Newest Literary Fiction Reviews

From TheBookbag
Jump to: navigation, search

Letters From Klara by Tove Jansson

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Famed in the UK for her creation of the Moomin family, Jansson is rather belatedly beginning to gather the richly deserved esteem for her adult writings. For that I offer my heart-felt thanks to publishers Sort of books and Thomas Teal, who has been responsible for most of the translations. Receiving this one, two things strike: firstly I somehow seem to have missed one of the series, and secondly there'll come a time sooner rather than later when there'll be no more to be had. The former will be rectified, the latter is a sad thought. Full review...

In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist and Henning Koch (translator)

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Tom Malmquist is a poet from Sweden. Originally published in Swedish in 2015, this is his first work of prose. While it's being marketed as a novel, it reads more like a stylized memoir. Similar to Karl Ove Knausgaard's books, it features the author as the central character and narrator, and the story of grief it tells is a highly personal one. Full review...

Your Father's Room by Michel Deon

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

I don't feel altogether qualified to review Michel Déon's 2004 fictionalised memoir Your Father's Room, translated here into English for the first time. I hadn't heard of Déon before receiving my copy, let alone read any of his books, published over a 70 year period to much acclaim in his homeland. But it's part of the pleasure of book reviewing to read with no prior knowledge or prejudice, all the more so if you discover an absolute gem. Full review...

The Power by Naomi Alderman

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

It started with the girls and spread. From younger woman to older woman, it was awoken and everything changed. Womankind now has the power of electricity in their fingertips and, slowly at first, the balance of power in the world starts shifting. We follow the stories of different people, in different walks of life, who see this from the very beginning and hurtle towards 'the event'. One thing in this startling new development is certain, patriarchal archetypes and chauvinist thinkers are in for the shock of their lives. Literally. Full review...

The Futures by Anna Pitoniak

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

When we first meet Evan Peck, he has just started at Yale College, where he plays ice hockey. Like lots of the other players, he is actually Canadian, from small-town British Columbia. One night after a party Evan meets Julia Edwards at their dorm and they go out for pizza. She technically has a boyfriend from her Boston boarding school days, but they soon break up and before long Julia and Evan have become inseparable, as they will remain for the rest of their college years. Full review...

The Song of the Stork by Stephan Collishaw

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Stephan Collishaw has achieved a rare feat – a novel set amidst the horrors of Nazi tyranny that does not shy away from human suffering, but does not drown in it either. Full review...

The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write by Sabrina Mahfouz

5star.jpg Anthologies

What does it mean to be British and Muslim? This is a question these writers tackle with stunning clarity. Modern day British society has a varied sense of cultural heritage; it is a society that is changing and moving forward as it adds more and more voices to the population, but is also one that has an undercurrent of anxiety and fear towards those that are minorities. So this collection displays how all that fear is received; it comes in the form of stereotypical labels and racial prejudice, which are themes eloquently reproduced here. Full review...

All That Man Is by David Szalay

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Two teenage boys on an Inter Rail trip around Europe find themselves staying with a frustrated housewife on the outskirts of Prague, a driftless young Frenchman discovers sexual fulfilment on a package holiday in Cyprus, a lovestruck Hungarian minder is embroiled in a prostitution racket at an upmarket London hotel, a Belgian academic is forced to confront his egotism when his partner becomes pregnant, a Danish tabloid journalist exposes a high-ranking politician's love affair, a property developer inspects a new project in the French alps, a Scot living in Croatia fails in love and business, a Russian millionaire confronts divorce, an elderly English politician survives a road accident in Italy. Full review...

His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

If you think that un-put-down-able is the greatest accolade for a book, think again. Put-down-able can be stronger praise: His Whole Life is put-down-able. It encourages you to put it down, to wrap yourself in the slow-moving story, the exquisite writing, the subtleties of the characters, and just walk around for a while with them slowly sinking in; it encourages you to come back to it again and again; mostly it encourages you to put it down, to read it slowly, because you don't want it to end. Full review...

