April’s best new books
Quick, spring-clean your bedside table or Kindle to make room for Muddy books editor's Kerry Potter's awesome April picks.
Book of the month: Cape May by Chip Creek
The Great Gatsby is the obvious comparison to this ridiculously assured debut novel by the excellently named Chip Creek (not a pen name, apparently). But Jay Gatsby’s nocturnal adventures look positively monkish compared to the hedonism that takes place in Cape May.
Set in a New Jersey seaside resort in 1957, it begins with arrival of honeymooners Henry and Effie, childhood sweethearts from the South, who are staying in a relative’s stuffy house. Their sedate holiday swiftly takes a turn when they fall in with the gin-swigging fast-set from down the road, headed up by a reckless Marilyn Monroe lookalike Clara.
One minute the honeymooners are awkwardly losing their virginities; a week later they’re running through the streets of Cape May, naked and drunk, breaking into empty houses and flirting with disaster. And then Henry does something really stupid. The writing is so evocative you can taste the gin cocktails and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, plus there’s absolutely loads of sex. As well as Gatsby, there are echoes of Revolutionary Road, On Chesil Beach and Mad Men – that’s how good it is. So I’m calling it early: this is the book of the summer. Don’t go on holiday without it.
Also out this month…
Heida Asgeirsdottir is one of those women who make you feel like your life might just be a teensy bit boring. Her memoir Heida: A Shepherd At The Edge Of The World, blew my tiny mind this month. What a story. On the verge of successful modelling career in New York, the 23-year-old Icelander returned home to single-handedly run her family’s remote farm, following the death of her father. Think a real-life Bathsheba from Far From The Madding Crowd, but undistracted by the endless queue of male suitors (“I’ve been made every offer imaginable over the years,” she quips). Now 40, she’s also worked as a police officer, dipped a toe into politics and represented Iceland in sheep-shearing competitions. If that’s not enough, her nearest neighbour is Katla, a deadly volcano. This frank, unusual book details a year in her life, divided into four seasons.
Talking of memoirs, celebrity ones are so often disappointing (I write as someone once commissioned to review Karl Lagerfeld’s cat’s autobiography) but actress, writer and director Zawe Ashton breaks the mould with Character Breakdown. Recognise that name? She broke out brilliant reprobate Vod in Channel 4 student sitcom Fresh Meat and is currently starring opposite Tom Hiddleston in Betrayal at The Pinter Theatre, while carving out a movie career. No bog-standard autobiography, it’s a witty, surreal unpicking of a life spent pretending to other people. The discussion with her agent on her contract’s nudity clauses is especially bonkers.
Back to fiction and I must flag up the acclaimed Circe by Madeline Miller. If you missed it in hardback last year, do grab the newly published paperback. Miller is a classics teacher and here reimagines the life of Circe, who dates from the The Odyssey but is a thoroughly modern woman in spirit. It’s compellingly written and it’s definitely not a problem if your grasp of Greek mythology is as rusty as mine.
Finally, there’s Flex by Annie Auerbach This book didn’t merely speak to me, it charmed the pants off me, immediately moved into my brain and we’re getting married in the morning. Subtitled the modern woman’s handbook, it argues that in a world characterised by relentless change, we should be flexible in the way we think and behave in order to create the best possible life, both at work and at home. Auerbach has two young daughters, a husband and runs a consulting agency so she’s at that all-too-familiar Peak Busy life stage – and thus totally gets that the idea of having it all just ain’t working. I loved her fresh thinking – plus it’s just 187 pages so I actually had time to read it.