The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O’Neill Riverrun £16.99
There is wonderful writing in this sparkling Angela Carter-esque circus tale about two children who come together after being abandoned in the same orphanage. Canadian novelist O’Neill chronicles Rose and Pierrot’s crazy, complex lives into adulthood with some highly evocative imagery – the newborn who ‘looked as if it might be thinking about a poem’; the sad, lonely, drunk woman pushing away her predatory dance partner to circle the floor alone, holding out her arms like Beauty dancing with an invisible beast. There are gems like these on every page. Marvellous.
Utopia for Realists, Rutger Bregman (trans Elizabeth Manton). Bloomsbury £16.99
You might have seen the coolly disheveled twentysomething Bergman recently being grilled by Evan Davies about his big ideas for a new year zero in western economic and societal thinking. You may have been as sceptical as the sniffy Davies appeared to be, as some of the Dutch writer’s curveball notions about tax and eradicating poverty are genuinely radical and leftfield. But that, alongside the zest of the writing, is what makes this such a good read; it is original, youthful and optimistic, waving aside notions of left and right-wing, and some basic tenets of Capitalism, to start again in a world vastly changed in the last fifty years. You may vehemently agree or disagree, but as a catalyst for debate and an argument for a great leap, it does its job admirably.
This is original, youthful and optimistic, waving aside notions of left and right-wing to start again in a vastly changed world
Novel 11, Book 18, Dag Solstad (trans Sverre Lyngstad). Vintage, £8.99
This book by the highly acclaimed Norwegian writer Dag Solstad, beloved by Murakami and James Wood, is 16 years old, but here’s hoping this beautifully packaged edition brings it new attention. Respectable town treasurer Bjorn is fifty, and quizzing himself as to why he left his wife and young son years ago for a mistress he knew from the beginning would not bring him contentment. He runs over old conversations and is tormented by happy and unhappy memories as he begins to form ideas about how he might steer his future. Solstad is a masterful investigator of human thought and behaviour, and, like the inside of anyone’s head, this novel is in turns funny, mournful, quizzical and insightful. And a real pleasure to read.
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The Comet Sweeper, Claire Brock Icon, £8.99
The trend for celebrating history’s unacknowledged brilliant women in science, art and politics continues unabated. And long may the river run. Brock’s excellent contribution is a biography of Caroline Hershel, who ran off from her job as a domestic servant in Germany in 1772 to assist her brother William’s work as royal astronomer to George III. She began to make some serious scientific discoveries of her own, eventually attracting international acclaim, and became the first woman in Britain to make her living from science. Of course her success was not aided, nor her victories welcomed, by all of the male-dominated scientific community, and her frustrations are gnawingly well-documented here. Bravo.
The Life and Times of Algernon Swift, Bill Jones Head of Zeus £14.99
As a hater of puns, this collection of comic tiny tales and illustrations revelling in smart wordplay should be rights be anathema to me. Instead I find myself laughing out loud page after page at the brio in its unashamedly silly (and simultaneously very clever) humour. It describes itself perfectly, as a novel which ‘pits its young hero against the pitfalls and pratfalls of the English language.’ It is also rich with delightful references to high and popular culture, from Shakespeare and Schopenhauer to the Rolling Stones. It is, I am loath to admit, a complete joy.
Rich with delightful references to high and popular culture, from Shakespeare and Schopenhauer to the Rolling Stones, this is a complete joy
Under the Almond Tree, Laura McVeigh Two Roads, £17.99
Northern Irish writer Laura McVeigh’s novel, about a refugee family fleeing from Afghanistan, is rich with feeling. It may be a tad over-earnest in parts, and those who know their Russians will immediately recognise the conversational tone, but there is real emotional payback for those who share the family’s long trek from their once happy home in Kabul to a hopeful better future.
The Sad Part Was, Pravda Yoon (trans Mui Poopoksakul). Tilted Axis £8.99
This short story collection claims to be the first work of contemporary Thai literature to be published in the UK. One might expect it to have an alien quality, an unfamiliar tone or unusual rhythms. In fact, young prodigy Yoon’s style seems most influenced by the street-smart, chatty American posse, and revels in all kinds of contemporary twists of the postmodern and meta kind. However its savviness never tips into the sort of self-congratulatory indulgence that many of its western peers suffer from, and it remains charming throughout.