The Evening Road by Laird Hunt
Each of the women is optimistic, despite the burdens of her present and past, and their voices engaging and distinct. It’s testament to Laird Hunt’s prowess as a writer that we can sympathise with Ottie Lee despite our horror at her matter-of-fact acceptance of the lynching. But the obstacles the author puts in place to slow down the journey felt contrived to me, and I enjoyed sixteen-year-old Calla’s account more. She’s an endearing mélange of cussedness and recklessness that makes you want her to succeed. But it’s not just the cruelty of the external world she’s dealing with; she’s also an often grieving the loss of her sister, and caught between two equally unsuitable men.
The Evening Road is the last in a trilogy of novels exploring American history from the perspective of those the dominant accounts have overlooked. While I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as Neverhome, it’s still an admirable account of an important but painful topic which is well worth your time. Thanks to Chatto & Windus for my review copy.
How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall
The bottle painter also has fond memories of letters received from England from a young art student called Peter. Peter too gets his own narrative: in middle age, a reasonably successful landscape artist, happy in his north Cumbrian cottage on the edge of the moors with his beloved wife and children, twins just launched into adulthood. Fifteen years on, the elder twin, Susan, earning her living as a photographer and gallery assistant, channels her grief at the death of her brother into an extremely risky affair.
Four lives linked, to a greater or lesser extent, over two countries and half a century, through some beautiful descriptions and not a lot of plot. The main jeopardy, when Peter is trapped overnight by a rock fall, is deliberately downgraded through his daughter’s narrative when he is very much alive. First published in 2009, my paperback edition courtesy of Faber and Faber was published this year, possibly for fans of The Wolf Border of which I’m one. (Or maybe not, as I see from her website it was longlisted for the Man Booker prize and won the Portico Prize for Fiction.) I would have preferred more story and a stronger central thread (I don’t think loss is quite enough).
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell
Moving between time, continents and point of view, this is an epic novel about the lives we intersect with and the multitudes that make us who we are. Despite the multiple perspectives, it’s never confusing or, if it is, the writing and characterisation are so engaging you can’t object to getting lost in its pages. Maggie O’Farrell’s seventh novel confirms her as one of the most consistently reliable British novelists of our times. Thanks to Tinder Press for my review copy. I featured her previous novel, Instructions for a Heatwave, in an instructions-for-a-novel post – not that I believe I got anywhere near to unpacking how she does it – but couldn’t begin to try with this one!