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Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Carter’s Nights at the Circus - there’s no denying that fiction of a magic realist bent is among the finest of the modern era. But creating credible, impactful magic realism - the melding of real-world settings and characters with mythic, magical or fantastical elements, is no mean feat. Making magic believable - making magic make sense in a real world - requires a conjuror’s verve and skill.
Talking of which, many celebrated women writers have used the genre to conjure potent feminist-minded fiction, such as the mischievously rebellious stories and novellas of surrealist artist Leonora Carrington, and Angela Carter’s piercingly powerful vaudevillian tales. In these women’s hands, the mixing of magic with reality has a deliciously subversive effect. Then there’s the incomparable French writer Sylvie Germain, whose elegant, elemental novels are among my all-time favourites. Haunting siblings with gold-specked eyes. An abusive ogre avenged by an embodiment of Eurydice and Medusa. A spectral weeping woman shuffling the streets of Prague - the otherworldliness of Germain’s work combines with her real-world settings to create stories that get to the heart of the human condition, often exploring history too - Franco-Prussian conflicts, the Holocaust, the Algerian War.
The genre is also often used to cook-up piquant political allegories, as happened during its 1960s heyday. In this era, the Latin American region saw a surge in trailblazing magic realist literature written against a backdrop of very real political turmoil and volatility - One Hundred Years of Solitude was born from this. More recently, Neil Gaiman’s awe-inspiring American Gods uses magic realism to examine American identity through an epic story that sees neglected old gods vie with newer incarnations.
Another personal contemporary favourite is The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey in which the author remodels mermaid mythology to tell a magnificently unique love story while also exposing colonial abuses of the indigenous Taíno people of the Caribbean. With its sex-obsessed sprite who sends a marriage spinning, Roffey’s novella The Tryst is also highly recommended, as is Robbie Arnott’s Tasmania-set Flames - a strange, enthralling story that reels with the raw, real experiences of its carnivalesque characters.
Featuring celebrated classics and unsung treasures, the books in this collection show how magic realist word-conjurors can reveal worldly truths with potent effect.
On My Bookshelf by Isabel Allende...One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez is arguably the best Latin Americannovel ever written. I found characters that seemed to have escaped from my crazy family – the voice of my grandfather, the history of my continent, and much, much more.
Fifty-one years, nine months and four days have passed since Fermina Daza rebuffed hopeless romantic Florentino Ariza's impassioned advances and married Dr Juvenal Urbino instead. During that half-century, Flornetino has fallen into the arms of many delighted women, but has loved none but Fermina. Having sworn his eternal love to her, he lives for the day when he can court her again. When Fermina's husband is killed trying to retrieve his pet parrot from a mango tree, Florentino seizes his chance to declare his enduring love. But can young love find new life in the twilight of their lives?
A short, 96-page novella of a ninety-year old columnist reflecting on his life and sexual powers as he prepares for a rather special night of paid-for sex. By the time he was fifty he had slept with 514 such women, after that he stopped listing them for the quantity dwindled and he could remember each without referring to paper. I had suspected this short work might have been a catalogue of sexual encounters which, in his exquisite prose, could not become repetitive as some sex memoirs do, but no, what Marquez has done is touch the nerve of old age. It is beautiful.Comparison: Paulo Coelho, Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel.Similar this month: Haruki Murakami.
One of Carol Drinkwater's favourite books. May 2011 Guest Editor Carol Drinkwater on The House of the Spirits... Since discovering this book, I have bought every Allende, but for me this remains her finest. It recounts the horrors of living under Pinochet’s regime in Chile. At the heart is a family’s story. Allende paints a world that is magical, epic, heartrending, harrowing. A masterpiece. The Lovereading view... Spanning four generations, Isabel Allende's family saga is populated by an often eccentric cast of characters. Together, men and women, spirits, the forces of nature and of history, converge in a brlliantly realised novel.
