Normal People – Sally Rooney

This is a superbly-written relationship book. The story covers four years in the lives of Connell and Marianne, one year at high school in the west of Ireland followed by University at Trinity College in Dublin. Rooney’s writing illustrates perfectly that relationships are complicated even between two people with undeniable chemistry, complications by miscommunication and misperception of feelings. There is also emotional paralysis by expectations of inadequacy and not belonging. Connell and Marianne are very different people from different backgrounds, resulting in feelings of isolation and disconnection. This is a great book, better than her first book Conversations With Friends.

An American Wife – Tayari Jones

An American Wife - Tayari JonesMs. Jones has written a superb relationship book. Celestial and Roy are newlyweds but Roy is wrongfully imprisoned and so goes to jail for 5 years. In Roy’s absence, Celestial’s relationship with Andre, a lifelong friend, is strengthened. So this is about a 3-way relationship with one of the participants, Roy, absent in prison for much of the story. The resolution to this complicated story is breathtaking.

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted – Robert Hillman

Perhaps predictably, this library book was chosen from the new releases bookshelf entirely based on the brilliant title. The story takes place in rural Australia in the 1960s, with two vivid characters: Tom, a farmer, has been abandoned by his wife,
Rand Hannah, an Auschwitz survivor who has a dream of operating a bookshop in a small town. Theirs is an unlikely romance, a complicated relationship to be sure. The combination of complex issues in a wonderful setting is intoxicating.

Eligible – Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible - Curtis SittenfeldThis delightful novel is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. The Bennett family lives in Cincinnati and Pemberly is an estate near San Francisco. The descriptions of the Bennett family antics are divine, especially Mrs. Bennett and the two youngest sisters, Lydia and Kitty. To underscore the modern context, a reality TV show plays a prominent role in the plot progression. Ms. Sittenfeld is a very fine writer (American Wife); her ability to construct vivid characters reminds me of Lionel Shriver. The shift from acute antipathy to love for Liz and Darcy is described wonderfully; this book is a real joy to read.

An Ocean of Minutes – Thea Lim

An Ocean of Minutes - Thea LimThis Giller short-listed first novel is fabulous. The setting is 1980. To obtain medical treatment for her partner who has been stricken with a virulent flu, Polly agrees to time travel 12 years into the future to work for the TimeRaiser Corporation to rebuild America. So this is debt bondage, a form of indentured labour. The issue of time is considered in two ways: more time for her partner and time in the sense of memory. Will Polly be reunited with her partner Frank in 12 years, when he will have aged and she will not? The future is decidedly dystopian and so this book successfully melds several genres: what will you do to survive a pandemic, the dislocating effects of time travel forward and the return to your home, social issues of income inequality, the power of memory and the complexity of enduring love. This is just excellent story-telling.

Tin Man – Sarah Winman

Tin Man - Sarah WinmanMs. Winman has written two fabulous books: the hilarious When God Was A Rabbit, and the poignant A Year Of Marvellous Ways. Her latest book is entirely different but also brilliant in an understated and quiet fashion. Ellis and Michael have been best friends since they were twelve years old. Eventually Ellis meets and marries Annie which produces an interesting and dynamic 3-way friendship. The story unfolds in non-linear time and because the writing is spare, some attention is required to appreciate the vibrant storytelling. Some key things are left without explanation or detail, which is perfect for a book about love and loss.