SOLAR BONES by Mike McCormack
This exciting, transcendent work pushes the possibilities of what a novel can be and for its efforts was awarded the Goldsmiths Prize this year. Much has been made that audaciously, over 233 pages, there is not one full-stop in this book. Instead, it reads like a long prose poem. Set in a small Irish town on All Souls' Day, the deceased civil engineer Marcus Conway looks back at the events in the lead-up to his death. Looking at family, marriage, politics, economics, the idea of civil duty, the environment and technology, this is a social novel. Told through Conway's engineer's mind and perspective as he recalls dealing with council, politicians and builders against the backdrop of Ireland's financial boom and bust, Solar Bones inhabits the same space as the literary dystopias of J.G. Ballard or Tom McCarthy. An electric novel which re-energises the form.
ELMET by Fiona Mozley
(John Murray Originals, $35)
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year, the "Elmet" in this stunning Yorkshire gothic refers to the district in the area of Yorkshire that was once a Celtic kingdom. Apparently bookseller Fiona Mozley wrote much of this novel on her phone while commuting from York to London on the train. John, referred to as "Daddy" is a big burly man, a bare-knuckle boxer for hire. Though he's a fighter, he's a good, gentle man, a loving father to his two teenaged children Danny and Cathy. They built their home on a disused copse in the wild woods where they live a simple and ethical life by foraging and hunting, living on the margins of society. But they don't own the land they live on and an ugly property dispute escalates. This earthy novel is an atmospheric mood piece where the landscape is evocatively portrayed. On the surface it's about family, rural life, community, land and violence. But at its heart, it's about gender roles, class and the idea of home and home ownership, and the cruel injustices of inequality, making it a novel for our times. Thoughtfully exploring the relationship between a person and place, Elmet is a stunning, pastoral rural noir.
A SEPARATION by Katie Kitamura
With its exotic locale, smart mystery leanings and hint of glamour and humour, A Separation is the perfect beach read for fans of Elena Ferrante, Deborah Levy's Hot Milk and Vendela Vida's The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty. A couple from London in their 30s have recently separated after five years of marriage. But they haven't actually told anybody they've split up. When the unnamed wife — a literary translator — receives a panicked phone call from the husband Christopher's mother saying she is concerned about his whereabouts, she still doesn't confess to their break-up. She reluctantly agrees to fly to Greece, where apparently successful author Christopher is staying in a hotel working on a book about mourning rituals. When she arrives there, hotel staff say they've not seen him in six days. Quietly unsettling, this is a sophisticated literary thriller with an odd hard-to-pinpoint but appealing tone.
THE ANSWERS by Catherine Lacey
Sitting comfortably alongside Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Naomi Alderman's The Power, The Answers is strikingly dystopian in a realist way. Estranged from her family, Mary is a 30-year-old living in New York. When she starts developing unexplained physiological afflictions traditional medicine can't explain or help, she turns to an extremely expensive mumbo-jumbo alternative theory. As she finds it increasingly difficult to pay for the treatment, Mary answers an ad for a well-paid job which is an emotional experiment by scientists called The Girlfriend Experiment. Actor Kurt Skye wants the perfect girlfriend and the experiment is to audition and hire several women who will make up the components (maternal, mundane, intellectual, emotional and angry) of the ideal mate. Mary is employed as the "emotional girlfriend". Lacey deftly handles multiple shifting perspectives. Thoughtfully crafted, this is a cynical look at fame, art and the complexities of expectations within romantic relationships.