The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Just before Henry Aster's birth, his father, a frustrated novelist and lawyer, reluctantly returns to the remote North Carolina mountains in which he was improbably raised and installs his young family in a gothic mansion - nicknamed 'the vulture house' - worthy of his hero Edgar Allan Poe. There, Henry grows up under the desk of this fierce and brilliant man. But when a death in the family tips his father toward a fearsome unravelling, what was once a young son's reverence is poisoned, and Henry flees, not to return until years later when he, too, must go home again. Full review...

How to Be Human by Paula Cocozza

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

When Mary arrives home from work one day to find a magnificent fox on her lawn - his ears spiked in attention and every hair bristling with his power to surprise - it is only the beginning. He brings gifts (at least, Mary imagines they are gifts), and gradually makes himself at home. And as he listens to Mary, Mary listens back. She begins to hear herself for the first time in years. Her bullish ex-boyfriend, still lurking on the fringes of her life, would be appalled. So would the neighbours with a new baby. They only like wildlife that fits with the decor. But inside Mary a wildness is growing that will not be tamed. Full review...

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Bristol 1792: Lizzie married well. John Diner Tredevant is a property developer who has reached the zenith of his life's work: building a terrace of prestigious houses overlooking the Avon Gorge. In a time of turbulence as France reaches the dawn of revolution, Britain, including Diner, fears it may spread. This puts Lizzie in a difficult position since her mother and step-father both believe in propagating pamphlets and ideas of egalitarianism for and to all, including women. In other words, they think nothing of spreading ideas of the sort that fanned the French flames. However, that's not Lizzie's only problem… there is a darkness in her husband's past of which she's unaware. Full review...

The Valentine House by Emma Henderson

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

In June 1914, Sir Anthony Valentine, a keen mountaineer, arrives with his family to spend the summer in their chalet, high in the French Alps. There, for the first time, fourteen-year-old foundling Mathilde starts work as one of the 'uglies' - village girls employed as servants and picked, it is believed, to ensure they don't catch Sir Anthony's roving eye. For Mathilde it is the start of a life-long entanglement with les anglais - strange, exciting people, far removed from the hard grind of farming. Except she soon finds the Valentines are less carefree than they appear, with a curiously absent daughter no one talks about. It will be decades - disrupted by war, accidents and a cruel betrayal - before Mathilde discovers the key to the mystery. And in 1976, the year Sir Anthony's great-great grandson comes to visit, she must decide whether to use it. Full review...

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

When she turns twelve, Samuel Hawley teaches his daughter, Loo (short for Louise), how to use her grandfather's rifle. Shooting a gun and hotwiring a car prove to be useful skills for this daughter of a fugitive. Hawley is a lawless modern cowboy who's had many close shaves over his years on the run for committing robberies and making dodgy deals. He and his young daughter form a cosy unit of their own; they live off of Chinese food and vending machine snacks in motel rooms and move on every six months or so to avoid the consequences of his criminal activities. But when they get to Olympus, Massachusetts, Hawley decides it's time to settle down. He buys a house by the water – with cash – and becomes a clean-living fisherman. Full review...

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

You have to assume the team behind the cover sleeve for Nicole Dennis-Benn's debut novel Here Come's the Sun have a keen sense of irony. Either that or none of them read beyond the first page. Full review...

Larchfield by Polly Clark

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

I It's early summer when a young poet, Dora Fielding, moves to Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland and her hopes are first challenged. Newly married, pregnant, she's excited by the prospect of a life that combines family and creativity. She thinks she knows what being a person, a wife, a mother, means. She is soon shown that she is wrong. As the battle begins for her very sense of self, Dora comes to find the realities of small town life suffocating, and, eventually, terrifying; until she finds a way to escape reality altogether. Another poet, she discovers, lived in Helensburgh once. Wystan H. Auden, brilliant and awkward at 24, with his first book of poetry published, should be embarking on success and society in London. Instead, in 1930, fleeing a broken engagement, he takes a teaching post at Larchfield School for boys where he is mocked for his Englishness and suspected - rightly - of homosexuality. Yet in this repressed limbo Wystan will fall in love for the first time, even as he fights his deepest fears. Full review...

