5 Big Books for 2019

I love reading – I am what they call a voracious reader, typically reading thirty-plus books a year. I think I would have read more had it not been for the typical end-of-year malaise.

 

There’s about 2-3 months where I traditionally don’t read very much at all. But then comes the countdown to the end of the year where everyone starts talking about their favourite books.

 

(Shameless plug: In case you missed it, did mine here)

 

Seeing everyone talk so passionately about books, talking about my own favourite books always starts to reignite my own passion. And then I think about all the brilliant books still to come next year.

 

One of the best things about working in the publishing industry is that I get my grubby paws on all the best books a little bit early. I’ve spoken about some of them already, but here are five books to look out for in 2019 – some of them I’ve read, some of them I haven’t:

 

Starting – in alphabetical order – with:

 

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson – published in June by Doubleday

 

You might remember that last January I chose Atkinson’s Transcription as one of my ones to look out for in 2018. It received much critical acclaim when it was published, and while I enjoyed it, there was something missing. The writing was there, the research was clearly there, but for the most part I didn’t connect with it in the same way I have with previous Atkinson novels.

 

However, 2019 brings not just a new Kate Atkinson – but a new Jackson Brodie novel. I love these books, but we haven’t seen a new one since 2010. These are crime novels that I wish I could write. They are more character-led than the traditional police procedural, but that’s not to say they’re gentle.

 

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams – published in in April by Trapeze

 

This is an incredible novel – It’s funny, but feels heartbreakingly real. Queenie is a young black woman trying to navigate her way through a mini-crisis of self. Who is she? Where does she belong in this world? Does she even like herself?

 

In short, she’s suffering from all the things we all suffer from, but for me it was the insights into her views on race that really made this book for me. It’s not the big moments, but the small ones, ones where I’m offended on her behalf but Queenie simply shrugs them off as normal.

 

It helped me see our society in a new way, and helped make Queenie feel so vivid and real that I was rooting for her all the way through.

 

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides – published in February by Orion

 

Completely different to the first two selections, this sees Theo Faber trying to treat a patient who hasn’t spoken a word since she shot her husband dead. This is a fast-moving thriller that kept me guessing all the way to the end.

 

It’s due to be turned into a movie, which intrigues me as I’m not sure how they’ll do it, but I can’t say any more. This is a tired old cliché that nobody in books uses any more… but it could be the next Gone Girl

 

Daisy Jones and The Six by Tyler Jenkins Reid – published in March by Hutchinson

 

This book is brilliant. It’s the transcript of a documentary that explores the rise, peak and subsequent fall of rock band The Six. They’re a fictional band but you could be forgiven for googling them to double check. It all feels so real.

 

Its structure is unusual, but it’s so effective and easy to get into that I wouldn’t be surprised if we started seeing a lot more stories told in this way. There has got to be a film of this one and I can’t wait to hear the music that comes from it.

 

Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce – published in February by Wildfire

 

LOVED this. For me, this felt like the perfect balance of psychological and legal thriller. Alison is a QC on her first case, a murder case where – typically – all is not necessarily as it seems.

 

However, the case merely serves as a backdrop to Alison’s crumbling relationship with her husband and an illicit, destructive affair with a colleague. I know I’ve just said this about Daisy, but this could become one of my favourite books of 2019.

 

 

 

I’m excited for all of these, the ones I’ve read to see them land in everyone else’s hands, and the ones that I’m yet to read. Most of all, though, I’m excited to read all the books I don’t yet know about (I think I said this last year!).

 

Happy reading!

A(nother) Review: A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

You know what it’s like, you wait three years for a new John Boyne novel, and then suddenly it’s an annual event.

I was still recommending and thinking about The Heart’s Invisible Furies when a copy of his 2018 offering – A Ladder to The Sky – fell onto my desk. I wasn’t expecting it – after such an excellent piece like Furies, I thought we’d have to wait a couple of years before the next one.

A Ladder to The Sky is a novel about never-ending ambition. The type of ambition that makes you keep on going, setting a new goal every time you reach your previous. Where does it stop… and how much are you willing to do to get there?

At first, I noticed the similarities to The Heart’s Invisible Furies – A Ladder to the Sky at first seems to be a story about an older gay man retelling the story of his life, similar to the way we explored Cyril Avery’s life, however it soon becomes apparent that this is a tale not about the storyteller, but about the listener, Maurice Swift.

The way that Erich Ackermann talks about the young man, it’s impossible not to fall in love with him. And that’s exactly what Ackermann does.

A Ladder to the Sky is a slow exploration into Maurice Swift’s character. It starts off told from afar, each viewpoint getting closer and closer to the truth of who Swift really is.

