In short: The Ballast Seed; Miss Aldridge regrets; Dinner – the review | Books
Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £18.99, pp208
When reporter Kinchen realized she was pregnant with her second child when the first had barely reached infancy, she felt “ambushed.” The anxiety of keeping her job as her family’s highest earner and the unshakable feeling that she wasn’t motherly enough became crippling once she gave birth. Medication helped her, but it was horticultural therapy that she really responded to, and this intelligent, thoughtful memoir combines her discovery of rambling urban green spaces with reflections on the life of Marianne North, an adventurous aristocrat of the 19th century and botanical artist who “preferred vegetables”. to the idea of marriage. “It’s not a self-help guide,” says Kinchen; even so, its stories of plants, friendship, and the immense comfort of plunging your hands into the ground will resonate with many.
HQ, £14.99, pp432
Hare’s well-crafted second novel oozes glamour. It takes place in 1936 aboard a luxury liner bound for New York. When a member of a wealthy American family is murdered, it sounds horribly familiar to a Lena Aldridge, a young nightclub singer from Soho who hits Broadway. Lena has her own secrets. Not only does she “pass” for a white woman, but she also had to leave London quickly after a murder at the club, the victim of which is none other than the womanizing husband of her childhood best friend. Did anyone mention Agatha Christie? Yes, but with the welcome bonus of subtle musings on race and class.
One, £8.99, pp270 (paperback)
There will always be room for another novel about toxic family dysfunction, and Gilmartin’s first bestseller enlivens this inherently claustrophobic material with dark, humorous settings and a page-turning beat. It opened in 2018, as 30-something Kate put the finishing touches on a dinner party. Soon his family will start arriving, coming together to mark the 16th anniversary of his twin’s death. As the tale travels back in time and looks forward to determine if there can be healing, it is galvanized by the tension between the pull of home and the urge to escape.