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[champions ballad review]Poetic champions and fiction greats

2021-09-23 04:04 Tag:

  Art imitates life and the novels of 2021 confirm just how true this is. Writers, like everyone else, found themselves confined this year and the result is the recurring leitmotif of family, pervading almost every fiction genre from crime to coming-of-age novels, from historical fiction right through to dystopia. Here are some examples from the leading titles of the new year.

  January

  Billy O’Callaghan’s Life Sentences (Jonathan Cape) is a family saga sweeping from famine Ireland right through to the 1980s. The Push (Penguin) by Ashley Audrain is a psychological thriller about a mother who believes her daughter to be bad, with shades ofWe Need to Talk About Kevin.

  Words to Shape My Name (New Island) by Laura McKenna is a family saga that begins with a former South Carolina slave who lands in revolutionary Ireland.

  In a genre-defying debut, Mrs Death Misses Death (Canongate) by Salena Godden imagines that Death is a black working-class woman who’s sick of her job and needs some company.

  Death also looms in Max Porter’s The Death of Francis Bacon (Faber), the latest piece of Porter word-alchemy inspired by Bacon’s final paintings. A Burning (Scribner) by Megha Majumdar is set in contemporary India and explores themes of class, corruption, prejudice and political extremism.

  February

  Another freed slave who landed in Ireland is Tony Small, the narrator of Neil Jordan’s historical novel The Ballad of Lord Edward and Citizen Small (Lilliput). This is the story of United Irishman Edward Fitzgerald, as told by his African-American manservant.

  The Art of Falling (John Murray) by Danielle McLaughlin sees an art curator’s old life threatening to destroy both her marriage and her career.

  Conor O’Callaghan’s road trip novel We Are Not In the World (Doubleday) focuses on a father’s relationship with his estranged daughter, and another novel exploring the father-daughter relationship is Austin Duffy’s Ten Days (Granta).

  

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  Ciara Geraghty’s Make Yourself at Home (Harper Collins) is about the tensions between a recently divorced daughter and her mother, while family continues as a theme in Catherine Talbot’s debut thriller A Good Father (Penguin), where a model father and husband loses the plot. Heartily endorsed by John Banville.

  March

  Mary Beth Keane’s The Walking People (Penguin) depicts the Irish immigrant experience in 1950s America. Faraway places like Abu Dhabi and Accra feature in Adrian Duncan’s first short story anthology Midfield Dynamo (Lilliput), while a faraway future is the setting for robot Klara, an Artificial Friend who’s not been taught about the solar system in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun (Faber).

  Also set in the future is Sue Rainsford’s Redder Days (Doubleday), a dystopian tale of twins Anna and Adam, dutifully keeping watch for the world’s ending. The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer (Quercus) by Joel Dicker backtracks to the 1990s, an unsolved murder case and the disappearance of a key witness.

  April

  In First Person Singular (Harvill Secker), eight masterly short stories from the pen of Haruki Murakami promise to challenge the boundaries between our minds and the exterior world.

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  John Connolly

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  John Connolly’s new Charlie Parker novel, The Nameless Ones (Hodder & Stoughton) focuses on a hunt for Serbian war criminals and features Louis and Angel, while a very different novel featuring Serbian criminals is Kevin Power’s White City (Scribner), a dark comedy about disinherited rake Ben, mad to make a buck on a dodgy Balkan property deal.

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  Cathy Kelly

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  Cathy Kelly’s latest, Other Women (Orion), explores the merits of singledom versus the ties that bind, while those same ties are excavated in Jon McGregor’s Lean Fall Stand (4th Estate). A veteran Antarctic researcher is left unable to communicate following a disaster on location, and his wife struggles with her new role as his caregiver.

  Caregiving, to her husband James Joyce, was often required of Nora Barnacle and Nuala O’Connor’s novel Nora (New Island) brings Barnacle’s unflinching loyalty and passion to life.

  Anne Griffin’s much-anticipated second novel, Listening Still (Riverrun), is the story of undertaker’s daughter Jeannie Masterson, who has the gift of hearing the dead.

  May

  Psychic dreams are also the gift of Natasha Rothwell in Rachel Donohue’s The Beauty of Impossible Things (Atlantic), until a local teenager goes missing and Natasha finds herself in trouble.

  More psychic dreams, those of Debbie White’s mother Maeve in Louise Nealon’s Snowflake (Manilla Press), threaten to upend Debbie’s new student life.

  Mothers – bad ones – feature in Lisa McInerney’s The Rules of Revelation (John Murray), along with bad journalism and family scandals.

  Family is also important to Somalian petty criminal Mahmood Mattan until he’s accused of murder in Cardiff in the 1950s. Nadifa Mohamed’s The Fortune Men (Penguin) is both a crime thriller and a novel about racial prejudice in post-war Britain.

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  Paula Hawkins

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  Irish migrant Erin Kennedy is accused of the murder of her detective husband in Long Island, 18 months after he jumped to his death, in Jo Spain’s The Perfect Lie (Quercus).

  More migrants, this time in Dubai, find only trouble in Jamie O’Connell’s debut Diving for Pearls (Doubleday), where their dreams of wealth and stability are ultimately destroyed.

  Paul Perry’s The Garden (New Island) deals with similar migrant themes, with Irish garden labourer Swallow caught up in the illegal hunt for a species of ghost orchid in Florida.

  June

  Traditionally June is the month of beach reads and both Roisin Meaney and Felicity Hayes-McCoy deliver this month, Meaney with The Book Club and Hayes-McCoy with The Year of Lost and Found, each published by Hachette.

  West Yorkshire is a long way from the beach but it’s the setting for Stacey Halls’ new slow-burn, Mrs England (Canongate). Mrs England is a wealthy Edwardian wife and the employer of nurse Ruby Mae, who gradually finds herself destined to repeat the history of her past.

  Widowland (Quercus) by the mysterious C J Carey (a nom-de-plume for a well-known historical novelist who’s not revealing their identity) is an alternative post-war history of a Britain that has lost the war and is now ruled by Germany.

  Locations in Ed O’Loughlin’s speculative thriller This Eden (Riverrun) shift from the US to Africa to the Middle East, and finally to Ireland, although the power of technology means there’s never anywhere to hide.

  Hiding family secrets has been the preoccupation of Beth Crowe’s family in Eimear Ryan’s debut Holding Her Breath (Penguin), something Beth only discovers as she embarks on a new life and a new illicit affair.

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  Finally, we’ve to wait until August for A Slow Fire Burning (Doubleday), the incendiary new thriller from Paula Hawkins who gave us that unforgettable Girl on a Train.

  Happy reading.