Quick book picks for February

Escape the bleakness of February with some new books. Many of my choices are tackling some hard-hitting subjects in varied and interesting ways. Titles link to full reviews as usual.

  • The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara – A raw novel about LGBT life in NYC from the 1970s to the 1990s that weaves together characters whilst placing them firmly in real LGBT history (a good pick for February being UK LGBT History Month).
  • The Hoarder by Jess Kidd – The story of a woman who works as a carer for an eccentric old man and is drawn into the mystery surrounding him in his weird house.
  • Restless Souls by Dan Sheehan – A road trip tragicomedy about friends dealing with PTSD, war, and traumatic childhood events, which often feels like a specific kind of indie film.
  • Home by Amanda Berriman – This novel about the housing crisis and sexual assault told from the point of view of a four-year-old is a tough but also sweet look at life using a distinctive voice.
  • Eat Up by Ruby Tandoh – A quirky book about food and eating, with a style that won’t suit everyone but will appeal to Tandoh’s many Twitter fans.

Restless Souls by Dan Sheehan

PTSD tragicomedy: Restless Souls by Dan Sheehan

Restless Souls is a novel that combines a road trip narrative, PTSD treatment, tough upbringings in Dublin, loss, and the hope of unlikely cures as longtime friends Karl, Baz, and Tom try and work through their pasts and present. Tom’s desire to be a war correspondent led him to Sarajevo, but when he returned, he came back haunted and suffering from PTSD. His old friends Karl and Baz aren’t sure what to do, but they’re willing to try out an experimental clinic halfway round the world in California, and so the three of them depart Ireland to see if they can find a desperate solution to help Tom.

The novel feels similar to a certain kind of comedy-drama film where friends must confront their past in a road trip type setting. However, what makes Sheehan’s version of the story distinctive is his focus upon PTSD and suicide through Tom and through their childhood friend Gabriel, which makes the characters’ journey a necessity rather than an indulgence (as can often be the case in a road trip drama narrative). Elements of the genre are apparent—arguments, revelations, a lack of belief in the point of their journey—but the novel also does not only focus on the journey, but what happens whilst there and what happened when Tom was in Bosnia. The narrative moves at quite a fast pace but slows down for Karl’s remembrances, a style that may make it less engaging for some but which tends to suit the story.

Restless Souls mixes hard-hitting moments with light banter and reminiscence in a way that doesn’t undercut its serious themes, but gives a kind of black comedy often found in life.