May 2024 Books

What’s new and good to read this month? Dan Coombes has a look at what’s on offer from publishers in May and chooses Long Island by Colm Tóibín, Queen Macbeth by Val McDermid and You Like It Darker by Stephen King.

Images: Long Island by Colm Tóibín; Queen Macbeth by Val McDermid; You Like It Darker by Stephen King

Long Island – Colm Tóibín

Set twenty years after his most lauded and lovely literary landmark Brooklyn, Long Island continues the story of Irish immigrant Ellis Lacey, making her way in the United States of America in the late Seventies with her husband, children, friends…and an imminent, great big life-changing clanger that’s going to upend everything.

Colm Toibin is famous for his elegant and restrained writing and vividly drawn characters at turning points in their lives, thinking deep thoughts and probably gazing wistfully into the middle distance quite a lot, and there aren’t many more satisfyingly refined and readable writers out there.

A man with an Irish accent knocks on Eilis Fiorello’s door on Long Island and asks for her by name. Eilis and husband Tony have built a secure, happy life here since leaving Brooklyn, twenty years married and with two children looking towards a good future. But this stranger will reveal something that will make Eilis question the life she has created.

For the first time in years she suddenly feels very far from home and the revelation will see her turn towards Ireland once again. Back to her mother. Back to the town and the people she had chosen to leave behind. Did she make the wrong choice marrying Tony all those years ago? Is it too late now to take a different path?

Images: Long Island; Colm Tóibín

Queen Macbeth – Val McDermid

You’d have to be a pretty amazing author to rewrite acknowledged historical banger-that-you-can’t-mention-out-loud-in-a-theatre Macbeth, turn it on its head and transform it into an absolutely cracking thriller for the modern age, re-examining history while keeping you on the edge of your seat, so it’s good that Val McDermid took the job on, really.

A thousand years ago in an ancient Scottish landscape, a woman is on the run with her three companions – a healer, a weaver and a seer. The men hunting her will kill her – because she is the only one who stands between them and their violent ambition.

She is no lady: she is the first queen of Scotland, married to a king called Macbeth. As the net closes in, we discover a tale of passion, forced marriage, bloody massacre and the harsh realities of medieval Scotland.

At the heart of it is one strong, charismatic woman, who survived loss and jeopardy to outwit the endless plotting of a string of ruthless and power-hungry men. Her struggle won her a country. But now it could cost her life.

Images: Queen Macbeth; Val McDermid; photograph KT Bruce

You Like It Darker – Stephen King

Am I always going to recommend a new Stephen King book regardless of any other new releases in a month? Pretty much, and that’s because even if you think he’s gone off the boil in more recent decades (we are talking about a consistently amazing half century career here after all) not-quite-in-his-prime Stephen King is usually better than half the writers out there, and that’s no disrespect to other authors it’s just…y’know. Stephen King.

‘You like it darker? Fine, so do I’, writes Stephen King in the afterword to this magnificent new collection of twelve stories that delve into the darker part of life – both metaphorical and literal.

King is a master of the form, and these stories, about fate, mortality, luck, and the folds in reality where anything can happen, are as rich and riveting as his novels, both weighty in theme and a huge pleasure to read. King writes to feel ‘the exhilaration of leaving ordinary day-to-day life behind’, and in You Like it Darker, readers will feel that exhilaration too, again and again.

Images: You Like It Darker; Stephen King

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.