Boys and Girls, by Joseph Connolly, Quercus, RRP£18.99, 448 pages
Alan is a feckless drip whose sole achievement is to have created an artificial beach in his study. Naturally, his wife, Susan, is fed up with him and wants a new husband: someone rich – her boss, for instance. Unnaturally, Susan wants her new man as well as Alan, not instead.
And Susan gets her wish – though not quite, because Alan hits it off famously with husband number two and even Amanda, their teenage daughter, warms to the new arrangement. So Susan feels excluded.
Boys and Girls, Joseph Connolly’s 12th novel, is a bedroom comedy overflowing with farcical scenes of married life, many of which are intended to be funny. Few scenes are funny, however, and jokes feel over-egged from the first line: “I got up at the crack of noon.” Moreover, the narrative – divided between the four main characters – is immensely flabby. We are jabbered at for 440 pages – and all tenderness and wit is buried under a mound of verbiage.
Review by Alexander Gilmour
The Good Luck of Right Now, by Matthew Quick, Picador, RRP£14.99/HarperCollins, RRP$25.99, 304 pages
After the death of his mother, with whom he lived for 38 years, Bartholomew Neil has an identity to reaffirm. Richard Gere – who his mother adored – seems to be the solution, and The Good Luck of Right Now consists of Bartholomew’s unanswered epistles to the Hollywood star.
Yet Matthew Quick’s follow-up to his bestselling The Silver Linings Playbook is not just a postbag of whimsical letters; it’s also a bildungsroman that charts an adventurous road-trip from Philadelphia to Canada, in a rented Ford Focus. Bartholomew, unemployed and friendless, meets an eccentric rabble along the way (including a troubled grief counsellor, an alcoholic priest and a love-interest librarian), who go some way to resolving his issues.
The novel is at times a little too fanciful and contrived, perhaps betraying Quick’s past writing for younger readers. However, it is a tender tale that manages to be both light-hearted and philosophical.
Review by Peter Yeung
The Year of the Rat, by Clare Furniss, Simon and Schuster, RRP£12.99
When her mother Stella dies in childbirth, 15-year-old Pearl is left with a grieving stepfather and a sickly baby sister she can’t stand to look at – the “Rat” of the title. Every show of affection for baby Rose, whether by family members or her best friend Molly, is interpreted by Pearl as a mark of callous indifference to the recent tragedy. Not even her dead mother, who starts popping up at odd moments for a chat, can break through Pearl’s armour of defiance.
Pearl is thoroughly authentic in her distress: surly, uncommunicative, obnoxious and frankly hard to spend fictional time with. Stella, hanging around to help her daughter get through the first year of mourning, is seemingly physical: she smokes, sips water, coughs and giggles. Exactly what she now is – ghost, hallucination or psychotic episode – is never made clear.
Despite the ambiguity, Furniss whips up a satisfying emotional catharsis as Pearl’s grief begins finally to resolve.
Review by Suzi Feay
Echo Boy, by Matt Haig, Bodley Head, RRP£12.99
In 2115 no civilised home is complete without an Echo – a machine that looks and sounds like a human. Audrey Castle lives in a stilt home with her parents. When their Echo murderously malfunctions, she finds refuge with her rich uncle. He’s the boss of Castle Industries, purveyor of every cutting-edge technology. Echos have no emotions and can’t disobey, so why does Daniel, made to look like a gorgeous teenage boy, keep trying to waylay her?
Haig has enormous fun creating a believable future world. Some parts of the globe are desiccated, others are flooded. Butter has been made illegal; a suburb of the moon is called Aldrin; a shopping basket consists of chocolate spray and tapas pills. And a fun day out might involve goading resurrected Neanderthals in Regent’s Park. Against this densely imagined backdrop, Audrey and Daniel discover the pain and privilege of human existence.
It’s a treat to read such a satisfying, complex work.
Review by Suzi Feay