BOOK CLUB: The Top Literary Releases of March

If January and February were the months of non-fiction and autobiography releases, March is fiction month. There have been releases of some fabulous international novels, all well worth delving into.

Lisa Halliday, Assymetry (1 March)

After hearing Lisa Halliday speak about her debut novel Assymetry on the New York Times Book Review podcast, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. When Halliday was in her mid-twenties, she had an affair with established novelist Philip Roth, who was in his sixties. This book is a fictional account of that relationship, following the story of Alice, a young editor living in New York who has an illicit relationship with famous older writer Ezra Blazer.

The book is split into three sections; the first following the story of Alice and Ezra’s relationship, the second moves location and we are thrust into a holding room in Kurdistan, where Amar, an economist, is detained by immigration. The third part of the story is the transcript of Ezra’s interview on Desert Island Discs, where he reflects on his own life.

The power play in the relationship of Alice and Ezra is translated into the story of Amar, where we are forced to confront the role of power imbalance between the west and Middle East and the personal and political. An exciting read, and will definitely not be the last we hear of Lisa Halliday.

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Franciscu Cantú, The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border (1 March)

2018 seems to be the year for exciting new releases by debut authors, and Franciscu Cantú’s book is no exception. He was a US Border Patrol agent for four years, based along the Mexican border, and his debut novel follows the story of this time and the influence it had on him longterm.

Descended from Mexican immigrants, Cantú is haunted by what is faced with daily at the border, and leaves. As an immigrant friend is caught on the wrong side, he is confronted by this world again. With beautiful descriptions of the barren landscape and rich language, it is definitely a book worth picking up. What’s more, the subject matter could not be more timely. I’m looking at you, Trump.

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Wendy Cope, Anecdotal Evidence (1 March)

Wendy Cope has become one of the biggest contemporary poets, achieving mass appeal without being associated with the growing trend of “Instagram poets” (nothing against them but if I see one more overly illustrated haiku with a million likes I will take my last breath on this earth). In her most recent collection, Anecdotal Evidence, Cope explores the simple stories of life, focusing on the passing of time and pinpointing the keystone moments in our lives. Her writing style is sharp, witty and unique – she sometimes reimagines Shakespeare’s style to great effect.

For anyone wanting to dip their toe in poetry after having finally recovered from the trauma of GCSE English, this is the perfect collection. It’s easily digestible, without being the “clickable” short, arguably slightly irritating Instagram poetry of writers like Rupi Kaur.

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Lily Pebbles, The F Word (8 March)

Blogger Lily Pebbles is renowned in online communities for her content, and her first release has inevitably already entered the Sunday Times bestseller list. Released on International Women’s Day, the book celebrates female friendships, with Lily looking back on the figures that have profoundly impacted her life.

t’s a similar précis to that of Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love, and having recently read Dolly’s book, I struggled to enjoy this in the same way – it explores similar themes but not done with as much humour and insight, and she is naturally not the wordsmith Dolly is. If you are into self-help stories of friendship and a light-hearted look at the way we view the people in our life, this will probably be right up your street, but for me it just felt like a comedown from the inspired genius of Everything I Know About Love. 

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Caitlin Davies, Bad Girls: A History of Rebels and Renegades (8 March)

Apologies in advance. Another non-fiction book about the suffragettes. What can I say, GCSE History is revisiting my bookshelves in a big way. This new release is from established author Caitlin Davies, who spent time as a trainee teacher in Holloway Prison, the largest and most famous prison in Europe. It was here that her interest was inevitably sparked to explore the history of women’s incarceration, as Holloway housed many famous female prisoners, primarily suffragettes, and it played a pivotal role in their campaign.

Calling for a more enlightened justice system, Bad Girls is an extensively researched text, and Davies uses discussions of the prison as a jumping-off point to explore the history of women in the justice system and the associated social implications with sending women to prison. With a clear narrative style and lots of insightful anecdotes, it feels far from a dense history book. A nice bedside table read to dip in and out of before bed. Equally, it makes a great doorstop.

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Chloe Benjamin, The Immortalists (8 March)

This book is everywhere. An instant New York Times bestseller, it’s one I feel I’ve been seeing on people’s laps and Instagrams on a daily basis. Set in a tenement building on New York’s Lower East Side in 1969, it follows the story of four children who seek out a travelling psychic who is able to tell people when they will die. In the years following they come to terms with how to live what the information they have been given – will they try and defy it?

It’s a book about life and our mortality, and how we choose to spend our remaining days. The characters are fleshed out and painted with real depth, and I think it will be one of those books you’ll see by every poolside this summer. Get there first.

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Harriet Hall, She: A Celebration of Renegade Women (8 March)

Stylist journalist Harriet Hall’s charming new release is a love letter to women who threatened the status quo, and made serious progressions for women all over the world through their persistence. She includes short stories on 100 women of note, from Virginia Woolf to Vivienne Westwood. Accompanying these bitesize tales are wonderful little illustrations and typography by Alice Skinner. Although it may not teach you anything new, it’s a neat little anthology of strong women from across history that have helped create change.

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Mario Benedetti, Springtime in a Broken Mirror (29 March)

Uruguayan journalist, novelist and poet Mario Benedetti is a major figure in Latin-American literature. This book is part of my 2018 efforts to read more international literature – I’m becoming all too aware that my reading tastes favour English and American writing. And oh my, I’ve been missing a treat. Benedetti’s writing style is so poetic – it’s a complete joy to read. It’s full of vibrancy and exoticism, and makes my usual bedtime reading seem exceptionally monochrome.

Springtime in a Broken Mirror follows the story of Santiago, who is taken as a political prisoner following a major military coup, while his wife and young daughter live in exile far away in Buenos Aires. While Santiago is away, his best friend becomes a presence in the lives of his family, and Santiago’s wife Graciela becomes very drawn to him. It is a family saga, torn apart by political conflict. Emotions are explored in depth, through Benedetti’s dense, thorough writing style. The book has been reprinted 67 times and translated into many languages. Give it a go, diversify your reading, you won’t regret it.

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