Newest Literary Fiction Reviews

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Literary fiction

A is for Angelica by Iain Broome

5star.jpg General Fiction

Gordon and Georgina Kingdom spent years being like many other couples. They had jobs, friends, holidays, a springer spaniel named Kipling and a life together. Then Georgina became ill and Gordon took early retirement to nurse her better. He treats retirement with the same methodical efficiency he employed at work. He records Georgina's care, her progress and shares her waking moments, feeding her and sitting with her. However, as she spends a lot of time asleep, Gordon is left to entertain himself and so, the same man who led the local Neighbourhood Watch, watches his neighbours, noting points of interest and visible activities in alphabetically filed dossiers. They're all there: Don across the road who borrows garden tools on a more permanent basis than Gordon would like, art award winner young Benny who paints with his eyes shut, the lady next door who throws footballs over the fence and the new woman across the road, Angelica. Except, when Angelica moves into the street, Gordon's interest becomes more focused than usual. Full review...

Umbrella by Will Self

2.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Will Self's Umbrella spans a century taking three interwoven strands. One features Audrey Dearth, who in 1918 is a munitions worker who falls ill with encephalitis lethargica, a brain disease that spread over Europe after the Great War rendering many of its victims speechless and motionless. She is incarcerated in Friern hospital where, in the early 1970s a psychiatrist, Zach Busner wakes her from her stupor using a new drug. In the final thread, in 2010 the asylum has closed and the now retired Busner travels across north London seeking the truth about his encounter with his former patient. While that sounds like a fascinating story in its own right, be warned. Self's approach is ambitiously modernistic making this a very heavy going tome even by Self's standards. Full review...

Sleeping Patterns by JR Crook

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Anneli Strandli lives with insomniacally introverted Berry Walker, among others but not in a romantically co-habiting way. They all share student accommodation complete with attendant noise and comings and goings. Berry isn’t the most forthcoming of people but Anneli discovers a manuscript in his desk and so, sneaking into his room to read it, she hopes to discover from his writings the essence of Berry that his private nature hides. Meanwhile Berry is falling in love but has difficulty communicating it to the person concerned. Full review...

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

We are in North America in a near but post-Apocalyptic future. Those few humans to survive a pandemic have to be treated as carriers, and/or armed and desperate, and so are particularly of note to military-minded survivalist Bangley. And climate and eco-problems have killed off many common species, something closer to narrator Hig's heart, as he's a more placid, huntin', shootin' and fishin' guy. These two solitary men are an unlikely partnership, but both look out for each other in complementary ways. Bangley has his watch-tower, while Hig takes off in his Cessna to get away from it all, and his flights act as a first line of defense. But is it all life could be, for Hig and his dog and Bangley? What is Hig still to make of the last inviting contact he heard on his plane's radio - even if that was three years ago? Full review...

The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Minou lives on a sparsely occupied, temperate island. In fact the only occupants apart from Minou and her Papa are Priest (the Priest), Boxman (a maker of magical boxes) and a dog called No Name. Minou’s mother used to live there too. She arrived on a boat with a bowl containing a peacock (a real live one called… yes… Peacock). But then one day Mama disappeared completely apart from one shoe. Minou misses her and the way that she encouraged Minou’s imagination, completely at odds with her father’s logical philosophical outlook. Papa doesn’t believe that Mama will return and so has symbolically buried the shoe but Minou thinks differently: Mama will come back. Full review...

The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman

4star.jpg General Fiction

It's hard to know where to start in reviewing Ned Beauman's Booker long-listed The Teleportation Accident. Reading it, you feel like the parent of an ADHD-suffering child. At times it is lovable, brilliant and entertaining, at others you just want to reach for the Ritalin and tell it to sit in a corner quietly while it composes itself. A clue to both the brilliance and frustration of Beauman is in the vast range of writers to whom he has been compared in both this and his first novel Boxer, Beetle. There are hints of people as wide ranging as David Mitchell, P G Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, Raymond Chandler even Angela Carter to name just a few. Beauman takes a huge range of styles and genres and pushes them and bends them often to glorious effect, but it can be a challenge keeping up with him at times. Full review...

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Joe, a poet and Isabel, his war-correspondent wife and their teenage daughter Nina rent a luxurious villa in the South of France and invite their friends Laura and Mitchell to join them. On their first day there Nina finds what appears to be a naked body floating in the swimming pool, but it's Kitty Finch. She pleads a mix-up over booking dates and when told that all the local hotels are fully booked for some days Isabel offers her the use of the spare bedroom at the villa. There's no obvious reason for why she does this, but what does become clear is that Kitty suffers from depression - and she's stopped taking her medication. Full review...

