Newest Literary Fiction Reviews

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An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It by Jessie Greengrass

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The title story, which appears first, is exactly what it says on the tin: one hunter's story of travelling to remote islands to take part in massive culls of great auks, until they were simply gone. It's always hard to believe that species that once numbered in their millions, such as the passenger pigeon, could go extinct so quickly, but when you read about the brutal slaughter tactics here – swinging clubs and boiling birds alive – you can see how a flightless bird was a sitting target. The narrator makes no real attempt to defend himself: the birds were there for the taking; that was that. Still, he regrets their extinction, because 'in any loss you can see a shadow of the way that you will be lost yourself.' (Those interested in the great auk's extinction may also want to read the 2013 novel The Collector of Lost Things by Jeremy Page.) Full review...

Re Jane by Patricia Park

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Growing up in Flushing, New York –Jane Re has long been hoping to escape her whole life. A half-Korean, half-American Orphan, Jane struggles to find her place as a spirited and intelligent young woman growing up in a strict and mirthless family, observing the traditional Korean principle of “Nunchi” (a combination of good manners, obligation and hierarchy). Desperate to escape, Jane is thrilled when she becomes the au pair for a rich couple – two Brooklyn based professors of English, who have adopted a young Chinese girl into their family. Jane soon falls for the man of the family, but their blossoming affair is soon curtailed by a family death, prompting Jane’s return to Korea. As she learns more about herself, her history and her culture, Jane must make huge decisions about her life, her future, and her man… Full review...

Sophie and the Sibyl: A Victorian Romance by Patricia Duncker

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Sophie and the Sibyl, consciously modelled on John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman, is a postmodern blending of history, fiction, and metafictional commentary. Brothers Max and Wolfgang Duncker really were George Eliot's German publishers, but the accident of their surname matching the author's makes them her clever stand-in. As the novel opens in 1872, the venerable English author is exploring Homburg and Berlin in the company of her 'husband' while ushering her latest novel, Middlemarch, into German translation. Max, a young cad fond of casinos and brothels, has two tasks: ensuring Eliot's loyalty to their publishing house, and securing Countess Sophie von Hahn's hand in marriage. Full review...

Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume

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Every Tuesday he goes into town. This particular Tuesday he sees an advert for a rescue dog that's been badly treated by its previous owner. Somewhere the ad strikes a resonance and he adopts the dog, calling it Oneeye (yes, one word, just like that). Gradually over shared meals a friendship grows and develops over the seasons as the spill of spring turns to summer's simmer, through the falter of autumn and on to withering winter. Full review...

Diary of the Fall by Michael Laub

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Diary of the Fall is a story about regret, guilt and resentment. It's told from the point of view of an unnamed narrator, who reflects on not just his own life but also the lives of his father and grandfather. Full review...

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain, Emily Boyce (translator) and Jane Aitken (translator)

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Meet Laure. She's a widow in her 40s, who is entering her Parisian apartment building one night when she's mugged, and her handbag stolen. Meet Laurent, a middle-aged bookseller, who happens upon the handbag the following morning in the street, just before the binmen take it away, never to be seen again. More or less snubbed when trying to hand it to the police as lost property, he decides to take it upon himself to reunite the bag with its rightful owner. He has no idea their names are so intimately linked, and despite a lot of things being in the bag (including the titular notebook) there is no cash, no phone and no ID documentation at all. What's more – and what looks like making the idea even more fruitless – he has no idea that Laure has fallen into a coma as a result of the mugging… Full review...

The Listeners by Edward Parnell

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May 1940. William Abrehart has not spoken since the mysterious death of his father, choosing instead to spend his days in the woods that surround his home. A promise he made to his dying father means that he is responsible for the wellbeing of his two sisters, and their withdrawn mother. Over the course of a weekend, ghosts of the past cause buried secrets, lies and promises to come spilling out - culminating in a series of shocking events. Full review...

The Pearl a That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

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Kabul 2007: Rahima and her sisters are followed home from school one day by a boy on his bike. He taunts them innocently enough as little boys do, but with no sibling brother, the girls are unchaperoned in this land that is ruled by the laws of men. And as daughters in a household without sons, in a country that is governed by fear, the consequences will weigh heavily for them all. Full review...

Adeline: A Novel of Virginia Woolf by Norah Vincent

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Back in 1999, when The Hours won the Pulitzer Prize, Michael Cunningham set a precedent for depicting Woolf's later life and suicide. Nicole Kidman won a Best Actress Oscar for her role as Woolf in the film version of the novel; she is best remembered for wearing a prosthetic nose. Fast forward 15 years. In 2014–2015 alone, three major novels about Virginia Woolf have been published. That confluence, especially in a year that does not mark a significant anniversary, speaks to a continuing interest in Woolf's life and writings. Full review...

