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Very Good Second Novels

I have seen it said on many an occasion that authors suffer from the curse of the second novel, in which they try their best to write something as good as their first, but invariably fail.  I have come several examples where this is true (Diane Setterfield unfortunately springs to mind, as I absolutely adored The Thirteenth Tale, and very much disliked her second novel, Bellman and Black), but actually, have often found myself enjoying an author’s second novel even more than their first.  I felt that it might make a nice post to group together some thoughts on – and in the case that I have not written reviews and read the book some years ago, the blurb of – five second novels which I have very much admired, or been pleasantly surprised by.  I have tried to choose a diverse range of novels from different time periods to vary the post a little.

 

363750491. Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey (2018)
I really enjoyed Emma Healey’s debut novel, Elizabeth is Missing, and was thus rather keen to begin her second, Whistle in the Dark. What I found within its pages was an intriguing mystery, a cast of multilayered characters, and a very tight and controlled plot. Healey explores a fascinating family dynamic, which is threatened by various factors – namely the disappearance of teenage daughter Lana, which is the focus of the plot. I enjoyed the way in which Healey builds the novel, with longer chapters and smaller fragments, all of which reveal something.  Whistle in the Dark is so well pieced together, and I found it incredibly absorbing; it kept me up reading when I really should have been sleeping. I can’t wait to see what Healey comes up with next.

 

2. Uncle Paul by Celia Fremlin (1959)
Uncle Paul was the last remaining novel by Celia Fremlin which I had on my Kindle. I decided to start reading it on the way to Munich, and was gripped all the way through. I loved the opening of this, Fremlin’s second novel, and found the plot intriguing. The humour here worked well, and I found the dialogue to be both sharp and wonderfully controlled. I guessed the denouement from quite a way off, although it did not seem as though it had been well hidden. A great novel which certainly kept me guessing.

 

3. The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota (2015) 17824793
Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways is an urgent, momentous novel about the experience of three young men who immigrate from India to the United Kingdom in hope of finding work. From the very beginning, Sahota’s study of his characters is incredibly detailed. I loved the inclusion of so much cultural minutiae, and found that the use of words in different Indian dialects without their translations being given adds yet another layer to the whole. The story is incredibly evocative of place and space, and every single strand of story has been well pulled together. The way in which the different characters’ stories intertwined was clever.  The Year of the Runaways is a relatively slow novel, in the very best way. The backstories of each of Sahota’s characters are eminently believable, as are their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. The novel is so immersive that it becomes difficult to put down. The Year of the Runaways is an eye-opening book, and I felt so empathetic toward all of the protagonists, as well as their wider families. I read this important book with rapt attention, and cannot recommend it enough.

 

4. The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1922)
The heir to his grandfather’s considerable fortune, Anthony Patch is led astray from the path to gainful employment by the temptations and distractions of the 1920s Jazz Age. His descent into dissolution and profligacy is accelerated by his marriage to the attractive but turbulent Gloria, and the couple soon discover the dangerous flip side of a life of glamour and debauchery. Containing obvious parallels with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s own lives, the novel is a tragic examination of the pitfalls of greed and materialism and the transience of youth and beauty.

 

342732365. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2017)
I very much enjoyed Celeste Ng’s thoughtful and thought-provoking debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, and looked forward to her newest publication, Little Fires Everywhere. Firstly, I very much liked Ng’s dedication, which reads: ‘To those who are on their own paths, setting little fires.’ With regard to the novel itself, the characters in their entirety have such depth to them, and interact so realistically. Ng held my interest throughout, dropping small clues and questions in as she went, and tying up the loose ends masterfully. She demonstrates a wonderful grasp of history and society, and her writing is always controlled.  Little Fires Everywhere tackles a whole host of important themes, and I could barely put it down.

 

Of course, there are so many more great novels which I could have included here!  Which are your favourite – and least favourite – second novels?  Have you read any of these, or the debut books by the authors mentioned?

