Newest Literary Fiction Reviews

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Companions by Christina Hesselholdt and Paul Russell Garrett (translator)

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Companions is written as a series of monologues, where six middle-aged friends take it in turns to narrate scenes from their lives, charting the intimate details of their holidays, dinner parties, families, marriages, affairs and work lives in a style that mixes honesty and openness with fantasy and evasion. The charm of the novel lies in the way the friends' voices bicker with one another among the pages, as we discover that there are always several sides to the same story. We learn most about the characters not through what they say about themselves but through what the others say about them. Along the way, there is heartbreak and grief, but this is always offset by an abundance of humour and a writing style that never fails to be refreshingly light-hearted. Full review...

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe

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Sante was a baby when she was washed ashore in a sea-chest laden with treasure. It seems she is the sole survivor of the tragic sinking of a ship carrying migrants and refugees. Her people. Fourteen years on she's a member of Mama Rose's unique and dazzling circus. But, from their watery grave, the unquiet dead are calling Sante to avenge them. A bamboo flute. A golden bangle. A ripening mango which must not fall... if Sante is to tell their story and her own. Full review...

The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao by Martha Batalha and Eric M B Becker (translator)

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On the surface, young housewife Euridice Gusmao has it all. A nice-enough, parent-pleasing husband with a steady banking job, two young children upon whom to dote, an immaculate home complete with maid. That's all anyone could ever want, isn't it? Not Euridice. She has an inexplicable ache inside her for something more, like many of us. Yet each of her pet projects, from a desire to publish a recipe book to starting a cottage sewing industry in her living room, are met with scorn from her stern husband Antenor. He wants a wife who doesn't draw attention to herself, whose only domains are her house and her family. Full review...

Stranger by David Bergen

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Stranger tells the story of Íso, a young Guatemalan woman, and her affair with an American doctor. When an accident forces him to return to the States, she is left pregnant and lonely. Her anguish becomes even more profound when her daughter is abducted, and taken to live with the doctor and his wife. What followed - tales of the journey Íso embarked upon in the hope of finding her baby - was an amazing story of the lengths a mother will go to in order to save her child. Full review...

Rain Falls On Everyone by Clar Ni Chonghaile

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It's a cliché that the Irish have a picturesque turn of phrase, but clichés only exist because they're true. Roddy Doyle put it differently in a recent interview with Writing magazine, when he said that With Irish, there's another language bubbling under the English. However you express it, that art of expression is woven into every other line of Clár's prose. Pick a page at random and you'll find something like the sickness that had come to roost in her home like a cursed owl or like he was God, Jesus and Justin Timberlake rolled into one or a low sobbing, slow and inevitable as rain on a Sunday: expressions that catch your smile unawares, or tear at your heart in their mundane sadness. Or sometimes both. Full review...

Sinful Words by Hesene Mete

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When we meet him, Behram is a student at the school of theology. He loves God with a passion and has a determination to live a life dedicated to God and to live by His rules. He rents a property from Lulu Khan and his wife, Lady Geshtina and Khan invites Behram to his own home for a visit. It's a delightful place and the wealth of the couple is obvious as is their standing within the local community: Lady Geshtina's late father is buried in what amounts to a mausoleum, but it's not all this which enchants Behram. The couple have twin children and Behram is taken, enthralled by the daughter, Nagina. Full review...

The Gurugu Pledge by Juan-Tomas Avila Laurel

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Juan Tomas Avila Laurel, one of Equatorial Guinea's best-known dissident writers, is an author who deserves to be read the world over. With The Gurugu Pledge, he's captured a an angry and incredibly urgent slice of the migrant experience – a snapshot of the dangers faced by those crossing the African continent in search of the barbed wire fences at Melilla- the Spanish enclave on the North Eastern tip of Morocco. Full review...

The Waking by Matthew Smith

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Isabel Sykes, 23, recounts the recent attempt she made to come to terms with the loss of her mother, the acclaimed but psychologically disturbed novelist Marianne Sykes. Marianne died in an unexplained house fire when Isabel was ten. Inspired by the appearance of Imogen Taylor, an enchanting young woman who wants to write a PhD on her mother's work, Isabel plunges into the depths of her past and an intense new friendship. After discovering that Imogen is not who she seems to be, Isabel must face the darkest moments from her childhood in order to protect her family from more tragedy. She receives unexpected help from beyond the grave: in the strange, glittering fragments of her mother's last, unfinished work, 'Midnightsong'. Full review...

