Hooray! It’s Red Book Club! Top five choices for July issue… The New Republic by Lionel Shriver, a quirky witty novel about terrorism and the life of the foreign correspondent. I felt a bit bad choosing this as Shriver wrote it over a decade ago and is only now getting it published because… Well, basically, she can get anything she wants published now. But I’m the biggest fan of her writing and will lap up anything she does. Even her mad tennis novel, Double Fault, which everyone else hated. I have only ever met one other person who liked it. It was like meeting my long-lost twin.
Other choices for July: The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace, an atmospheric Victorian story about a woman in a mental asylum which reminded me of Maggie O’Farrell’s The Vanishing of Esme Lennox.
Catching the Sun by Tony Parsons, about a much-misunderstood taxi driver who moves his family to Thailand when he becomes disillusioned with life in Britain. I review a Parsons book with slightly gritted teeth as, God knows, he doesn’t need the publicity. But this is a good read and he is a writer who really knows what he’s doing…
The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus (pictured above), which is the weirdest, freakiest, most brilliant idea, a futuristic novel about what happens when parents start to be poisoned by the words and speech of their children. I said it was freaky. I was amazed Red were happy for me to put this in, but quirky, difficult novels are having a bit of a moment and it’s good to have something a bit different in the mix.
And finally… in the book of the month slot is Park Lane by Frances Osborne. I put this in against my better judgement because (a) it’s a decent read and (b) I knew everyone would be talking about it and a lot of Red readers would want to know about it. It seems unfair to hold the author’s husband, George, against her… Or does it?
Novelist Jenny Colgan tweets that someone once put up their hand at a Q&A she was doing at a book festival to ask this immortal question. “Excuse me, but who are you?” I’ve heard this repeatedly from authors. It happens a lot. Even very well-known authors suffer from it, as Colgan proves.
As a reader, though, it’s easy to understand. There are so many authors, so many books, lots of them have similar names… It’s hard to keep up. It’s happened to me with Tim Parks, Kate Grenville, Alexander McCall Smith…
They’ve all been somewhere off my radar until suddenly I have “discovered” them only to find that millions of others “discovered” them before me and they are massively famous and I’m just the last one to turn up at the party wearing the wrong dress and feeling like an idiot.
In some ways, though, I love the idea behind “Excuse me, but who are you?” Why should readers know who someone is just because they’ve written a successful book? We can’t all know about everything.
One of the reasons I got so into Tim Parks – and bought up his entire back catalogue in one mammoth Amazon session – was because I met him at a books event, had no idea who he was, got talking to him and he told me all about his latest book, Teach Us to Sit Still, without expecting me to know anything about what he had done previously. Imagine my embarrassment when I got home, Googled him and realised he had written fourteen successful novels. What a class act not to mention that small detail. Humiliated. Mortified. Fan for life.