Being December, the number of new books is a lot small but not to worry – January and February will make up for it as my list for those months is still growing. Ruth Rendell is on of the masters of the psychological mystery and her latest, The Child’s Child (written under her pseudonym Barbara Vine) features a novel within a novel. British novelist Sebastian Faulks, author of Birdsong and Charlotte Grey also has a new novel, A Possible Life, set in five parts spanning centuries and continents. And J.R.R. Tolkien’s grandson Simon Tolkien publishes the third in his mystery series featuring Inspector Trave called Orders from Berlin.
Books in More Detail
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis: This debut novel is getting a lot of buzz in part because it was chosen to be part of Oprah’s Book Club. A sweeping family saga, the novel is centered around Hattie and her offspring starting in 1923 when Hattie is 16 and expecting her first child to the 1980’s covering the great migration by African-American families. Each chapter centers on a different person in Hattie’s family and this leads to some complaints of the novel being disjointed. I do expect it will be on many book club’s reading list because of its focus on the trials and tribulations of Hattie as well as its discussion of how individuals overcome or do not overcome those trials. The novel should spark interesting discussions due to the opposing views of the novel.
The New York Times writes:
Hattie Shepherd, the title character of Ayana Mathis’s piercing debut novel, is at once a tragic heroine with mythic dimensions and an entirely recognizable mother and wife trying to make ends meet. Her story, set in 20th-century Philadelphia, is one of terrible loss and grief and survival, a story of endurance in the face of disappointment, heartbreak and harrowing adversity…
Ms. Mathis has a gift for imbuing her characters’ stories with an epic dimension that recalls Toni Morrison’s writing, and her sense of time and place and family will remind some of Louise Erdrich, but her elastic voice is thoroughly her own — both lyrical and unsparing, meditative and visceral, and capable of giving the reader nearly complete access to her characters’ minds and hearts.
The Telegraph writes:
Ayana Mathis’s debut novel was a bestseller in the United States. It was championed by Oprah Winfrey and compared to Toni Morrison, which might have put you off already. In truth, it bears all the worst characteristics those recommendations call to mind and few of the best…
More often, it is plodding. The sexually confused, trumpet-playing Floyd has invited a young man to his concert: “Lafayette was not in the club. Floyd told himself it wasn’t the boy’s arrival he was waiting for. Still, it was not until Lafayette slipped into the crowd that Floyd lifted the horn to his lips.” These blunt sentences hit the reader over the head. It’s as though Mathis doesn’t trust us to work it out for ourselves. There may be a good writer in Mathis, but she hasn’t got her groove yet.
The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon: I have been long awaiting this novel based on reviews by British bloggers. Nell Leyshon is both a novelist and a dramatist (for both television and the theater) and this slim novel is her fourth to be published. Set in the English countryside of 1823, the voice of the novel is 15 year old Mary. Mary leaves her family’s rural farm and her bullying, oppressive father to live and work for the Vicar and his sick wife. While at the vicarage, she learns to read and write which both sets her apart from everyone in her world and do little to give her a way out of a world where her needs and wants are never taken into consideration. My brother purchased a copy to read but I have not yet heard of his impressions. However, many of the bloggers I respect have raved about it so it is definitely on my to-read list.
Caribou’s Mom writes:
Leyshon’s writing is powerful, incredibly moving, and filled with a gracethat many authors are not able to find in their prose. This is a penetrating and compelling look into the life of one young girl during a time in history when women were considered property and had no real rights. It is shocking, empathetic and provocative.
Savidge Reads writes:
Every so often you meet a character in fiction that you will remember for the rest of your life…In ‘The Colour of Milk’ by Nell Leyshon, an author I hadn’t come across until this book which is her fourth, with Mary and the story she tells I found one of those exact books and (cliché alert) I simply could not put the book down.
There are certain books that you instantly take to aren’t there. Books which coax you into the heart of their tale and just have you hooked. ‘The Colour of Milk’ by Nell Leyshon is one such book, for me it is one of those books that is pretty much perfect, in fact so much so I would dare any of you to read it and not do it in one reading gulp.
The Colour of Milk is a truly compelling book because Mary’s voice is so urgent and authentic. And the ending, which is shocking, unexpected and heart-breaking, is the kind that makes you gasp out loud — and then you want to have a big sob. The story is so imprinted on my mind it has stayed with me for more than two months now (I read it on the plane to Canada back in April) and is by far the best (and most memorable) thing I have read so far this year.
It’s the type of novel I want to press into everyone’s hands and say, here, read this. If that’s not an endorsement for a fine little novel (it comes in a very compact size), I don’t know what is.