July 2013 Guest Editor Cath Staincliffe on Beloved... Probably the most powerful book I’ve ever read. Morrison gives us a searing indictment of slavery and racism in a beautifully written and harrowing story about a woman and her children haunted by a child ghost in the aftermath of the American civil war. This was one of those novels that made me desperate to try to write myself. A 2011 World Book Night selection. Our Editorial Guru, Sarah Broadhurst, has suggested others book and authors that would be perfect for you to read next or to pass on the recommendation - so your gift will keep on giving enjoyment. Her selection for this title is: Alice Walker. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
Deep in the forests of Moran, far from civilization, live families of woodcutters and shepherds. A remote and beautiful world, it is a place where madness still reigns, murder occurs, and bloody punishments are delivered. What has happened to the body of the sensual and beautiful Catherine Corvol, wife of a rich landowner, killed not out of hatred but an excess of love? Around this central enigma, Germain has created a gothic enchantment, a dazzling rural fantasy rich in angels, obsession, and revenge where the reader is carried forward as much by the lyricism and strangeness of the language as by the macabre and fantastic turns of the plot.
A classic of fantastic literature, Leonora Carrington's The Hearing Trumpet is the occult twin to Alice in Wonderland, published with an introduction by Ali Smith in Penguin Modern Classics. One of the first things ninety-two-year-old Marian Leatherby overhears when she is given an ornate hearing trumpet is her family plotting to commit her to an institution. Soon, she finds herself trapped in a sinister retirement home, where the elderly must inhabit buildings shaped like igloos and birthday cakes, endure twisted religious preaching and eat in a canteen overlooked by the mysterious portrait of a leering Abbess. But when another resident secretly hands Marian a book recounding the life of the Abbess, a joyous and brilliantly surreal adventure begins to unfold. Written in the early 1960s, The Hearing Trumpet remains one of the most original and inspirational of all fantastic novels. Visit our 'Women's Words - 60+ works of feminist-minded fiction' to explore our collection of feminist-minded fiction from around the world, and across centuries.
Like Water For Chocolate tells the captivating story of the De la Garza family. As the youngest daughter, Tita is forbidden by Mexican tradition to marry. Instead, she pours all of her emotions into her delicious recipes, which she shares with readers along the way. When Tita falls in love with Pedro, he is seduced by the magical food she cooks. Unfortunately, he's married to her sister... Filled with recipes, magical realism and bittersweet humour, this charming story of one family's life in turn-of-the-century Mexico has captivated readers all over the world and was made into an award-winning film.
A Maxim Jakubowski selected title. Jane and Bill, a London couple whose relationship is enduring the pressures of time but harbours some element of dissatisfaction, come across Lilah in a pub. She is sex incarnate, a creature of a thousand temptations, and her allure instantly attracts both of them. They invite her back to their home and we are introduced to a veritable bacchanal of an odyssey of sex, taboo-breaking and the most devious of psychological manipulations as seductions follow in quick succession and a point of no return is soon reached. For Lilah is a supernatural sprite and predator intent on dominating both men and women in a runaround dance of emotions, lust and extremes which sees the married couple suffer all the possible permutations from desire to hate as they regress to their primal nature. A curious erotic novel from a prize-winning established novelist hitherto working in different areas of the novel and none the worse for it. ~ Maxim Jakubowski
From the author of The White Woman on the Green Bicycle and Archipelago comes what might be Monique Roffey’s most ambitious and accomplished novel yet. It’s a feat of invention – a brilliant interweaving of mermaid myth and the effects of colonial legacies on modern life. The time and place is 1976 in a small fishing village on the island of Black Conch. David is out strumming his guitar, hoping for a catch when he attracts the attention of Aycaycia, a beautiful woman whom jealous wives cursed to live as a mermaid. Some weeks later Aycaycia is caught by American tourists out on a fishing trip. Seen as source of cash, she’s strung up by them, then rescued by David. While in his care, she begins to transform back into a woman. Blending myth and history, magic and reality, this multi-voiced, multi-textured novel (it features journal excerpts and verse) tells a rich tale of love, jealousy and freedom, exposing racism, oppression and gender inequalities through its otherworldly cloak. Read our 'Book-aneers of the Caribbean' listicle to find more unforgettable books by Caribbean writers. Visit our 'Women's Words - 60+ works of feminist-minded fiction' to explore our collection of feminist-minded fiction from around the world, and across centuries.