The Longest Night by Otto de Kat and Laura Watkinson (translator)

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Emma has a philosophy – let the dead rest, and love the living. The problem with that, as a 96-year-old, is that there are too few living left, and so while the love remains she will go through her memories, taking a woozy, diaphanous path through all the major events of her life. Starting in wartime Berlin with one husband, who gets snatched from her at work, fleeing to another place to wait for peace, and wait for him in vain, moving to Holland and finding new love, and so on – this wispy journey will show all the impacts of war, from rationing right up to exile, death and survival. The memories are coming strongly here and now, as Emma is waiting for at least one of her two sons to visit, and then she will die… Full review...

Little Nothing by Marisa Silver

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

In an unnamed country at the beginning of the last century, a peasant couple longs for a child. In despair they turn to gypsy tonics and archaic prescriptions, and one cold wintery night, the couple's wish comes true. But the silence that follows the birth forewarns of darker days to come. Strangers look on askance and fall speechless in the child's presence, and villagers protectively hush their children as they pass on narrow market lanes. Pavla is no ordinary child, but then this is no ordinary tale. Full review...

The Yellow House by Jeroen Blokhuis and Asja Novak (translator)

3star.jpg Literary Fiction

If you were the needy kind, would you really join in the drumming-out of town of two people accused of murder purely because of their nationality? Would you get a feeling of belonging just because you were there when someone carried a dead dog down off a mountain? The main character in this novel does. But he has something that will really get him noted, well-thought-of, included. He has come to the south of France to set up an artists' collective, where he can live and work alongside his counterparts, who can inspire each other and best each other to create wonderful art. In fact a much-respected guest is on his way now, so surely he can find kinship? The guest's name is, after all, Gauguin. The main character is, of course, Vincent van Gogh… Full review...

Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

There had always been Katy, Audrey and Adam. They've been friends since school and now, along with Audrey's partner Nick, they remain inseparable as young professionals. Then, one day, Katy kills herself. No warning, no reason just no Katy. The four are suddenly three trying to make sense of a moment that leaves so many questions in a world that refuses to pause while they figure it out. Full review...

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

5star.jpg General Fiction

I have a thing about blurbs which give away far too much of the stories. Not this time. This time…There are things even love can't do…if the burden is too much and stays too long even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking, and sometimes does break. But even when it's in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn't mean it's no longer love… That is the most heart-breakingly beautiful truth I've read in a long time – and it sums up this story. This is a story about love not being enough…but still being love. I hope this becomes a classic, not just in its native Nigeria but around the world. Full review...

Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Maben is on the run. For a long while it's not clear whether she's running from something or towards something, or simply back to where it all started. She's got her small daughter with her, and they've been walking for a very long time. It's hard on the child, but it's also clear that if it wasn't for the child Maben would stop running, and it's clear that that would not be a good thing. Full review...

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin and Megan McDowell (translator)

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Meet Carla. She's a glamorous older woman, with poise and beauty, and someone who still looks a treat in a golden bikini. But inside, she's different. The biggest issue she seems to bear relates to an event a few years ago, when her horse breeder husband had the drama of both a hired, valuable stallion, and their son, being poisoned. Away from the right medical treatment, Carla took David to a woman who said the only hope was a 'migration' – basically, to farm out part of David's spirit and swap it with someone else's, to dilute the toxin. This was a success, as David seems to have survived, although Carla is sure it was the wrong decision – she now sees David as at least part monster. But another odd thing about this tale is that it isn't being narrated by Carla, but by her neighbour, another mother called Amanda, who is renting a holiday home nearby. And the further odd thing is to whom she is narrating this story – it's to David… Full review...

