years is a sweeping and surprising story of birthright and possibility, of love and of life itself. Archibald Isaac Ferguson is born in 1947 (exactly a month after Auster), whereupon he splits into four different people with wildly divergent futures. While athletic skills, sexual preferences, friendships and intellectual passions contrast, all four chase after the same woman… and are all locked in the prison of Archibald’s DNA. As inventive and dexterously constructed as anything Auster has ever written, 4 3 2 1 is a marvellous and unforgettably affecting tour de force.
A LINE MADE BY WALKING
Sara Baume’s follow-up to her superb award-winning debut Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a celebration of the extraordinary in the everyday. Twenty five-year-old Frankie is living in Dublin and working part-time in a public gallery. But increasingly anxious, she quits her bedsit to live in her deceased grandmother’s creaking house in rural Ireland, close to her family. With an artist’s gift for observation, Frankie recounts the beauty and the obliteration of the world as the seasons change around her, from roadkill to kitchen curios, all the while struggling to understand her place in it.
Summer 2009, and 11-year-old Jason Lowry is preoccupied with thoughts of the Da he has never known. In the meantime, his vodka-swilling, swings-from-the-hip Ma is busy entertaining her latest boyfriend and indulging her fondness for joyriding. Jason escapes to the Swamp: a mysteriously rising pool of fetid water on the outskirts of the town. There, he meets the girl, a being as lost as himself, and with even less regard for reality. Together, they conjure exotic adventures – from ancient Egypt to the search for Ithaca, home of Odysseus. But what begins as innocent flights of fancy soon spills into hazardous territory; the girl is a dangerous (and very committed) partner in crime. The darkly comic debut novel from Galway writer Alan McMonagle is the story of how far a lonely boy will go to find what he’s looking for, and how in searching for what we’ve lost, we risk losing sight of what we have.
LIKE OTHER GIRLS
HOT KEY BOOKS
How do you know you’re a girl or a boy? Sixteen-year-old Lauren’s never really cared. She knows there’s more to life than fitting neatly into a tiny box – she’s okay with dressing however she wants, and kissing whoever she wants. Labels are for jars, not for people. Not everyone agrees, of course – her posh all-girls school want them to be Perfect Young Ladies, and her new boyfriend’s friends are super-conservative in comparison to her LGBTQ club crowd. It’s suddenly harder not to be a stereotypical girl when everyone around her is acting like she needs to – and harder still when her best friend comes out as trans, which she knows she’s supposed to be cool with but still feels betrayed by. Claire Hennessy’s second novel is a wryly funny, completely gripping look at sexuality, identity and growing up – all with Hennessy’s trademark wit, intelligence and insight.
HOUSE OF NAMES
Colm Toibin went properly mainstream with his period novel Brooklyn, but House Of Names sees the acclaimed Irish author delving even further into the past (as he did with his novella The Testament of Mary). This time his quarry is ancient myth, and the Greek theatrical cycle of death and vengeance that culminated in the violent, vengeful and lustful crimes of Clytemnestra. In House Of Names, Toibin brings a modern sensibility and language to an ancient classic, and gives this extraordinary character new life, so that we not only believe Clytemnestra’s thirst for revenge, but applaud it. He brilliantly inhabits the mind of one of Greek myth’s most powerful villains to reveal the love, lust and pain she feels.
A BOOK OF AMERICAN MARTYRS
Joyce Carol Oates
In this striking, enormously affecting novel, the hugely prolific Joyce Carol Oates tells the story of two very different and yet intimately linked American families. Luther Dunphy is an ardent Evangelical who envisions himself as acting out God’s will when he assassinates an abortion provider in his small Ohio town, while Augustus Voorhees, the idealistic doctor who is killed, leaves behind a wife and children scarred and embittered by grief. In her moving, insightful portrait, Joyce Carol Oates fully inhabits the perspectives of two interwoven families whose destinies are defined by their warring convictions and squarely – but with great empathy – confronts an intractable, abiding rift in American society. A Book of American Martyrs is a stunning, timely depiction of an issue hotly debated on the national stage, but which makes itself felt most lastingly in communities torn apart by violence and hatred.
ONE STAR AWAKE
The debut novel from award-winning Irish short story writer Andrew Meehan is a fractured fairytale – a funny and touching testament to the highs and lows of self-discovery and love found in unlikely places. As far as everyone can tell, the young heroine of One Star Awake survived some kind of trauma but her memory didn’t. On the day she came to, she was in the kitchen of Parisian restaurant chopping ‘vegitidibbles’ like an absolute pro. She knows she is Irish because she pronounces oil as ‘aisle’ – otherwise she has a defiant lack of curiosity about her own past. Her present is taken care of by her strident boss, Ségo, and her guileless American boyfriend, Lowell. One Good Friday morning she sees a familiar face in a queue in a pâtisserie. She follows the man – whom she christens Eagleback – across Paris’ 11th arrondissement and, over the course of a sticky summer, discovers that they do know each other. Her curiosity starts to grow and she begins to solve the emotional puzzle of how she came to be in Ségo’s restaurant in the first place.
Just moved into a new apartment, alone for the first time in years, Victor Forde goes every evening to Donnelly’s pub for a pint. One evening his drink is interrupted when a man in shorts and a pink shirt brings over his pint and sits down. He seems to know Victor’s name and to remember him from school. Says his name is Fitzpatrick. Victor dislikes him on sight, dislikes too the memories that Fitzpatrick stirs up of five years being taught by the Christian Brothers. He prompts other memories too – of Rachel, his beautiful wife who became a celebrity, and of Victor’s own small claim to fame, as the man who says the unsayable on the radio. But it’s the memories of school, and of one particular Brother, that he cannot control and which eventually threaten to destroy his sanity. Smile has all the features for which Roddy Doyle has become famous: the razor-sharp dialogue, the humour and the superb evocation of childhood – but this is a novel unlike any he has written before.
THE RUB OF TIME
Martin Amis recently revealed that he is writing an autobiographical novel about three other writers who were personal friends and inspirations to him: poet Philip Larkin, novelist Saul Bellow and public intellectual Christopher Hitchens. The theme of the as yet untitled novel will apparently be death, although the date is still to be confirmed. Until that appears, Amis fans will have to content themselves with The Rub of Time, a collection of essays and reportage published between 1986 and 2016. Bellow, Larkin and Hitchens will be covered, alongside pieces on subjects such as Nabokov, Donald Trump, Princess Diana, tennis, Diego Maradona and Jeremy Corbyn.