February 2009 Debut of the Month. Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Although the title suggests this book is all about Oscar, he is just one out of an array of characters. Oscar’s family believe they have lived under a curse having suffered at the hands of the ruthless dictator of the Dominican Republic. The story follows three generations from the 1930’s, each coping with their struggles in their own way. A fascinating history of the Dominican Republic as well as a family drama.
It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed - within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang. THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE is a fable that reshapes modern fantasy: moving, terrifying and elegiac - as pure as a dream, as delicate as a butterfly's wing, as dangerous as a knife in the dark.
Headline celebrates the 10-year publication anniversary of this extraordinary novel from a storytelling genius. After three years in prison, Shadow has done his time. But as the time until his release ticks away, he can feel a storm brewing. Two days before he gets out, his wife Laura dies in a mysterious car crash, in adulterous circumstances. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr Wednesday claiming to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a very strange journey across the States, along the way solving the murders which have occurred every winter in one small American town. But the storm is about to break...
Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2002. Pi’s family is moving their zoo when the boat sinks and 16-year old Pi is left afloat in a lifeboat with four animals that includes a tiger. Up to that point the book is slow to get into but persevere for this unique work is stunning. It’s brutal, hopeful, humorous, philosophical, almost implausible and yet strangely believable. A tale that will remain with you for a very long time and deserves another read. Comparison: Mark Haddon (The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time), Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife), Aravind Adiga (The White Tiger). The Life of Pi is now a major motion picture from Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee and opens in the UK on 20 December 2012.
A very special book indeed, magical in all its senses, which has just won the Hugo Award and the World Fantasy Award for best book. Slow to get into and long, it is written in the style of the period in which it is set, Regency, which I felt added to its charm. It’s about magicians, different strands of magic, highly imaginative with many layers and intricate sub-plots and, despite the dusty language, is totally compelling. A highly intelligent alternative history which I urge you to read and become totally hooked. If you are interested click here to visit the publishers site. Comparison: Charles Palliser, Glen David Gold, Iain Pears.To view a reading guide for this title click here
Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the very moment of India's independence. Greeted by fireworks displays, cheering crowds, and Prime Minister Nehru himself, Saleem grows up to learn the ominous consequences of this coincidence. His every act is mirrored and magnified in events that sway the course of national affairs; his health and well-being are inextricably bound to those of his nation; his life is inseparable, at times indistinguishable, from the history of his country. Perhaps most remarkable are the telepathic powers linking him with India's 1,000 other midnight's children, all born in that initial hour and endowed with magical gifts. This novel is at once a fascinating family saga and an astonishing evocation of a vast land and its people-a brilliant incarnation of the universal human comedy. Twenty-five years after its publication, Midnight's Children stands apart as both an epochal work of fiction and a brilliant performance by one of the great literary voices of our time.
It's 1899 and all of Europe is agape at the arrival of the new century! The world crackles with possibilities - and its people dance to the irresistible rhythms of money, sex, love and freedom. Swinging above them all is a showbiz sensation; a fierce, vulgar, pant-droppingly sexy trapeze artist called Fevvers. The story charts her unlikely love affair with Walser, a world-weary journalist on a mission to expose her as a fake. Nights at the Circus opened at the Lyric Hammersmith in January 2006. Emma Rice, acclaimed Artistic Director of Kneehigh Theatre (Tristan & Yseult, The Bacchae) directs Angela Carter's great mythic novel. With rising star Natalia Tena as Fevvers (About a Boy, Mrs Henderson Presents and Shared Experience's Bronte & Gone to Earth) and Gisli Orn Gardarsson as Walser (Young Vic's Romeo & Juliet and Woyzeck).
'I started to write short pieces when I was living in a room too small to write a novel in.' So says Angela Carter of this collection, written during a period living in Toyko. These exotic, sensuous stories represent Carter's first major achievement in the short story form. Lush imaginary forests, a murderous puppet show and an expressionistic vision of Japan: each one instantly conjures an atmosphere, dark and luminous in turn, and from the recognisably daring imagination of one of the great twentieth-century stylists.
