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#IMAGEReads: Seven brilliant books your mother is sure to love

by Jennifer McShane
30th Mar 2019

Jennifer McShane rounds up an edit of only some of her favourite works of female fiction – worth recommending to your mum this Mother’s Day   

Lisa Carey’s The Stolen Child (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, approx €13.99, out now) does what few tales dare to – get inside your head and refuse to leave. Set on a mysterious windswept island off the coast of Ireland, St Brigid, the story centres on its intriguing community and follows two sisters: Rose, blessed with beauty, and disfigured Emer, who was blinded in one eye by a swarm of bees and who has a curse – she can harm with a simple touch of her hands. The Islanders are stuck in the past, their way of life under threat as they are forced to move to the mainland, but the arrival of Brigid, a stranger who befriends the sisters, will change everything they know. This is a captivating, eerily beautiful tome; full of mistrust, dark magic and superstition.

Author Laurie Frankel drew on her own personal experiences to write her debut This Is How It Always Is (Headline Review, approx. €15.99, out now) and it makes this already beautiful story all the more tender for it. Rosie and Penn are parents to four rowdy sons; their family is just like any other until Claude, their youngest, quietest boy, declares that when he grows up, he wants to be a girl. This is anything but an issue book; it’s a tender tale of how a family tries to change and adapt to ensure their much-loved child moves towards becoming transgender. Even during its sad moments, it remains an enchanting read and refreshingly, it doesn’t attempt to wrap up such a complex theme in a neat bow – it makes a subject, of which many have no real understanding, seem normal. Everyone should read it.

In Beth Underdown’s engrossing first novel, The Witchfinder’s Sister (Viking, approx. €14.99, out now) Matthew’s sister Alice returns to her native Essex in 1645 after her husband is killed. But her brother is no longer the same. There are rumours in this small town of witchcraft and a book in which he obsessively collects women’s names. Soon Alice is horrified to discover her brother is plotting to exterminate the women of the village that he deems guilty of witchcraft. Terrifying and so relevant to the times we live in, it’s utterly gripping.

Compelling characters make Elizabeth Strout’s Anything is Possible (Viking, approx €15.99, out now) truly shine. Nine interconnected stories that reintroduce the central character of Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton all deal with the same chasm throughout – the inability to make any real connection with others. All nine tales are built around the Illinois town where Lucy grew up. She remains an almost mythical figure because we’re so drawn to those who knew her. Like Dottie, Lucy’s second cousin, who has become an expert at suffering rejection; or Tommy, her school janitor, who spent his life convinced an early tragedy was meant to happen. A captivating read from start to finish, and Strout’s best work yet.

After her award-winning, stirring debut novel, Spill Simmer Falter Wither, author Sara Baume’s second book, A Line Made By Walking (Tramp Press, approx. €15, out now) is much anticipated. From the tender tale of a lonely man and his one-eyed dog, Wink, we move onto a story more autobiographical in nature. Twenty-five year old Frankie is a floundering artist – it took Baume around five years to become what was termed an “overnight success” – who after graduating college, has a sudden mental breakdown and returns home to live in her grandmother’s house in Ireland. The novel is written with an artist’s extraordinary eye for detail, and this is what makes it a beautiful read – we see the surroundings as Frankie does; recounting the beauty in the every day, in everything – in nature, animals, even to bleeding gums from the flossing of teeth – trying to make sense of her place in the world. She’s on a quest to rediscover her sense of self, the universe and her journey will captivate the reader.

Sarah Schmidt’s debut, the much-hyped See What I Have Done is a reimagining of the infamous, unsolved Lizzie Borden case of 1892, where 32-year-old Lizzie Borden was put on trial for the brutal, bloody murder of her father and stepmother. The bodies of Andrew and Abby Borden are discovered – he’s found on the sitting room sofa, she upstairs on the bedroom floor – both murdered with an axe. Australian novelist Schmidt revisits the frequently told story already immortalised in many a film and TV show, this time telling it from differing points of view. Who did it? The maid? Lizzie’s sister Emma? Or did Lizzie get away with murder? A claustrophobic, gripping story that lingers long after the final page has been turned.

Fiona Melrose’s Johannesburg (Corsair, approx €15.99, out now), the author’s second novel, is as promising as her debut. Set across a single day, it alludes to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway in its structure and more subtle references but retains its own freshness. In Johannesburg, Gin Brandt, an artist living in New York, has returned home for her mother Neve’s 80th birthday – she is throwing her a party. At the nearby Residence, history is about to change; Nelson Mandela’s family prepares to announce his death to the world. With a cast of memorable characters and detail, Melrose takes a seemingly ordinary day and renders it into something poignant and moving.

Main photograph: UnSplash