The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Meet what the first chapter calls the underdog family. Tamil immigrants to Madras, they are below the breadline due to Ousep's constant drinking, and by him being a failed writer and mediocre journalist. His wife Mariamma has, shall we say, problems, their younger son is fixated on the beautiful girl next door. But their other son Unni is a cartoonist hottie - a handsome prodigy of the comic strip world - or he was until he took a nosedive off their roof three years ago, aged 17. Ousep is still tracking through his son's friends and output, trying to seek the cause of this suicide, and what we have here is the journey of the family as he struggles towards the truth. Full review...

The Liars' Gospel by Naomi Alderman

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

In The Liars' Gospel, Naomi Alderman gives the perspective of four people on the recent death of a Jewish man named Yehoshuah, who is more commonly known these days by the anglicized name of Jesus. These perspectives include Miryam (Mary), the teacher's mother, Iehuda of Qeriot (Judas Iscariot), a one time follower of the man, Caiaphas, the High Priest of the great Temple in Jerusalem and finally Bar-Avo, Barabbas, a rebel who is determined to bring down the occupying Roman presence. What makes this such a remarkable book is the sheer visceral nature of the story telling. Each story is vividly told, and Alderman evokes the time and place to such a level that you half expect to have developed a sun tan while reading the book. Full review...

Toby's Room by Pat Barker

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Elinor Brooke and her brother Toby had always been close but one day their relationship became more intimate than is acceptable. The trick then, as Toby said, was to get back to how their relationship was before. Toby concentrated on calling her 'sis', whilst Elinor was never quite certain how they could turn the clock back to a time when they were more innocent. But looking back, the summer of 1912 would seem idyllic: in 1917 Toby was reported 'Missing, Believed Killed'. Elinor was determined to find out how Toby died and her one route to this knowledge was Kit Neville who was a fellow student of hers at the Slade School of Art and who was in the fox hole when Toby met his fate. Full review...

The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

1610s Lancashire, and Alice Nutter is the best landowner you could wish for. Single, rich and connected, she takes no sides in the religious schisms James I has inherited, and takes no bull from those trying to oppress the poor, putting them up and feeding them when no-one else will. But those poor are seen as sinful by others - amoral, dirty in mind, body and spirit, and in league with the devil. And people are beginning to question Alice's attitudes, choice of company - and ageless beauty. This, then, is the based-on-truth story of how Alice Nutter got to be one of the accused in the Pendle Witch trials. Full review...

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Rory Dawn Hendrix (RD for short) lives with her mother in the ironically named Calle de las Flores or Street of Flowers; a pretty name masking a less than idyllic setting. For Calle is a trailer park for those living a life sentence of poverty, the inhabitants being as upwardly mobile as their static, seedy homes. RD has half brothers but they live with their father, leaving RD to live alone with her mother and nearby grandmother, a father being a luxury that Rory Dawn has learnt to live without. Rory Dawn is also a Girl Scout and has a handbook to prove it but she's in a troop of one, alone with the ideals of an organisation that she only glimpses through disadvantage and in the same way that she glimpses the materialistic world beyond her means. However, her mother wants more for her than the teen pregnancies that seem to have become their family heirloom and there is hope as RD is highly intelligent; but can this be enough? Full review...

The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Anita Desai's The Artist of Disappearance is a collection of three novellas with several satisfying unifying features. All are set in modern day India, all involve some looking back in time and all three involve some consideration of the creative art - who it is for, what happens to it once it leaves the artist's control and who 'owns' it. Most of all, each one is beautifully written, with strong characters and evocative descriptions of personal loss. In terms of length each is relatively short - around 50 pages long - but after each one you feel that you've been engrossed in the story just as much as if you had read a novel of more conventional length. Full review...

Mo Said She Was Quirky by James Kelman

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Mo may have said that Helen was quirky - neurotic might have been a more accurate assessment of his partner though. Although not a first person narrative, James Kelman's latest is another dramatic monologue, although the first time he has placed a female as his main character. Helen is a single mother, working nights as a croupier in a London casino. Mo is her Asian boyfriend. In fairness to Helen, she has a lot to worry about - a damaged upbringing that has seen her older brother leave home without trace, a failed marriage, and a life of constant struggle. As usual with Kelman, his approach is tender, yet gritty and often gently amusing. He's always sympathetic to his main characters. However, if you are new to Kelman, be warned that he is a writer that is heavy on a distinctive style more than plot per se. Full review...

The Book Lover's Tale by Ivo Stourton

4star.jpg General Fiction

Matt will admit that his writing career failed, and so he had to join his wife in interior design, where he can use his love of books to arrange - at a cost - the contents, design and most importantly the colours, of upper class people's home libraries for them. He'll concede that it's a good way to get into the houses, and beds, of rich women, such as his latest flame, Claudia. But why is this, his confession, talking of murder? Full review...