October 2014 Guest Editor Cecelia Ahern on The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake... I love how Aimee Bender views the world. She has a quirky take on every day life and I find that inspiring. This is about a character who discovers that she has the magical gift of being able to taste peoples’ emotions in the food that they prepare. When she is nine years old she bites into a lemon cake and tastes her mother’s emotions. This is not a gift as her happy mother, tastes of desperation and sadness. The character learns that it can be heartbreaking to know the hidden thoughts and secrets of the people you love and she must learn how to detach herself from the problems of strangers. The Lovereading view... One of our Great Reads you may have missed in 2011. Young Rose, aged 9 when the story opens, finds that she can tell the mood of the person who cooked the food she is eating. It turns out that the rest of her family have some pretty weird traits too but it all seems quite natural – rather as The Time Traveler’s Wife settings seemed natural at the time of reading. So this is not for the literal minded, it’s magical realism beautifully written, a bit sad and very special. A Richard and Judy Autumn Read 2011.
Winner of the Specsavers National Book Awards 'International Author of the Year' 2012. A bewitching tale of heartbreak and hope set in 1920s Alaska. Jack and Mabel have staked everything on making a fresh start for themselves in a homestead 'at the world's edge' in the raw Alaskan wilderness. But as the days grow shorter, Jack is losing his battle to clear the land, and Mabel can no longer contain her grief for the baby she lost many years before. The evening the first snow falls, their mood unaccountably changes. In a moment of tenderness, the pair are surprised to find themselves building a snowman - or rather a snow girl - together. The next morning, all trace of her has disappeared, and Jack can't quite shake the notion that he glimpsed a small figure - a child? - running through the spruce trees in the dawn light. And how to explain the little but very human tracks Mabel finds at the edge of their property? Written with the clarity and vividness of the Russian fairytale from which it takes its inspiration, The Snow Child is an instant classic - the story of a couple who take a child into their hearts, all the while knowing they can never truly call her their own.
If you knew the date of your death, how would you live? It's 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York's Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. The four Gold children, too young for what they're about to hear, sneak out to learn their fortunes. Over the years that follow, the siblings must choose how to live with the prophecies the fortune-teller gave them that day. Will they accept, ignore, cheat or defy them? Golden-boy Simon escapes to San Francisco, searching for love; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician; eldest son Daniel tries to control fate as an army doctor after 9/11; and bookish Varya looks to science for the answers she craves. A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists is a story about how we live, how we die, and what we do with the time we have.
A collection of Kafka's greatest short fiction, translated by Michael Hofmann Kafka's masterpiece of unease and black humour, Metamorphosis, the story of an ordinary man transformed into an insect, is brought together in this collection with the rest of his works that he thought worthy of publication. It includes Contemplation, a collection of his earlier short studies; The Judgement, written in a single night of frenzied creativity; The Stoker, the first chapter of a novel set in America; and an eyewitness account of an air display. Together, these stories, fragments and miniature gems reveal the breadth of his vision, his sense of the absurd, and above all his acute, uncanny wit. Translated with an introduction by Michael Hofmann
Well, this is one seriously addictive and fabulous read. Now that I have finished I feel bereft, exhilarated, and have one humdinger of a book hangover. Set in London, it is 1863 and private detective Bridie Devine is on the case of a stolen child. The prologue hooked me as surely as a fish on a line, I gaped, wondered, and leaned in for more. Descriptions opened with vivid intensity in my mind, creating the most glorious views. There is something about Jess Kidd’s writing that speaks directly to my soul, she knows how to lull, tickle, burn. She created a stinging tension, on a number of occasions leaving me hanging while popping into the past. I have to say that Bridie Devine is one of the most fabulous characters I’ve come across. She has taken up a somewhat boisterous lodging in my mind and she’s more than welcome! Information swirled around, making my thoughts whirl, adding to the torrent that I knew was surely coming. And oh, that ending! Things in Jars is a Victorian detective story with a difference, it crosses genres and set light to my imagination. It has been added to my list of favourite books. Bridie Devine to my list of favourite detectives. Jess Kidd has been confirmed on my list of favourite authors. Things in Jars is LoveReading Star Book, Book of the Month, and Liz Robinson Pick of the Month… Need I say more? Visit our 'Women's Words - 60+ works of feminist-minded fiction' to explore our collection of feminist-minded fiction from around the world, and across centuries.