The Boy Who Stole Attila's Horse by Ivan Repila and Sophie Hughes (translator)

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If you pick up a copy of this book you realise how small it is. You'll know, of course, that pockets hardly exist that are normally big enough to hold what we used to call a pocket book, but here is the exception to prove the rule. It's wee. The story is on a hundred pages. The concision is partly down to it starting after the beginning, for we first meet Big and Small, two brothers, once they're stuck down a large well in the middle of a forest. Tasked with a family errand, they're trapped at the bottom of a natural Erlenmeyer flask, and even a desperate move cannot get either out. This is the story of the next three months in their existence, as they brave hunger, delirium, loss of language, and the brute and unstinting human selfishness needed for existence. Full review...

Soil by Jamie Kornegay

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Jay Mize is a scientific man with a particular interest in soil and agriculture. He decides he is the one to pioneer a revolution in farming techniques and uproots his wife and son to set up an experimental farm on a plot of land in the country. Jay is also an obsessive man and his plans take over, becoming his only focus and causing his family to leave him. Then flooding ruins his crops and he is left at the end of his tether; things only get worse when Jay finds a dead body on his land and his tenuous grip on his sanity is released. Full review...

Rise by Karen Campbell

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Justine is running for her life. She's had enough of being someone else's property, of being subjected to the kind of love that has seen her tattooed and owned and beaten and rented out to others to earn her keep. So she's taken what isn't hers, but then was never actually his either, and she's packed a bag, waited until he is drunk-enough asleep not to hear her say goodbye to the dog, and has left. Full review...

Karate Chop, and Minna Needs Rehearsal Space by Dorthe Nors

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The reviewer picks up the book.
The book is called Minna Needs Rehearsal Space.
The book is entirely made out of one-sentence paragraphs.
The one-sentence paragraphs are very seldom poetic, but normally are grammatically correct sentences.
The one-sentence paragraphs on the whole have just one verb, unless regarding that from reported or unreported speech.
The book concerns a middle-aged musician and composer who does indeed need rehearsal space.
The book concerns a woman who suddenly gets more space than she wants when her boyfriend leaves her.
The boyfriend's departure causes a lot of people crowding around Minna, which causes a problem.
The problem might be resolved by a trip away from her city flat.
The title of the book might be ironic. Full review...

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

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This book is essentially a cautionary family tale of four brothers and the way they react to a prophecy about them by the local madman. It is also, in a sense, a coming-of-age story where Ben, the young narrator, is plunged into premature adulthood under the most brutal of circumstances. And it is about brotherly love. None of these descriptions, however, convey the fact that this book is written by an exciting new voice in African literary fiction. Full review...

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement

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Ladydi Garcia Martínez lives in rural Chilpancingo, Mexico, with her mother, Rita, who works as a cleaning lady for a rich family. Like many of the men in their town who left to find work, Ladydi's father crossed the river into America, where he is rumoured to have another family. As a result, this is very much a matriarchal community. Rita describes the situation for Ladydi's teacher: 'You men don't get it, yet, do you? This is a land of women. Mexico belongs to women.' Full review...

Falling Out of Time by David Grossman

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Like the central characters in Falling Out of Time, Israeli author David Grossman lost his son, a soldier named Uri, during the Middle East conflict. In this multifaceted examination of bereavement, it seems that everyone has lost a child. The genre-bending mixture of poetry, absurdist dialogue, and an inverted fairy tale reflects the difficulty of ever capturing grief in language. Each story and each strategy is like a new way of approaching the unspeakable. Full review...

How To Be A Heroine: Or, what I've learned from reading too much by Samantha Ellis

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How to be a Heroine is a pleasant and addictive read. Playwright Samantha Ellis looks back at her childhood as a voracious reader and remembers the characters that influenced her. These are as diverse as Sylvia Plath, Little Women and Scheherazade. Full review...

The Complex Chemistry of Loss by Ian Walthew

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Deep in rural France James Kerr was admitted to a psychiatric clinic. His mental problems were deep and intractable. Superficially he seemed never to have got over the sudden death of his mother and sister when he was a child and after their death his relationship with his father had deteriorated because his father refused to speak of their loss. There were additional factors too: Kerr had spent some time in Afghanistan in a secret capacity. In fact much of his life since he went to university had involved putting up a front, but doing something else in the background. Full review...

If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

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It probably tells you a lot about the atmosphere of this book that for the whole time I was reading it, I thought the title was If I Fall, I Die. That missing second If is probably at the crux of the whole tale. Full review...

The Virtuoso by Virginia Burges

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The title character of The Virtuoso is Isabelle Bryant, a professional violinist who has earned the affectionate nickname of 'Beethoven's Babe'. She was the youngest-ever winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition and gave her first solo performance, of Beethoven's violin concerto, at Royal Albert Hall. 'Her violin represented another limb to her, it was that precious. It felt so natural, like an extension of her body.' It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the violin is Isabelle's life. Full review...

