Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell returns with a new ode to band-life, and a debut explores messy female relationships…
1. Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell is published in hardback by Sceptre, £13.
A meandering grind of a music opus, it’s the 1960s and Utopia Avenue – aka ethereal Jasper, folksy Elf, lippy Dean and laidback Griff – are trying to make it big as a band, scrapping over song credits and struggling with their individual demons as they go. Each bandmate has a certain spark to them, but this latest book from David Mitchell – author of the mesmeric Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks – is off-puttingly long, peppered with many a forced, awkward celeb cameo (Bowie, Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin…), alongside Mitchell’s usual nods to his other books (characters that overlap his literary worlds). Even harder to square though is the way it’s structured; chunky paragraphs alternately flit back and forth in time, not in a way that’s disorientating, but in a way that slows and halts proceedings frustratingly. This is hampered further by the lengthy inclusion of song lyrics – which you may find yourself skim reading… Snatches of Utopia Avenue contain soul, but it takes some getting to.
(Review by Ella Walker)
2. Olive by Emma Gannon is published in hardback by HarperCollins £11.99.
I was hooked straight away by the topics writer and broadcaster Emma Gannon covers in Olive, her first foray into fiction; particularly, how it’s still a ‘taboo’ for a woman to say she doesn’t want children. The story follows the eponymous character and her three best friends, Isla, Cecily and Bea. Moving between their 20s and present-day – as they navigate their early 30s – we see how their lives have taken very different paths. Gannon’s characters feel comfortingly familiar, and their various struggles many women will be able to identify with. I loved the exploration of how messy friendships can get, and how much warmth, empathy, and understanding Gannon displays throughout. My only criticism would be some plot developments felt a little rushed, the writing a little hurried. However, that doesn’t take away from how enjoyable it is; the fact I devoured it in one weekend says it all.
(Review by Georgia Humphries)
3. If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha is published in paperback by Viking, priced £10.49.
If I Had Your Face is the debut novel from Frances Cha, which follows four women who live in the same apartment block in Seoul, South Korea. All of them placing unrealistic expectations of beauty, success and romance upon themselves. Plastic surgery devotee, Kyuri, works as a ‘room salon girl’ where she entertains the ludicrously wealthy men of the city, Miho is an artist with connections to the upper echelons of Korean society, K-Pop obsessed mute, Ara, is a hairdresser and their pregnant neighbour, Wonna, is stuck in an uninspiring and underpaid office job with fears over how she will afford to be a mother. Each chapter alternates between the four protagonists, told in the first person, the trouble is I had a hard time distinguishing whose voice I was hearing. All of them are struggling to get by in modern day Korea; a place where birth, marriage and unemployment rates are at an all-time low. They are looking for a life as far away from their disadvantaged beginnings as possible and the lengths they are willing to go to achieve that are ruthless. The book ends a little prematurely and with multiple loose ends left hanging. Ultimately, this is an entertaining book you won’t struggle to get through, but it might leave you feeling slightly unsatisfied.
(Review by Frances Wright)
4. The Hungover Games by Sophie Heawood is published in hardback by Jonathan Cape, £12.
Unexpectedly pregnant in Los Angeles, where she has been living in a bubble as a celebrity journalist, Sophie Heawood returns to the UK to have the baby she had not planned for. What follows next is a frank memoir about shedding one’s old life to nurture another, trying to date and hold down a freelance career while bringing up a newborn, with a few big-name interviews thrown in along the way. The brutal precision in which she describes prolonged singledom is so accurate it leaves the reader winded; the love for her daughter, sublime. This is in turns gorgeous, unflinching, tender, sad, affirming and cackle-worthy. You don’t need to be a mother, have one in your life or hope to become one, for the razor-sharp observations chronicled here to ring true.
(Review by Jemma Crew)
Children’s book of the week
5. The Wild Way Home by Sophie Kirtley is published in hardback by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, £5.99.
Sophie Kirtley’s debut is a thoughtful and gentle musing on how to cope with change, and control the feeling of fear when it floods your system. It’s Charlie Merriam’s 12th birthday, and his new little brother Dara has just arrived, but the baby is poorly, and Charlie doesn’t know how to love him just yet. So, Charlie runs away to the forest, where he and his friends have built a whole world of their own. Except this time, the forest feels and looks different – and then Charlie finds a boy in animal skins face down in a stream. There are broad echoes of David Almond’s Kit’s Wilderness, but The Wild Way Home is not so darkly complex and tangled. Charlie’s adventures lack a certain amount of peril, while the lives of those he encounters in this ancient version of his forest could do with more fleshing out. However, it’s a solid story about facing what terrifies you, feeling your feelings (however tough that may be) and protecting the ones you love. Plus, it will make you desperate to get out into the forest.
(Review by Ella Walker)
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