'Strangely enough, I mistook it for a gentleman at first. Fortunately I had my spectacles with me so I could see it was really a nose.' With this pair of absurd, comic stories Gogol indulges his imagination and delights readers. Introducing Little Black Classics: 80 books for Penguin's 80th birthday. Little Black Classics celebrate the huge range and diversity of Penguin Classics, with books from around the world and across many centuries. They take us from a balloon ride over Victorian London to a garden of blossom in Japan, from Tierra del Fuego to 16th-century California and the Russian steppe. Here are stories lyrical and savage; poems epic and intimate; essays satirical and inspirational; and ideas that have shaped the lives of millions. Nikolay Gogol (1809-1852). Gogol's works available in Penguin Classics are Dead Souls, Diary of a Madman, The Government Inspector & Selected Stories and The Night Before Christmas.
Swearing to his dying mother that he'll find the father he has never met, a certain Pedro Paramo, Juan Preciado sets out across the barren plains of Mexico for Comala, the hallucinatory ghost town his father presided over like a feudal lord. Between the realms of the living and the dead, in fragments of dreams and the nightly whispers of Comala's ghosts, there emerges the tragic tale of Pedro Paramo and the town whose every corner holds the taint of his rotten soul.
Ancient gods and the elemental spirit of an island are interwoven with modern reality in this remarkable debut that begins with a family impoverished by the decline of the sugar cane industry. In the pounding, poetic words of Augie, the father of the household: ”I was once the sugarcane. I was the cane and clacking and the sugar-sweet smoke of the reaping season.” Amidst escalating money struggles, a shiver of sharks save seven-year-old Nainoa from drowning, which the family embrace as a sign from Hawai’i’s ancient gods, especially when Nainoa also seems to have been bestowed with healing powers. Throughout the writing is majestically powerful, from punch-packing phrases that slam you in the gut, to monumental descriptions that rise, crash, roar and swell like Big Island waves, not least when life unravels again after Nainoi – now a young adult - and his siblings leave the island for various parts of the USA. Sister Kaui captures one of the novel’s core themes when, relocated to San Diego, she speaks of being, “A person of here and there, and not belonging in either place.” Meanwhile, in Portland, struggling with his healing gift, and the failings of this gift, Nainoa recalls the shark incident and memories call to him: “Home. Come home.” With its sweeping sense of myth, this multi-voiced family saga is a brilliant, involving exposition of how the places we inhabit also inhabit us at bone-deep level. It rings and rages with the wrath, revival, healing and hope of its characters. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
Vivian is one of life’s outsiders; an orphan oddity adrift from the world, whose parents told her she was a Changeling. She posts her aunt’s ashes to her aunt’s friends, and then to strangers from the phone book. She advertises for a friend who “Must Answer to Penelope: Pennies Need Not Apply.” Against the odds, a Penelope responds, and a bond is formed but still, Vivian wanders Dublin, doing the strange things that make perfect sense to her, but arouse alarm in others and the question, “Is everything, alright?” This charming, unsettling, magical story about loneliness, reaching out, friendship and hope is laced with dark humour and whimsy. It is at once briskly amusing and deeply moving, and makes a marvellous companion to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.
When Levi and Charlotte McAllister’s mother dies, she suffers the post-death fate experienced by many a McAllister woman. After cremation, she re-appears and bursts into flame on the lawn. Fearing his sister is headed for the same end, Levi swears to “bury her whole and still and cold”, which prompts Charlotte to flee southward “towards the bottom of the earth”. What follows is a cleverly twisting story that crackles with intrigue and invention as the lives of an assortment of compelling characters collide. There’s the wildly eccentric coffin maker Levi commissions to make Charlotte’s casket, and the hard-drinking female detective he employs to track her down. There’s the wombat-farmer slipping into insanity, and the young woman who works for him and changes Charlotte’s life. Raw and real, yet also suffused in otherworldly magic, the author has conjured an elemental mythological landscape alongside the true-world Tasmanian setting. I raced through these blistering pages, but this is a book I shall undoubtedly return to.
