The current slew of fresh paperbacks on offer covers an impressive spectrum all the way from a comedy of middle class manners featuring strange botany, courtesy of Scarlett Thomas, right through to a series of intricately wrought tales set in Belgium, with a strong focus on rural life, from talented Colombian writer Juan Gabriel Vásquez.
Read on for five selections from
IBTimes UK for your paperback reading, ready and waiting to spring from your bag to envelope you in silken webs of prose.
A comedy of human manners set around botanical life with scientific and spiritual digressions
Thomas wrote the cult novel The End of Mr. Y, much of which concerned a strange parallel universe. The Seed Collectors also explores alternative realities, this time rooted in plant life within a comedy of manners about an extended family of botanists. Prominent among them are the overweight Bryony and her downtrodden husband, newspaper columnist James, as well as their challenging teenage daughter Holly. The story begins when Great Aunt Oleander leaves a series of mysterious seed pods to the family. The pods possess mystical properties, as well as being lethally poisonous. Along the way Thomas aims her sparkling intelligence at science and spiritual issues in fascinating digressions. The novel itself becomes like a luxuriant plant, full of offshoots and colourful blooms.
The dramatic story of the lengthy and savage sea battle that decided victory in the Second World War
Dimbleby believes that the battle in the Atlantic was the key to the outcome of the Second World War. If the supply lines from America had been cut, he says, Britain and its armies would have starved and D-Day could not have happened. The battle lasted almost the whole length of the war, with the nadir in the summer of 1942 when one allied vessel was sunk every four hours. Late in the hostilities, advances in radar and other technologies brought defeat for the U-boats. In the intervening years the survival odds for seamen were poor and death took terrible forms: as well as drowning they risked being burnt alive or faced starvation when set adrift in lifeboats. Dimbleby and his researchers recount a gripping story.
An unusually life-affirming family memoir about a teenager's car accident and subsequent coma
When she was growing up Rentzenbrink was very close to her younger brother Matty. Just before his GCSE results Matty was knocked down by a car. He survived, but death might have been more merciful, because he entered a persistent vegetative state that lasted almost a decade. Rentzenbrink describes the terrible ordeal her family had to endure, which their love for Matty only intensified. In the meantime Rentzenbrink grew up and went off to university, all the while carrying the trauma of her brother's fate with her. This is not a misery memoir, because there is never any hint that Rentzenbrink is exploiting her heart-rending subject matter. Rather, it is a tale about the affirmative power of love, even under the most catastrophic circumstances.
The Last Bookaneer, by Matthew Pearl (Vintage) A sophisticated historical thriller about a plot to steal Robert Louis Stevenson's final novel
Pearl writes historical crime thrillers which incorporate fictional material about famous writers. So far they have featured Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens. This time round he has chosen Robert Louis Stevenson. The story is set in Samoa, near the end of Stevenson's life. He is rumoured to be finishing his final novel, to the great interest of the "bookaneers" - literary thieves who exploited the lack of international copyright agreements. They plan to enrich themselves by stealing Stevenson's manuscript and publishing it around the world. There follows a ripping yarn set in the South Seas. Pearl has a talent for nailing details of his periods and settings, and his tale has topical parallels with today's internet piracy of creative works.
The travails of the Belgian bourgeoisie are captured with literary elan in these interlinked stories
Vásquez is a leading Colombian writer. He is best known for Sound of Things Falling, his prize-winning psychological thriller about the diverse and appalling effects of political repression and organised crime in his native country. But he is nothing if not versatile, because this is a collection of interlinked short stories set in rural Belgium, with a strong focus on hunting and horses. His renderings of the stark beauty of the Ardennes frame a series of tales spilling over with emotional turbulence, each one an intricately plotted drama about love and loss. Hopping between infidelity, accidents, revenge and murder, Vásquez is adept at flashbacks and fast-forwards alike, as well as being a master of unexpected twists and turns. His robust, charged prose is excellently translated by Anne McLean.