Summer is finally here and, more importantly, a whole load of fantastic books are coming out this month. I was spoilt for choice as a number of these are some of the best of 2017 thus far. As ever, I’ve included short descriptions and links to longer reviews in the titles.
All The Good Things by Clare Fisher – One of my books of the year so far, this story of a young woman in prison who is trying to remember the good things that have happened in her life alongside the bad is a powerful modern tale of the system failing somebody and a moving assertion that good things can be found anywhere.
Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney – A biting and clever novel about a student in Dublin who performs poetry with her best friend and ex-girlfriend, and then the two meet a married couple and get entwined in their life. Witty look at being a twentysomething in great prose.
Phone by Will Self – The anarchic, not-for-everyone new book by Will Self, which follows the spy life and long-running affair with a high-ranking soldier of Jonathan De’Ath, aka The Butcher. It mocks espionage, plays around with language and acronyms, and is very darkly satiric.
Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index by Julie Israel – An emotional YA novel that focuses on grief, positivity, and friendship, whilst being uplifting yet not cloying.
A History of Running Away by Paula McGrath – The novel tells the simultaneous stories of a young girl in 80s Ireland who wants to be a boxer, a gynaecologist in 2012 dealing with work pressures and her ill mother, and a girl in Maryland running away after the death of her mother. A fantastic read that depicts finding home and knowing who you are.
No Good Deed by John Niven (review to come) – Another darkly comic story, this time about a successful writer who helps out an old friend who is down on his luck—and then finds out the limits of his good deeds. It shows the ups and downs of friendship whilst mocking the upper-middle-classes and their views and lifestyles.
Friendship, anarchy, and being invited to stay in someone’s French house: Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney
Conversations With Friends is a funny, exciting, and sometimes darkly relatable novel about being in your early twenties and about how to live your life. The story is told by Frances, a twenty-one year old student living in Dublin who writes poetry that she performs with her best friend and ex-girlfriend Bobbi. When they meet the older journalist Melissa who wants to profile them, they are drawn into the world of Melissa and her actor husband Nick, a world of tension, money, and wine. Frances begins an affair with Nick and soon everything is complicatedly entwined as they all consider what they want and what they believe.
The prose is fresh and somehow distinctive, giving Frances’ observational view of the world whilst accurately describing minuscule feelings and emotions. The descriptions of the sensations of being a student and in your early twenties are particularly astute, for example Rooney’s accurate depiction of the feeling of writing an essay, isolating yourself from the world and then emerging to find everything feeling strangely novel. Frances’ disorientation with the world and with the way she is living comes through, particularly when she tries to deal with feeling down and discovering she has a chronic pain issue. Bobbi is another great character, someone whose truth is clouded by the way that Frances sees and describes her, but who shines through as lively and opinionated. The main characters are complex and messed up, arguing about love and ideology and hurting each other a lot.
Engaging and gripping, it is not as much the narrative as the character relationships and the prose that keep you reading. It is filled with dark humour and literary references alongside relatable emotions, tangled-up relationships, and some background discussion of sexuality, class, and mental health. Rooney has created an exciting and enjoyable read about friendship, love, and the imperfection of being twentysomething.