Boyne’s writing is so clever, he makes us fall in love with Swift, and so quickly, then starts to peel away his layers like an onion. Each of those layers reveals a reason not to love Swift, and all the way through, no matter what terrible thing we learn, it’s difficult not to still harbour a fondness, a certain admiration for Swift.

Even at his most terrible, I found it hard not admire his determination, his self-belief.

I wrote down a few of my favourite lines, either brilliantly written or a nice observation:

Just because one is homosexual does not mean one is lonely.

 

What is loneliness other than the lack of love?

 

Perhaps it would be a good idea if everyone just stopped writing for a couple of years and allowed readers to catch up

 

Perhaps the person I admire most here, though, is John Boyne himself. He takes a complex life, explores it over many years, interacts with many characters and still manages to tie up all the loose strands – if not into a perfectly, resolved bow, then into a close knot.

A brilliant novel from a man who is fast becoming one of my favourite novelists.

A Ladder to the Sky is published by Doubleday and is available now

A(nother) Review: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

             One of the problems of being vocal about having a favourite book is that often people give you books that ‘you’ll love – it’s just like A Little Life’.

 

Here’s the thing, if I wanted to read a book just like A Little Life, I’d just read A Little Life – anything else runs the risk of just being a pale imitation.

 

So when two people suggested I read The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne for that very reason, I was pretty skeptical. When the person who I share my love of A Little Life told me it was nothing like it, my skepticism turned to indifference and the book was placed onto the windowsill of perpetuity. So-called because once a book ends up on there, it can take some time before I take it off – if I ever do.

 

However, I did promise to read it while on a break from work, and in truth, it was the perfect time. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is quite a tome at over six hundred pages long, so with a fortnight of downtime looming, I thought I had just the right opportunity.

 

As it was, I didn’t need a fortnight.

 

The Heart’s Invisible Furies tells the story of Cyril Avery from just before birth, right through to his seventieth year in 2015.

 

Cyril is the result of an affair between Catherine and an older man, a scandal in her hometown of Goleen. The parish priests of Ireland in 1945 didn’t look too kindly on children born out of wedlock and Catherine was banished from her village.

 

In Dublin, Catherine gives up her child and gains a job at the Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament. Cyril is given to an odd couple – the Avery’s – who seem to have only wanted a child in the same way that a person might want an ornament for their shelf.

 

We check in with Cyril every seven years of his life, and each part seems to be a self contained story – this is similar to how A Little Life is constructed, which, at times feels like lots of small stories sewn together.

 

However in most other elements, it is quite different. A Little Life was timeless, no doubt a modern day story, but with no elements that could specifically date it. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is quite pointedly set at a specific time and place in history.

 

As well as being the story of Cyril Avery, it is the story of the progression of gay rights in Ireland, of how far things have changed over the course of seventy years, while A Little Life is a story about the relationships between men both physical and emotional, it doesn’t necessarily dwell on the sexuality of the main characters.

 

For these differences, it actually doesn’t feel right to compare the two books. So, for now, I’ll stop.

 

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is an engrossing story, which somewhat relies on coincidence and happenstance to make it’s point. This, when combined with the seven-yearly structure, does give the reader a slight detachment.

 

It is hard to inhabit a character’s mind-set when some of the more dramatic moments of his life happen at the end of a chapter, before a leap forward in time of seven years. The emotions that Cyril must have felt, the grief, are not delved into in any great focus, instead we are exploring the next part of his life.

 

This is ok. The reason I’m dwelling on it, is that It kind of works without the need to dive into those feelings. The ending is pretty emotional, it elicits a tear or two without being too sentimental.

 

I said it’s hard to inhabit his mind-set, but Boyne achieves the emotional connection with the character without exploring those feelings, because we know without having to read it, exactly how Cyril would react. I can’t help but wonder how deep that connection would be if we had lingered a little on some of those big moments.

 

The last thing to say about this book is the humour. It could have been po-faced. It covers topics such as abuse, rape, prostitution, murder, homophobia, abandonment… It could have been so miserable, however there are some truly funny bits in it. Sustained laugh out loud moments, that make you realise just how un-funny books be.

 

So, here’s the thing. Why have people been comparing this to A Little Life if they’re so different? Well, maybe they’re not that different after all.

 

While covering different themes – and doing them in different ways – there is a connection between them. They’re not identical, but they are, I guess, cousins. They sit well together, and anyone has enjoyed the former, will definitely enjoy the latter.

 

Book of the year? Maybe. Probably. I’m going to stop commenting on that, because I’m starting to look stupid.

 

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is published by Doubleday and is available now