VIOLETA by Isabel Allende (Bloomsbury £16.99, 336pp)
(Bloomsbury £16.99, 336pp)
The history of 20th century Latin America, well, some of it, is crammed into Isabel Allende’s breathless new novel, which is narrated by the 100-year-old Violeta, born during the Spanish flu pandemic in an unnamed South American country.
The Great sees off her father’s fortune (and him), and Violeta grows into a strong-willed woman with a keen nose for business — and blm a decades- long infatuation with the recklessly glamorous, commitment-phobe Julian, a politically shady drug-runner and pilot who becomes involved with the CIA.
There’s extreme drama at nearly every turn, with the continent itself lurching murderously between communism and fascism in the background.
Told in the form of a deathbed letter to Violeta’s grandson, this breakneck novel is loosely about the extent to which a life is at the mercy of history, but Allende’s famed storytelling technique lets her down: so much happens that you can barely see the wood, let alone poor Violeta.
WAYWARD by Dana Spiotta (Virago £14.99, 288pp)
(Virago £14.99, 288pp)
The midlife crisis novel is still largely the preserve of male authors; Dana Spiotta reclaims it for menopausal women in this aggressively self-aware book, whose wild, jagged rhythms seem to mimic the unhinging nature of the menopause itself.
Sam is a 53-year-old married mother suffering night sweats and persistent fury when she spies a ruined Arts and Crafts house in downtown Syracuse, promptly buys it, and moves out of the family home.
She still can’t sleep, though, and in her febrile, psychologically ambushed state, starts spending more time online, hooking up with internet communities offering virtue-signalling resistance in an America polarised by Trump, MeToo and BLM.
Meanwhile, her mother is dying and her teenage daughter has hooked up with an older architect who turns Syracuse’s dilapidated buildings into bachelor pads for minted ‘bros’.
Everything feels deliriously untethered in this wayward novel — Sam, history, plot, America itself.
I LOVE YOU BUT I’VE CHOSEN DARKNESS by Claire Vaye Watkins (Riverrun £16.99, 352pp)
I LOVE YOU BUT I’VE CHOSEN DARKNESS
(Riverrun £16.99, 352pp)
Apart from the title, which must count as one of the worst ever, Claire Vaye Watkins’ latest novel is remarkable for recycling an autobiography that includes a father who used to hang out with Charles Manson.
That particular ghost is one of many plaguing her narrator, Claire, a writer who has left her husband and baby daughter in Michigan to deliver a reading in Reno but then fails to return home. Instead she embarks on a journey through the desert accompanied by spectres both figurative and real from a past that includes two dead parents, various dead-beat boyfriends and a childhood scarred by poverty and addiction.
Watkins’ surreal auto-fiction favours a fever-dream style narrative that variously combines the stories of her parents (her mother was an artist who died from OxyContin addiction) with her own struggles with motherhood.
This novel has been raved about for detonating many of the myths about motherhood in electric prose but I found myself frequently lost within its stream-of-consciousness style drift.
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