If I stick to my resolve, this will be the last library loot I shall be posting about for a while as I attempt to tackle the overwhelming to-be-reads. Coincidentally these books are all débuts by female writers, three novels and one collection of short stories. I requested the top one, which reminded me to request the second one (both won first book awards, the Guardian and Orange, respectively) and the bottom two both come highly recommended.
An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah won the Guardian first book award 2009 earlier this month. Synopsis (from the publisher Faber and Faber): In her spirited debut collection, Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah brings us the resilience and inventiveness of the people who struggle to live under Robert Mugabe’s regime. Despite their circumstances, the characters in An Elegy for Easterly are more than victims; they are all too human, with as much capacity to inflict pain as they have to endure it. They struggle with larger issues common to all people everywhere: failed promises, unfulfilled dreams and the yearning for something to anchor them to life.
An Equal Stillness by Francesca Kay won the 2009 Orange Award for New Writes prize. Synopsis (from the publisher Orion): Jennet Mallow is born in Yorkshire in the 1920s but her interest in art and creativity alienates her from her family, her father who is a priest, her conventional sister and her emotionally stunted mother. Jennet moves to London in search of a more exciting life and finds it in her new environment and in the handsome and enigmatic figure of the painter David Heaton. When Jennet falls pregnant, her parents more or less force the two to marry. In the postwar austerity of the 1940s, the young couple struggles to make ends meet and Jennet finds that her home life is gradually eroding everything she has fought to achieve. Aware that David is becoming increasingly reliant on drink and tired of the dank and drab bedsit in which they live, Jennet suggests they move to Spain. There, the bright blue skies, warm air and sunlit beaches give the couple and their children a new lease of life. Jennet begins to paint again and an agent takes an interest in her work. But as Jennet's own career begins to take off, her relationship with David sours and the two enter a destructive spiral with tragic consequences.
The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton is a book that I first came aware of a few months ago but allowed it to fall off my radar until a couple of bookish friends on Twitter reminded me about it when they named it as their favourite read of 2009 last week. Synopsis (from the publisher Granta): A high-school sex scandal jolts a group of teenage girls into a new awareness of their own potency and power. The sudden and total publicity seems to turn every act into a performance and every platform into a stage. But when the local drama school decides to turn the scandal into a show, the real world and the world of the theater are forced to meet, and soon the boundaries between private and public begin to dissolve. The Rehearsal is an exhilarating and provocative novel about the unsimple mess of human desire, at once a tender evocation of its young protagonists and a shrewd expose of emotional compromise.
The Tin-Kin by Eleanor Thom comes highly recommended by dovegreyreader and I am annoyed that it has taken me to the very end of the year to actually get around to borrowing the book, let alone reading it. However, upon discovering that Thom graduated with her Master's in Creative Writing from my alma mater, the University of Glasgow, I think I will be reading this next. The synopsis (provided by the publisher Duckworth) cements by desire to read it: When her aunt Shirley dies, Dawn finds herself back in her claustrophobic home town in Northern Scotland for the first time in years. She spends her days caring for her small daughter, listening to tapes of old country songs and cleaning Shirley’s flat, until one day she comes across the key to a cupboard that she was forbidden to open as a child. Inside she finds an album of photographs, curling with age. A young couple pose on a beach, arms wrapped around each other; little girls in hand-me-down kilts reveal toothless smiles; an old woman rests her hands on her hips, her head thrown back in blurry laughter. But why has her aunt treasured these pictures secretly for so long? Dawn’s need for answers leads her to a group of Travellers on the outskirts of Elgin. There she learns of a young man left to die on the floor of a cell, and realises that the story of her family is about to be rewritten... Weaving between narratives and decades, The Tin Kin is a beautiful moving novel about love, hardship and the lies and legends that pass between generations. It is a striking, unforgettable debut.
Never have I read so much new fiction in the one year, least of all new writers, as I have in 2009. Next week I shall be reviewing an astonishing début -also a prize-winner- and easily one of my favourite books of the year (a list of those will appear before the end of the year).
Have you read any of these or do any appeal?
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg encouraging library use and its promotion.