Author of the Month – Anne Tyler

Our September Author of the Month, is Anne Tyler – the quiet American who has published 20 novels over the last 50 years, that subtly chronicle the ‘stuff of family life’ – love, disappointments, estranged children, loss.

She won the Pulitzer Prize for Breathing Lessons (1988), a portrait of a marriage ageing and warping, while The Accidental Tourist (1985) was made into a Hollywood movie starring William Hurt and Geena Davis. She insists that her novels are not autobiographical, but are, she admits, influenced by the stages of her life: having children, growing older, saying “I don’t have murder mysteries, suspense or real events. I rely on time to do my plotting: people having babies, marrying, dying, just normal things that happen.”

Writers as diverse as John Updike, Eudora Welty, Nick Hornby and Jonathan Franzen have professed themselves fervent fans, whilst Roddy Doyle and Nick Hornby nominated Tyler as ‘the greatest novelist writing in English’.

If you’re new to her novels the breadth of her work can make it hard to choose where to start, but whether you are fan of brilliantly observed family dramas, prefer books about how we discover our true selves, or love quirky characters and unexpected situations – Anne Tyler has written something for you.

A Spool of Blue Thread

Tyler’s 2014 bestseller introduces four generations of Whitshank family as their lives unfold in and around their beloved family home.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

In Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, we meet another Baltimore family, the Tulls. Abandoned by her husband, Pearl Tull was left to bring up her three children alone, but now this matriarch is dying and, slowly but surely, the past and its tightly held secrets begin to be revealed.

The Amateur Marriage

This novel, which opens in the 1940s, follows a couple who met and married quickly, spurred on by the escalation of World War II. From this hasty beginning, we watch them pass through the decades together, and the consequences of their very mismatched marriage.

Back When We Were Grown-Ups

One morning, Rebecca wakes up and realises she’s not the person she expected to be. Back When We Were Grown-Ups follows Rebecca as she interrogates the ties that have bound her into a new family and decides whether the life she has, is the one she wants.

Ladder of Years

On a warm summer’s day at the beach, dressed only in a swimsuit and beach robe, Cordelia Grinstead walks away from her family and just keeps on going. In a new town, where she knows no one, she reinvents herself as a single woman with no ties, but it’s not long until hints of her old life begin to creep back in.

Clock Dance

When Willa Drake learns that her son’s ex-girlfriend has been shot, she drops everything and flies across the country. That spur-of-the moment decision to look after this woman and her nine-year-old daughter leads Willa to the realisation that it’s never too late to choose your own path.

Digging to America

Friday August 15th, 1997. Two tiny Korean babies are delivered to two very different families. Digging to America is a perceptive and subtle novel about the challenges of growing up, and balancing your own identity with the desires and dreams of your family

Redhead by the Side of the Road

Anne Tyler’s latest novel is a glimpse into the heart and mind of a man who sometimes finds those around him just out of reach – and a love story about the differences that make us all unique.

The Accidental Tourist

How does a man who is addicted to routine cope with the chaos of everyday life? With the loss of his son, the departure of his wife and the arrival of Muriel, a dog trainer from the Meow-Bow dog clinic, his attempts at ordinary life are tragically and comically undone.

Award-winning books

It’s May and we are well into the Book Awards calendar. We’ve already had the shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, The Man Booker International Prize and the Wolfson History Prize, amongst many others.

This month we will see the Orwell Prizes shortlist for political fiction and non-fiction, the Jhalak Prize winner, the winners of the Nibbies (the British Book Awards for the trade to identify the best books, bookshops and publishers) and The Daggers shortlist for the best new crime writing.

Jhalak Prize shortlisted books

There are prizes for practically every category of writing from big players like the Man Booker and Costa to the very particular such as the age specific The Paul Torday Prize (authors must be 60+) or the International Dylan Thomas Prize (39 or under), the place specific Portico Prize for books that honour the strong literary heritage of the North of England or the Ondaatje Prize that best evokes the spirit of a place generally. There are even prizes for making a point such as Staunch – the international award for thrillers in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered.

2021 Longlist for the International Dylan Thomas Prize.

Are there too many prizes – do we really need them all or do the sheer number devalue the books they are set up to acknowledge?

Well, consider this. Just to get published, a book must jump through a number of hoops, not to mention getting the attention of a publisher in the first place. The publisher then has to take a risk, given the production and publicity costs set against the uncertainty of sales. The book then joins the 170,000 or so books published every year in the UK – factor in all books published in English each year and that figure jumps considerably. How will the author’s words and the publisher’s investment get recognised?

And from the reader’s side, time is finite – how to discover that sometimes elusive next great read, or even where to start looking if you want to try something different.

Book reviews, word of mouth and websites all help but what is needed is a kind of quality assurance process that covers a much wider range of genres and tastes. This is where book awards step in providing something for everyone. Awards create a media buzz encouraging conversations about books and often advocating those writers who didn’t make the cut. And lucky the author who goes on to win several awards such as Maggie O’Farrell with Hamnet – winner of both Waterstones Book of the Year and Women’s Prize for Fiction and currently shortlisted for the British Book Awards Fiction Book of the Year 2021.

More awards also mean more diversity, something that is badly needed in publishing. The heavyweight Booker now has an International version for novels in translation. The Women’s Prize for Fiction was set up to address the under-representation of women’s writing in major prizes and is now one of the most prestigious awards in the literary world.

