Another month. Another five books. We might be getting closer to Christmas, but there’s nothing particularly “festive” about this month’s five titles. Though they’d all make wonderful gifts for the book lover in your life. It is a particularly fiction heavy list this month, with a debut short story collection, a highly anticipated second novel, and a re-published debut from the 1960’s all making the cut.
Each of these titles should all be available from your local bookshops or from your favourite online retailers. As always I recommend hitting up your local bookstores wherever possible; they’re wonderful places, generally staffed by well read and knowledge folk who love nothing more than championing good writing and offering up recommendations.
Anyway, here are the five books you need to read this month…
The Luckiest Guy Alive – John Cooper Clarke
The Luckiest Guy Alive is the new collection of poetry, the first in close to thirty years, from renowned British performance poet Dr. John Cooper Clarke. The new collection brings together both brand new poems as well as tried-and-tested audience favourites, and serves as a welcome reminder of Clarke’s wit, lexical dexterity and deft social commentary. Although, this might be his first collection Clarke has not been sitting idle, indeed his work has been added to the curriculum in the UK, and he’s proven to something of an inspiration for a younger generation of musicians – his poem “I Wanna Be Yours” was set to music by The Arctic Monkeys on their acclaimed record, AM.
Clarke’s poetry and performance has always had its links with music, in the earliest days of his career he used to appear alongside the likes of Elvis Costello, Joy Division, the Fall and others. In fact he was in Australia earlier in the year supporting Squeeze on their national tour. It’s telling perhaps that Clarke’s discography easily surpasses his bibliography. For those poetry purists, this is likely not the collection for you; I mean you’re never going to get behind a meditation on the loss of Bono’s leather trousers are you? Known for his wit and sharp social satire and commentary it’s perhaps not surprising that there’s a new collection coming now, what with the uncertainty and fractured state of the world. I for one can’t wait to dive into this new collection, though I might have to invest in the audiobook too just to hear Clarke’s imitable delivery.
The Luckiest Guy Alive is available now through Pan Macmillan Australia
Friday Black – Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Friday Black is the debut short story collection from New York author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. The collected stories are surreal, satirical and ultimately confronting, and they all work to reveal the violence and injustice experienced by people of colour in America. Friday Black is yet another in a long line of timely books that explores the cultural unrest that currently plagues the world. The collection’s opening story, for example, “The Finkelstein Five” offers the reader a glimpse at the oft brutal prejudice of the US justice system, whilst in Black Mirror / Westworld style, “Zimmer Land” imagines racism-as-sport, with the action unfolding in a theme park where patrons pay to act out their racist revenge fantasies.
Adjei-Brenyah’s attention is not solely turned towards the issue of racism; indeed the collection’s eponymous story “Friday Black” and the wonderfully titled “How to Sell a Jacket as Told by Ice King” both offer a critique of abject consumerism and the toll it takes on us all. From the little I’ve read of the collection it is pretty clear that Adjei-Brenyah doesn’t pay too much attention to genre distinctions; within the collection’s twelve stories literary fiction rubs shoulders with science fiction with ready ease. There’s also plenty of juxtaposition between the real and the surreal throughout. With the collection already garnering significant praise, Friday Black heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice onto the American literary scene, and will likely appeal to the fans of Colson Whitehead, Marlon James, Black Mirror and Get Out.
Friday Black is available now through Hachette Australia
Tentacle – Rita Indiana
Rita Indiana is a musician, producer, composer and author from the Dominican Republic. She is the author of three short story collections and four novels, of which Tentacle is the second to be translated into English. Set in a post-apocalyptic Santo Domingo Tentacle involves a prophecy, time travel, and cults, whilst also tackling questions of climate change, technology, queer politics and contemporary art (amongst many many other ideas).Tentacle won the Grand Prize of the Association of Caribbean Writers in 2017, the first Spanish language book to do so. It is also an utterly and wonderfully strange novel/novella, it’s absolutely packed full of ideas, probably more than you should realistically be able to fit into a novel less than 150 pages long.
Tentacle follows the story of a young maid called Acilde Figueroa who finds herself at the heart of a prophecy; only she can travel back in time and save the ocean, and humanity along with it, from catastrophe. First, though, she must become the man she always was, all with the help of a sacred anemone. Tentacle is a confronting novel, certainly it does not shy away from addressing the topics of sex and gender, but it’s also completely compelling. It’s a pulpy and pulpy mishmash of genres, but utterly readable all the same.
Tentacle is available November 15th from And Other Stories
A Different Drummer – William Melvin Kelley
African-American author William Melvin Kelley has been described by the New Yorker as “the lost giant of American literature”, and has had his work compared critically to James Baldwin and William Faulkner. However, unlike those two authors, Kelley is a virtual unknown, despite the fact that he is credited with a term that you’d be hard pressed to avoid these days – woke. A Different Drummer is Kelley’s debut novel, and addresses the question of what it is like to be white in the United States, and what it is like, for all Americans, to live under the conditions of white supremacy. Published initially in 1962, A Different Drummer has been re-released this month on what would be the 81st anniversary of Kelley’s birth, and follows in the footsteps of Alone in Berlin and Stoner as “lost” masterpieces reintroduced to a new generation of readers.
A Different Drummer is set in 1957 in a fictional southern US state between Alabama and Mississippi. One day, a young black farmer called Tucker Caliban throws salt on his field, shoots his horse and livestock and sets fire to his house and departs the state, with the entire African-American population following shortly after him. Interestingly, however, whilst the plot of the book is driven by the actions of the African-American population, the story is told exclusively through the eyes of the white townsfolk. Given the current climate in the United States, and indeed here in Australia too, it’s hard not to characterise this re-release as anything but timely. Whilst it might have been released in 1962, it is certainly as relevant and potent today.
A Different Drummer is available now through Hachette Australia
The Corset – Laura Purcell
The Corset is the new, highly anticipated, Victorian chiller from British author Laura Purcell. The Corset follows the actions of Dorothea and Ruth, two very different women. Dorothea Truelove is a young, wealthy and beautiful woman, whilst Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder. With Dorothea’s charitable work leading her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted to get a chance to explore her fascination with phrenology. However, her encounters with Ruth will lead her to question her rationality and faith in redemption. For you see, Ruth, a seamstress believes she can control people’s fates through the clothes she makes for them.
The Corset, like The Silent Companions before it, is another wonderfully chilling take on Victorian gothic literature. It’s filled with plenty of narrative twists and turns, and plenty of macabre atmospherics. Headed up by two compelling female characters The Corset, whilst a gripping thriller, also manages to effectively explore the expectations and role of women in Victorian society across the social classes. Fans of Purcell’s The Silent Companions will not be disappointed, and it should appeal to fans of Sarah Perry, Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace and Sarah Waters.
The Corset is available now through Bloomsbury Australia
Header Image by Joshua James Sandells