We're suffering from literary jetlag this month. We begin in 18th century Beijing, take a whimsical ride through 1920s Kashgar, stop over in Mexico and detour to Auckland circa 1993, en route to 21st century London. Whew. Time for a lie-down. But not before we share five richly imagined new-release novels with you.
The Yips, by Nicola Barker
Freshly longlisted for the Booker Prize, The Yips is a lively (and lengthy) comic novel about a repugnant professional golfer on a downward slide in the uninspiring English town of Luton, who takes a bunch of misfits with him. (The "yips" is a sporting term for a sudden loss of form at crucial moments. It's odd that we don't use it more in New Zealand.) The story weaves and wanders, but it's highly entertaining. If you think that Booker Prize novels are usually highbrow and impenetrable, this might change your mind.
The Red Chamber, by Pauline Chen
This is one for lovers of vivid historical sagas; Wild Swans is the obvious comparison. The Red Chamber follows the lives of several women in 18th century Beijing. Beautiful young Lin Daiyu has been sent to the city to live an opulent but oppressive life with aristocratic relatives. She falls in love with her charming cousin Baoyu, but he's promised to another cousin, the reserved and repressed Baochai. Both women's lives are ruled by their scheming cousin-in-law Xifeng, who risks losing her status because she's unable to produce a male heir. It's a retelling of a masterpiece of Chinese literature, Dream of the Red Chamber.
A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar, by Suzanne Joinson
In the 1920s, young Eve English becomes a missionary in the ancient Silk Route city of Kashgar. Her motivation is threefold: she's keen to escape a dull life in small-town England; she's writing a guide to cycling in the region; and she's tasked with looking out for her emotionally fragile sister Lizzie, a fellow missionary who is under the spell of their uncompromising leader, Millicent. Things take an unexpected turn when an orphaned baby literally lands in their hands. Eve's adventures are interwoven with the story of Frieda, a quirky modern-day Londoner who embarks on a journey of her own with an unlikely new friend, a homeless Yemeni refugee called Tayeb.
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The Woman who Dived into the Heart of the World, by Sabina Berman
This is a heartfelt tale about a high-functioning autistic girl who is released from a virtual prison in the basement of a dilapidated mansion in Mexico by her aunt, Isabelle. Isabelle has inherited the house - and the family tuna business - after the death of her estranged sister. The wild child in the basement is a surprise addition to her inheritance, and Isabelle names her Karen. The novel follows Isabelle's efforts to introduce Karen to the world, through Karen's unique perspective.
The Girl Below, by Bianca Zander
This is the debut novel of British-born New Zealand writer Bianca Zander, a graduate of the MA in creative writing from Victoria University. Her heroine is Suki Piper, an immature 28-year-old Brit who returns to London after 10 aimless years in New Zealand to find she no longer fits in. "I had thought that the old life would be waiting for me, that if you were born in a place and had grown up there, you were one of its citizens and it would always take you back." The novel is a slow, detailed and meandering exploration of Suki's troubled past and her efforts to rediscover her place in the world.