SOLAR BONES by Mike McCormack
This thrilling and transcendent work pushes the possibilities of what a novel can be and for its efforts was awarded the Goldsmiths Prize this year. Much has been done so that daringly, on 233 pages, there is not a point in this book. Instead, it reads like a long prose poem. Set in a small Irish town on All Saints Day, deceased civil engineer Marcus Conway reflects on the events leading up to his death. When it comes to family, marriage, politics, economics, the idea of civic duty, the environment, and technology, it’s a social novel. Told through the mind and perspective of Conway’s engineer as he recalls dealing with council, politicians and builders against the backdrop of Ireland’s financial boom and bust, solar bones inhabits the same space as the literary dystopias of JG Ballard or Tom McCarthy. An electric novel that revitalizes the form.
ELMET by Fiona Mozley
(John Murray Originals, $35)
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year, the ‘Elmet’ in beautiful Yorkshire Gothic refers to the district in the Yorkshire region that was once a Celtic kingdom. Apparently bookseller Fiona Mozley wrote much of this novel on her phone as she traveled from York to London by train. John, nicknamed “Dad”, is a burly man, a bare-knuckle boxer for hire. Although he is a fighter, he is a kind and gentle man, a loving father to his two teenage children Danny and Cathy. They have built their home on a disused grove in the wild woods where they live a simple, ethical life of gathering and hunting, living on the fringes of society. But they don’t own the land they live on and a nasty property dispute escalates. This earthy romance is an atmospheric mood piece where the landscape is evocatively portrayed. On the surface, it’s about family, rural life, community, land and violence. But at its heart it’s about gender roles, class and the idea of home and property, and the cruel injustices of inequality, making it a novel for our time. Thoughtfully exploring the relationship between a person and a place, Elmet is a beautiful rural and pastoral noir.
A SEPARATION by Katie Kitamura
With its exotic locations, clever mystery tendencies and dash of glamor and humor, A Separation is the perfect beach read for fans of Elena Ferrante, Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk and Vendela Vida’s The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty. A London couple in their 30s recently split after five years of marriage. But they didn’t tell anyone they broke up. When the unnamed wife – a literary translator – receives a panicked phone call from husband Christopher’s mother saying she’s worried about his fate, she still won’t confess to their breakup. She reluctantly agrees to fly to Greece, where seemingly best-selling author Christopher is staying at a hotel and working on a book about mourning rituals. When she gets there, hotel staff say they haven’t seen her for six days. Quietly unsettling, this is a sophisticated literary thriller with an eerie tone that’s hard to pin down but appealing.
ANSWERS by Catherine Lacey
Sitting comfortably alongside Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Naomi Alderman’s The Power, The Answers is startlingly dystopian in a realistic way. Away from her family, Mary is a 30-something living in New York. When she begins to develop unexplained physiological ailments that mainstream medicine can neither explain nor help, she turns to an extremely expensive gibberish alternative theory. As she finds it increasingly difficult to afford the treatment, Mary responds to an ad for a high-paying job which is an emotional experiment conducted by scientists called The Girlfriend Experiment. Actor Kurt Skye wants the perfect girlfriend and the experiment involves auditioning and hiring several women who will make up the components (maternal, worldly, intellectual, emotional and angry) of the ideal mate. Mary is employed as an “emotional girlfriend”. Lacey skillfully handles multiple shifting perspectives. Carefully crafted, it’s a cynical look at fame, artistry, and the complexity of expectations in romantic relationships.