In The Wolf's Mouth by Adam Foulds

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In Sicily, bandits steal the sheep of a young shepherd. Distraught, he seeks out his local Mafioso for help. Sixteen years later, two men are traveling to Sicily - one, a young English officer, and the other an American infantryman. They are all soon thrust into a war that is greater and more terrible than anything they could have dreamed, and they all must find different ways to survive its terrors. Full review...

Wallflowers by Eliza Robertson

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Eliza Robertson won the Man Booker Scholarship and Curtis Brown Prize while completing her MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Wallflowers is already a bestseller in Robertson's native Canada. There is quite some variety across the seventeen stories. Broadly speaking, though, there are a few themes: moving on from loss, finding love in the midst of gentle madness, and interactions with the natural world, often on the edge of Canada's British Columbia wilderness. Full review...

Honeydew by Edith Pearlman

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American short story writer Edith Pearlman brings us a compilation of stories that have only been seen separately in magazines over the years. This follows on from the huge success of Binocular Vision (in 2013), the short story collection that led to Ms Pearlman being presented with the National Critics' Circle Award. Full review...

Brother of Sleep by Robert Schneider

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Brother of Sleep tells the story of Elias Johannes Alder, a child born into a god forsaken village high in the Austrian Vorarlberg. He came into the world as a silent child, while his mother was screaming and the midwife wasn't really paying attention. It took a couple of loud intonations of the Te Deum from the neglectful nurse before he finally uttered a sound. Full review...

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

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Claire Limye Lamne (Claire of the Sea Light) is born in the fishing village of Ville Rose, Haiti as her mother dies. Her father Nozias, a poor fisherman, spends his life trying to make a better life for his baby to such an extent that he eventually encourages a local fabric seller to take Claire. This happens on the night of Claire's 7th birthday; the night that little Claire goes missing before the fabric seller can take her. Full review...

Academy Street by Mary Costello

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It is 1944. Tess Lohan's mother has just died at age 40, of tuberculosis. Seven-year-old Tess is one of six children in a rural Irish family. They live at Easterfield, a centuries-old manor house. A teacher later tells Tess the history of her home: built in 1678, it was a famine hospital in the 1840s; there are numerous corpses buried on the land. He hints there may be many ghosts on the property, but the only one that haunts Tess is her dead mother. 'Memories and traces of her mother must linger all over the house – in rooms and halls and landings. The dent of her feet on a rug. On a cup, the mark of her hand.' Full review...

Here Are the Young Men by Rob Doyle

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Here are the Young Men surges forward, oozing edginess, from the very first sentence. Is that a bad thing? Probably not. It just means that readers may at times slip out of the story, feel themselves taking a step back and admiring the spare coolness of the novel before easing back into the narrative. Full review...

Sanctuary by Robert Edric

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Everyone knows Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Not many know that this famous trio of literary sisters also had a brother, Patrick Branwell Brontë, born the year after Charlotte and a year before Emily. Like his sisters, he had literary ambitions: he wrote juvenile stories, poems and translations from the Greek; he also trained as a painter (you have most likely seen his famous painting of his sisters). Again like his sisters, however, he was destined to die young. Full review...

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

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The Guest Cat had me at the cover. The reflective green material makes the cat's eyes glow and glint eerily in the light. There is something ethereal and otherworldly about this novella and that is before I've even read a single word. This simple story about a Japanese couple and the cat that decides to adopt them has become an international best-seller and I was keen to find out why. Full review...

Black Sheep by Susan Hill

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Mount of Zeal is a mining village, and no mistake. Three concentric semi-circular streets align across the side of a hill, like the rows of seats in an amphitheatre, with little thought at all allowed for the life above the crest of the hill, and a lot of effort and dreams focused on the coal mine at the village's core. The Howker family (and how evocative that name is, so akin to the noise of hawking coal dust from one's lungs), and Ted and Rose, the youngest of the clan, in particular, will face the destiny the environment they grow up in gives them – with only the merest glimmers of hope and the faintest of sparks to latch on to as regards a likeable future. But if that is a faint spark, then how safe is it so close to the tinderbox of a coal mine? Full review...

Snake Road by Sue Peebles

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No one listened when Peggy Kirkpatrick began talking about a baby called Eleanor - well, no one except her granddaughter Agatha. You see, Peggy is elderly and she has dementia. No one has heard of 'Eleanor'. Some days are better than others, but none are particularly good. Peggy's unpredictable and sometimes it is - quite literally - a fight to wash her and she'll either go outside in her nightdress or wear multiple skirts indoors. The burden is carried most of the time by her daughter, Mary, but it's Aggie who attends the dementia carers' group in her place and it was probably this that provoked her into listening more carefully to what her Gran was saying and trying to learn more about her history in the hope of keeping Peggy in the present. Full review...

When the Night Comes by Favel Parrett

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Little Isla has moved to Hobart, Tasmania from the Australian mainland with her mother and younger brother. Bo is a chef on the Nella Dan, a Danish ship supplying the Antarctic expeditions. Their meeting is just one of life's little moments that carry a greater effect than anyone realises at the time, whether for the better or the worst. Full review...