March 2017 Debut of the Month. This haunting re-telling of the Selkie legend begins on a night when “moonlight silvered everything, casting doubt and shadow”, and a young fisherman, Donald, sees a pod of seals transform into “young women, lithe and graceful”. When they notice him, all but one of the mysterious sisters return to the sea. Now alone, Donald subjects her to a terrible act of violence. “They were maidens, ready for mating,” his mother explains when he brings her home. “You’ve made your bed, and now you must lie in it”. Pregnant with his child, Maihri (as they name her) and Donald are duly married, but convincing the hostile, fearful villagers to accept her otherworldliness is no easy task.While Mairhi shows herself to be brave, bold and able to defend herself, and while Donald is gentle, kind and desperate to atone his wrongdoing, Mairhi’s silent entrapment in a world that is not hers gives this richly eloquent reinterpretation an eerily tragic edge that lingers long after the last page has been turned. Fans of folktale retellings and magic realism will surely welcome this addition to their collections. ~ Joanne Owen A 'Piece of Passion' from the publisher... 'A good proportion of my list falls into the crime/thriller genre, but what defines every book I publish, regardless of its ‘category’, is excellent writing. When I was sent Su Bristow’s Sealskin, I was, quite simply, blown away. With exquisite grace, mesmerising descriptions and insights, and some of the most entrancing, beautiful prose I have ever read, Su retells the legend of the selkies, bringing it into the modern day and examining its multifold layers. At the heart of this story is a shocking act of violence, and yet Su manages to create a deep and powerful love story from the horror, to provide redemption for her characters, to express the real meaning of healing, forgiveness, community and family. It is a book that you will cherish, with passages you will underline. You will be breathless as you read it, and reach for the tissues when the final, heartbreaking scenes are played out. You will remember this book. Sealskin really is that good, and Su Bristow is undoubtedly one of the most talented authors of our generation.' ~ Karen Sullivan, Orenda Books Click here to read a Q&A with Su Bristow.
October 2014 Guest Editor Cecelia Ahern on The Night Circus... A circus arrives without warning, no announcements preceed it. It opens at nightfall closes at dawn. I felt like I went on an epic and wild adventure when I read this book. It was so full of magic and love, it was unique and thrilling and so incredibly imaginative. It is a wow of a book. The Lovereading view... Longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012. Shortlisted for the Galaxy International Author of the Year Award 2011. A feast for the senses, a fin-de-siecle fantasia of magic and mischief, and the most original love story since The Time Traveler's Wife , The Night Circus is an extraordinary blend of fantasy and reality. It will dazzle readers young and old with its virtuoso performance, and who knows, they might not want to leave the world it creates.
Beautiful, magical and moving, this is a Skellig for a new generation, from the author of The Bone Sparrow, shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal 2017 and the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2016. The Lovereading Review will follow shortly.
April 2018 Debut of the Month | In a Nutshell: Falling Angels | Rising Hope | Falling in Love Compelling magic realist debut in which a fallen angel named Teacake helps heal a teen girl’s grief. Across the world angel-like Beings are falling from the sky. Their winged bodies seep golden blood on impact with the earth, and then they die. In the aftermath of the first sightings, the world exploded in an apocalyptic frenzy, yielding religious cults and angel-exploiting money-makers. Alongside this, Jaya is also dealing with a personal apocalypse – the sudden death of her mother. While Jaya struggles with her guilt-ridden grief, and with losing contact with Leah, the best friend who might also have been her girlfriend, she’s also irritated by her dad’s fanatical angel-chasing. But, as things turn out, it’s Jaya who’s there when an angel falls, and, for the first time, this angel survives. Angels don’t exist in Jaya’s mum’s Hindi religion so she pushes aside any thoughts that this is somehow a sign. But amidst the frenzy of the Edinburgh festival and the aggressive fanaticism of the Standing Fallen cult, Jaya does everything she can to protect this shimmering rose-gold Being from harm. The angels are never explained, or fully understood, but that isn’t necessary, for this isn’t about hard scientific facts, this is about matters of the soul. It’s a charming debut, radiant with humanity and heart.
