October reads: best new books
From a wildcard Booker winner to a mythical mystery, these are the four books to make a beeline for this month
Nothing is named but everything is discussed in Anna Burns's Milkman. And the book itself is the hot topic of discussion: Milkman is winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize, making Burns the first Northern Irish writer to receive the accolade.
In vitally inventive prose that mimics the slipperiness of language, an unnamed narrator (18-year-old daughter of whos-it and so-and-so, sister of thingy, thingy, thingy and thingy) shares an unsettling story of stalking, gossip and political unrest. She is preoccupied with maybe-boyfriend, but as a milkman (who never delivers milk) starts following her, the community ripples with rumours.
In this deliberately dislocated literary landscape, the Troubles of Belfast in late '70s are pointedly never mentioned, yet haunt the narrative. Dense paragraphs and verbose stream of consciousness prose make this a book you have to surrender to. But as you settle into the peculiar pace, the parallels with contemporary politics are increasingly striking.
You can almost feel the foundations crumbling in best-selling writer Barbarba Kingsolver's absorbing exploration of American capitalism. She roots the social commentary in domesticity and detail, as two families are linked by a vast, crumbling house in New Jersey. A very current quagmire of tuition fees, debt and redundancy is contrasted with the Victorian crisis of faith.
Willa, who narrates the contemporary thread is bogged down with caring for elderly relatives and nurturing grown children who've failed to fly the nest, all while negotiating the pressures of dwindling income.
In the 19th century, we follow hopeful young teacher Thatcher as he attempts to reconcile the thrill of Darwinism with a deeply conservative community.
The two stories entwine with architectural elegance to build a story of compassion in the face of adversity, which feels timeless and immediate all at once.
The first thing you should know about the new Murakami book is that it's a Big Commitment. At 700 hundred pages, the sheer size and weight of the hardback is daunting (and far to cumbersome for carrying in handbags).
But this is a writer with enough talent to justify the backache. Killing Commendatore is just as epic as it looks, encompassing war, creativity, obsession and loneliness in the story of a portrait painter who finds a strange artwork in the attic. As much as re-working of The Great Gatsby as a meditation on the nature of art, it's a dense, dizzying prospect, which commands your full attention.
But there's a hallucinatory energy that makes Murakami's characteristic medley of metaphor and magical realism totally readable – even if reading this great lump of a book will give you wrist strain.
After the runaway success of The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry extends her talent for historical mystery to the biblical myth of Melmoth the Wanderer.
Flitting from modern day Prague, 1990s Asia, and right back to middle ages, they story is propelled by atmosphere and brought to life with a synaesthetic sense of strangeness.
We follow Helen, whose sparse, puritanical life is thrown into disarray when she becomes immersed in stories and recorded sightings of Melmoth. Visiting only the most wretched souls, this mythical figure draws together tales of guilt and suffering from across history.
While The Essex Serpent always rooted the mythic beast in rationality, Melmoth gives way to full Gothic. The result is less universal (if you're not a fan of supernatural themes, this isn't the book to change your mind ), but it's a rich and well-wrought fantasy for those with a taste for ghost stories.
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