January is the month to curl up beside the fire with a good book. Emily Rhodes selects six of her favourite recent novels.
Days Without End
Sebastian Barry (Faber & Faber, £17.99)
Recently announced as the winner of the 2016 Costa Novel award, Days Without End is the second of Sebastian Barry’s novels to earn this prestigious prize. Young Thomas McNulty has left 1850s Ireland in the grip of poverty and famine for America, where he forms a soon-to-be-romantic friendship with John Cole. they set off on their adventures together—first dressing up as female dancers in a mining town, then joining the US army to fight in the gruesome Indian and Civil Wars. Mr Barry’s prose fizzes in this remarkable book—an intense, vivid portrait of a friendship and also of a country in the making.
Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury, £18.99)
Bert Cousins arrives uninvited at Beverly and Fix Keating’s christening party, proffering a bottle of gin. His lustful kiss for the hostess will blossom into a relationship that will first fracture, then join their two families uneasily together. In glistening prose, and with a perceptive eye for the nuance of shifting familial allegiances, Ann Patchett explores the lives of the six step-siblings over the following 50 years.
The Dark Flood Rises
Margaret Drabble (Canongate, £16.99)
Francesca Stubbs, in her seven- ties and with a stubborn fondness for Premier Inns and tower blocks, is our guide in this important novel about getting old. the author highlights ageing’s many difficulties—the loneliness, pain and expense—but lightens what could, in lesser hands, be a grim read with her affectionately drawn characters and fine observational humour.
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Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton, £16.99)
Young university lecturer Elisabeth Demand visits elderly, comatose Daniel Gluck. We learn the unusual story of their friendship in a tale that encompasses reflections on Brexit, ageing, feminism, Pop art, music and the nature of time itself. Ali Smith expertly combines puns with politics and a sense of humour with a sense of outrage to create a vibrant, pulsing novel of the moment.
The Museum of Cathy
Anna Stothard (Salt, £8.99)
Cathy has left her past behind her, except for a private ‘museum’ of collected objects, potent with memories. Now living in Berlin, engaged to be married and about to receive a prize for her work in a natural-history museum, she is confronted by a man from her past and her new life threatens to unravel. Anna Stothard’s accomplished novel is at once sensuous, gripping and fascinating.
Salley Vickers (Viking, £16.99)
Cambridge student Will Tye tragically falls from the roof of King’s College chapel—a catastrophe that affects three generations of his family (‘that spider’s web of which we are all a part’) and brings its secrets and traumas to light. Keen psychological insight makes this multi-generational fictional memoir a fascinating exploration of familial love and its many dark complications.