May’s best new books
A stunning debut novel, a futuristic thriller and an exquisite memoir are among books editor Kerry Potter's marvellous May picks.
Book of the month: What Red Was by Rosie Price
The friendships we make at university are often life-shaping, game-changing bonds that travel with us down the decades. And not necessarily in a good way. When wannabe film-maker Kate meets gregarious fellow student Max she’s soon welcomed into his wealthy, bohemian family by his beguiling mother Zara, a famous movie director. But far from being able to take advantage of that handy connection, Kate’s life is thrown into disarray when she’s raped at the clan’s hedonistic summer party by a family member. The aftermath is brutally and shockingly conveyed – at times I found it hard to read and things certainly don’t pan out how you might expect. A thoroughly modern novel unpicking themes of toxic masculinity, class, privilege and sexual violence, it’s stark, compelling and clever. And, incredibly, the debut novel from a 26-year-old author. The future looks Rosie.
Also out this month
I love a thriller but there’s only so many stories of dysfunctional relationships with the word ‘girl’ in the title that one woman can read. However I’m totally onboard with The Passengers by ex-entertainment journalist John Marrs. With its uniquely thrilling concept, it had me gripped from the off. Set in the near future when we’ll all be tooling around in driverless cars, the occupants of eight hi-tech vehicles are all set on a terrifying collision cause by a mysterious hacker, with the public voting on who should be allowed to live. (And you thought yoursat nav was annoying). It’s like that episode of Knight Rider when Kit went evil crossed with Black Mirror – what more could you want?!
If that’s put you off driving forever, how about a leisurely spin on two wheels instead? Back In The Frame is a memoir by Jools Walker, aka cycling blogger Lady Vélo. The Londoner writes engagingly about rediscovering her love of biking, being a female BAME cyclist on the mean streets of the city and other cool female riders in her network, as well as pedalling her way through depression and a stroke. Another inspiring memoir out this month is In Search Of Silence by Poorna Bell, whose estranged husband took his own life in 2015. The book charts the horror of that moment and how she inched her way back to happiness in the years that followed. The writing is properly gorgeous – evocative and moving but surprisingly wry too. “I swear this isn’t Eat, Pray, Lovebut I’m going to talk about belief again,” she writes at one point.
Sucker for a Scandi lifestyle trend? Who isn’t these days. Skogluft (it means “forest air” in Norwegian) by Jorn Viumdal is charmingly niche and quirky – the author is a very enthusiastic mechanical engineer wants us all to build plant walls inside our houses and work places. He’s spent decades researching how bringing the outside in can boost our health, happiness and productivity. It also helps that house plants are ridiculously hip right now. And finally How to Raise Successful People by Esther Wojcicki is that rare thing – a parenting manual that doesn’t make you feel like you’re a terrible parent. A teacher for 35 years and a parent for half a century, Wojcicki has witness first-hand how helicopter and snow plough parenting have created an epidemic of anxious children lacking in resilience. Her simple, common-sense approach is to let children take the lead and encourage independence. That means things like never checking homework unless you’re asked to help so back off, Mrs Bossyboots! Interest piqued? Stay tuned for my Muddy interview with Wojcicki soon.