April 2024 Books

What’s new and good to read this month? Dan Coombes has a look at what’s on offer from publishers in April and chooses Hagstone by Sinead Gleeson, The Sleepwalkers by Scarlett Thomas, and Saltblood by Francesca de Tores.

Images: Hagstone by Sinead Gleeson; The Sleepwalkers by Scarlett Thomas; Saltblood by Francesca de Tores

Hagstone – Sinead Gleeson

An exploration of art, voyeurism and all-round strangeness wrapped up in a slightly uneasy air of supernatural occurrences and human failings, this is a debut novel from an acclaimed essayist and critic, and promises great things to come in the world of engrossingly odd and atmospheric fiction with something to say.

The sea is steady for now. The land readies itself. What can be done with the woman on the cliff? On a wild and rugged island cut off and isolated to some, artist Nell feels the island is her home. It is the source of inspiration for her art, rooted in landscape, folklore and the feminine.

The mysterious Inions, a commune of women who have travelled there from all over the world, consider it a place of refuge and safety, of solace in nature. All the islanders live alongside the strange murmurings that seem to emanate from within the depths of the island, a sound that is almost supernatural – a Summoning as the Inions call it. One day, a letter arrives at Nell’s door from the reclusive Inions who invite Nell into the commune for a commission to produce a magnificent art piece to celebrate their long history.

In its creation, Nell will discover things about the community and about herself that will challenge everything she thought she knew. Beautifully written, prescient and eerily haunting, Sinéad Gleeson’s debut novel takes in the darker side of human nature and the mysteries of faith and the natural world.

Images: Hagstone; Sinead Gleeson

The Sleepwalkers – Scarlett Thomas

Scarlett Thomas’ most famous novel, The End Of Mister Y, is still one of the best works of semi-fantastical fiction I’ve ever read, twenty years on (and while this is a recommendation for her newest novel everyone should read Mister Y too, because it’s great), and her books, usually full of big ideas, strange philosophies and enigmatic plots, are ridiculously underrated. The Sleepwalkers retains her trademark surreal oddness and deals with some massive themes while also managing to be funny, smart and deliciously dark.

Evelyn and Richard arrive on an idyllic Greek island for their honeymoon. It’s the end of the season and out at sea a storm is brewing. They check in to an exclusive hotel, the Villa Rosa, where the proprietor Isabella flirts outrageously with Richard while treating Evelyn with a rudeness bordering on contempt.

Isabella tells them the story of ‘the sleepwalkers’: a couple who stayed at the hotel the year before and drowned in a tragic and unexplained accident. It starts to feel like the entire island is obsessed with ‘the sleepwalkers’, but what at first seems like a fun tale to tell before bed quickly evolves into a living nightmare.  Caught in a web of deception and intrigue, where nothing and nobody are quite what they seem, Evelyn and Richard discover that their island paradise may in fact be hell on earth and that their only means of escape is to confront dark truths about themselves and those they love.

Images: Scarlett Thomas; The Sleepwalkers

Saltblood – Francesca de Tores

I don’t really know what the word rollicking means. Does anyone? Even so I’m compelled by forces I can barely understand to describe this book as exactly that. A rollicking yarn, even. Adventure, intrigue, subterfuge, romance, brilliantly evocative and epic historical fiction, absolutely jam packed full of…rollicks? Also buckled swashes and possibly even spliced mainbraces.

In a rented room outside Plymouth in 1685, a daughter is born as her half-brother is dying. Her mother makes a decision: Mary will become Mark, and Ma will continue to collect his inheritance money. Mary’s dual existence as Mark will lead to a role as a footman in a grand house, serving a French mistress; to the navy, learning who to trust and how to navigate by the stars; and to the army and the battlegrounds of Flanders, finding love among the bloodshed and the mud. But none of this will stop Mary yearning for the sea.

Drawn back to the water, Mary must reinvent herself yet again, for a woman aboard a ship is a dangerous thing. This time Mary will become something more dangerous than a woman. She will become a pirate. Breathing life into the Golden Age of Piracy, Saltblood is a wild adventure, a treasure trove, weaving an intoxicating tale of gender and survival, passion and loss, journeys and transformation, through the story of Mary Read, one of history’s most remarkable figures.

Images: Saltblood; Francesca de Tores

Dan Coombes is a bookseller at Bookcase, an independent bookshop open in Chiswick since 1993. A specialist in science fiction, Dan has been a bookseller for 16 years.

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See all The Chiswick Calendar’s previous monthly book reviews here.

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