Ancient Light by John Banville

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

The narrator in John Banville's Ancient Light is Alex Cleave, a stage actor in the curtain call of his career. For reasons that become clearer towards the end of the book, he is recalling his first relationship, when as a teenager in 1950s Ireland, he had a passionate affair with the mother of his best friend. However, his past is also blighted by recollections of his own daughter's suicide ten years previously. Full review...

The Heat of the Sun by David Rain

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

David Rain is far too young to be writing this exquisitely. That's all I'm going to say.

Oh, you need me to justify that comment? Full review...

The Vintage and the Gleaning by Jeremy Chambers

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Smithy, a retired sheep shearer, now works on a vineyard in the countryside of Victoria, Australia. Too poor to retire and too ill from the after effects of his former alcoholic lifestyle to return to the physically arduous world of shearing, he exists rather than lives amongst his mates and near his son and daughter-in-law. Meanwhile rumours abound about the deeds of local thug, Brett Clayton and, whether true or not, he's definitely someone to be avoided. However, when Brett's wife Charlotte leaves him and asks Smithy to take her in, he does so without a second thought. Sheltered under his roof and protection, Charlotte confides in Smithy, forcing him to remember his own past and dreams. Meanwhile the unspoken question remains: Brett knows where Charlotte is so what's he going to do about it? Full review...

The Taliban Cricket Club by Timeri N Murari

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

We all know, or think we know, how oppressive life was for Afghans, particularly Afghan women, under the Taliban regime, but when you read this novel, boy do you get a sense of how tough it really was. Full review...

Inside by Alix Ohlin

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Grace, a therapist, stumbles upon a young man in the woods who has attempted to commit suicide, and her vocational interests are immediately engaged. The novel takes us through their complex relationship, both its surface routines and day to day moments but also Grace's eventually successful search for the reasons behind Tug's desperation. Ohlin interlaces with this the story of Mitch, Grace's ex-husband, and of Annie, one of her clients, chronicling both their relationship with Grace, but also their network of families and friends, acquaintances and colleagues. Full review...

The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Jed Martin, initially a photographer and later painter, has a singular take on the world and his craft. This novel takes him from obscurity as a reclusive student to fame as the doyenne of the contemporary art scene and in this journey we see exposed both the underlying values but in many ways the essential emptiness of the art world. He is 'taken up', feted and courted by critics and patrons, by those who know nothing but monetary value, and Houellebecq doesn't let any opportunity for a sharp gibe at galleries, art critics and agents go past. The key to Jed's fame is ironically his complete anonymity, and Houellebecq’s creation of the catarrh dribbling agent Marylin who manages Jed’s ‘outing’ is one of the classics of modern satire. Full review...

Cain by Jose Saramago

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Death is only the beginning, or so some say, and the first death of one human at the hands of another - Cain's slaying of Abel with what always seemed an unlikely murder weapon - is the start of this excoriating drive through what Cain felt when set against the god that both snubbed his sacrifices and allowed, despite alleged omnipotence, the murder in the first place. Riding a donkey, this Cain takes up life as personal guard and lover to Lilith, but also leaves the Land of Nod for diverse Old Testament locations, where he sees the stories of the golden calf, the tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah and more at first hand. All they ever do is make him realise the gulf between what god is supposed to benevolently embody, and how he acts. Full review...

The Conductor by Sarah Quigley

5star.jpg Historical Fiction

Composer Dmitri Shostakovich can block anything out whilst he's writing music: his wife Nina's voice, his children arguing, even the side effects of living in Stalinist Leningrad. However, life is about to become more than an annoying distraction from music as Germany declares war on Russia and gradually initiates what history will come to know as the Siege of Leningrad. Shostakovich then realises, just as gradually, that his music may serve a purpose to sustain his compatriots in the absence of sufficient food and hope. His Seventh Symphony becomes a protest against oppression, but he needs an orchestra to play it and the top musicians have been evacuated to save the country's cultural heritage. He therefore turns to Karl Eliasberg, the aspiring but third rate conductor of a cobbled together orchestra. Music can create miracles but, for Eliasberg and his musicians, being able to play it will be the biggest miracle of all. Full review...

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

3star.jpg Historical Fiction

If the popular press is to be believed, then those of us who write book reviews do so to show off our own (non-existent) talents as writers whilst trying to condemn the abilities of far greater worth.

Well, not quite.

I would not pretend to have a tiny iota-fragment of the talent that Umberto Eco has. Nor would I seek to decry his latest opus.

On the other hand, I am an ordinary reader – one moreover that enjoyed The Name of the Rose immensely – and I really struggled with The Prague Cemetery. I didn't struggle to get through it. It is actually quite an easy read, if you just read the surface of it. I did struggle to see the point of it. It may well just be me. I put my hands up. Full review...

