FORTY LOST YEARS
Rosa Maria Arquimbau (Fum d’Estampa)
This 1971 novel by Catalonian writer Rosa Maria Arquimbau is now being published in English for the first time by Fum d’Estampa Press, a small publisher specialising in publishing English translations of Catalan fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Opening with the dramatic announcement of the establishment of the Catalonian Republic in 1934, the reader sees the years of the Spanish Civil War, the defeat of the Republicans, and the ensuing brutality of Franco’s dictatorship, through the eyes of Laura Vidal, a young seamstress from Barcelona.
Laura’s desire to be free, as an individual and as a woman, is denied; first by the war and then by Franco’s fascism. Eventually, Laura, like so many at that time, goes into exile in France, before returning to a Barcelona that is once again changing: the title refers both to Catalonia’s loss and Laura’s personal loss to fascism.
Refracting the 20th century history of Spain and Catalonia through the character of a young woman struggling to discover her own freedom, this short novel provides a wholly new perspective on Spain’s tragic past – one still within living memory for many.
Price: £10.99. Info: here
words DAVID GRIFFITHS
THE GOLDEN VALLEY: A VISUAL BIOGRAPHY OF THE GARW
Phil Cope (Seren)
Photographer Phil Cope manages to capture a deeply personal account of this Welsh former coalfield valley: bringing to life the past, present and future from the view of a man who has lived in the area for the past three decades. Captured largely during the pandemic, though photos span from March 2019 to January 2021, the book perfectly captures how, despite seismic shifts happening around the world, the valley remains largely unaffected.
Despite capturing a very modern view of the valley, scars of the past are clearly etched into each image – from the popularisation of coal mining to the post-industrial decline and the new ventures into tourism through walking and bike trails to the wind turbines and sports fields. It is in some ways jarring to see the transformation of the land: from snow-topped mountain tombs of long-lost settlements to more recent coal villages filled with repurposed terraces; miners’ institutes to modern shops and chapels.
Ultimately, this book captures not only the story of the Golden Valley, but of valleys across south Wales. Defined by the communities who have occupied the land over the centuries, the beautiful imagery and stories help people to better understand Valleys life.
Price: £14.99. Info: here
words ELOUISE HOBBS
INTERVIEWS WITH AN APE
Felice Fallon (Century)
I began Interviews With An Ape with some trepidation. Although intriguing, its premise – a gorilla in captivity who uses sign language to communicate – sounded as though it could err on the side of twee, cloying and juvenile in the wrong hands. Happily, my concerns were unfounded.
The ape in question, Einstein, is one of a number of animals – a resigned sow, a doleful elephant, an orca with a grudge – whose stories unfold through a series of interlinked vignettes told, crucially, in the first person. Taking “if only they could talk…” to its logical extreme is an audacious gambit, but it really works. Debut novelist Felice Fallon doesn’t shy away from the cruelty enacted upon animals by humans (whose voices also appear in parts). Characters describe the pain and trauma that they are subjected to directly, vividly, but without sentimentality, and it is all the more affecting for it.
Wise, subtly political and above all compassionate, this is a novel that will challenge us to think about the diet we may choose to follow, our relationship to our changing climate, and our collective duty to non-human life. In a sea of formulaic genre fiction, a true original.
Price: £14.99. Info: here
words ALICE HUGHES
JANE IS TRYING
Isy Suttie (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
As per the title, she is trying to get pregnant; to forget her cheating fiancé; to conquer her overwhelming anxiety and OCD tendencies and to forge a new future without relying on others. Jane Is Trying will likely strike a chord with any woman who feels like they’ve grown up but never grown.
Jane’s anxiety and persistent intrusive thoughts are dealt with by Suttie in sensitive fashion, even while I was often concerned for the character’s welfare. Even when one tries to shield oneself from the inevitable descent into the crashing void, it becomes all-consuming.
There’s an abundance of original characters scattered throughout – Kelly, a single mother who helps Jane to recognise her best attributes, and despairingly unprofessional therapist Monica – with romance and snapshots of spontaneous fun, even while Jane endures bad luck and unpleasant memories lurk in the background.
Delightful, funny moments are scattered throughout the gloom and absurd bad luck Jane has to deal with. Jane Is Trying feels like the capturing of a sense of pre-lockdown reality: a great read.
Price: £16.99. Info: here
words BILLIE INGRAM SOFOKLEOUS
YOU AND ME ON VACATION
Emily Henry (Penguin)
For those of us still stuck fantasising about the joys of a much-needed getaway, anxiously checking if green has turned to amber more frequently than Christian Grey with a new girlfriend, Emily Henry’s You And Me On Vacation may prove the perfect tonic. The novel focusses on the incredibly close and increasingly complicated friendship between Poppy, a lively, independent travel writer who wanders the globe for a living but has yet to find her true home, and Alex, shy, dedicated teacher who returns to his hometown after university but can’t help but long for horizons new.
Though their meet cute is ripped straight from the pages of the When Harry Met Sally screenplay, Poppy driving Alex home after the semester ends, what follows is a refreshingly unique romance. Spanning the course of 10 years, the novel accompanies Poppy and Alex on a decade’s worth of summer holidays, from the soul-sapping heat of Palm Springs to the exhilarating, untamed wilds of northern Canada.
Along with the air miles, their feelings for one another continue to grow until they can no longer avoid those essential, age-old questions: can a man and woman ever really be friends without wanting more? Is it worth risking present happiness for a shot at future love? And didn’t Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal expertly cover this exact same ground 30-odd years ago? But for those readers who enjoy the odd flash of déjà vu, this is one classic love story trope whose fresh, Insta-worthy repackaging makes it the ideal addition to any suitcase.
Price: £7.99. Info: here
words RACHEL REES