Some Upcoming September Releases

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I picked up We Need New Stories, British-Sudanese journalist Nesrine Malik’s first non-fiction book, because I like Malik’s Guardian columns and her Twitter discussions. We Need New Stories aims to challenge six modern myths, ranging from the idea that there is a ‘free speech crisis’ to the argument that ‘identity politics’ is the root of political and social divisions. I read about a third of this book, but eventually found myself losing interest. I agreed with everything Malik was saying, but that was part of the problem; I wasn’t sure if this book was bringing anything especially new to the table, given how well-rehearsed these debates have been already. Her writing also doesn’t translate well to long-form, becoming much too wordy, with run-on sentences and some misuse of commas. This needed to be much shorter and snappier.

We Need New Stories is out on 5th September. I received a free proof copy of this book from the publisher for review.

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I’ve read everything that Tracy Chevalier has written, despite the fact that I don’t think any of her novels have been solid hits for me since 2003. (I loved her early novels The Virgin Blue, Girl With A Pearl Earring (didn’t we all?) and The Lady and the Unicorn, but have had issues with everything else she’s written since then – if you’re interested, I’ve written about Burning Bright and Remarkable Creatures here, and New Boy here.) So, for the first time in sixteen years, I can honestly say that I liked a Tracy Chevalier novel. A Single Thread probably has the quietest premise of any of her historical fiction; rather than focusing on an encounter with a famous person* or object, the book follows the story of Violet Speedwell, a thirty-eight-year old spinster who has recently moved away from her elderly mother to seek a measure of independence in Winchester, working in an office and living in a boarding house. When Violet meets the broderers, a group of women embroidering ‘kneelers’ for Winchester Cathedral, she is drawn into their fellowship.

A Single Thread complements other recent and more overtly radical inter-war historical fiction such as Lissa Evans’s Old Baggage by considering the impact of individual women choosing to live their lives differently. A long set-piece where Violet takes a walking tour by herself is especially insightful; Chevalier writes so well about how she is subtly constrained by the reactions of the men around her, from the over-friendliness of a patronising publican to a man who starts following her in a cornfield and clearly means harm. The novel underlines how actions that seem relatively small and apolitical, such as reorganising the secretaries’ office work after one of your colleagues leaves so you can get better pay and an extra heater in winter, add another thread of discourse to a changing world. I found the ending a little disappointing – I’d hoped for something less conventional – but it does work with the overall concerns of the novel. And while a little of Chevalier’s tendency to show her research seeps through in a long bell-ringing interlude, on the whole, the historical setting is handled subtly and evocatively. Delightful.

*one of the embroiderers in the book, Louisa Pesel, was a real person, but this is on a bit of a different level from say, William Blake or Mary Anning.

A Single Thread is out on 5th September. I received a free proof copy of this novel from the publisher for review.

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Jessie Burton’s writing seems to be becoming more mature and more complex with every novel; I felt lukewarm about The Miniaturist but was gripped by The Muse. Her latest, The Confession, is even more compelling. The book switches between two timelines, both equally interesting: in the early 1980s, Elise Morceau, in her early twenties, falls swiftly in love with the older novelist Connie Holden after a chance meeting on Hampstead Heath, and goes with her to LA. Meanwhile, in present-day London, Elise’s daughter, Rose, wants to know more about the mother she can’t remember – Elise disappeared when Rose was a baby – and devises a plan to make contact with Connie after she discovers that Connie was the last person to see her mother before she went missing. Burton writes so intelligently about choosing whether or not to have a child (there’s precious little fiction, especially in this mainstream literary vein, that allows women to choose to remain childless, but The Confession made me realise that we also hear little about why women actively choose to have children. Spoiler – highlight to read. It also lets one of its main characters get pregnant accidentally and choose to have an abortion rather than to keep the baby, which should not be surprising in 2019 but is still barely talked about in novels. End spoiler.) Burton’s concern with the conditions under which women can make art, which preoccupied The Muse, is also an important sub-theme in this novel, and there’s something of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s classic Women Who Run With the Wolves in her depiction of women who feel compelled to drop out of their everyday lives. As with the ending of The Muse, Burton gives into the temptation to spell out the themes of the novel a little too neatly in its last few pages, but this is still a smart, thought-provoking take on how women negotiate emotional ties. Thematically, it chimed beautifully with A Single Thread; both novels consider women who choose to be single, who choose to be with other women, and who choose or do not choose motherhood.

The Confession is out on 19th September. I received a free proof copy of this novel from the publisher for review.

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Finally, I’ve just started reading Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House (24th September) – I tend to enjoy Patchett’s more offbeat novels more than her ‘family sagas’, but I’m already captivated by the narrator’s voice. Full review coming soon!

What September releases are you especially excited about, or have already read and liked?

25 thoughts on “Some Upcoming September Releases

  1. I’ve been working my way through some September releases, too; I’m desperately trying to finish two more by tomorrow so that I can preview a batch on Sunday! We only overlap with the Patchett, which I finished last week and thought very good (if not quite at the level of Commonwealth). I’m awaiting Burton and Chevalier from the library, so it may be a while before I can read them, but I’m relieved to hear that you think both authors have surpassed their recent work. I’ve started to move away from e-books lately, apart from while traveling or if it’s the only way that I can read certain American releases. I presume you read these two via NetGalley?

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    • Yep, these are all NetGalley. I had quite a few stacking up during 20 Books of Summer, so I decided to blitz them. I also prefer not to read e-books, but NetGalley is an exception and I do like to have at least one on the go so I can read as I go from place to place. Look forward to your September releases post!

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  2. I am really looking forward to The Dutch House, and cannot wait to read your review. I am not sure about The Confession because I remember Jessie Burton’s debut to which I was also indifferent and also a bit angry about too, actually. The fact that The Miniaturist is a literary success is something I will never understand. For me, the book is a good draft with good ideas that still needs to be developed by the author. A book about the miniaturist, but not about the miniaturist? What nonsense that was.The manipulative, sly way the author enticed us with this mystery only to present Nella and Marin’s melodrama was something unexpected.

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  3. Ooo that’s good to hear about Tracey Chevalier. I just uploaded a video all about post books on the year 2000, including Girl with a Pearl Earring (blog post to follow). The only other book I tried was The Last Runaway, but I couldn’t get into it.

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  4. I didn’t enjoy Girl with a Pearl Earring! That is, I did like finding out about the painting and pigments, but was very annoyed by the narrator’s voice. I read it when there was all the hype, and avoid reading hyped books still! A great selection here, though,

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  5. This is good news! I have liked Chevalier in the past, too. And I have still not read anything by Burton, but it sounds like the longer I wait, the better the book will be! I’ve liked everything I’ve read by Patchett so far, but am now behind on her two latest (as well as her nonfiction). I’ll be curious to see if people love this new one as much as Commonwealth.

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    • I wasn’t bowled over by Commonwealth – my favourite of Patchett’s novels still remains State of Wonder. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but I think I’m liking it more than Commonwealth so far – it feels a bit more original.

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  6. Pingback: In the Year 2000…. (Choose the Year Booktag) | Reading in Bed

  7. Really looking forward to your review of The Dutch House! I’ve only read 1.5 of her books – Commonwealth was the epitome of ‘meh’ for me and I accidentally abandoned Bel Canto years and years ago (though I do want to give it another try) but The Dutch House sounds so appealing to me.

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    • Bel Canto is my least favourite Patchett. I think she’s a particularly brilliant non-fiction writer (Truth and Beauty, This Is The Story of A Happy Marriage) but I’ve read all her novels and especially loved State of Wonder.

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