Corrie's pick of the summer novels
So much luxurious reading time, and so many fine new fiction and non-fiction books! My January holiday suitcase was overloaded (as usual!) with a raft of titles suggested by my bookshop colleagues, by our customers, and by newspaper reviewers. And although I still haven’t read all the books I took away (again – as usual!), there were a couple of standouts.
In 2011 Chicago-born writer Jennifer Egan won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize Fiction award for A Visit From The Goon Squad. Her latest novel Manhattan Beach follows a more conventional novel structure, but in terms of creativity and elegant writing, it packs an equally powerful punch.
Manhattan Beach opens in Brooklyn during the Great Depression as 11-year-old Anna Kerrigan accompanies her father to the house of Dexter Styles, a wealthy business associate who Anna senses has some professional hold over her father. The story fast-forwards to the early 1940s’ Brooklyn Navy Yard where Anna, like many young women, has joined the war effort and is working in a laborious factory job. Her father mysteriously disappeared years earlier and Anna is the chief wage earner for her disabled sister Lydia and her mother. Anna’s dream is to become a diver who helps with underwater ship repairs. It is dangerous work and no woman has ever become a diver., But Anna is determined; not only is the work more interesting, but the extra pay will ease her family’s financial situation,
A chance nightclub meeting with Dexter Styles awakens Anna’s pre-occupation with her father’s disappearance and the story suddenly enters new and seedier territory. As reviewer Meghan O’Rourke wrote in the UK Guardian last year: "This is a novel that will pull you in and under and carry you away on its rip tides. In particular, Anna’s plight as a woman whose will is larger than her circumstances is dramatised with tremendous power. Its resonances continue to wash over the reader long after the novel ends.”
I share O’Rourke’s observation and urge customers who love a strong literary read to give this one a go. Book clubs, in particular, will find Manhattan Beach an immensely satisfying novel to discuss and dissect.