The Jhalak Prize confronts lack of representation and seeks to identify and celebrate the finest works across all categories by British writers of colour. Now in its fifth year, it has gone from strength-to-strength and this year includes a prize for children’s and young adult books as well.

Likewise, the Polari Prize was founded 11 years ago to celebrate emerging and established UK LGBTQ+ writers and promote works that explores the LGBTQ+ experience.

Awards are also beneficial for small independent publishers enabling them to punch above their weight. Without the Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing, the wonderful Diary of a Young Naturalist by 16-year-old Dara McNulty and its publisher Little Toller, may never have got the recognition they deserved.

So whether you’re in the mood for a intellectual workout, crave escapism, or seek to engage with the issues of the day (or yesterday), or appreciate books for their aesthetics, there is a book award out there that will help.

“Writers need validation” says the author Alys Conran, herself a winner of the Wales Book of the Year Award. Publishers need sales. And we all need great writing, whatever our tastes and interests.

Look out for our BorrowBox and web promotions which often include writers nominated for awards alongside our regular features such as Author of the Month.

The Accidental by Ali Smith

About the book

The Accidental is Ali Smith’s dazzling novel about a family holiday and a stranger who upends it. Arresting and wonderful, The Accidental pans in on the Norfolk holiday home of the Smart family one hot summer. There a beguiling stranger called Amber appears at the door bearing all sorts of unexpected gifts, trampling over family boundaries and sending each of the Smarts scurrying from the dark into the light.

Reviewed by Bridewell Beauties

The narrative didn’t flow. Virginia Woolf did it better. As a group we did not enjoy the book. A disappointment.

Star rating *

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The Lighthouse by Alison Moore

About the book

The Lighthouse begins on a North Sea ferry, on whose blustery outer deck stands Futh, a middle aged, recently separated man heading to Germany for a restorative walking holiday. As he travels, he contemplates his childhood; a complicated friendship with the son of a lonely neighbour; his parents’ broken marriage and his own. But the story he keeps coming back to, the person and event affecting all others, is his mother and her abandonment of him as a boy, which left him with a void to fill, a substitute to find.

Reviewed by Museum Reading Group

Once more a split decision! Whilst we all agreed it was a “page-turner” four of us found we were carried along somewhat against our will.

Star rating ***

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The Little stranger by Sarah Waters

About the book

In a dusty post-war summer in rural Warwickshire, a doctor is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once grand and handsome, is now in decline. But are the Ayres haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life?

Reviewed by Chandler’s Ford Tuesday PM

An engaging mystery that follows the fortunes and non-fortunes of an old aristocratic family struggling with a decaying stately home. You decide…is it supernatural, mental illness or murder?

Star rating: ***

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Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

About the book

Set in 1860s London, this is the story of Susan, a pickpocket who is persuaded to pose as a lady’s maid and infiltrate the house of a young heiress. This novel explores the nature of identity and what people do with disguise.

Reviewed by Hayling Readers Group

Nominated for both the Orange and Booker prizes in 2002 this dark, compelling read set in Victorian times tells the story of two young women. Though brought up in very different circumstances their lives become firmly linked and with secrets slowly unfolding the reader is held spellbound by the sheer inventiveness of the author. with a wealth of characters the plot twists and turns but is it always believable and the reader is treated to often shocking revelations along the way.

Star rating: none given

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Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym

About the book

The story of four people in late middle-age who work in the same office and who all suffer from loneliness. With poignant humour, Barbara Pym takes us through their small lives and the facades they erect to defend themselves against the outside world.

Reviewed by Itchen Reading Group

The book is about four office workers approaching retirement and how they cope when two of them actuallt leave; the characters are very well drawn – a little “odd”. Well worth reading – a tragi-comedy.

*** – ****  3 to 4 stars

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Pidgeon English by Stephen Kelman

About the book

Eleven-year-old Harrison Opoku, the second best runner in Year 7, races through his new life in England with his personalised trainers – the Adidas stripes drawn on with marker pen – blissfully unaware of the very real threat around him. Newly-arrived from Ghana with his mother and older sister Lydia, Harri absorbs the many strange elements of city life, from the bewildering array of Haribo sweets, to the frightening, fascinating gang of older boys from his school. But his life is changed forever when one of his friends is murdered. As the victim’s nearly new football boots hang in tribute on railings behind fluorescent tape and a police appeal draws only silence, Harri decides to act, unwittingly endangering the fragile web his mother has spun around her family to keep them safe.

Reviewed by White Lion, Yateley

Gritty and realistic, provoked a good discussion. We liked the innocent view point on the ugly inner-city life. The humour and African spirituality lent a philosophical flavour to the grimness.
Star rating ***

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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

About the book

Narrated by Kathy, now 31, Never Let Me Go hauntingly dramatises her attempts to come to terms with her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School, and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the wider world. A story of love, friendship and memory, Never Let Me Go is charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of life.

Reviewed by Wallington Village Reading Group

Slow start didn’t grab you. More interesting towards the end. Very sad. Interesting subject kept you thinking. Written well from a young person’s point of view. Expected some characters to question things – would have made for a better story? Superb, profound, frightening.
Star rating ****

Reviewed by Ems Valley U3A Reading Group

This book provoked a great deal of discussion. Works like ‘horrifying’, ‘frightening’ and ‘dark’ were spoken. All the women said they found it interesting but the men did not like it at all. Someone said they thought it was an awful warning of things that might happen!
Star rating ***

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