In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado's engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing experience with a charismatic but volatile woman, this is a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Each chapter views the relationship through a different lens, as Machado holds events up to the light and examines them from distinct angles. She casts a critical eye over legal proceedings, fairy tales, Star Trek and Disney villains, as well as iconic works of film and fiction, infusing all with her characteristic wit, playfulness and openness to enquiry. The result is a powerful book that explodes our ideas about what a memoir can do and be.
Set in the early 1900s as the Virgin Islands shift from Danish to American rule, this is a sublime and thought-provoking novel. An epic family saga suffused in the islands’ complex history, and the strange magic of two sisters – Anette, who can see the future, and Eeona who possesses an extraordinary siren-like beauty. “Men will love me. It is the magic I have,” she remarks. Orphaned by the sinking of a ship, this captivating novel follows the sisters through sixty years. As they experience births, deaths, losses, loves, conflicts (and curses), sweeping change swells through their St Thomas homeland, shifting the sands around race and the land ownership. While their half-brother Jacob experiences institutionalised racism in the US Army, and witnesses segregation and the start of the Civil Rights Movement, back on the island Americans are busy buying up land and privatising beaches, giving rise to clashes between locals and incomers. It’s hard to believe this is Yanique’s debut. The writing is spellbinding, assured and invokes a desire to return to its world, and its themes are vitally important, not least the very relevant issue of outsiders making prime - and formally public - land inaccessible to locals. Read our 'Book-aneers of the Caribbean' listicle to find more unforgettable books by Caribbean writers. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
Beginning in rural Jamaica in the late 1950s with the island on the verge of independence from Britain, A Tall History of Sugar is an all-consuming story of love, history and self-determination whose author, Curdella Forbes, possesses a majestic ability to evoke the big from the small. Rich details of dialogue, of time and place, of inner states and the outer world, intermesh with a sweeping sense of history, with its pertinent opening line referencing the state of contemporary Britain: “Long ago, when teachers were sent from Britain to teach in the grammar schools of the West Indian colonies (it was Great Britain then, not Little England, as it is now, after Brexit and the fall of empire)…” At the heart of this mythic tale is Moshe, whose appearance and biblical discovery as a baby in a twist of sea grape trees shrouds him in mystery, and elicits much mockery and fear. “With his pale skin, one sky-blue eye and one dark-brown eye…people said the boy just looked like sin. Big sin at work when he was made.” After spending his first years in the company of the childless woman who found him, Moshe forms an unbreakable bond with fellow outsider Arrienne. At school, “with the large girl sitting silently beside him, he felt that he would die of happiness.” While both Arrienne and Moshe excel in their studies, artistically gifted Moshe leaves his politically-engaged soul mate and arrives in England during the hot, fractious summer of 1976, where he hopes to find his birth father. His search takes him from Brixton, borough with a “thousand faces”, to Bristol, where he encounters the incongruity of former slave-owners being celebrated as hero philanthropists, with the urge to be close to Arrienne remaining a constant draw through all his experiences. Complex, compelling and luminously lyrical, this tells a powerful tale I know I’ll return to over and over. Read our 'Book-aneers of the Caribbean' listicle to find more unforgettable books by Caribbean writers. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
The narrator, Azaro, is an abiku, a spirit child, who in the Yoruba tradition of Nigeria exists between life and death. He is born into a world of poverty, ignorance and injustice, but Azaro awakens with a smile on his face. Nearly called back to the land of the dead, he is resurrected. But in their efforts to save their child, Azaro's loving parents are made destitute. The tension between the land of the living, with its violence and political struggles, and the temptations of the carefree kingdom of the spirits propels this latter-day Lazarus's story. Despite belonging to a spirit world made of enchantment, where there is no suffering, Azaro chooses to stay in the land of the Living: to feel it, endure it, know it and love it. This is his story.