Autumn by Ali Smith

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The first part in Ali Smith's four part 'Seasonal' series, Autumn is the story of Daniel Gluck and Elisabeth Demand, unexpected friends who used to be neighbours when Elisabeth was a little girl. In a series of memories and dreams, we discover their friendship from Daniel babysitting Elisabeth through to her visits with him now that he is in a home and drawing towards the end of his extremely long and fascinating life. Along the way, we get a wonderfully written insight into time, memories, and the fleeting nature of life itself. Full review...

Malacqua by Nicola Pugliese and Shaun Whiteside (translator)

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We're in Naples, in recent history, and it's raining. It will in fact rain for four days solid – and seeing as it's October everyone's dressed for all seasons and expecting a bit of grey, but this is taking the proverbial. It's also making the city rather dangerous – when people report a huge sink-hole appearing in one street it's soon found that a pair of cars went into it, and two people have died, and more passed on with a whole building collapsing. What's more, some strange noises are coming from an abandoned civic palace. Is the city being told something by these strange events, or can a journalist find a logic behind the circumstances? Full review...

Petite Fleur by Iosi Havilio

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Every now and then you read a book that leaves you thinking “well I have no idea what just happened but I know I enjoyed it”. This is how I felt after reading Petite Fleur, the fifth novel (perhaps 'long paragraph' would be more appropriate) from cult Argentinian writer Iosi Havilio. Full review...

Some of Us Glow More Than Others by Tania Hershman

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I won't be alone in stating that reading short story collections can be slightly awkward. Going through from A-Z, witnessing a bounty of ideas and characters in short order can be too much, but do you have the right to pick and choose according to what appeals, and what time you have to fill? The sequence has carefully been considered, surely. Such would appear to be the case here. The last time I read one of this author's collections, with The White Road, the only real difficulty was holding back and rationing them, but here you not only get a whopping forty pieces of writing, they are also spread into sections. Full review...

Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall

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Kate and Harriet are best friends growing up together on an isolated Australian cape. As the daughters of the lighthouse keepers, the two girls share everything, until a fisherman, McPhail, arrives in their small community. When Kate witnesses the desire that flares between him and Harriet, she is torn by her feelings of envy and longing. An innocent moment in McPhail's hut then occurs that threatens to tear their peaceful community apart. Full review...

Worlds from the Word's End by Joanna Walsh

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We here at The Bookbag liked this author's fairly recent collection of short stories, Vertigo. I myself missed out, but that seemed to be vignettes from one character's narration – here we get homosexual male narrators and a host more, as well as much less of the sadness prevalent before. Having had a brief encounter with this author courtesy of her entry into the Object Lessons series, I was intrigued by her name being stamped on a selection of shorts. Was it the ideal calling card? Let's face it, the very short story itself can be a postcard – let's say, from a specific hotel or two, as we see here. Perhaps I should have geared myself up, however, for such intricate writing on said postcards – and for the exotic locations from which they came… Full review...

The Dove's Necklace by Raja Alem, Katharine Halls (translator) and Adam Talib (translator)

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I always hated Lit-Crit at school, so it came as something as a surprise that I ended up reviewing books, for fun. Now I understand. Finally, I see why literary critics get so up-in-arms about lowly book reviewers. There is a difference. This book explains it all. The author is the first woman to win the International Prize for Arabic fiction for this book. The book also the LiBerator prize for the best book translated into German in 2014. I suspect it's not done yet. The Times tells us that it exemplifies everything that is currently shaking the foundations of Arab society. I am sure that not only will more plaudits fall upon the author and the book, but also that it will become a classic, spoken of in the same breath as the international classics: Proust, Márquez, Joyce, Rushdie, Nabokov… Full review...

You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann and Ross Benjamin (translator)

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Our narrator is a screenwriter, tasked with coming up with a sequel to his hit movie Besties – a film which helped pay for a house, but which his actress wife keeps letting him know, isn't art. To concentrate, the family – he, the wife, and their four year old daughter – have rented a large, modern house at the end of a horrid, hairpin bend-filled road, in a charming alpine landscape. But things aren't right. The couple are at loggerheads too much, things keep unsettling our narrator, and the sole shopkeeper for miles around is ready with the Hammer Horror styled warnings of strange events. Quickly we see the book's title in all its galling clarity – but it isn't too late to get out… is it? And out of what, exactly? Full review...

Letters From Klara by Tove Jansson

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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...