August 2022 books

What’s new and good to read this month? Jessica Bloom has a look at what’s on offer and chooses The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell, So Happy For You by Celia Laskey and The Queen of Dirt Island by Donal Ryan.

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell

The author of HamnetNew York Times best seller and National Book Award winner—brings the world of Renaissance Italy to jewel-bright life in this unforgettable portrait of the captivating young duchess Lucrezia de’ Medici as she makes her way in a troubled court.

Florence, the 1550s. Lucrezia, third daughter of the grand duke, is comfortable with her obscure place in the palazzo: free to wonder at its treasures, observe its clandestine workings, and devote herself to her own artistic pursuits. But when her older sister dies on the eve of her wedding to the ruler of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio, Lucrezia is thrust unwittingly into the limelight: the duke is quick to request her hand in marriage, and her father just as quick to accept on her behalf.

Having barely left girlhood behind, Lucrezia must now enter an unfamiliar court whose customs are opaque and where her arrival is not universally welcomed. Perhaps most mystifying of all is her new husband himself, Alfonso. Is he the playful sophisticate he appeared to be before their wedding, the aesthete happiest in the company of artists and musicians, or the ruthless politician before whom even his formidable sisters seem to tremble?

As Lucrezia sits in constricting finery for a painting intended to preserve her image for centuries to come, one thing becomes worryingly clear. In the court’s eyes, she has one duty: to provide the heir who will shore up the future of the Ferranese dynasty. Until then, for all of her rank and nobility, the new duchess’s future hangs entirely in the balance.

Full of the beauty and emotion with which she illuminated the Shakespearean canvas of Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell turns her talents to Renaissance Italy in an extraordinary portrait of a resilient young woman’s battle for her very survival.

Images above: The Marriage Pportrait; Author Maggie O’Farrell

So Happy For You by Celia Laskey

A wedding weekend spirals out of control in this bold, electrifying, hilarious novel about the complexities of female friendship.

Robin and Ellie have been best friends since childhood. When Robin came out, Ellie was there for her. When Ellie’s father died, Robin had her back. But when Ellie asks Robin to be her maid of honor, she is reluctant. A queer academic, Robin is dubious of the elaborate wedding rituals now sweeping the nation, which go far beyond champagne toasts and a bouquet toss. But loyalty wins out, and Robin accepts.

Yet, as the wedding weekend approaches, a series of ominous occurrences lead Robin to second-guess her decision. It seems that everyone in the bridal party is out to get her. Perhaps even Ellie herself.

Manically entertaining, viciously funny and eerily campy, So Happy for You is the ultimate send-up to our collective obsession with the wedding industrial complex and a riveting, unexpectedly poignant depiction of friendship in all its messy glory.

Images above: So Happy For You; Author Celia Laskey

The Queen of Dirt Island by Donal Ryan

From the award-winning, Booker longlisted author of the number one bestseller, Strange Flowers, a searing, jubilant novel about four generations of women and the love and stories that bind them.

The Aylward women are mad about each other, but you wouldn’t always think it. You’d have to know them to know – in spite of what the neighbours might say about raised voices and dramatic scenes – that their house is a place of peace, filled with love, a refuge from the sadness and cruelty of the world.

Their story begins at an end and ends at a beginning. It’s a story of terrible betrayals and fierce loyalties, of isolation and togetherness, of transgression, forgiveness, desire, and love. About all the things family can be and all the things it sometimes isn’t. More than anything, it is an uplifting celebration of fierce, loyal love and the powerful stories that last generations.

Images above: The Queen of Dirt Island; Donal Ryan

Jessica Bloom

Jessica Bloom is a bookseller at her family bookshop, ‘Bookcase London’, an independent bookshop open in Chiswick since 1993.

See Jessica’s and Anna Klerfalk’s book choices from previous months here.

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