School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
Frida Liu is a single working mother in the near future who makes the mistake of leaving her child alone at home for a few hours one afternoon. The authorities are summoned by the neighbors and his daughter Harriet is taken from him. Frida is given the choice of permanently losing her child or spending a year in a state-run re-education camp for mothers, where inmates must care for eerily realistic robot children equipped with surveillance cameras. Calling this novel “dystopian” doesn’t quite seem fair, says Wired. “Almost dystopian, perhaps? Ever so slightly speculative? This closeness to reality is what turns the emotional punch of the book into a full-on punch.” The School for Good Mothers is, according to the New York Times, “a scary start.” (KG)
Charlotte Mendelson’s Exhibitionist
The Hanrahan family reunites for a weekend as patriarch Ray – notorious artist and egoist – prepares for a new exhibition of his art. Ray’s three adult children and his steadfast wife, Lucia, all have their own choices to make. This fifth novel by Mendelson was shortlisted for the Woman’s Prize and was highly praised. The Guardian points to the author’s “succinct specificity of detail” and “an observational precision that often made me laugh and smile when I wasn’t laughing”. According to the Spectator, Mendelson excels in “lively, dryly hilarious stories about messy families.” The Exhibitionist is “a glorious ride. Mendelson observes the details of human behavior like a comic anthropologist.” (KG)
Free Love by Tessa Hadley
Described by The Guardian in 2015 as “one of this country’s great contemporary novelists”, British writer and scholar Hadley has been quietly churning out works of subtly powerful prose for two decades. Like her recent novels, The Past (2015) and Late in the Day (2019), Free Love – Hadley’s eighth – explores intimate relationships, sexuality, memory and bereavement, through a seemingly ordinary suburban family. But, Hadley writes, “beneath the placid suburban surface, something was amiss.” Set in the midst of the culture clash of the late 1960s, the novel interrogates the counterculture’s idealistic view of sexual freedom, in, writes the newspaper i, “a complex tale of personal awakening and a snapshot of a time when the survivors of war were suddenly painted as relics by a new generation determined not to live under their stark, hesitant shadow.” NPR writes, “Free Love is a fresh and moving evocation of the dawn of the Age of Aquarius.” (RL)
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
First novel, Black Cake tells the story of an Afro-American family of Caribbean origin and two brothers and sisters reunited after eight years of estrangement at their mother’s funeral where they discover their unusual heritage. The plot is animated by an omniscient narrator, dialogues and flashbacks. It is, says the New York Times, full of “family secrets, big lies, great loves, bright colors and strong smells”. Themes of race, identity and family love are all incorporated, says the Independent, “but the fun is in the reading…Black Cake is a satisfying literary meal, heralding the arrival of a new novelist to watch.” (KG)
Auē by Becky Manawatu
Told through multiple points of view, Auē tells the story of Maori siblings who have lost their parents, with each brother telling his story, and later their mother, Aroha, also telling hers from the afterlife. The novel has already won two awards in New Zealand and is now gaining more and more praise. “The plot revelations are masterful,” says The Guardian. “Auē has done well because it’s expertly designed, but also because there’s something indefinable about it: thrilling, confusing, captivating and familiar, yet otherworldly.” (KG)
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