Picador’s Big Three: The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst, At Last by Edward St Aubyn and Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift

by |June 24, 2011

July is a big month for Picador Australia and it will be a big month for lovers of contemporary literature, too. Three of the most respected writers writing today – Graham Swift, Alan Hollinghurst and Edward St Aubyn – are set to release new novels on July 1st.

We recommend buying all three (but then, we would). If you would like to become better acquainted before you take the plunge, take a moment to read through the following. We feel confident the reviews will pique your interest…

WISH YOU WERE HERE by GRAHAM SWIFT

The story of a dreadful day of catharsis in the life of a resolutely ordinary man, Graham Swift’s ninth novel begins with remembered images of funeral pyres of burning cattle and the collapse of the twin towers.

“There is no end to madness,” thinks Jack Luxton, sitting alone in his bedroom in a cottage on the Isle of Wight, looking out over the rain-lashed caravan site, now closed for winter, that he has run for the past 10 years with his wife, Ellie. Jack has just returned from the repatriation and funeral of his younger brother Tom, a soldier killed in Iraq, who had left the family many years ago and never kept in touch. Terrible, unrevealed words have passed between Jack and his wife, and she has taken off with the car. Now, with a loaded gun, he awaits her return.

A probing but leisurely character study masquerading as a mystery, Wish You Were is a dark, restrained family drama with its roots in Devon soil, it takes us back to a time when Jack and Ellie were diffident childhood sweethearts growing up on neighbouring farms.

But now the farm has gone, ruined by “the war with the cow disease”. Jack is now “the soft-living proprietor of a caravan site”. For three weeks or a month every year, he and Ellie jet off to the Caribbean, but he never really enjoys himself.

This is not a book for impatient readers but it’s a book which improves with retrospect.

(Excerpts taken from The Guardian online)

Publisher synopsis: A masterly work from one of our greatest writers

On an autumn day in 2006, on the Isle of Wight, Jack Luxton, former Devon farmer and now the proprietor of a seaside caravan park, receives the news that his soldier brother Tom, not seen for years, has been killed in Iraq.

For Jack and his wife Ellie this will have a potentially catastrophic impact. For Jack in particular it means a crucial journey – to receive his brother’s remains, but also into his own most secret, troubling memories and into the land of his and Ellie’s past.

Wish You Were Here is both a gripping account of things that touch and test our human core and a resonant novel about a changing England. Rich with Graham Swift’s love of the local, full of humour and tenderness in the face of tragedy, it is also, inescapably, about a wider, afflicted world. Moving towards an almost unbearably tense climax, it allows us to feel the stuff of headlines – the return of a dead soldier from a foreign war – as heart-wrenching personal truth.

Author Information

Graham Swift was born in 1949 and is the author of eight acclaimed novels and a collection of short stories; his most recent work is Making an Elephant, a book of essays, portraits, poetry and reflections on his life in writing. With Waterland he won the Guardian Fiction Prize (1983), and with Last Orders the Booker Prize (1996). Both novels have since been made into films. Graham Swift’s work has appeared in over thirty languages.

Pre-order your copy of Wish You Were Here – err… here

AT LAST by EDWARD ST AUBYN

The fifth of St Aubyn’s Melrose novels, At Last is as ever, is a beguiling blend of wit, intellect and compassion. Each of the novels enthrals, but in sequence, their power is synergistic.

They relate the tale of a horrifically dysfunctional family: doctor David, his wealthy wife Eleanor, and their child Patrick, who is raped by David and develops addiction problems. Patrick’s craving for maternal love leads him to marry caring Mary, but after two sons arrive, Mary’s attention shifts. Patrick’s need for unshared affection then leads to his affair with Julia, and he is angst-ridden at Eleanor’s decision to leave the family pile to a shaman – or conman – Seamus.

St Aubyn’s characteristic blend of acid wit, intellect and compassion is plaited through At Last, which is focused on a single day – that of Eleanor’s cremation, in 2005.

St Aubyn’s acerbic humour is wonderful but this is also a psychologically astute book. When the parallels between Patrick and St Aubyn are considered (St Aubyn has revealed that he shares Patrick’s history of abuse and addiction), the novel seems strikingly raw and honest, too.

In At Last, Patrick has recently left the Priory, so the language of psychotherapy is prominent, but there is no self-indulgence. And St Aubyn is still deliciously wicked in his satire. Nancy is a parody of venal greed: “She had no cash for taxis, and her swollen feet were already bulging out of the ruthlessly elegant inside edges of her $2,000 shoes. People said she was incorrigibly extravagant but the shoes would have cost $2,000 each, if she hadn’t bought them parsimoniously in a sale.”

