Monday 26 September 2016

Grip Lit: the tense new genre where crime meets passion

Our favourite fiction of 2016 is dark, twisted and compelling. These Grip Lit titles are the perfect summer reads

Claire Coughlan

Published 06/06/2016 | 02:30

Through a glass darkly: Emily Blunt plays Rachel, the depressed alcoholic narrator of The Girl on the Train.
Through a glass darkly: Emily Blunt plays Rachel, the depressed alcoholic narrator of The Girl on the Train.

Step aside Chick Lit - there's a new kid elbowing its way on to the bookshelves. Call it the Gone Girl effect of the last few years, but it seems that in 2016 we like our novels fast-paced and fraught.

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Ever since author Marian Keyes - no stranger to bestseller lists herself - recently coined the phrase 'Grip Lit' on Twitter, to describe the new crop of gritty women's fiction taking over, the catchy handle seems to have stuck and become a genre all of its own.

Whereas Chick Lit was a one-size-fits-all label affixed to books written by women which tended to be about relationships and finding your happily ever after, Grip Lit seems to lift the curtain on what happens when it all goes horribly wrong.

So, whether you're vacationing, stay-cationing or simply staying put this summer, any of these Grip Lit titles would be the ideal addition to your suitcase or bedside table.

The bestselling book in Ireland of 2015 was The Girl on the Train (Black Swan, €9.25), by Paula Hawkins, a former journalist who previously wrote romance novels under a pseudonym. Although this novel has been out a year already, it's just been announced as one of Richard and Judy's summer book club titles for 2016 - and there's a big budget movie on the way, starring Emily Blunt as Rachel, the depressed alcoholic who sees more than she can trust herself to remember on her daily commute from the suburbs into the city every day. Just when you think you know where the story is going, it takes a humdinger of a right angle. It's been compared to Gillian Flynn's mega-blockbuster Gone Girl, but The Girl on the Train is arguably far better (and ten times more plausible). An addictive read.

The Darkest Secret (Sphere, €18.25), by Alex Marwood, is a novel that could be ripped straight from the headlines. It's about what happens when three-year-old Coco Jackson, an identical twin, goes missing during a family celebration.

The novel is partly narrated twelve years after these events, by Coco's older half-sister, Mila, who was a teenager when the little girl disappeared, and who tries to get to the bottom of what exactly happened on that fateful night. There are twists, there are turns, and above all, acute psychological insights that'll stay with you long after you've finished the last page. A taut, expertly executed thriller, you'll gobble this up in one sitting. This is Alex Marwood's third novel, her first, The Wicked Girls, won awards and garnered praise from no less a source than Stephen King, and The Darkest Secret certainly lives up to its predecessor.

Closer to home, A Savage Hunger, (Headline, €22.10) by young Northern Irish author Claire McGowan, explores the aftermath of the Troubles in a fictional border town called Ballyterrin within this clever, multi-strand narrative. This is the fourth novel to feature forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, who sets out to investigate the disappearance of an MP's daughter, with puzzling accumulated evidence that indicates she was last seen at a local shrine. Maguire wonders if this could be linked to a cold case disappearance from the height of the Troubles thirty-something years earlier, during the Hunger Strikes of 1981. Thought-provoking and unexpected, if you're a newcomer to the Paula Maguire series, you'll find yourself seeking out the first three books.

Also touching on the Troubles, Siren (Hutchinson, €17.99), by Annemarie Neary, is a nail-bitingly tense tale, with writing as sharp and pointed as arrows, where nobody is who they say they are. When American newcomer Sheen arrives on Lamb Island in West Cork, she's immediately closely watched by local loner Boyle, who's already been a suspect in the disappearance of a young woman from the island a few years previously. But Sheen is hiding something: her real motivation for being on the island. It is also where politician Brian Lonergan, of the New Republic party, who has some tricky questions to answer about disappearances in Belfast during the Troubles, has a holiday home. This is Annemarie Neary's second novel and she's definitely a writer to watch.

The Last Days of Summer, by Dublin-based American author Vanessa Ronan (Penguin Ireland, €15.99), very effectively evokes a sweltering Texan summer and the tensions that arise within the local Prairie town community when Jasper Curtis is released from Huntsville State Penitentiary after serving ten years for a heinous crime (the full details of which are only revealed late in the story). Jasper is taken back to the family home, perhaps somewhat improbably, by his sister Lizzie, where she lives with her two daughters, 11-year-old Joanne and her teenage sister Katie. Each word is weighted with dread and laden with drama, perhaps overwritten at times, but this is a page-turner nonetheless and an impressive debut.

Sisters and Lies, by Bernice Barrington (Penguin Ireland, €15.99) is also a debut novel which broaches relationships within families and asks how well you ever really know someone. One night, Rachel Power gets a call from police, informing her that her younger sister, Evie, has had a car accident and is in a coma. Rachel stumbles across mysteries about her sister's life that she can't solve, until she begins to wonder if the car crash was really the suicide attempt everyone seems to think it was. Sisters and Lies zips along at a frenetic pace, keeping you guessing.

What She Never Told Me, by Kate McQuaile (Quercus, €17.99) again explores the bonds within families, but also the fragility of memory and the scope within its realm for manipulation. When Louise Redmond's mother is on her deathbed, Louise returns from London to Ireland to be by her side. It's the only chance she has to find out about the father she never knew. Her mother refuses to fill in the blanks, but when Louise unexpectedly finds a lead, more questions are raised than answered, leading her to suspect that the memories she most treasures could be no more than a delicate web of lies. What She Never Told Me is narrated in crisp, spare prose and the result is a heartfelt novel, rich in emotional depth.

Plenty to grip you for the summer.

Other new Grip Lit titles to get stuck into this summer include - The Woman Who Ran by Sam Baker (Harper) I See You by Clare Mackintosh (Sphere, coming in July 2016) Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard (Corvus) Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent (Penguin) The Widow by Fiona Barton (Transworld) Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon (Atlantic)

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