02 January 2018

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

Imogen Hermes Gowar

Thirty-year-old Imogen Hermes Gowar used to work as a gallery warden at the British Museum in London. On display at the time amongst the historical oddities and natural history specimens in the Enlightenment Gallery was a ‘mermaid’: the mummified corpse of a monkey stitched to a fish’s tail, from 18th century Japan.

Inspired, Imogen dashed off the short story that eventually grew into her first novel, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. Set in 18th century London, at a time when the city was the trading centre of the world, Mermaid is a glittering novel about desire, sexual power and social climbing. Imogen gives voice to the most memorable of characters, Angelica Neale, a famous courtesan fighting for independence, whose survival and fate is bound to her beauty and to the whims of the men around her. If you loved The Miniaturist, The Essex Serpent or The Crimson Petal and The White, Imogen Hermes Gowar’s delightful first novel is a must read.

White Chrysanthemum

Mary Lynn Bracht

The novel opens in 1943 on the southernmost tip of Korea, Hana and her younger sister Emi are out fishing when the unimaginable happens: Hana is kidnapped by a Japanese soldier a forced to become a “comfort woman” (a term for the thousands of women forced to become sexual slaves for Japanese soldiers). Emi stays in their fishing village never knowing what has become of her older sister. We follow Hana’s epic story of extreme hardship and incredible strength against all odds as she tries to find her way home, and Emi’s as searches to discover what happened to her beloved sister – a search that lasts decades and casts a long shadow over her life.

This is a book you’ll read with your heart in your throat (and sometimes with tears rolling down your cheeks) as you long for Hana to escape her terrible fate. You will learn about a part of history that gets little airtime and rage at the injustice of yet another life ruined by war, and you will wonder at the human capacity for survival. White Chrysanthemum is such a powerful and moving book – particularly if you have a sister.

Swansong

Kerry Andrew

A troubled young woman trying to escape her guilt over a disturbing incident in London comes face to face with the volatile, haunted wilderness of the Scottish Highlands. She goes looking for drink, drugs and sex but instead finds a new kind of fear. She becomes prone to strange visions and is at once terrified and fascinated by a man she comes across in the forest on her first night.

Swansong is the celebrated musician and composer Kerry Andrew’s original and impressively assured debut novel. Based on a traditional folk song, Kerry’s musical background lends the novel a charged, hallucinatory quality that is uncanny and deeply disquieting.

Brit(ish)

Afua Hirsch

You’re British. Your parents are British. You were raised in Britain. Your partner, your children and most of your friends are British. So why do people keep asking you where you are from?

Former Sky News and Guardian journalist Afua Hirsch unpacks a search for identity, exposing the everyday racism that plagues British society. Brit(ish) is an urgent call for change - an intimate, investigative portrait of a nation in denial about our past and our present of the story of how and why this came to be. Essential reading for 2018 and the challenges faced by Britain.

The Line Becomes A River

Francisco Cantú

The Line Becomes A River is a timely book from a smart young writer with a unique perspective. Francisco Cantú was a Border Patrol Agent for four years, policing the line between Mexico and the USA. He patrolled the desert, tracking narcos and illegal immigrants, but the brutal nature of the job, coupled with his Mexican heritage, left him feeling conflicted.

This book is an account of that time, but Cantú also weaves in the fascinating history of the border itself (how do you decide where the line goes?) and the stories of real people that he met along the way. It can be harrowing, but the beauty of the wild landscape and the decency of the author and many of those he meets ultimately makes the book uplifting.

In a moment when too many people across the world seem to be turning inward and shunning their neighbours, this comes as a welcome and reasoned appeal for understanding and compassion.

The Western Wind

Samantha Harvey

Oakham, in Somerset, in the 15th century; a tiny village cut off by a big river with no bridge. When a man is swept away by the river in the early hours of Shrove Saturday, an explanation has to be found: accident, suicide or murder? The village priest, John Reve, is privy to many secrets but will he be able to unravel what happened to the victim, Thomas Newman, the wealthiest, most capable and industrious man in the village? And what will happen if he can’t?

Moving back in time towards the moment of Thomas Newman’s death, the story is related by Reve, an unforgettable narrator and voice, and a man with secrets of his own to keep. Through his eyes Samantha Harvey makes the medieval world completely real and immediate. Totally captivating and enthralling.

This is Samantha Harvey's first novel since being longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize in 2015 - and we can't wait to share this fresh new story.

Ordinary People

Diana Evans

Bookended by Obama’s election victory and the death of Michael Jackson, Ordinary People is about two London couples over the course of one year. Beset by the responsibilities, problems, irritants, differences in opinions, hopes and longings that are the hallmarks of ‘ordinary lives’ this novel tells the story of modern relationships – of modern life – with such pinpoint accuracy that you’ll devour it like a soap opera and then realise it’s actually a masterpiece. This is a novel about race, friendship, work, holidays, sex, grief, love, about the death of parents and the lives of children and who we are in between. Music hums through it like the underground beneath the characters’ feet. We love Diana Evans' 26a - and this new story is set to take the bookshelves by storm. 

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