Communion Town by Sam Thompson

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Communion Town – one city but it may as well be many as each person's perception of it is coloured by their experiences within it. Each chapter introduces us to a different story, a different viewpoint and therefore, practically a different city. Starting with the ominous, creepy story of Nicolas, through stories encapsulating such themes as recaptured friendship, murder and an enigmatic take on the life of a private investigator, we start to piece together the nature of Communion Town... or do we? Full review...

The Jump Artist by Austin Ratner

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

Austin Ratner's debut novel, The Jump Artist, first published in the US in 2009, is a fictionalised account of the extraordinary life of celebrated photographer, Philippe Halsman. Born a Latvian Jew, as a young man in 1928 he was walking in the Austrian mountains when he saw his father fall to his death. This would be traumatic for anyone, but the issues were compounded when he was accused of murder by the Austrian courts in what was probably anti-semitic and certainly xenophobic in explanation. Philippe's second trial, the first failing potentially because his mother had engaged a Jewish lawyer, details the fundamental lack of evidence and shoddy police work behind the accusation. Full review...

Lionel Asbo by Martin Amis

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Martin Amis can be relied upon to create some pretty nasty, self-centred central characters. Usually they are upper class cads and bounders but in Lionel Asbo his central character is at the polar opposite in terms of class. He's violent, uncouth and ignorant. He's a criminal whose usual sidekicks are a pair of vicious pit bulls. His 'manner' is a fictitious down trodden area of London called Diston Town where he lives in a tower block with his nephew, Des, who in fact is the central character in the book. Des, in contrast is far more sympathetic - intelligent and kind, that is if you overlook the fact that as a 15 year old he had an affair with his grandmother, Lionel's mother. Hey, no one's perfect. Full review...

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

4.5star.jpg General Fiction

In Ben Fountain's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Billy and what is left of his Bravo troop colleagues are back from the war in Iraq following a brave firefight caught on camera by embedded journalists. The US army, keen to gain PR from the event has brought them back on an optimistically titled 'Victory Tour' despite the fact that they are all to be re-deployed the next week. The majority of the book takes place on the last day of this tour when Billy is in his home-state of Texas, where the Bush link makes it even more pro-war, as the boys are invited to attend that most American of PR events, the Thanksgiving football game at the Dallas Cowboys stadium. Accompanying the troop is a veteran Hollywood producer who has promised the soldiers that he can sell their story to a movie studio for mega-bucks. If only it were that simple. Full review...

Farundell by L R Fredericks

3.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

American Paul Asher is damaged by memories and dreams originating from World War I, or at least he thinks that's where they're from. Once the war is over and, as he's estranged from his father in the US, Paul decides to remain in the UK to find work. Work comes to him as he's asked to assist Lord Percy Damory at Farundell, the Damory ancestral home. Paul's job is straightforward: Sir Percy needs someone to whom he can dictate memoirs of a well-travelled life among distant tribes. However Paul's life at Farundell will be anything but straightforward thanks to the Damorys' apparent eccentricities, an ancestor from the 18th century who refuses to be labelled as a ghost and, of course, there's Sylvie. Full review...

Fate by L R Fredericks

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

It's the 18th century and 11 year old Francis Damory is spoken to by great great grandfather, Tobias. Nothing odd except that Tobias is dead and speaks via a portrait in Farundell, the family's Oxfordshire home. Hence begins the obsession that will take the adult Sir Francis across the world and through a lifetime of adventures to track Tobias down. The longer Francis looks, the more he realises that Great Great Grandfather isn't dead and that, therefore, Francis wants whatever he's on. Full review...

Every Day, Every Hour by Natasa Dragnic and Liesl Schillinger (translator)

4.5star.jpg Humour

Dora and Luka meet and become firm friends. In normal situations one might add and a whole lot more to that sentence, but Dora and Luka are in Kindergarten, which makes their intense relationship hard to define. As they grow into adults, however, it becomes obvious that there is something between them and no matter how much they, or their circumstances, try to fight this it is there and is not going to fade away. Dora’s parents move her across the continent, careers develop and flourish, out of nowhere they are enveloped by family lives, but still there is an invisible bond that draws them back to one another. Full review...

Mesmerized by Alissa Walser and Jamie Bulloch (translator)

4star.jpg Historical Fiction

Celebrated scientist (at least in his own mind) Franz Anton Mesmer is called upon to cure the blindness of 18 year old piano virtuoso and courtier's daughter Marie Theresia Paradis. Despite the unease of her parents, Mesmer installs Marie into his 'magnetic hospital' where, alongside his other patients, she settles in to a regime of treatment, including free access to Mesmer's beloved piano. Mesmer is the Paradis' last resort and so they're happy to pay for success but they come to realise that the final cost may not be entirely financial and he realises that the result may not be beneficial to all parties. Full review...