From star-crossed rock stars to naive honeymooners and Victorian damsels, spring 2019’s bookshelves have plenty to offer.
First up is Daisy Jones & The Six (Hutchinson, out now), a book so tantalisingly convincing you can almost see its protagonists tearing up the stage and hear the strum of their guitars. Taylor Jenkins Reid’s sex, drugs and rock’n’roll story sees The Six achieving great heights in the 1970s and then crashing back to earth, never to reunite again. At its centre of their rise and fall is the tragic relationship between talented, luminescent Daisy and addiction-prone star Billy, but what sets the book apart from a typical will-they / won’t-they is the attention given to the secondary characters, in particular keyboardist Karen Karen. Written as an oral history from the point of view of band members and other industry bods, it flies off the pages. I for one can’t wait for the television adaptation (Reese Witherspoon has bought the rights).
As addictive, if a very different story, is The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna (Hodder & Stoughton, 16th May) by Juliet Grames, a saga that starts in an isolated village in Italy and ends many miles across the Atlantic a century later. Born into grinding poverty and a chauvinist world with no expectation of women other than marriage and motherhood, Stella Fortuna spends her childhood defying expectation, her tyrannical father, and fate itself. We follow Stella over a long-life involving love, heartbreak and all the family drama you could imagine, through two world wars and decades of change and transformation. If I railed against the unfair way her life turned out, I fell in love with Stella almost from page one; she’s a fantastic, complicated heroine — and what a story she has to tell.
I started off unconvinced by Abi Maxwell’s The Den (Tinder Press, 16th May) but I’m glad I persevered. At the start of the novel we meet Jane, whose sister Henrietta — three years older, and on the cusp of adulthood — is about to disappear on a bitterly cold night. The siblings live in rural New Hampshire and thrills are few and far between, until Henrietta meets a boy. So far, so predictable, but then Maxwell races back a century and introduces us to Elspeth, a Scottish emigre trying to build a life for her family in the same town. She too went missing under mysterious circumstances, never to be seen again. This is a quirky book, part ghost story, part thriller, and by the end I was utterly spellbound.
Speaking of witchcraft, The Furies (Harper Collins, 2nd May) by Katie Lowe picks up where the cult teen film The Craft left off, weaving an engrossing yarn about adolescent girls and powers darker than they can control. Violet is the new girl, off for a supposedly fresh start at a plush (and weirdly American, despite its British setting) private school in the wake of family tragedy. Very quickly she falls in with bad girl Robin and her coven of friends — but what is Robin hiding? What happened to a girl called Emily, found dead in strange circumstances on school grounds? With clock towers, secretive teachers and plenty of teenage angst, Lowe is mining well-trodden territory, but it’s fun and frothy and takes you back to being 14 and on a sleepover.
Staying with the gothic, Elizabeth Macneal’s debut, The Doll Factory (Picador, 2nd May) is as creepy and macabre as they come, featuring a Victorian collector who becomes obsessed with a young painter named Iris. Iris is beautiful and talented, and quickly becomes a muse for Louis Frost, part of the pre-Raphaelite set, but while the two are building a life of passion and creativity, Silas is ever-present, watching and waiting. You know from the beginning that Iris is under threat; nevertheless Macneal’s colourful depiction of 19th century London keeps you enthralled.
Chip Cheek’s Cape May (W&N, 30th April) harks back to Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach in telling the story of Henry and Effie, a newly married, churchgoing couple from Georgia on an Atlantic honeymoon. It’s 1957 and our inexperienced teenage newlyweds are easy prey for a set of wealthy, bored New Yorkers, Clara, Max and Alma. A boozy, indulgent friendship ensues, revealing plenty about Henry and Effie to each other and to themselves. Scandalous and sexy, if fairly implausible at times, it races along to a terrible, tragic denouement.
Moving back into the modern era, What Red Was, by Rosie Price (Harvill Secker, 9th May), starts in the One Day mould, with a freshers’ week meet cute between posh boy Max and the more working class Kate, then morphs into a more complex and timely novel about sexual politics and consent. The story, which winds through the pair’s early twenties, is engaging, although I found both of the central pair tiresome at times.
A Good Enough Mother, by Bev Thomas (Faber, out now) focuses on successful psychologist Dr Ruth Hartland, and a patient with whom she develops an unhealthy preoccupation. Like most fictional therapists, Ruth’s personal life is a mess, and it soon becomes clear why this patient has grabbed her attention so — and equally that it’s all about to go horribly wrong. Unlikeable characters meant I never felt the stakes were particularly high; but there’s still plenty to keep you turning the pages.
Jennifer Lipman is a freelance journalist. She tweets on twitter.com/jenlipman