There are plenty of reasons to be glad that it’s a new year – the last one wasn’t exactly uneventful – but an array of new books is certainly one of them, especially when there are so many juicy novels being published.
First up is Little Deaths by Emma Flint (Picador, 12th Jan), a retelling of a real life murder case from the 1960s. Over a sweltering New York summer, Ruth Malone’s two small children go missing and turn up brutally murdered; almost immediately, the police and the neighbors point the finger at her, a struggling single mother with a penchant for drink. Composed and remote despite this, Ruth is judged for not performing as the exemplary grieving mother, and soon police and press are digging through her life to paint it as sordid and scandalous. Cleverly written – we know from the outset she is in jail, what we don’t know is whether she is culpable – Flint examines the double standards applied to women in the public eye and at the same time carves out a thrilling, unpredictable mystery based on a real case.
Speaking of women accused of murder; Sarah Schmidt’s See What I Have Done goes back a century and picks up the pieces of the notorious Lizzie Borden case. The real-life Borden was put on trail for the axe-murders of her father and stepmother but never convicted despite a high-profile trial. Schmidt takes a look at the day leading up to the slayings and the one after, with a cast of (real life) characters including Lizzie’s shady uncle, her loyal sister, and the miserable Irish maid. Lizzie herself is variously portrayed as Machiavellian and vulnerable; can she even be held responsible for her actions? It’s claustrophobic, creepy fun; every character has a motive and everyone is so hateful you think they deserve what they get. It’s not out until May, and we can’t wait!
Moving away from murder, Katie Khan’s Hold Back the Stars (Doubleday, 26th Jan) is a sweetly written tearjerker about a couple of astronauts with 90 minutes to live. Instead of using that time to find a way to survive, it’s a chance for them to revisit the highs and lows of their relationship; which it turns out took place on a dystopian version of earth where young people aren’t supposed to form permanent connections. So far, so Logan’s Run, but Khan elevates it from stuntish sci-fi to create a charming ‘he said, she said’ romance that would make an excellent film. The ending felt a bit like a cop out, but nonetheless I enjoyed the ride.
Staying with the sci fi theme, The Possessions, by Sara Flannery Murphy (Scribe UK, 9th March) is the unusual novel with a clever premise that more than delivers. Edie is a ‘body’ at the Elysium Society; when she takes a pill she is possessed by the dead relative of whichever paying client is in the room at the time. For five years she does the job professionally, never getting emotionally attached, until she meets Patrick, who is seeking to reconnect with his dead wife Sylvia. But what kind of relationship can a ghost have? And what really went on in Patrick and Sylvia’s marriage?
With January 20th and Trump’s inauguration on the horizon, American fiction is perhaps far more desirable than reality. Nathan Hill’s debut, The Nix (Picador, 26th Jan) is a doorstop of a book in the vein of Donna Tartt or Garth Risk Hallberg – more than 600 pages of sweeping narrative, moving between the student protests of the 1960s, 1980s suburbia, and the safe spaces of the modern university campus. The main focus is the relationship between Samuel, a college professor and failed writer, and his mother, Faye, who disappeared when he was eight. Her arrest for an attack on a presidential candidate throws them back together and prompts him to look at her life before and after motherhood. There are occasional detours that come across as indulgent on Hill’s part – the entitled student who plagues Samuel’s life is a thinly drawn-caricature – but overall this is a masterpiece of a book that will keep you hooked until the end.
For non-fiction fans, Samantha Ellis offers the chance to brush up on your Bronte trivia with a new biography of Anne Bronte. Take Courage (Chatto & Windus, 12th Jan) paints the youngest and littlest known sister as the greatest, the most talented, and the most feminist of them all, exploring her short but remarkable life through her poetry, letters and novels. It’s a treasure trove of information about Haworth and the fantasy worlds the Bronte siblings spawned; Charlotte in particular comes off poorly for not appreciating Anne’s talent. If you enjoyed Ellis’s first book, How to be a Heroine, this won’t disappoint.