Friday 21 November 2014

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ten literary 
novels to read for the summer

Hankering for your next literary fix? Looking forward to losing yourself in a Booker nominee? Justine Carbery picks ten of this summer's best literary reads

Justine Carbery

Published 11/08/2014 | 02:30

Siri Hustvedt
Siri Hustvedt

Holiday-time, and the living is easy. Time to relax and be transported by those books that are making waves. This year heralds the inclusion of writers from around the globe for the first time in the prestigious Man Booker Prize Award, previously open only to writers from Britain, Ireland and Commonwealth countries. However, although it has 'gone global', the long list has yet to reflect that diversity, with the Booker map still missing continental Europe, most of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, all of Latin America.

But the Americans have arrived in force, with the inclusion of Joshua Ferris, Karen Joy Fowler, Siri Hustvedt and Richard Powers, as well as Irish-born, US-based writer Joseph O'Neill. Joshua Ferris' offering To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Penguin) is a dark comedy about an antisocial, atheistic, Red-Sox-obsessed New York dentist, having a real and virtual identity crisis. My favourite book this year was Karen Jay Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Serpent's Tail), about a dysfunctional family, consisting of a psychologist father, a fragile mother, the main protagonist Rosemary, once exuberant and loquacious, now friendless and almost silent, a brother Lowell, who vanished and is wanted by the FBI and a sister Fern, who disappeared from the family home when Rosemary was five.

Delighted to see it made the Booker long list. The Blazing World (Sceptre) by Siri Hustvedt is about an embittered painter living in New York at the end of the 20th century, who believes that she has been the lifelong victim of cultural misogyny and decides to take action by hiring three men to present her artwork as their own. A learned, stylistically ambitious read. Neel Mukherjee, an Indian author writing in English, has delivered an unsparing, brutally honest second novel, The Lives Of Others (Chatto & Windus). It is an ambitious blend of family saga and political turbulence set in India between 1966 and 1970, telling the tale of the Ghosh family in their middle-class Calcutta home and the villages and rice fields of western Bengal where Communist guerrillas hide in the jungle plotting insurrection. A great read with two narratives expertly interwoven.

Irish author Niall Williams has also made it to the Booker long list with History of the Rain (Bloomsbury), a beautiful, poetic tale of 19 year-old Ruth Swain in search of her father. Bedridden, she spends her time reading the 3,958 books that once belonged to him. One to read slowly and savour.

The New Scientist magazine recently published the results of a study (Oct 2013) which proves that exposure to literary fiction - stories with more complex characters - boosts our ability to empathise with others, to detect and understand other peoples' emotions, and hence makes us 'nicer' people. So as well as being pleasurable, reading good books is immensely powerful.

The titan of literary fiction this year must be Donna Tartt's Pulitzer-prize winning The Goldfinch (Abacus). A glorious, Dickensian novel about love, memory and the enduring power of art, it lives up to expectation. Tim Winton, a pre-eminent Australian writer, brings us Eyrie (Farrar, Picador). Set in a semi high-rise flat in Fremantle, in a sweltering summer. The anti-hero Tom Keely, is a washed-up environmental campaigner. Unhappy, divorced and unemployed, he cuts himself off from the world until he runs into a childhood family friend and her grandson, thus beginning his descent from his lonely, detached 'eyrie' and his path to redemption. A hilarious antidote to all those literary prize nominations is Edward St Aubyn's latest novel Lost for Words (Picador), in which he satirises the literary world, and all the brouhaha surrounding the Booker prize. With its caustic wit and keen observations this is one for fans of Woodhouse or Waugh.

An endearing summer read to make you smile is The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (Penguin), which tells the story of an undiagnosed Asperger's Genetics Professor who is looking for a wife. Delightful. In The Temporary Gentleman (Faber & Faber), Sebastian Barry once again plumbs the depths of his own family history, his grandfather's experiences this time, to tell the story of Jack McNulty, as he struggles desperately to deal with his alcohol and gambling addictions. Multi-layered and beautifully written. And Joseph O Connor has done it again with his new novel The Thrill Of It All (Harvill Secker). A lovely story of music and friendship, this book about a fictional band, has everything a holiday read should have- life, love and rock and roll. What more could you ask for?

Sunday Independent

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