Freya parr rounds up the best book releases from May
2019 is already shaping up to be a year of outstanding new writing, with debut novels winning accolades all over the place, and diverse, young authors making the shortlists of major international awards. The landscape seems to finally be opening up for the previously unheard voices.
As we head towards the summer, frantically shoving 2-for-1 Richard & Judy-recommended WH Smith books in our hand luggage at the airport, why not consider some of this month’s best new releases by female writers instead? Don’t just settle for another Dan Brown thriller and average Skandi murder mystery.
Sofie Hagen Happy Fat
If you’re a longstanding podcast nut, you might remember Sofie Hagen from the early Guilty Feminist days but if not, this book is the perfect place to meet her. Hagen is a Danish comedian, and Happy Fat is a blend of memoir and social commentary, that magical combination that seems to be populating bookstores at the moment, and for good reason.
Hagen explores the ways in which society squashes us and constantly tries to make us feel smaller. She describes how the body positivity movement only supported those with the ‘right’ big body – those advertising-friendly curvy, hourglass figures. She wants to reframe this movement as ‘Fat Liberation’. The word ‘fat’ is so often removed from our language, so she reclaims it here to epic effect.
Hagen is careful to not make this a self-effacing narrative, including interviews with fat women of colour and from different social strata. The relationship we have with our bodies is complex, and yet Hagen manages to make it seem so simple. Essential reading for any human, fat or thin.
Rosie Price What Red Was
A 26-year-old debut author whose first book had a five-way auction of publishers fighting over it. Inferiority complex kicked into gear? Yep, me too. But this tale of modern love, family dynamics, privilege, class, trauma and memory is so enticing it’ll have you forgiving Rosie Price for being such a chronic overachiever.
Kate and Max meet at university, and their lives quickly intertwine and Kate becomes incorporated in his circle. His very well-to-do family seem to open up horizons for her. At his family party though, she becomes the victim of a rape by someone too close to the family to name. Based on Price’s personal experience of sexual violence, the narrative is raw and thought-provoking. If you’re in need of any more persuasion, have a listen to the latest episode of The High-Low podcast for an interview with Price, proving once and for all that What Red Was should be added to your metaphorical and literal basket.
Poorna Bell In Search of Silence
For something a little more reflective and melancholic, I’ll point you in the direction of the immensely talented journalist and writer Poorna Bell. Her latest book In Search of Silence is a quasi-memoir, looking back on her relationship with her husband Rob, who took his own life two years ago following a long stint of heroin addiction and a lifelong struggle with depression. This book is about grief, rebuilding, and how we are fed an idealised image of love and companionship, one which is rarely lived up to.
Bell travels across New Zealand (where he was from and died) and India (where she was raised), but she’s very aware of not slipping into the Eat Pray Love danger zone. In Search of Silence has been framed as a piece of social commentary about the endemic of loneliness in society, but it’s not quite that. What it is, though, is a well-constructed, considered exploration of personal grief and how one person overcame it.
Jessica Andrews Saltwater
Saltwater reminds me a little of Diana Evans’ Ordinary People in the way it paints such dynamic portraits of cities. It really is a love letter to the Irish landscape and the need to escape the claustrophobia of London. The book’s narrator Lucy grows up in Sunderland with an Irish family, before moving to the capital for university. It doesn’t live up to the glamorous dream, and instead she is left feeling like an outsider, which, in a busy city full of people, can be the most isolating experience possible.
She returns to Ireland to live in her grandfather’s cottage, surrounded by a rough, dense landscape. Saltwater explores class identity, English and Irish landscapes, family dynamics and the dichotomy between city and rural identities. Jessica Andrews been marketed as the next Sally Rooney, and although she’s not there yet, Saltwater shows real promise as a debut novel.
Melissa Broder The Pisces
It’s likely that you’ve heard about The Pisces. ‘Yeah, she has sex with a merman, right?’ is the usual response whenever the book is mentioned. And, if I’m honest, it’s a pretty prevalent part of the book and is a difficult image to erase.
So, how do we reach the point of the protagonist Lucy getting all hot over a merman? The novel opens with Lucy going to stay in Venice Beach to escape a failed relationship and finally finish the PhD she’s been working on for years. The landscape of relationships and love is bleak – Theo, the merman, is the only character not consumed by self-obsession. He represents substance in an otherwise empty society. The Pisces dissects the modern ego and 21st-century condition in a fascinating way, supported magnificently with the occasional merman sex scene. Sure.
Words: Freya Parr