Memory at Work

Posted on by Zoe Guttenplan

Anyone familiar with the work of Patrick Modiano will know that Paris, birthplace of the flâneur and the situationist alike, is a city in which memory manifests topographically. Lauren Elkin’s first novel, Scaffolding, is alert to the ghosts that move among us. The Parisian landscape, the buildings within it and the material objects accumulated by […]

Surviving Biafra

Posted on by Zoe Guttenplan

In many ways, The Road to the Country is the novel Chigozie Obioma has been steadily heading towards. Utilising fable and prophecy – prominent across his earlier novels The Fishermen (2015) and An Orchestra of Minorities (2019) – Obioma depicts one of the darkest moments in Nigerian history, the Biafran War. The novel, narrated by […]

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Vanishing Point

Posted on by Zoe Guttenplan

The short stories in Andrzej Tichý’s Purity are set primarily among the underclass of Sweden. A character in the collection’s first story struggles to narrate his family’s experiences in Poland after the war. He compares these to an optical illusion in which dots disappear each time you try to focus on them. They can only […]

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Your Passcode or Your Life

Posted on by Zoe Guttenplan

Peter Bradshaw is best known as the film critic of The Guardian and this is certainly the short-story collection of a cinephile. Observe a simile in ‘Palm to Palm’, recounting a date that turns into a failed chiromancy session: ‘His memory of his mother, which for decades had been a soft blur, like Super-8 footage […]

Silent Witness

Posted on by Zoe Guttenplan

The Hearing Test is narrated by Eliza, a young artist and composer living alone in New York, who partially loses, then regains, her hearing. These are also the circumstances in which it was written. Eliza Barry Callahan’s first book could be read as a memoir, a meditation on loss, art, sexuality and silence, or a […]

Under the Banyan Tree

Posted on by Zoe Guttenplan

Saraid de Silva’s masterful debut opens with three life-changing events in the lives of Josephina, her daughter, Sithara, and her granddaughter, Annie. The novel follows the Fernando family from 1951 to 1984 to 2018, and from Singapore to Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Australia and England. It’s a tale of secrets and fractures and absences, and […]

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Don’t Mention the Program

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Téa Obreht’s third novel, The Morningside, is set in the near future on a half-abandoned island beset by floods and food scarcity. The narrator, the eleven-year-old Sil, works as the maintenance officer of a labyrinthine apartment building while trying to follow the inexplicable rules set by her mother: never speaking in her native tongue; not […]

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Are You Sitting Uncomfortably?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

What happens when a parent and a child begin to see each other as real people? That is the question at the heart of Jo Hamya’s acerbic novel The Hypocrite, which follows Sophia, a playwright and a child of divorce, and her nameless father, an Amis-esque, womanising writer who spends his days ‘getting to grips […]

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Crash & Burn

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Reading Sunjeev Sahota’s The Spoiled Heart is like being cornered by a bore at a party. The narrator, Sajjan, tells you he’s a writer from Chesterfield, reminds you three or four times that the pandemic stopped us all from seeing each other, then begins a long story about a family friend who was cancelled after […]

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Hard Knocks

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Simone Weil’s aphorism ‘every separation is a link’ opens Keiran Goddard’s second novel. Weil explains this apparent paradox through the analogy of two prisoners knocking on the wall between their cells: it simultaneously divides and allows communication. I See Buildings Fall Like Lightning pitches this idea into matters of class, following five working-class friends who […]

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Waiting for Mother

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Broke, lonely and taking some ‘time out’, the unnamed narrator of The Lodgers moves back to the small English town where she grew up. Nothing about her sublet appeals: it has a ‘triangular shape’ like a sandwich box, and there’s a distinct aroma of men and ‘instant noodles’. She’s chosen it because it overlooks her […]

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Night & Day

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

You can become somebody else quite easily if you don’t agonise over it. At the start of Miranda Pountney’s debut novel, Dylan is a 37-year-old Brit leading a high-flying life as an advertising executive in New York. Twenty pages later and ‘with no real forethought’, she’s chucked in the job, given up her apartment and […]

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On the Job

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Overeducated and under-stimulated, Hera, twenty-four, finally admits that it is time, after three arts degrees, to leave education and get a job. Despite her determination to dress it up as research, an experiment to see if she can blend in without being recognised as ‘a chaotic fleshbag in a navy dress’, work turns out to […]

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Mean Girls

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Come and Get It is the second novel by Kiley Reid, author of the zeitgeisty 2019 bestseller Such a Fun Age. Like her debut, the book portrays two sides of a transactional relationship: Millie is a young, black resident assistant at the University of Arkansas and Agatha is a visiting professor looking for book ideas. […]

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Out Cold

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘It is falling on all creation,’ Eoghan Smith writes at the start of A Mind of Winter. ‘On the roof of the Lawlor cottage, and on the narrow track that leads through the garden … it is falling on the bare overhang of the ash and horse chestnut trees.’ Finally, the blizzard falls on the […]

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The Full Maggie

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The poet Andrew McMillan’s debut novel, Pity, is set in his hometown of Barnsley and is concerned with the plight of former mining towns like it. Such places are rarely mentioned in the media unless it is ‘for tragic or violent reasons’, we are told in one of the ‘fieldnotes’, passages of sociological research that […]

Hunger Games

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In Fernanda Trías’s Pink Slime, a coastal city is ravaged by toxic algae and an accompanying ‘red wind’, creating an ecological wasteland. An epidemic soon takes root among the population as well. Through the chaos, a nameless protagonist gradually extricates herself from three relationships – with her mother, her ex-husband, Max, and Mauro, her foster […]

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Animal Kingdom

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Working as back-office staff for a car company based in Hiroshima, Hiroko Oyamada once mistook a used printer cartridge for a cormorant. That single episode inspired her to quit her job and write The Factory. Originally published in Japanese in 2013, it was her first novel, though it is not the first one to be […]

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Just an Everyday Virgin Birth

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Kate Atkinson set her last novel, Shrines of Gaiety, in the nightclubs and back streets of 1920s Soho. Normal Rules Don’t Apply, by contrast, is a collection of short stories set in a kaleidoscopic multiverse where a delicate bell announces the end of the world, a racehorse speaks a fortune into existence and traumatised toys […]

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Balls to Hand

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Jilly Cooper has another F-word, and it’s ‘football’. Grass is her new stage, with her hugely popular character Rupert Campbell-Black back for another season. I warm completely to a novelist who acknowledges the many people who help bring a book to fruition. Cooper’s multiple visits to matches and training grounds and her chats with journalists, […]

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