Thursday, 17 December 2009

Library Loot: the débuts

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.


The Literary Stew said...

I haven't heard of these books. They all sound interesting especially the Rehearsal and An Equal Stillness.

Vasilly said...

I haven't heard of any of these but I'm adding An Equal Stillness to my TBR list. Happy reading.

farmlanebooks said...

I have only read An Equal Stillness, which I didn't enjoy, but I think you might like it more than I did. I look forward to finding out what you think of it, and what your mysterious prize winning book is.

claire said...

I also haven't heard of these books, but like Vasilly, An Equal Stillness appeals. Love stories that have anything to do with visual art as painting used to be my dream career but didn't happen.

verity said...

These sound interesting. The only one I've read is An equal stillness which I enjoyed more than Jackie - so I hope you like it!

JoAnn said...

Haven't read any of these, but have seen some good reviews of An Equal Stillness. I'll look forward to your thoughts!

Aarti said...

I've been really interested in the Zimbabwean one- looking forward to all your reviews, though!

Diane said...

I've only heard of an Elegy for Easterly. Hope u enjoy these.

Vivienne said...

I haven't heard of any of these, but they do sound good. The Rehearsal has really grabbed my attention.

Anonymous said...

Ooooh I have the top two... now I really want the bottom two, especially The Rehearsal!!

I think I know what your prize winning book is and I am very very jealous!

Paperback Reader said...

Astrid, I'm looking forward to them all and they should make interesting reading.

Vasilly, I'll let you know what I think of it soon!

Jackie, I'm interested what I'll think of An Equal Stillness after your review.

Claire, I didn't know that painting used to be your dream career... I understand why books on that subject appeal to you. I also like them; I love art.

Verity, I think I'll probably enjoy An Equal Stillness based on similarities it has with other books that you and I have both enjoyed. I do love books about art and gentle books about relationships.

JoAnn, I look forward to sharing them as always! I'm really excited about this pile.

Thanks, Aarti! An Elegy for Easterly sounds promising and I am intrigued how it deals with the Mugabe regime.

Diane, I hope so too! I hadn't heard of An Elegy for Easterly until this month.

Vivienne, The Rehearsal really grabbed my attention too! I love books that sound remotely controversial and the synopsis reminds me a little of The History Boys by Alan Bennett, which I loved.

Simon, ha - I hope you manage to obtain the bottom two!

Yes, the prize-winning novel is the same one I mentioned on your blog; I highly recommend it and also hope that you acquire a copy of that soon.

minervamouse said...

The Tin Kin is really really good. I read it after DGR's recommendation and was very impressed although it took me a while to get the hang of the language used sometimes.
I found it easier to read some of the dialogue out aloud (though I got some very funny looks while doing so!)
Even several months after finishing it, the story is still in the back of my mind.
An Equal Stillness is in my TBR pile.

Jodie said...

I read 'An Elergy for Easterly' this year and enjoyed it even though I'm not a short story kind of person, although some of the stories were stronger than others. It made me want to take rich, irresponsible Zimbabwean men by the scruff of the neck and shake them.

Thanks for the reminder about 'The Rehersal' by the way, I also heard about it and forgot to write it down.

Paperback Reader said...

Hi minervamouse, thanks for such a positive comment on The Tin-Kin; I'll definitely be reading that next. I'm Scottish so I think I'll probably grasp the language okay!

Jodie, did you review An Elegy for Easterly? I'm looking forward to them; I've read a few short story volumes this year and seem to be getting more and more of a feel for them but, then again, I've read some great short story writers (Mansfield, Adichie, Lahiri).

Looking forward to your thoughts on The Rehearsal! I'm so glad that I was reminded too.

Marg said...

I havent read any of these! Enjoy your loot.

Paperback Reader said...

Thanks, Marg! I'm hoping to read a couple before the year is out.