Spring has sprung early this year – so much more pleasant to sit reading in the sunshine – and I’m leaving the cold northern climes of last month’s theme firmly behind me. March’s books have been selected at random, but they are all written (and, where applicable, translated) by women. Happily, the longlist for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction will be announced this month, on 10 March, so despite not expecting to find any of these books featured on it, I feel my reading will at least be vaguely topical.
While we’re on the subject of prizes, 30 March will see the announcement of the International Booker longlist – one I’m always very excited about. Yet another important date in March comes considerably sooner: today, the first, is publication day for the two new V&Q Books I mentioned last month. Translated from the German by Annie Rutherford, Katy Derbyshire and Ayça Türkoğlu, The Peacock and The Blacksmith’s Daughter couldn’t be more different, but are equally brilliant additions to the contemporary canon of translated European literature. If you’re not already familiar with the publisher, do have a look.
As ever, this month is likely to include a few books beyond the ones on my core list, and I still have to catch up on a couple of reviews from February. Before all that, however, my reading plans for March look something like the following:
The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Persephone Books)
What the publisher says: ‘The Shuttle, which is five hundred pages long and a page-turner for every one of them, is about far more than the process by which an English country house can be brought back to life with the injection of transatlantic money [. . .] It is mainly about American energy and initiative and get-up-and-go [. . . and] about the excellent relationship that, curiously enough, many of the heiresses enjoyed with their multi-millionaire fathers. Above all it is about Bettina Vanderpoel. She is the reason why this is such a successful, entertaining and interesting novel – one could almost say that she is one of the great heroines, on a par with Elizabeth Bennett, Becky Sharp and Isabel Archer.’
Sea State by Tabitha Lasley (Fourth Estate)
What the publisher says: ‘A candid examination of the life of North Sea oil riggers, and an explosive portrayal of masculinity, loneliness and female desire. [. . .] Sea State is, on the one hand, a portrait of an overlooked industry, and a fascinating subculture in its own right: ‘offshore’ is a way of life for generations of British workers, primarily working class men. Offshore is also a potent metaphor for a lot of things we might rather keep at bay – class, masculinity, the North-South divide, the transactional nature of desire, the terrible slipperiness of the ladder that could lead us towards (or away from) real security, just out of reach. And Sea State is, too, the story of a journalist whose distance from her subject becomes perilously thin.’
There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura, translated from the Japanese by Polly Barton (Bloomsbury)
What the publisher says: ‘A woman walks into an employment agency and requests a job that requires no reading, no writing – and ideally, very little thinking. She is sent to an office building where she is tasked with watching the hidden-camera feed of an author suspected of storing contraband goods. But observing someone for hours on end isn’t so easy. How will she stay awake? When can she take delivery of her favourite brand of tea? And, perhaps more importantly – how did she find herself in this situation in the first place? As she moves from job to job, writing bus adverts for shops that mysteriously disappear, and composing advice for rice cracker wrappers that generate thousands of devoted followers, it becomes increasingly apparent that she’s not searching for the easiest job at all, but something altogether more meaningful . . .’
Permafrost by Eva Baltasar, translated from the Catalan by Julia Sanches (And Other Stories)
What the publisher says: ‘Permafrost’s no-bullshit lesbian narrator is an uninhibited lover and a wickedly funny observer of modern life. Desperate to get out of Barcelona, she goes to Brussels, ‘because a city whose symbol is a little boy pissing was a city I knew I would like’; as an au pair in Scotland, she develops a hatred of the colour green. And everywhere she goes, she tries to break out of the roles set for her by family and society, chasing escape wherever it can be found: love affairs, travel, thoughts of suicide. Full of powerful, physical imagery, this prize-winning debut novel by acclaimed Catalan poet Eva Baltasar was a word-of-mouth hit in its own language. It is a breathtakingly forthright call for women’s freedom to embrace both pleasure and solitude, and speaks boldly of the body, of sex, and of the self.’
Schwitters by Ulrike Draesner (Penguin)
What New Books in German says: ‘A compelling fictionalised account of the famously eccentric avant-garde artist and poet, Kurt Schwitters, which considers questions of art, love, and survival. [. . .] Ulrike Draesner’s compelling interpretation of Schwitters’ experience of exile from Nazi Germany is strongly grounded in the artist’s biography. Draesner focuses primarily on his personal relationships and disappointments during and after the Second World War – first in Germany, then in Norway, and finally in England – with flashbacks to his years of greatest artistic productivity.’