This month's best new books are a corking bunch, including Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert's breathtaking new novel.
Book Of The Month – City Of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
It turns out that Eat, Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert isn’t only a brilliant memoirist and self-help author (Big Magic is a must-read if you’re feeling creatively stuck) but a hugely accomplished novelist too. If you’ve only space for one book in your suitcase this summer, make it City Of Girls; one of those rare novels that stays with you long after you’ve finished it.
It’s set in giddy, decadent 1940s New York, as the US teeters on the brink of WW2. Not that geo-political events are at the forefront of the mind of 19-year-old Vivian Morris, who, having dropped out of college much to her uptight parents’ disapproval, rocks up at the shabby Midtown theatre of her Aunt Peg and her bohemian crew of actors, showgirls, shady characters and assorted hangers-on. So follows Vivian’s big city coming-of-age, with an emphasis on the coming – she has a lot of sex at a time, of course, when nice girls didn’t do such things. Her wing woman, Celia Ray, a glorious showgirl, is crying out to be played by Christina Hendricks in a movie adaptation (please let there be one).
The narrative slowly winds through the decades, exploring perennial issues such as scandal and shame, peppered with tragedy and brimming with vividly drawn female characters who push against social norms. Savour those pages because you’ll miss Vivian like crazy when you’re done.
June is a bumper month, as publishers roll out the big guns in the hope they’ll make it to your poolside sun-lounger this summer. So many excellent books, so little time so I’ll make it snappy.
There’s a lot of buzz around Richard Roper‘s debut Something To Live For. Its oddball protagonist, Andrew, works for the council, picking through the affairs of poor souls who die alone, without relatives. Andrew’s told his colleagues that he’s happily married with children but he’s anything but… and about to be busted. If you loved Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine (and who didn’t?), this one’s for you.
Next, we rock up in a Aussie suburbia in a roasting hot 1990s summer; the setting of Felicity McLean‘s thrilling debut, The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone. The titular sisters all disappeared without a trace after a school concert, when Tikka was 11. Years later she returns home and reappraises that strange summer. Talking of dazzling debuts, Claire Lombardo‘s sprawling Chicago-set family drama, The Most Fun We Ever Had is one to truly get stuck into. It charts the lives of Marilyn and David, and their four fiercely different daughters. The writing is wonderful – family life is “a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products,” as one daughter puts it.
Onto non-fiction and three books that run the gamut of my favourite things – motherhood, music and, er, tea . Having spent the first week of my son’s life in neo-natal intensive care in a weeping daze, I felt compelled to read Mother Ship by award-winning novelist Francesca Segal. The ‘mothership’ is the NICU unit where she camps out after her twins are born 10 weeks early and this is her poignant, funny (yes, really) memoir of that period. Meanwhile, A Seat At The Table by journalist Amy Raphael comprises 18 interviews with female musicians, from Christine and the Queens to Alison Moyet to Nadine Shah, a follow-up to her 1990s outing featuring the likes of Courtney Love and Björk. And finally, Infused: Adventures In Tea by Henrietta Lovell is about, well, tea. Lovely, lovely tea (you can’t work at Muddy HQ if you don’t like tea – fact). The author details her travels across Malawi, the Himalaya and China in search of the world’s best brew in this charming travel memoir. I’ll be reading it with a builder’s PG Tips in hand – possibly not what Henrietta had in mind, to be honest.