Newest Literary Fiction Reviews

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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

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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)

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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)

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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

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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...

Kingdom's End by Charles D Blanchard

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The rats made their massive colony inside the ruins of an abandoned motion picture palace, where for thirty long dark years, an aged blind leader ruled over them. A beloved figure held in high regard, he rules with patience, understanding, justice and love. When a young upstart challenges all he has built, ruling with harsh punishments and rash decisions, the rats must decide how best to protect their colony in order to preserve all that they have built together. As the rats clash amongst themselves, some fail to notice the ever growing threats and dangers that the outside world provides - who will come out on top in this very literal rat race? Full review...

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

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It's the mid nineteenth century and Thomas McNulty has left his home in Sligo, his family dead from famine, to make a new life in a new nation. He teams up with prairie fairy - a dancer in drag - John Cole and together they sign up for the US Army. Their journey will take them through the American Indian wars and eventually to the Civil War. Along the way, the two soldiers form a lasting bond with a young Sioux girl called Winona and their travels take them from Missouri to Wyoming and Tennessee. It's the story of perhaps the most violent birth of a nation in history but it's also a convention-defying love story. Full review...

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

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Gustav Perle grew up in a small town in neutral Switzerland: the horrors of the Second World War seemed distant, but neutrality was maintained partly at the expense of those who would seek refuge in the country. Gustav's father died in mysterious circumstances and whilst Gustav adored his mother, Emilie, she was cold and indifferent to him. Until he met Anton Zwiebel he was a lonely child with just one toy, a tin train, but he and Anton met at kindergarten where it fell to Gustav to look after the nervous boy. Anton is Jewish and he's a talented pianist, but he lacks the confidence to perform in public. Throughout much of his life he relies on Gustav's support, but fails to appreciate just how important, how necessary it is to his wellbeing. Full review...

The Eleventh Letter by Tom Tomaszewski

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At the end of the working day, Christopher is looking over the ghosts of his occupancy of some rooms on Harley Street, before moving up the road to different chambers, and pastures new. He's half impelled and half reluctant to revisit a pair of audio cassettes, on which are interviews by him and someone else of a woman called Louise, who was arrested in Italy in the 1980s for the double murder of two close friends, Kate and John. Hardly aware he's being snowed in by a London blizzard and the usual British response to any bad weather, he spontaneously provides shelter to a flame-haired beauty, Kay, who provokes him into playing the tapes. It's an occurrence which changes him much more profoundly than he does others at the therapist's couch. Indeed, the closer he gets to Kay, the closer he gets to the voice of the victim from decades ago. What on earth could be the connection? Full review...

The Good Lover by Steinunn Sigurdardottir and Philip Roughton (translator)

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Karl is a global example of the Icelandic species, with more than one home abroad and an amanuensis-cum-assistant to do his scheduling and arrange housework while he's going here and there being a businessman. He has a string of lovers that has stretched into three figures, partly because with one exception three is the limit of liaisons he'll have with each. But he's also got a heart devoted to Una, his teenaged love whom he adores, despite her splitting with him decades ago. On a whim he leaves a beach holiday to go back to one of the icy limbs of Iceland, witnesses the changes wrought by fifteen years on her – and then ends up staying the night with the woman next door. This is purely platonic, but what with his host knowing everything about the situation, an ever-present taxi driver, and an ex on the line in America, is there a way he can snatch his love from her marriage and find happiness? Full review...

School of Velocity by Eric Beck Rubin

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Jan's head is dropping him in it. He's a trained concert pianist, but is having difficulty performing, with a horrendous problem, in that he can hear any discordant music, or just in fact horrid noise, when in the wings waiting to perform, and never the score he is due to follow. The devil's tinnitus, you might call it. With another failure behind him, but dignity somewhat intact, Jan decides he has to work back through his life to tell us the cause – and we're likewise dropped into an extended flashback, to his formative years at art school, with a pretentious drama student, Dirk. The book is a fast-moving exploration of what Jan finds of note (pun intended) through his life, and all that might have caused his mental problem. But is cognisance of what might lie behind it going to help? Full review...

The Evenings: A Winter's Tale by Gerard Reve

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The Evenings was voted the best Dutch novel of all time by the Society of Dutch Literature, and its author, Gerard Reve (1923–2006), was the first openly gay writer in the Netherlands. It's a historic book for its native country, but will it have the same impact in English translation? Contemporary Dutch novelist Herman Koch compares The Evenings to the works of Kerouac and Salinger, and I can see how it could have achieved cult status for a certain generation, but plot-wise I found it more tedious than revelatory. Full review...

Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes

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Henritetta Rose-Inne's Nineveh instantly reassures you that you are in the presence of a confident and talented writer. The story of Katya Grubbs, a second generation pest exterminator who specialises in relocating the bugs and rodents that ruin middle-class garden parties, Rose-Inne writes with the enviable ability of describing both the intricacies of Katya's job and the feeling of it simultaneously. Full review...

The Gravity of Love by Sara Stridsberg and Deborah Bragan-Turner (translator)

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Particularly literate cover… Setting of a real-life mental hospital – in Sweden… Mature themes… Opening with an emotion- and closure-laden death… Yes, this book has more than its share of things to put the potential reader off. Which, in this instance, is quite a large shame indeed. Full review...

How Much the Heart Can Hold: Seven Stories on Love by Carys Bray and others

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This Sceptre collection does not have as simple a remit as it might appear; these are no straightforward love stories. Instead, they each take one aspect of love – often one of the ancient Greek classifications – and provide a whole new way of thinking about it. After all, the heart holds a lot of metaphorical weight. Full review...

Cousins by Salley Vickers

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We don't know our own limits so how can we judge the limits of others? And what it is easy to forget is that they were so young. Too young to bear all those horribly complicated family strains.

Salley Vickers' intense family odyssey revolves around one devastating accident in 1994. Reminiscent of the past, Will Tye's accident has a powerful effect on three generations of the Tye family, revealing long forgotten truths and close kept secrets. Cousins pieces together the events leading up to the event from three different close relatives perspectives, in an attempt to understand what exactly happened and why it happened that dark night. His sister, grandmother and aunt all recount Will's childhood and growth into an adult, highlighting both his successes and mistakes whilst reflecting on their own pasts. From the outbreak of the Second World War right up until the present day, the family's mysteries are laid out for all to see. Family loyalties are tested and the lengths you will go to for those you love are questioned. At its heart, Cousins is a love story between two cousins, Will and Cece, littered with complications, potential and realism as well as the struggle to determine your worth when you're young. Full review...

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

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This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I've never stolen anything.

Isn't that one of the great opening lines of literature?

Our black hero and narrator, surname Me, first name unknown, was born in the southern Los Angeles suburb of Dickens and subjected to an isolated upbringing dominated by his father's extreme views on race, supposedly the subject of a psychological memoir which will solve their financial problems, but cruel and unnatural to anyone with an ounce of humanity. To add insult to injury Me discovered after his father's death (a racially provoked shooting) that there was no memoir. A drive-by shooting produces nothing more substantial than a bill for a drive-through funeral, but it starts Me on the path which will end in the Supreme Court, the subject of a race trial: Me v the United States of America. Full review...

Good People by Nir Baram

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Thomas Heiselberg's self-focus pays off when he attracts the best clientele to the American advertising firm he helps establish across Europe from his German home. Meanwhile in Russia Sasha Weissberg is struggling with being in a literary, free-thinking family that doesn't go down too well with Stalin's regime. As World War II arrives, both of their worlds are shaken. As a result both decide to become collaborators rather than resistance fighters for different reasons and with far reaching effects. Full review...