Edugyan, Esi: Half-Blood Blues. A group of black jazz players are in Berlin, alternately in 1944 and the present day. They are black and American, except for the youngest, a mischling, born in Köln.  In 1944, some of the group manage to get to Paris, just before the French declare war.

The narrator, Sid, speaks throughout in Jazz slang, which I found distracting,  yet despite that and despite Sid’s unattractive self-pity and jealousy one is drawn in by the  vivid writing.

In France during the Phony War –

“But it seemed all Paris was waiting too. Anxiety hung over the streets like clothes on a line. When we walked them cobblestones, we seen families, huddled in their apartments, crouched over the wireless. Waiters  was bent over counters listening to static. Hell, in those first tender days, it seemed like everybody was just hunched up over some radio somewhere, staying put, like if they moved they might miss the war. First it was the Frogs advancing into the Saar. Then it was the Frogs and the Limeys advancing on the Maginot Line. Then the Krauts was advancing too. Chip, he just shook his damn head. Delilah told rumours of food shortages, but after the darkness of Berlin, all that damn butter and wine in the cafés told us different. It was just fear, we known. All that we trusted of what we heard was the static.”

Enright, Anne: The Forgotten Waltz When Anne Enright came to the Guardian book club to talk about The Forgotten Waltz, her tale of ordinary adultery in modern Ireland, she was asked a good deal about her depiction of Dublin’s smart, affluent professionals. The economic crash comes two-thirds of the way through the novel, puncturing the self-assurance of the leading characters and explaining much of the narrator’s self-mockery. Was satire one of her main purposes? The characters in The Forgotten Waltz have all the 21-century trappings of affluence. For British readers of Irish fiction, it was evidently something of a novelty not to associate Irishness with repression or poverty.

A NY Times reviewer writes: “Cloaked in a novel about a love affair is a ferocious indictment of the self-involved material girls our era has produced.”

Enright’s channeling of Gina’s interior monologue is so accurate and unsparing that reading her book is, at times, like eavesdropping on a very long, crazily intimate cellphone conversation. It’s a testament to the unwavering fierceness of Enright’s project that I mean this as high praise. We’ve all met people like the characters in her book. Neither evil nor good, they’re merely awful in entirely ordinary ways. And it’s impressive, how skillfully Anne Enright has gotten them on the page.

AE is a brilliant writer who deserved her 2007 Booker prize for The Gathering.

However, I   can’t recommend this one. .TMI!  I really don’t enjoy reading all the sordid details of lust while drunk, lust during conventions, lust in and out of a marriage. For me, the later chapters focussing on ‘his’ growing daughter, are much the most enjoyable.

When asked about the comparison between this and the classic books on adultery – Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina AE said “I was looking for a more interesting punishment than death, and I thought that love is a great punishment.”

Harding, Georgina:  The Painter of Silence. Set in Hungary after the War. A man is brought into a hospital and they discover he is deaf and mute. When he starts drawing, he moves from sketching his present surroundings to trying to communicate some of his experiences during the war through his pictures

The daughter of the big house where he worked is now a nurse and finds him. She tries to rescue him while he tries to show what happened to her lost lover.

Miller, Madeline: The Song of Achilles. This is a fascinating retelling of the story of Achilles, Patroclus and the Trojan War.

“Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.
Achilles is everything Patroclus is not – strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess. They become close friends – and more.
Somehow Miller breathes life into the characters – even the cruel goddess Thetis is Achilles mother , not an unreal bit of supernaturalism.

Ozick, Cynthia: Foreign Bodies. I had never heard of Cynthia Ozick, but she is a well-established American author.

Her “ longstanding and perceptive enthrallment with Henry James once made her declare the ‘pivotal truth’ of his last novels to be ‘not that he chooses to tell too little . . . but that he knows too much, and much more than we, or he, can possibly take in.’ Among those books it is The Ambassadors that has most preoccupied Ozick, who admits that her first novel, Trust, published in 1966, was “heavily influenced by compulsive reading and rereading” of it.

She has described her latest book, Foreign Bodies, as having “a kind of ‘Ambassadors’ plot in reverse.” What makes this novel such an absorbing achievement is not so much its slanted replications of the story line ……but the witty, fierce way in which it goes about upending the whole theme and meaning and stylistic manner of its revered ­precursor.”

It starts very simply. Due to her brother Marvin’s bullying, middle-aged teacher Bea Nightingale ( neé Nachtigall) is wasting part of her first ever visit to Paris hunting unsuccessfully, in unseasonable heat, for the nephew her brother never bothered to bring to meet her.  At this stage, the writing is almost naive –  like the Americans involved. Gradually the plot grows more complex. It is 1950. Nephew Julian meets Lily, a bereaved refugee from Eastern Europe, working at a centre for displaced persons. Good conscientious niece, Iris, also finds her way to Paris and dissipation. At the same time the writing grows denser and more complex – and I began to think that I could really be reading the next Orange Prize Winner. Try it.

Patchett, Ann:  State of Wonder. In State of Wonder, the American novelist imagines a primitive tribe, living deep in the Amazon, where the women remain fertile unto death. In all other respects their bodies deteriorate normally with age. But their reproductive systems remain eternally youthful, allowing them to continue bearing children into their seventies and eighties.

If scientists working for the fictional pharmaceutical company, Vogel, can discover the Lakashi tribe’s secret and bottle it, then they could revolutionise the lives of women around the world and rake in the big bucks.

But there’s a problem. No matter how much money they pay her, the maverick researcher running the project refuses to report on her progress. Worse still, they don’t even know exactly where she is. First one and then another staff member is sent out to investigate – and the plot thickens.

I enjoyed it when I read it about a year ago but didn’t feel it was prize-winning material. However, the first review I looked at recently commented that it was much better than her previous winner Bel Canto.

Jenny Strickland