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Lit Titbits (2)

This is the second instalment of Lit Titbits.  These will, I hope, be the perfect things for you to read over a well-deserved tea break, or when you have a few minutes to relax during your day. They make perfect, brief stops from thesis research too (trust me, I speak from experience).

  1. Here is a recipe from Good Food Stories for Marcel Proust’s famous madeleines.
  2. They are sadly not being uploaded any more, but I am very much enjoying making my way through the Books on the Nightstand podcasts.  You can find them all here.
  3. On Nudge, Hilary White reviews a wonderful looking Galician novel about politics, family and community – The Low Voices by Manuel Rivas.  Read it here.
  4. AbeBooks has a fun post about ‘literary selfies’, when authors sign books with a self-portrait, here; it’s one way to make a book unique, I suppose!
  5. Between the Covers has a wonderful audio interview with Celeste Ng here.  It’s a little longer than a tea break permits, unfortunately, but is well worth a listen.
  6. The New York Times draws attention toward exciting new Nigerian fiction, which aims to break genre boundaries.  Find Alexandra Alter’s wonderful article here.
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One From the Archive: ‘Everything I Never Told You’ by Celeste Ng ****

Celeste Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, takes place in Ohio in 1977, and deals with the disappearance of a seventeen-year-old Chinese-American girl, Lydia Lee.  Ng’s choice to use the 1970s as a setting allows her to examine racial differences with so much true-to-life consideration.  She also practices this successful technique when it comes to discussing the societal role of women, particularly within the confines of such a small and secluded town.

9780349134284From the very beginning, we as readers are given more information than those around Lydia.  Ng tells us that Lydia is already dead, but her family are completely unaware of this fact, and continue to cling on to the hope that she will walk back into their lives as though nothing has happened.  The fissures within the family come to light as the story moves on, and one finds oneself continually drawing one’s own conclusions about what has happened to cause Lydia’s death.

Ng’s writing style and the plot which she has crafted is absorbing.  She has taken into account a generational mixture of characters, whose reactions to Lydia’s disappearance – and later to her death – have been well considered and are, as a result, believable.  Each of these characters has been followed in turn, which allows Ng to build both her creations and the story in which they find themselves.

The structure of the novel – which outlines portions of the story from the perspective of different periods – ensures that the reader’s attention is held throughout.  A great deal of themes are at play in Everything I Never Told You too, from secrets and deception to grief and racism.  The pace works nicely, and the whole has been very well written.  Nothing is quite as it seems, and surprises are thrown up throughout, making Everything I Never Told You one of the most thought-provoking contemporary novels of late.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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‘Everything I Never Told You’ by Celeste Ng ****

Celeste Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, takes place in Ohio in 1977, and deals with the disappearance of a seventeen-year-old Chinese-American girl, Lydia Lee.  Ng’s choice to use the 1970s as a setting allows her to examine racial differences with so much true-to-life consideration.  She also practices this successful technique when it comes to discussing the societal role of women, particularly within the confines of such a small and secluded town.

From the very beginning, we as readers are given more information than those around Lydia.  Ng tells us that Lydia is already dead, but her family are completely unaware of this fact, and continue to cling on to the hope that she will walk back into their lives as though nothing has happened.  The fissures within the family come to light as the story moves on, and one finds oneself continually drawing one’s own conclusions about what has happened to cause Lydia’s death.

Ng’s writing style and the plot which she has crafted is absorbing.  She has taken into account a generational mixture of characters, whose reactions to Lydia’s disappearance – and later to her death – have been well considered and are, as a result, believable.  Each of these characters has been followed in turn, which allows Ng to build both her creations and the story in which they find themselves.

The structure of the novel – which outlines portions of the story from the perspective of different periods – ensures that the reader’s attention is held throughout.  A great deal of themes are at play in Everything I Never Told You too, from secrets and deception to grief and racism.  The pace works nicely, and the whole has been very well written.  Nothing is quite as it seems, and surprises are thrown up throughout, making Everything I Never Told You one of the most thought-provoking contemporary novels of late.

Purchase from The Book Depository