Jess, the eight year old daughter of a Nigerian mother and an English father, feels ostracised but is blessed with a vivid imagination. On holiday in Nigeria she meets a girl of her own age, a kindred spirit, perhaps an imaginary friend or her dead twin. I’m not telling you, suffice to say the relationship takes some interesting twists in a challenging read.Comparison: Zadie Smith, Diana Evans, Donna Daley-Clarke.Similar this month: None but try John Bennett. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers. To view a reading guide for this title click here
Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
Everything changes for rural lad Emmett Farmer when a gloriously grouchy wise woman compels him to be her bookbinding apprentice. While this line of work is generally shrouded in superstitious fear, Emmett is shocked when his mentor explains that they “don’t make books to sell, boy. Selling books is wrong”. Rather, their gothically intriguing trade involves binding unwanted memories into books: ”Whatever people can’t bear to remember. Whatever they can’t live with. We take those memories and put them where they can’t do any more harm”. Most clients are wealthy; well-to-do gentlemen who have their servants and wives bound so they forget what wrongs their masters and husbands have done to them. No wonder then, that Emmett is horrified to discover a book bearing his own name, and so a tempestuous tangle of secrets unfurls. The novel is also fragrantly spiced with witty references to literary history and the novel as an art form: “It makes one wonder who would write them [novels]. People who enjoy imagining misery, I suppose. People who have no scruples about dishonesty”. Yet through the duplicity of her exquisitely crafted characters, and luminous storytelling, this novel’s author reveals truths of the human spirit in a most entertaining and absorbing fashion.
WINNER OF A BETTY TRASK AWARD 2016 SHORTLISTED FOR THE AUTHORS' CLUB BEST FIRST NOVEL AWARD 2016 FINALIST FOR THE LOCUS FIRST NOVEL AWARD 2016 An International Bestseller / A Guardian Summer Read / An Amazon Best Book of the Month / A Goodreads Best Book of the Month / A Buzzfeed Summer Read / A Foyles Book of the Month / A Huffington Post Summer Read / A Yorkshire Post Book of the Week In 1883, Thaniel Steepleton returns to his tiny flat to find a gold pocketwatch on his pillow. When the watch saves Thaniel's life in a blast that destroys Scotland Yard, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori - a kind, lonely Japanese immigrant. Meanwhile, Grace Carrow is sneaking into an Oxford library, desperate to prove the existence of the luminiferous ether before her mother can force her to marry. As the lives of these three characters become entwined, events spiral out of control until Thaniel is torn between loyalties, futures and opposing geniuses.
Oh how I adored this beautifully crafted and thought-provoking magic realist novel. The Thief on the Winged Horse sits in the real-world as we know it and contains an additional touch of magic. It also sways between genres including crime and relationship, yet feels as believable as can be. A world-famous doll making family is thrown into turmoil when their most valuable doll is stolen. These are dolls that can convey a single emotion to the person who holds them. Only the men in the Kendrick family know how to add the charm, only a Kendrick would know how to take the doll. Kate Mascarenhas adds mysterious layer upon layer to this novel, building an exquisite story. I immediately felt at home, the magic wasn’t meticulously explained, it was just there, sitting almost quietly in the background. This is a book where the world is known, but the enchantment isn’t, and my mind soared as I pondered and explored. I think it would make a perfect read for anyone wanting to take the first step into science fiction and fantasy novels. Multi-faceted, challenging, and entirely captivating, The Thief on the Winged Horse is a truly lovely read.
Deceptively simple, and simply lovely, this thoroughly modern yet ancient fairy tale both stings and enchants with its themes of superstition and prejudice. Edith is being forced to marry the village butcher, when in fact she loves and waits for the shepherd to return to her. When the snow falls, Edith stops speaking and listens in her silence as the village begins to change. Sally Gardener (who also wrote The Beauty of the Wolf and An Almond for A Parrot as Wray Delaney) has the most gentle, yet fierce and evocative way with words. I would read one of her novels, no matter what the genre, but she really does excel when magic touches realism. A crystal clear purity spills from the pages while the richly fulfilling storyline heads towards its conclusion. You may well find that a little piece of your heart breaks, yet there is so much to fall in love with in this striking tale. I’ve chosen The Snow Song as one of my Liz Picks of the Month, it’s a book that sits perfectly as winter approaches.