These were among the books that arrived on Vivien Horler’s desk this month. Some will be reviewed in full later. All are among Exclusive Books’s top 22 books for February.
The Postmistress of Paris, by Meg Waite Clayton (Harper)
Like the deeply moving The Last Train to London about the Kindertransport, this new novel is set in Paris during World War 2. It was inspired by real-life Chicago heiress Mary Jayne Gold who helped to smuggle artists and intellectuals out of France. In a 1940s book Crossroads to Marseille she wrote: “Once back in Paris I learned that most Americans were scurrying home. I decided to stay on…If the French could take it, so could I. Besides, too many extraordinary things were in the making, and I didn’t want to miss out.”
Nanée is wealthy and living a great life among artists in Paris when war breaks out. She joins the Resistance and is dubbed the Postmistress because she delivers messages to those in hiding.
One of those she helps is a brilliant Austrian photographer and widower, Edouard Moss, who has fled to Paris with his toddler daughter only to be interned as an enemy alien. As the blurb has it, his life “collides with Nanee’s in this sweeping tale of romance and danger in a world aflame…”
I’ve started it and so far it’s great.
The Christie Affair, by Nina de Gramont (Mantle)
Everyone knows that in 1926 the writer Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days. To this day no one knows exactly what prompted it, although there was speculation it was to punish her philandering husband.
This novel is narrated by one Nan O’Dea, the husband’s mistress. O’Dea is brought up in London and flees to Ireland during the Great War. But a private tragedy there prompts her to fight her way back to England, where she focuses on Agatha Christie. As the blurb says: “Because Agatha Christie has something Nan wants. And it’s not just her husband…”
This looks fun.
Death on the Trans-Siberian Express, by CJ Farrington (Constable)
Conor Farrington is a rail groupie. He was inspired to write this novel after travelling on the Trans-Siberian Express, the longest railway in the world, which goes from Moscow to Vladivostok across the snowy wastes of Siberia. That journey was done in 2015, and he followed it up with the Silk Route by rail in 2017.
This debut novel tells the tale of Olga Pushkin, a railway engineer, who spends her days in a rail-side hut in the snowy village of Roslazny, with only a hedgehog for company. She dreams of a better life as a writer, but there does not seem to be much hope. And then one day Olga arrives at her hut to be knocked unconscious by a passenger falling from the Trans-Siberian, a man who turns out to be an American with his throat cut from ear to ear.
And Olga is on it.
Mothers, Father, and Others – new essays, by Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre)
The Literary Review has described Siri Hustvedt as “a 21st century Virgina Woolf” (although she is a robust woman unlikely to meet Woolf’s unfortunate end). This is a collection of essays on feminist philosophy, literature, family love and hate, prejudice and cruelty and borders. It is also about, according to the blurb, “the broader meanings of the maternal in a culture shaped by misogyny and fantasies of paternal authority”.
I’ve dipped into it, and there are some charming memories of her mother and grandmother, as well as some rather rigorous ponderings on Covid, the future of literature, states of mind and one essay titled: “What does a Man Want?” Indeed.