There are few small problems in a shimmering work of multiple strengths. Even minor characters surge with fascinating foibles. And St Aubyn’s ability to pierce the façade of moneyed politesse that veils cruel, hypocritical behaviour is acute.

The final coming to terms is not an epiphany, as that would suggest a clarity of vision through which peace is reached, and with childhood trauma, the circular questions never end. But At Last is as close to a resolution as Patrick will ever come and ends, if not with unrealistic optimism, then at least with hope. Demons are forever, but we’re privileged that St Aubyn chose to share his with us.

(Excerpts taken from The Independent online)

Publisher synopsis: For Patrick Melrose, ‘family’ is more than a double-edged sword. As friends, relations and foes trickle in to pay final respects to his mother, Eleanor – an heiress who forsook the grandeur of her upbringing for ‘good works’, freely bestowed upon everyone but her own child – Patrick finds that his transition to orphanhood isn’t necessarily the liberation he had so long imagined.

Yet as the service ends and the family gather for a final party, as conversations are overheard, danced around and concertedly avoided, amidst the social niceties and the social horrors, the calms and the rapids, Patrick begins to sense a new current. And at the end of the day, alone in his rooftop bedsit, it seems to promise some form of safety, at last.

One of the most powerful reflections on pain and acceptance, and the treacheries of family, ever written, At Last is the brilliant culmination of the Melrose books. It is a masterpiece of glittering dark comedy and profound emotional truth.

Author Information

Edward St Aubyn was born in London in 1960. He is the author of the novels A Clue to the Exit and On the Edge, and the trilogy Some Hope. Mother’s Milk was the winner of the Prix Femina Etranger 2007.

Pre-order your copy of At Lasthere

THE STRANGER’S CHILD by ALAN HOLLINGHURST

This Man Booker prize winner is not noted for his prolific output, so a new novel is always a great literary event. And his latest could be his greatest yet.

Hollinghurst is not a writer who rushes his words… He estimates that he completes on average between 300 and 400 words in a day of writing, although there are many days in which nothing is forthcoming other than gestating thought. He is said to have spent two years thinking about The Line of Beauty before embarking on the first chapter.

Yet while the final result of this deliberation is unfailingly polished, it’s very seldom precious. Instead, his novels are engorged with a playful wit and a powerful eroticism…

The Stranger’s Child begins in outer-suburban Harrow in 1913, the last summer before the First World War, and spans the following century. At its centre are two families and a poem that is destined to resound with personal and social significance.

With its rarefied atmosphere, multi-generational timespan, depiction of the intrusion of war and the unfolding drama of a literary conceit and a disputed event, the novel is bound to be compared with Ian McEwan’s Atonement. The similarities, however, are superficial and what stands out is Hollinghurst’s distinctively delicious style and acuity of social observation…. Yet he is absorbed by questions of morality, which is one of the reasons that he is not overly concerned with wholesome depictions of stoical strength. “The problem with nice people is that they’re frightfully boring to write about,” he told one interviewer. “What I’ve always been interested in is moral weakness. And, most of all, bad behaviour.” Hollinghurst is a particularly unusual contemporary literary novelist. He may be coolly knowing but never bleakly ironic. For while his characters are often promiscuous with their affections, they tend to be in thrall to the idea of a true love that is tantalisingly out of reach. Yet it’s not love that’s the illusion but the notion of its permanence. What survives is what the search for love can inspire: art.

Publisher synopsis: Alan Hollinghurst’s first novel since The Line of Beauty, winner of the 2004 Man Booker Prize

It is the late summer of the last year before the first Great War. Cecil Valance, a beautiful young aristocratic poet, is visiting Two Acres, the home of his Cambridge friend and lover, George Sawle. On his departure, Cecil leaves a poem, dedicated to George’s younger sister Daphne, which when published becomes a touchstone for a generation, symbolizing an England in its final glory. Meanwhile Daphne has also become involved with Cecil’s family, visiting their Victorian Gothic country house, Corley, and developing a relationship with Cecil’s brooding, manipulative brother, Dudley, that will link the families for ever.

The Stranger’s Child begins as a novel about two families and two houses: by the time it reaches its profound and moving conclusion, it has become an epic tale told in five parts covering almost a hundred years. Like The Line of Beauty, this is a deliciously funny novel, glittering with acute observation and arch insight into the worlds of those who belong and of those who are excluded, of carefully hidden secrets which are finally, dramatically revealed.

Author Information

Alan Hollinghurst is the author of four previous novels, The Swimming-Pool Library, The Folding Star, The Spell and The Line of Beauty. He has received the Somerset Maugham Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction and the 2004 Man Booker Prize. He lives in London.

Pre-order your copy of The Stranger’s Childhere

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