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Solimar wants more from her life than her Mexican home can offer and now she's 18, she can go find it. Her target is to get to the USA, a target so blinding that she doesn't realise what reaching out for it will cost. Meanwhile Kavya is living the American dream. She's rich in friendship, family, a loving husband and life prospects and yet Kavya has a baby-shaped hole in her world. The problem is that there's only one baby for both of them… Lucky boy! Full review...

For a Little While by Rick Bass

4star.jpg Short Stories

For a Little While is a collection of twenty-five short stories from Rick Bass. As someone previously unacquainted with Bass' work this new collection was a wonderful introduction to his quirky, unusual style which focuses on stripped back, simple fables featuring often mundane situations, mysterious characters and magical experiences. The characters in each tale are beautifully crafted and the stories are dreamy, loose narratives covering everything from love to death to choices made and chances taken. Full review...

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Danish author Dorthe Nors has published four novels, a novella and a story collection. The protagonist of her latest novel, forty-something Sonja, has a problem with balance – literally. Due to an inner ear condition, if she bends over she's crippled by dizziness. It's inconvenient given that Sonja is currently taking lessons at Folke Driving School. She's already doing poorly – her angry, sweary instructor Jytte doesn't trust her enough to change gears so does it all for her – and so can't have them finding out that she gets dizzy. Eventually Sonja switches so Folke himself is her instructor, but he's an odious lecher. She really can't win. Full review...

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend's future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt. What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Moving from a life in her parents basement to a life in New York City, Shelby remains damaged by the loss of her best friend, stumbling through life blindly and fighting desperately to become connected to anything at all. But, as she grows, she discovers emotion, survival and happiness, bundled up with dogs, food, books and men she's probably best avoiding… Deep in New York City she find a circle of lost and found souls, and the angel who's been watching over her since that fateful night all those years ago… Full review...

Octavio's Journey by Miguel Bonnefoy and Emily Boyce (translator)

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Meet Octavio. He's a large lunk, a gentle giant, living alone in a lowly Venezuelan town – a town which once, fleetingly, had fame, fashion and success through a minor miracle, but has none any longer. Octavio, it seems, has some unusual habits – here he is, marching off to the chemist's with a table across his back, for it was all the doctor had at the time to write a prescription on. Now we never learn exactly what the cause of the prescription was, but we soon find out what the cause of the table is – Octavio cannot read, and has learned nothing beyond cutting into his palm to allow the wound to let him escape the need to write. Until, that is, a woman seems to suggest a way for him to learn to read and write, and to love – but that experience also proves to Octavio that there is a whole host of other things he can put his mind to, both for good, and for bad… Full review...

Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki and Polly Barton (translator)

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

Murakami, and (long before the film) Endo's Silence. That's my limit as regards contemporary Japanese writing. But now there's Tomoka Shibasaki, and her noted work Spring Garden. Which, make no mistake, is definitely Japanese. For instance, if I told you it starts with a man looking up to watch his female neighbour on her balcony, and concerns obsession, you could well think it was his about her. But no – perhaps only in the west is the gaze so male. The obsession is very much hers here, and it – and the novel – concern a singular house. And the very singular country it lives in, and the changes it is going through… Full review...

English Animals by Laura Kaye

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

When Mirka gets a job in a country house in rural England, she has no idea of the struggle she faces to make sense of a very English couple, and a way of life that is entirely alien to her. Richard and Sophie are chaotic, drunken, frequently outrageous but also warm, generous and kind to Mirka, despite their argumentative and turbulent marriage. Mirka is swiftly commandeered by Richard for his latest money-making enterprise, taxidermy, and soon surpasses him in skill. After a traumatic break two years ago with her family in Slovakia, Mirka finds to her surprise that she is happy at Fairmont Hall. But when she tells Sophie that she is gay, everything she values is put in danger and she must learn the hard way what she really believes in. Full review...